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Closing the gap between sales and marketing

For many companies, sales and marketing work hand in glove. However, for others, they work independently and a gap still exists. And it’s not doing them any favours.

I cut my teeth in marketing for an academic publishing company. I reported to the sales and marketing director who oversaw a joint department. There was a marketing team and a sales team, but we worked closely together, had joint meetings and talked frequently to each other. In fact, I often got involved in what some might have seen as sales activities: speaking to customers, managing stock, going out on sales visits, organising ‘inspection’ copies of textbooks for lecturers to see and review before they decided to put them on the recommended reading list.

Often, books were made recommended reading directly from a marketing campaign to lecturers – which led to sales of the books – without the sales team being involved at all. So my first encounter in a sales and marketing team showed me that there wasn’t a clear line between “sales” and “marketing”. And, more importantly, results were better when there wasn’t.

Mind the gap

This formative experience framed my thinking. I see them as two sides of the same coin. Marketing is as responsible for bringing in new clients and keeping them happy as sales is. For me, that’s what marketing is all about.

See: 8 reasons why marketing is misunderstood.

There are numerous benefits (and quite a lot has already been written about) to aligning your sales with marketing including:

  • better quality leads (because you focus on your ideal clients, not just any business you can find and because marketing can be tweaked to ensure this);
  • increased engagement and stronger relationships (relying on and working with each other to meet business objectives naturally leads to the customer having a consistent experience of the firm where left hand knows what right hand is doing);
  • clearer communication between the two teams leading to better and more agile plans;
  • increased revenue (several reports indicate sales and marketing alignment significantly increase sales);
  • better marketing (because the two teams are talking, marketing will be better informed and briefed about what content or tools will best support the customer’s buying journey).

I’ve been talking to several companies recently which have one of two challenges:

  • are historically BD/sales-focused having little or no marketing function at all
  • the BD and marketing work more or less independently

In professional services, where most of my work is, there is an added layer in that the experts (lawyers, accountants, surveyors, etc) form the backbone of the sales team though that role is not always in their comfort zone. They also have a ‘day job’ so it can be challenging integrating them fully into the marketing and BD efforts.

So, what can you do to encourage marketing and BD (all those involved, not just those for whom it’s a full-time job) to work more closely and derive all of the benefits?

Kick-start working together

Here are 7 things I recommend to clients, working through and agreeing them as a whole team.

Really understand your client

Number one, jointly agree who an ideal client is, their attributes, likes, interests, thinking, where they hang out, who they speak to on their buying journey. Develop the persona with any detail that both marketing and sales need to know to make what they do more effective. A deep, shared knowledge of your customer is THE starting point.

I recently ran a workshop with a firm to help them develop more insight into their ideal client. One of the things we explored was the ‘triggers’ for them needing to buy from this firm. What event or factor, what frustration or pain, led them to the point where they were looking for this service? This helps you really understand their situation and points to two things. Firstly, it can be used to frame what messages to communicate to empathise with prospects – “do you feel like this?”. Secondly, it helps BD people spot opportunities. Via this thinking, we uncovered in the workshop one major missed opportunity.

Map out your customer’s journey

Secondly, map your client’s buying journey. Run a workshop, including marketing, BD and other people in that discussion so there is a common understanding of a typical journey and the ways in which the clients might come to you. There is only one customer journey, so it makes sense for everyone to agree what it is. One useful thing to do then is to the overlay the marketing and sales activities you undertake at which step. Not only does it highlight what each team does but also the gaps.

Use a common language

Third on my list is having agreed your customer’s journey (see above), discuss and agree what BD and marketing both need to do to support them at which part of the journey. Knowing what different people mean by “leads” or “our sales process” irons out any misunderstandings or assumptions.

As an example, asking a variety of people to rate how good your marketing is at different points of the journey is a powerful way of introducing everyone to a language they can all use. If run as a team event it can also help to understand each other’s point of view and why they think that. However it’s done, it highlights where you’re leaking profit, where your priorities are and starts an action plan. But it also serves to underline the point that marketing supports sales not just at the beginning of the journey to generate leads but throughout the process and to help retain and grow clients.

Develop and agree a clear value proposition

Fourth, what is it you’re selling to these ideal clients? What are the features and benefits, what will your service or product do for them, how will it solve their problem and how will it make them feel? If this is crystal clear, it focuses both the BD and marketing effort on the right work for the right clients.

Co-create a sales and marketing plan

Each team shares the same aims – to develop relationships with prospects and clients, to grow the business, to excel at customer service. Whilst the activities for BD or marketing might be different in the plan, the shared objectives create a common and collaborative purpose.

See: What should be in a good marketing plan?

Walk in each other’s shoes

If you look at the tasks of marketing and the tasks of BD – they are the same. For instance, at the beginning of the customer’s journey, you need to ‘be there’. At the point the client says ‘yes’ you need to ‘be friendly’ (these tasks are neatly articulated by Bryony Thomas in her book Watertight Marketing).  This being so, how could you better understand each other’s jobs? Perhaps a job swap or shadowing. Perhaps going to joint meetings with prospects or clients or running a project together.

Meet regularly

And finally, there’s nothing that replaces regular face to face meetings and interaction, discussing pipeline, what’s going on with existing clients and key accounts, what opportunities are on the horizon or current. It keeps everyone in the know.

In conclusion, it takes a bit of effort to start with, but the benefits of working more closely together are manifold and will be show up within weeks.

If you’d like your marketing and BD to work more collaboratively, a good way to start would be to benchmark your marketing as a team. Find out more here.

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