As business leaders try to get to grips with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic there is one single-minded objective – growth! Grow revenue and generate cash flow by any means possible.
In one of the most challenging environments in decades, sales organizations are, not surprisingly, feeling the pressure.
The hard reality of a sales person’s life is that most products and services today provide good value and solve most customer problems to a satisfactory degree. Any advantages achieved with product-centric strategy focusing on features and function is short-lived. Innovation is soon copied and price becomes the determining factor.
In the current environment, and most likely beyond, success will mostly depend to a high degree on how sales people engage and interact with customers. Sales teams have to be empowered, not just incentivized.
How sales happen
Think about how a sale is made. Sales don’t just happen. Closed deals are the end point of a lengthy process, especially in the B2B world. They begin with a brand strategy that articulates a defined and defendable competitive advantage. That articulated advantage should flow into a comprehensive messaging strategy built for the marketing team to use.
In this scenario, the final link in the chain is sales enablement. Businesses have to empower sales people with proper messaging, content, materials, presentations, tools, solutions, processes, and support at each stage of the sales cycle.
Sales people thus become the differentiator, NOT the products and services they sell. It’s a radical thought. First, we have to bridge the divide between marketing and sales.
Bridging the marketing/sales divide
A plethora of articles and books have been written about the lack of alignment between sales and marketing functions. Based on my experience with clients across many industries, this is what happens:
On the marketing side, a new brand strategy is developed and, after many months of hard work, it is launched. Sales people are provided with materials and maybe a few participate in training sessions. A digital marketing campaign and leads are generated and passed on to the sales team.
On the sales side, sales people have little patience and less time to understand and internalize the new strategy and how to use it effectively. Furthermore, the materials and presentation decks have a new, unfamiliar language, diagrams, images and charts. And, most critically, sales processes have not been calibrated to align with the expectations set by the brand strategy.
The result? Sales people disregard the new brand strategy. They regard it as inconsequential and quickly revert to what they know and what they have always done. This disconnect between how marketing positions a brand and its offerings vs. how sales people actually sell generates three unintended and detrimental outcomes:
- Marketing efforts risk being seen as a waste of money and all about aesthetics – just a bunch of pretty words and pictures.
- Sales people do not capitalize on the brand strategy to drive preference and drive revenue more effectively across the sales cycle
- Executives do not see any ROI on brand investment.
The solution has often been to search for the technology platform to bring the two groups together. This approach, while understandable and sometimes valuable, has produced mixed results. A tool does not change behavior. And if the underlying issues are not resolved nothing really changes.
I have the greatest regard for sales people. They have to be masters of complexity, particularly in the B2B space. A conversation with a smart sales person is priceless: practical elements, process constraints, product performance, market drivers, competitive forces, local issues, cycle characteristics, buyer characteristics, cultural sensitivities – they all work together to shape how a sales person lead prospects through the purchase cycle.
The way forward
There is, of course, no silver bullet. All organizations are different. Here are four steps to successfully bridge the divide between sales and marketing, and optimize the efforts of each to the benefit of all.
- Sales enablement diagnostic & plan: A sales enablement diagnostic is necessary to acquire an understanding of the current state of things and develop a plan.
- Differentiation and messaging: This is important because it drives storytelling and content with inbound and outbound activities across the different stages of the sales cycle. If a company already has a strategy, the diagnostic will reveal if the strategy is appropriate or if its execution is problematic. Often times, this step consists of refining, deepening and reframing the messaging platform under a different perspective.
- Sales training & materials: This step is crucial. Sales people need to internalize the strategy, understand how to use the messaging and the materials created. Storytelling is a key part of this phase.
- Monitor and refine: A constant feedback loop mechanism between marketing and sales is necessary to increase effectiveness overtime. This step requires patience and collaboration between marketing and sales.
If you operate in an industry where there is an abundance of viable solutions, sales people can become the differentiator. It requires businesses to empower sales teams with the right messages, tools, solutions, content, and processes to succeed. Done correctly, sales enablement translates investment in brand building into enhanced sales performance, which can be monitored, optimized and evolved according to market conditions.