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Getting Sales and Marketing to Work Together

Small steps can produce big results

Marketers have an enormous arsenal of media outlets at their disposal, and there seems to be an infinite number of experts who postulate that one is more effective than the next. While some bet on the $2.7 million TV spot during the Super Bowl, others spend a fraction of that amount to create a one-minute capsule named “Will It Blend?” and post it on YouTube to be watched by over 50 million viewers. Many swear on the benefit of a strong presence in social media, while others still think their role is to offer their customers one loyalty program after the other.

The problem is that many companies – particularly those that market consumer products or use different channels of distribution – still focus their marketing budget and energy almost exclusively on the final consumer without realizing three critical points:

  • Even when the product is aimed at a consumer market, the marketing effort is still B2B.
  • The team that will implement its strategy and tactics, and thus ensure its success or failure, is the sales force.
  • The customer of the sales force differs widely from the perceived focus of the marketing team.

These discrepancies create the perfect conditions for marketing and sales to continue down their long warpath, to play the blame game, for marketing initiatives to be doomed right from the beginning and for sales to still answer the simple question, “What do you want from marketing?” with the direct statement, “That they leave us alone.”

But with small alignments, common language and some strategic steps, the conditions can be perfect to make marketing and sales work jointly toward the common goal of selling more, to more customers, more often and at a higher margin.

Unify the True Target

Read the average marketing brief for a product launch or extension and words like “sophisticated,” “upbeat” and “modern” are usually used to describe the target customer. Salespeople normally just scratch their heads when they hear these catchphrases, since their client is somebody completely different. The sales team sees the client as a purchasing director or CEO of a company. Ignoring this in almost every marketing brief is a main reason why the rift between these two departments persists. Marketing needs to change its focus and give the sales force the tools to assist the sales process by:

Optimal Candidate: Instead of detailing the lifestyle of the consumer, marketers should rather focus on the description of the optimal candidate or the perfect point of sale (POS) the sales team should be pursuing to improve the close rate.

Some learn this the hard way. When Heineken bought the beer division of FEMSA in Mexico, one of its intentions was to push its premium brand. Marketers decided that an exhibition or POS material of their brand should be placed in all stores that sold currently over x amount of cases per month. Sounds reasonable, but not if you take into account that over 60 percent of these points of sales were beer stores, called depositos, that targeted the low-income market segments, which could not only not afford the premium priced brand, but also had trouble simply pronouncing it.

Meanwhile, the marketing staff at L’Oreal, for which hair salons are a key sales channel, changed its focus and provided the sales force with a detailed description of the perfect target for each product launch, including the location of the establishment, the type of customers that attend, the average ticket size they charged, the historical sales the optimal candidate should be reporting, the specialized services they focused on, and the past success stories that would help with the new value proposition. Now that is something the sales force can and will use.

Job Title: we all know that B2B also stands for multiple decision makers, different people of diverse departments involved in the sales cycle. So why is there normally only one marketing material, only one sales presentation? Marketers should spend more time identifying the different job titles the sales force visits – what benefits and metrics are critical for each of them – and translate this knowledge into several sales presentations adapted by industry and by job title to have a real impact. This is especially important in the technology and telecom vertical, where the IT department, but also the CEO of the client can be involved, it is crucial to leave the “Star Wars” referrals only inside of the brochures for the systems guys and not for the head of the company.

Speak the same language

Another discrepancy is simply the language both departments use. While marketers still are prone to be impressed by word of mouth, brand awareness, top of mind or intent of purchase, sales normally just is concerned with one metric: sales.

For marketers to ensure that the sales team correctly implements its strategies, it is imperative that they translate the strategy into the language of sales. For Coca Cola in Latin-America, where still about 80 to 90 percent of sales come from the dispersed and pulverized traditional market or mom-and-pop stores versus the modern supermarket chains, the switch to a common sales language was critical. Before, marketers tried to impress upon the sales force the importance of achieving three more points of market share for a specific beverage. Sadly, none of the sales force really knew what a market share point was or how to put this new goal into practice. But when marketers learn to speak their language, to translate it into sales terms, to mention that in each distribution route of about a hundred customers, at least eight of them needed to be sold two cases (drop size) of this beverage on a monthly basis, they understood what had to be done.

Sell-Out versus Sell- In

Sell-in is what the company sells to its channels of distribution, while sell-out is the inventory actually moved and bought by the final consumer. Marketers will argue that with their advertising and promotional efforts they ensure the sell-out, while sales is in charge of the sell-in, to make sure the sufficient inventory is available for this created demand. This has to stop. Marketers have to start pointing sales in the right direction, making sure the correct sell-in distribution and on-premise tactics are in place, to transform the created interest of the final consumer into the desired financial transaction.

The Swatch Group, owner of 19 prestigious watch brands such as Omega, Longines and of course Swatch, was experiencing this problem with an almost double-digit return rate of inventory sold to its specialized jewelry channel of distribution. Once both marketing and sales teams put their heads together, a better sell-in approach and more targeted promotional material allocation was configured, driving the return rate to only 2 percent of total sales.

Steps to be taken

It’s vital that these two departments work together to achieve higher sales and exploit all synergies. Important steps to accomplish the above changes are:

Going out on calls / staying in the office

The simplest step is to make sure both departments understand the realities of the other. Sales management and top executives should be invited to strategic marketing meetings before a decision to launch a new product or service is taken or before a special promotion is communicated to the market. This will provide valuable input on their behalf, but also give the sales team a feeling of involvement or empowerment that will translate into better support for any strategy launched.

Meanwhile, marketers should stop staying in the office, stop consulting markets research provided by outside advisors, and simply go out with the sales force. See the action from the front lines and not from the HQ miles away. I have not heard of one marketer who has not found this to be an eye-opening experience, sensing first-hand the requirements, doubts and trends of the marketplace. Now, this cannot be just a temporary initiative, implemented for one week and soon forgotten. Implement a schedule that rotates the staff year-round to create a continuous flow of interdepartmental communications and knowledge. 

Compensation

In the old school, if the introduction of a new product was a success, marketing got the recognition, while if the product launch was a failure, the blame was pinned on the sales department. Today, the recognition and blame – and thus the resulting compensation – should be equally measured and distributed. Sales has to be measured in terms of sales, but marketers have to be measured on the ROI they produced to generate those sales.

ROI / Visibility

Since compensation will be tied to sales and ROI, it’s necessary for sales to concede and give visibility to what is still considered their holy grail: the sales pipeline. With the incorporation of the origin of each opportunity registered, whether it came from a promotion, an e-marketing blast, an event or an acquired leads database, each strategy will be measurable and the pipeline under constant dual supervision, identifying potential hazards and bottlenecks. Again, marketers would have to be given visibility and, more importantly, an understanding of the sales pipeline mechanics, but this is something they should be grateful to finally get in the first place.

Start targeting the right customer, unify the sales and marketing language, start thinking of the sell-in and sell-out scenarios, mix things up and tie in any compensation or recognition to financial metrics, and you will see how these two non-communicative departments will not only start communicating, but also generate more sales and more effective marketing.

Nico Schinagl PhD is a B2B sales and marketing advisor specialized in the Latin American region and the founder of the Sales Specialist Club, a community of practice to share and create new knowledge of over 14,000 members. He can be reached at nico@sforce.com.mx