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Fixing the sales marketing relationship & winning more business in the digital era

Fixing the sales marketing relationship & winning more business in the digital era

Few would deny that there has never been a more interesting, exciting or challenging time to be in sales and marketing. Customers buy differently, sales teams sell differently, marketers are marketing differently. And the time has come for sales and marketing teams to finally end their war if they are to capitalise in the new digital landscape.

This sales and marketing disconnect is nothing new and, it would seem, remains prevalent.

In February 2017 Huthwaite International completed the first of a two-stage research project exploring the condition of the sales and marketing relationship.  The first stage saw us partner with UK research agency YouGov to survey 750 senior decision makers in B2B companies about their perceptions.

While 92% thought that the sales marketing relationship was important only 27% thought that that their sales and marketing teams work very closely together. 60% thought things could be better.On the surface it’s an unsurprising continuum. But it raises a critical question. If the digital landscape continues to transform the way businesses operate, what impact is that likely to have on the relationship between these two adversaries?

The wind is already blowing and many companies are reporting a biting chill.

It’s blurring roles and responsibilities for example. Where previously Marketing may have developed the brand and harvested the leads and Sales would take on the face-to-face conversion, Sales are starting to create their own leads in the social space and operating higher up the funnel – Marketing’s traditional stomping ground.

As prospects do their research online before even contacting you, sellers must stop thinking about how they sell and instead focus on helping buyers make an educated buying decision. Any significant shift in messaging and market approach is Marketing’s arena and not something Sales can do alone.

The list goes on.

There are two choices. Either stay in the cold and hope that things work out over time – the option that many companies seem to be taking. Or acknowledge that change is happening and commit to finding new ways of working.

Two heads are better than one, as the saying goes, so is it not logical to assume that by consolidating their knowledge, skills, ideas and objectives both teams stand a much better chance of building a stronger brand, winning more business, driving more revenue and growing their companies more quickly than going it alone?

If so, we must surely be looking at the single most important relationship in a company. And that, in turn, would make the digital age the biggest catalyst for change the sales and marketing relationship has ever, or is ever likely to encounter.

The fact is the power has shifted. Not to sales, or to marketing but to the customer. We’re no longer pushing out what we want, to who and when. Now the customer decides what they want, when and where to find it and they move at their own pace. This is not going to change.

If we want to capitalise on this new behaviour, we have to be ready to engage and ready to place ourselves directly in their path. And Sales and Marketing have the combined skillset to do that. The question is not whether to change but how.

It’s time to heal the wounds and reignite the passion.

We asked our YouGov survey respondents what they considered to be the barriers to an aligned relationship. Responses included:

  • Not having clearly defined roles and responsibilities within the two teams
  • A lack of understanding and respect for each other’s roles and responsibilities
  • A lack of strategy
  • A lack of mutual understanding across both teams of customer need and mind-set
  • Both sides using inconsistent messaging and language style when engaging prospects and clients.

There is an obvious lack of clarity and direction here. It’s not uncommon for members of a group that is without structure or destination to jostle for position and defend their individual space. A unified focus on somebody else, in this case the customer, will not be their top priority. Far from it. It’s a behavioural consequence that is both natural and understandable.

Without clear direction Sales and Marketing don’t have a partnership, they have a power struggle. And so neutralising the competition between them feels like the best place to start.

Peter Drucker told us “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”  It’s time for a new paradigm. It’s time to start creating a new sales marketing mind-set. That means removing silos and independent thinking and instead planning and executing together as a single unified team, with the customer centre-stage. That’s not to say we should throw away what we know, value or care about.  It’s about combining our assets into a single powerful and persuasive force with the single objective of engaging minds and winning business.

The question now is how can Sales and Marketing co-create, and how will that help them win more business?

We share 10 points to help you start your own successful transition

1. Behaviours

Huthwaite are behavioural experts. Our extensive research shows us that different behaviours achieve different outcomes. A good communicator will know these behaviours and will use them consciously depending on the situation they are in and the outcomes they want.

If the current sales and marketing relationship is competitive, as our YouGov research suggests, but the desired outcome is one of collaboration and mutual support, then the behaviours to adopt are a balance between Initiating, Reacting and Clarifying.

Initiating – are behaviours that put forward ideas, concepts, suggestions or courses of action.

Reacting – are behaviours that put forward an evaluation of other people’s contributions.

