Marketers are always looking for ways to get their messages to the right customers. They constantly analyze their media spend and channel strategies, and devote untold sums to awareness campaigns. But many companies are not reaping the full rewards of their efforts because they fail to deliver the tools and support that their sales forces need to close business deals.
What’s going on? There is often a fundamental disconnect between marketing and sales. Marketers, both a company’s own marketing department and the agencies it works with, don’t pay enough attention to the point where their efforts should hit home, the moment of purchase decision. That is where sales support is absolutely crucial. But by ignoring the motivations and interactions with a company that drive customers to choose one product over another, marketers are missing the opportunity to uncover critical insights that can dramatically affect results.
Marketers, then, must understand how purchase decisions are made. Using such tools as interviews and ethnographic research, marketers can gain deeper understanding of customers’ decisions, including the context in which they are made and the elements that contribute to their conclusions. This helps marketers do a better job developing sales materials that deliver the information customers need in the way they want to receive it. The result? Shorter selling cycles, better close rates, greater brand consistency, and higher adoption of sales tools by the field sales force.
Trapped in a Sales Silo
Rather than treating sales support as an afterthought at best, marketers should incorporate it into their overall strategic planning. Many large organizations regard tactical sales communications as necessary evils instead of critical tools. They tend to devote small budgets to these communications, separate from the overall marketing spend, and make them the purview of managers with narrow responsibility. This approach is particularly dangerous — and dangerously prevalent — in scenarios in which decisions require more than one decision maker; take place over multiple interactions and channels of communications; and involve complicated products whose value is intangible, such as the decision to change benefits providers or enhance a retirement plan.
The traditional marketing, branding, and advertising agencies working for these organizations often exacerbate the problem. By organizing themselves around delivery channels, such as print, Web, and television, agencies also ignore the gap between marketing strategy and sales performance. In addition, top creatives and strategists simply don’t want to work on less glamorous and often more substantive communications, such as sales presentations, sales sheets, online demos, welcome kits, and monthly statements to customers. Not only is sales support less sexy than a big ad campaign or a commercial, but it commands smaller budgets and faster turnaround times.
The tactical nature of these sales communications also means denser product information, which in turn requires a higher level of industry expertise, understanding of the audience, and knowledge of the sales process. In short, many agencies see these communications as more labor and less reward than a major campaign or a Web site. When agencies do take on a project focused on sales communications, their team may not have the skills required to see it through.
Delving into Decision Making
Raising the level of sales support requires that companies recognize two facts: 1) successful selling derives not just from products but also from behaviors; and 2) the elements necessary for successful selling may dictate the need for fundamental changes in how marketers think about decision makers. From a practical standpoint, this means companies can’t start a project or campaign by just churning out printed materials or a Web site. Rather, they need to begin with a blank slate, and before even conceiving a strategy they must try to understand the behavior of the decision makers.