For an industry that has embraced so many “lean” and “agile” principles when it comes to software development, it’s always surprised and frustrated me that many B2B software and SaaS businesses remain oblivious to the opportunity to eliminate a bunch of wasted, value-sapping effort in their sales and marketing process.
I think you probably have a sense of what I mean. Marketing creating sales tools that your sales people find ineffective or inappropriate. Sales generating their own content to fill the perceived gaps in what marketing has created. The dangers of wasting or duplicating effort are obvious. And that’s without taking into account the scope for customer confusion caused by conflicting messages.
Connecting the marketing message with the sales conversation
So what’s to be done about this? Jim Ninivaggi makes a case for having a “content collection week” for sales created materials in his recent article for Sirius Decisions - and while that’s an interesting approach, I suspect that it’s only scratching the surface of the problem. The real answer lies not just in collecting what’s already been produced, but in collaborating to produce the right materials in the first place.
Organisations clearly need to connect their marketing messages with the conversations their sales people are actually having in the field. At first glance, you might think that the problem could be solved by creating “better” materials, and by equipping the sales people with more effective sales enablement tools - and that’s certainly part of the answer.
Learning from the field, in the field
Jim’s idea of collecting and evaluating field-created materials, and sharing the best of them back to the whole sales organisation as corporate-approved, field-proven examples of best practice is a good one. But marketing also needs to do a better job of listening to what’s really being picked up and discussed in the conversations their colleagues in sales are having on a daily basis.
What are the issues and priorities their prospects are sharing with them? What language are they using to describe their situation and their experiences? What are the obstacles that have prevented the prospect from dealing with them? What are the bottlenecks that cause the sales process to slow down, drift, go into reverse or break up altogether?
What are the most-frequently-asked yet-toughest-to-deal-with questions? What answers have the top performing sales people come up with when dealing with them? What stories have they used to help them put their point across? What are the themes that stimulate really engaged customer conversations, and what are the topics that kill them?
There’s a remarkable amount of experimentation (even if it isn’t recognised as such) and learning going on in every sales organisation on a daily basis. The field-level leadership of top performing sales organisations find ways of determining what’s working and what isn’t, and of amplifying the former and eliminating the latter.
Top performing sales and marketing organisations go further: there’s a regular dialogue between sales and marketing, and a genuine willingness to learn and improve. But to accomplish this, marketing needs to abandon any precious frustration that “sales keep going off piste” and accept that some of the best ideas for marketing campaigns and sales enablement tools are going to come from their colleagues in sales.
Fundamentally, sales and marketing needs to accept that both organisations have a lot to learn from each other. An environment of mutual respect needs to prevail. And sales people that invent good things in the field need to be applauded, rather than criticised. But sales people that are genuinely “off message” need to be brought back into the fold.
You see, what I’m describing is no charter for lone wolves. Sales people that insist on doing their own thing rather than absorbing the collective wisdom of their colleagues probably have no role in the organisation. But anyone willing to help the organisation adapt more effectively to real customer needs should be applauded.
Listen, learn and adapt
Agile organisations listen and adapt. They learn most quickly and most effectively from the people that are most closely connected with their customers and prospects on a daily basis. They are willing to try new things, to assess their impact, to quickly reinforce the successes and - equally as quickly - eliminate the failures.
So - how much is marketing learning from sales in your organisation? And how effectively are they creating campaigns and sales enablement tools that put that learning into practice? And how willing are your sales people to share? If you can detect any room for improvement, what are you waiting for?
Webinar - 9th May
By the way, I’ll be returning to the subject of aligning the marketing message with the sales conversation in my upcoming BrightTalk webinar on Thursday 9th May at 10:00am UK. I hope you’ll be able to join me - but if you can't make it, you can always access the on-demand recording afterwards. You can sign up here.