Clarifying – are behaviours that exchange information, facts, opinions and clarification.

Too much Initiating on all sides adds to the competitive feel. Whereas too much Reacting leads to slow progress.  Coming together to observe and purposefully balance behaviours is a strong first step towards a healthier and more productive relationship.

2. Different job roles but one team

While ever both teams continue to operate as separate entities, the power struggle will prevail. By converging as one team they can focus on their primary shared objective which is customer persuasion. Consider the location of both teams and the potential for a closer physical proximity as well as, even a new departmental name. It’s radical stuff but it matters.

3. Customer first

Putting the customer front and centre and focusing on them, takes attention away from each other. Where attention goes, energy flows. This can either work for or against you. Make it the former.

4. Sharing customer knowledge leads to deeper understanding which leads to more persuasive messaging

The deeper your customer understanding the better you are able to develop messaging that has greater resonance, impact and cut through. Sales may know more about:

  • Functional product needs – Explicit and Implied
  • Purchase drivers
  • Personal motivations
  • Others involved in a typical decision making unit
  • Middle of the pipeline
Whereas marketing may know more about:
  • Demographic data
  • Anthropological insights
  • Socio economic data
  • Preferred media
  • Congregational points online
  • Extreme ends of the pipeline
  • and of course the power of the brand.

By combining that deep intelligence with a holistic view of the pipeline the new team can engage prospects more deeply at every step.

Tools such as Huthwaite International’s Buying Cycle™ can help align messaging to every stage of the purchase decision making process to ensure resonance with prospects at whatever point they’re at and through whichever medium they reach you.

Working together to harmonise language across spoken and written environments, on and offline, creates a consistency the prospect is far more likely to remember.

5. A joint decision on target markets

Target markets have historically been Marketing’s area, but Sales can advise anecdotally on receptivity. For example poor performance in a market doesn’t necessarily mean the market is wrong. It could have been the approach or the language or the timing. A deeper sharing of knowledge, facts and figures can uncover deeper truths.

6. Identify the tactics for each persona and segment

The communication channels at a Marketer’s disposal are wide and varied and growing by the month. A contemporary kitbag would likely include, as a minimum . . .

  • Prospecting e.g. LinkedIn Navigator
  • Website
  • Sales support material
  • Presentations
  • Blogs
  • Slideshares
  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Pay per click
  • Whitepapers
  • Public Relations
  • Webinars
  • Content strategies
  • Advertising
  • Traditional direct mail
  • Events
  • Social Media

A crucial conversation is to agree how much value you’re prepared to give away across each channel and how much to hold back for a meeting.  Or in the digital space particularly, what value you can offer in exchange for contact data. It’s an important mandate and one that needs to be established together.

7. Agree outcomes and metrics

Ensure both sides understand and agree the incremental successes needed to achieve a business win. Then everyone becomes interested in and motivated by the performance of the minutiae, not just the sales conversion. This makes for greater respect for the work involved at every stage and a tighter knit team as a result.

8. Divide roles and responsibilities

Consider skillsets and experiences, but also who has more time. Pay attention too to mutual ground, such as who is responsible for conversing on social channels, and so avoid unnecessary duplication.

9. Share knowledge and skills

Trained SPIN® sellers can show Marketing how to increase a customer’s perception of value. Marketers can show Sales how not to feature dump. There are many substantial and valuable insights to share.

10. Adopt a third party methodology

Finally, consider adopting a joint methodology such as SPIN® Selling, SPIN® Marketing and the behavioural expertise provided by Huthwaite International. It can be a neutral catalyst that bring the teams together, particularly in the early stages and significantly speed up the transition towards co-creation.

In summary

The sales marketing relationship is probably the single most important relationship in a company. We can’t afford for it to be broken. The decision is not whether to change but how. We need to consider co-creation to heal wounds and refocus attention away from each other and on and around deeper customer engagement.

The days of ‘me’, single minded and division are over.  Let’s forget the power struggles and start the movement for co-creation and in doing so step out onto the leading edge. Because that’s exactly where the sales and marketing relationship belongs.

Blog/article mini series links:
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About the Author
Rachel Massey

Written by Rachel Massey

Rachel is responsible for Huthwaite’s strategic marketing and communications across the globe. With over 20 years marketing experience, Rachel has shaped brand architecture, driven digital strategy, created content, produced events and built communities for organisations from small businesses to global brands.