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Successfully Integrating Sales and Branding

These days, your sales force needs all the support it can get. If you're doing promotional campaigns and advertising, that's obviously important. But everyone's offering a deal right now.

There's only one asset your sales force can leverage that no competitor can…and that's your company's brand.

Later on in this article, we'll talk about a process for helping your sales force participate in and take full advantage of your brand. First, however, let's look at the challenges standing in the way.

The Sales-Marketing Disconnect

In sales-driven cultures, employees sometimes view the whole idea of branding with indifference. Sure, a strong brand may make things easier for the sales team in some vague way, but it's often not seen as integral to the sales process. It's something that's established on your Website and in a few brochures.

Sales is where the action is. Building the brand is a passive activity that happens well before the sale, and it's certainly not the job of the sales force.

Is this the mindset that prevails in your organization? If so, you have some work to do.

Branding is, after all, an active pursuit. Your sales force is your current and potential customers' most direct and common contact with your brand. Your salespeople are shaping your brand in every interaction they have with current and potential customers, every day.

The goal must be to get your sales force to use your brand to their greatest advantage in these interactions. But salespeople often focus instead on the art of the individual sale, as well as the details—the features and benefits of your product or service as they apply to a sales target. Many ad campaigns designed to support sales initiatives have the same limitations.

This custom, tactical approach is understandable, as every sales conversation is different. And for the most talented members of your team, it may work well. Some people, after all, can sell just about anything.

But in this economy, even the best salespeople need more effective weapons to get an edge. That's why, in addition to knowing everything that's great about a particular product or service, your sales force needs to be armed with a strong story about why customers should want to do business with your company instead of your competition.

Otherwise, you risk getting dragged into a one-upping debate over whose offer has better bells and whistles…or worse yet, a price war.

This isn't just about advertising and other external messaging, but also about how people speak and act across every facet of your organization, particularly the sales team. Branding isn't "marketing's responsibility," as it's viewed in many companies. It's everybody's job.

Without getting your sales team on board and fully embracing your brand, you miss the great opportunity to leverage the brand, while also equipping your sales force with powerful messaging that can increase close rates, enhance sales conversations, an so on.

It's time to bridge this disconnect.

Integrating the Brand

A balance between brand messaging and the nuts and bolts of the sale should exist in every conversation with a customer—ad, e-mail, phone call, meeting, or anything else. That's not to say the conversation can't be 80 percent consultation or transaction, but it should at least have a broader, more differentiating element.

What does your company—not your product or service—do differently that the customer wants to pay for? This compelling brand story should be woven into the context of the unique sales conversation.

Here's a basic process for more fully integrating the brand into your sales activities:

1. Explore the challenges. For this process to work, the sales force must be part of it from the beginning and throughout.

Sit down with the team and talk about typical sales conversations with customers, common hot-button issues that arise, and ways they may or may not be using any existing marketing materials and messages. Consider the key sales objectives and troubleshoot barriers to the sale.

2. Apply the new knowledge. Analyze the insights you gained from the initial meetings. Next, apply the strongest points of your brand to create key messages, online sales tools, and more that hit target audiences' hot buttons, in addition to helping sales overcome specific challenges they're likely to encounter.

3. Test the new messages. Review new brand-based and situation-specific messages with the sales force and practice using these approaches in common sales scenarios. Keep your sessions down to earth and action-oriented, so they're strictly information the sales force can use.

Encourage them to be honest in their assessments of the messages. Then get them started testing the messages in real situations.

4. Review and improve. What's working and what isn't?

Maintain a dialog with the sales force and seek their feedback, both to refine the new messages and address their evolving issues.

The end result should be your sales force:

• Gains a clear understanding of why branding matters in the sales process.

• Translates your brand position into powerful sales messages.

• Plays an active role in shaping brand-based sales conversations.

Why are these efforts are so important? Simple: While a new Website, collateral, and other brand-based marketing initiatives can bring in some great sales leads, your sales team still has to close those deals.

At a time when you're vying for some seriously limited customer dollars, consistently applying a meaningful, effective brand in sales conversations will build the confidence and trust that are vital to your sales team's success.

Andy Narrai is chief operating officer of Scheibel Halaska, a Milwaukee-based strategic marketing communications firm.