The Other Side of the Coin

This post also appeared in the 11/28/2014 Business Section of the Portsmouth Herald

In my last piece I talked about not just the importance of having a true sales function in your business, but also the risks associated with thinking what you have in place is sufficient when it may not be.  A real sales function requires people skilled in selling, a genuine discipline with theories, processes and accountabilities.  As many have learned (me included) to their detriment, pitching is only the first part of selling; closing a deal is the second, and arguably more demanding, part.  Some people aren’t good it this any more than everyone is cut out to be a software engineer or a surgeon or an accountant.


The same is true for marketing: it’s a real discipline, one which requires skills, processes and detailed knowledge of how to present a product or service to the market in a way that supports the selling effort.  Sales and marketing, while inextricably interwoven together in a company’s success, are still separate sides of the same coin.  Failing to recognize the differences as well as the linkage is as big a risk to your business as not having either in place at all.  Without marketing, sales suffers.  Without a good sales effort in place money spent on marketing is wasted.


To be successful you need strong marketing and solid sales, and both teams need to work together.  All too often I see sales teams complaining about the quantity and quality of leads from marketing and marketing complaining that sales never follows up proactively on the opportunities they turn over.  This conflict is counterproductive and preventable.  The solution lies in changing up the model to drive success, the first step of which is alignment.


While it seems obvious, surprisingly few businesses think to tie sales and marketing to the same high level goals, but doing so creates a shared responsibility, and that reduces “blame.”  Work backwards, for example, from a stated sales revenue goal .  The sales team will consider how many active deals they need to be working on to achieve their part of the goal, and then how many prospects they need to draw those deals from.


Now extend that up the line to marketing: how many leads need to be generated by marketing activities to get those prospects for sales?  That in turn informs how many raw leads need to be found, which in turn informs the quantity and type of marketing programs necessary to meet those goals.  Sounds simple, but over the years I’ve seen this connection ignored.  Money is spent, and revenue performance is either good or bad, but the outcomes are independent of the marketing spend.  What a waste of money, effort and opportunity!  Alignment can occur in so many areas, depending on your slice of the business world, but it can’t be ignored.


The second step is found in mutual understanding.  Few salespeople know what a marketer does and even fewer marketers understand the complexities, pressures and efforts needed to close business.  Brief one another.  Invite them to participate in deal reviews or strategy sessions.  Share information.  This seems obvious, but it’s so often ignored.  If systems permit, build joint “key performance indicators” so the teams can see their impact on one another—and against the common goals.  When deals succeed explore what contributed to the win.  When deals wither, spend the time to deconstruct.


A critical component to understanding is a clear explanation of individual roles and priorities.  Like so many other things in life, what looks consistent and uniform from 30,000 feet appears a lot less so close up.  In practical terms, this means that marketing may not (and most often is not) just responsible for lead generation.  There’s also market awareness, public relations, product definition, and a host of other functions important to a company’s success that only indirectly touch sales.  The same is true on the sales side.  Keeping existing customers happy, fixing problems, even helping to collect on overdue bills can take up a lot of a salesperson’s time and effort; it’s not just about pounding the pavement or phones all day long looking for business.  Get a level of understanding in place and you’ll see immediate improvement.


Well, that is, as long as you meet the critical last step: ensuring competence.  Just as you need to be sure your sales team actually knows how to execute and complete a sales process, your marketers need to be more than designers or writers.  To grow a business you need a lot more than brochures and pens with your logo on them.  They need to know how to think strategically and how to take that strategy to execution.  Maybe most important of all, your marketing team needs to understand the business you’re in.  Good marketing isn’t generic any more than is good sales.


Bring together competent people in both disciplines, make sure they are aligned with the business’s goals, and drive collaboration and you’ve got your very best chance for success.

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