For example, one electronic media company distributed its sales materials electronically, which seemed like a reasonable choice. Through observation and analysis, however, we learned that by relying solely on electronic communications, the Web-based company was handicapping its sales process. Why? Its clients generally relied on group decisions, and the decision makers wanted hard copies in hand. By creating electronic versions only, the company forced its clients to print out the materials, which clients were reluctant to do, and it therefore lost control over the presentation. Even though the product the company was selling was electronic, the preference at the point of decision was for printed materials.
Going into the Field
The ethnographic approach isn’t for beginners. It requires seasoned marketers to lead the information gathering and analysis, and media-agnostic creatives who can translate those findings into compelling communications. More than any other marketing materials, sales communications integrate content and design, which means companies also need a team of writers and designers with the industry experience and creative chops to bring the strategy to life, without losing sight of the end users. The creative team must also have the range to work across media so it can deliver communications exactly the way customers want to receive them.
After companies have developed the communications, they should go back to the sales force for testing. Although this undoubtedly lengthens the process, the communications are, after all, sales tools that make sales more effective. Including sales in the process makes all the difference.
For companies that refocus their strategic communications, the results of applying this rigor can be tremendous: Not only will they transform necessary evils into sales vehicles, but they will also finally connect marketing strategy with sales force needs, which can be the beginning of a great relationship.
Barbara Sullivan (BSullivan@sullivannyc.com) is managing partner and founder of Sullivan, a full-service communications strategy and design firm with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Graham Ericksen (GEricksen@sullivannyc.com) is a creative director at Sullivan, where he oversees all content development and information architecture.