As the Super 15 rugby season commences yet again, it reminds me of that perennial debate about the relative importance of forwards and backs, played out in my world every day between sales and marketing.
Forwards are the tough guys doing the hard work while the backs are the glory boys scoring the points.
In the business world it is sales people who take the role of the forwards, the hard-working grunts who convert prospects into paying customers, suffering the slings and arrows of uninterested punters.
Marketers are seen by sales as fluffy branding types, focused on spending huge sums on advertising and PR for indeterminate value. The lilywhite backs to their rugged forwards.
A raft of statistics underlie the schism. A study by US research organisation the Corporate Executive Board, found that 87% of the terms sales and marketing use to describe each other are negative. US marketing company Sales Staff cites a range of damning statistics around marketing’s inability to support sales.
They found 42% of sales reps feel they do not have the right information before making a sales call, and 90% of marketing deliverables are not used by sales; 53% of sales leads are generated by sales people, compared to 24% by the marketing team; and 79% of marketing leads never convert into sales.
As modern rugby has become a ‘whole team’ approach, where the roles of backs and forwards are increasingly interchangeable, the sales and marketing functions must become more integrated, especially in the sector in which I work – selling technology products business to business.
Research from the annual Market Measures study into sales and marketing by Kiwi hi-tech exporters, shows the majority of firms employ a ‘lone-wolf strategy’. That is, they arm a sales team with product collateral and send them off into the world to find and nurture leads, and turn them into customers.
It’s hard, lonely, unrelenting and largely inefficient. And it ignores the valuable role marketing can play, which – in any business – is to make the job of selling more efficient.
Marketers can provide market insights to product developers so their output is as relevant as possible to the target customer, thereby making it easier to sell.
More importantly marketing should be focused on raising awareness about your products and generating demand for them amongst a target market. While much effort is put in by marketers into the glamour of the former, not enough is put into the latter, the hard graft of marketing that is generating leads, more and more of which is done online today.
What does it take to make this process of marketing and sales more efficient?
Firstly, it is about focus. Focusing your effort on an identifiable set of connected prospects, i.e. a market, is the best way to raise awareness and generate demand cost-effectively. What companies don’t often realise is that trying to sell a product into three different markets is more like trying to sell three different products, as promotion, sales and support requirements can vary significantly.
Second, it is about discipline in sales, process and measurement.
That is discipline in the sales team to stick to the market focus, not sell a product to customers that are hard to service, and to communicate the value of a product rather than discount.
Discipline in process is the whole of a business – sales, marketing and other parts – agreeing on what the typical sales process looks like and should be described. This means everyone can communicate clearly about what is happening with sales, rather than rely on the optimism of your sales team.
Discipline is also about data. Applying metrics to that sales process so you can make a dispassionate assessment of the effectiveness of your sales and marketing. While sales is easier to assess it is harder with marketing.
Marketing’s value is better understood when measures are in place. For many Kiwi tech exporters it is time for sales and marketing to switch traditional roles. Marketing should be the rugged forwards, doing the hard graft to build awareness and generate leads, while sales take the glory by converting these warmed prospects to customers.
In the immortal words of Fred Dagg, ‘‘Remember, we want to see good clean ball, and for goodness sakes, feed your backs!’’.