Red Bull team pit stop

The Press, March 2014

A lot of noise emanated from Melbourne’s recent Formula 1 Grand Prix, but it wasn’t coming from the sleek racing machines.

Instead fans were howling their protest at changes from the distinctive F1 car roar to what a commentator described as similar to a ‘‘Massey Fergusson tractor’’.

Similar protests come from some Kiwi business owners and managers about the ‘‘racing cars’’ of the modern technology business – the sales person. Why are we investing in these supposedly clever, successful people and they just don’t seem to be able to deliver, is the question they ask.

Industry surveys back this up, with Kiwi hi-tech companies citing sales as one of their major weaknesses in taking their products to offshore markets.

Often the problem is that we fill these ‘‘racing car’’ sales teams with diesel and then complain that they don’t sound or perform as we wish. It’s more the fault of the business than the sales team.

At the root of this is an incorrect view of the role of sales, which leads to unrealistic expectations and frustration.

A potential customer (a ‘‘prospect’’) goes through a process, from having never heard of your company or product through to understanding and being attracted to it, and finally purchasing and using it. This is not necessarily a linear process and may involve lots of backtracking and roundabout routes, but fundamentally it is about moving from point A of never having heard of you to point Z of loving your product as a loyal customer.

Too often company leaders see it as the sales force’s job to do the whole lot from that initial point A through to Z.

In a very small business that’s what a sales person has to do, because there is no one else. As a company grows however, it is an inefficient approach. It is putting diesel in the car’s tank, instead of high octane fuel.

More efficient is having a process to ‘‘sieve’’ out potential customers with the most interest from a market and presenting them to the sales person to nurture toward a sale. Instead of the sales team wasting time on organisations who will never buy, they focus on persuading a prospect to buy, a prospect that already knows your brand and has some understanding of what it can offer to them.

This is where the marketing comes in, implementing programmes that generate and deliver these warm ‘‘leads’’ to the sales team – and let them just build relationships and get the sale.

The job of marketing is to build a lead generation ‘‘machine’’, a programme of measurable activities that raise awareness of your brand with a targeted group of prospects, and then helps those prospects understand more about your product and become attracted to its potential value to them.

What’s exciting for Kiwi exporters is that so much of this ‘‘lead generation’’ can be done online with all the cost-effective tools available today. By enticing prospects into their website with valuable content, firms can attract prospects from virtually anywhere in the world and start nurturing them toward becoming a sales opportunity.

Firms that master this efficient selling process notice that sales activity starts to build momentum over time while their average cost of sales drops. Lead times for sales decrease and companies can grow without having to constantly add sales staff.

The other aspect of building an efficient selling machine is having marketing and sales working together. Research organisation Aberdeen Group published a recent study showing companies with aligned sales and marketing achieve 20 per cent annual growth rate, while those with poor cooperation experienced a 4 per cent revenue decline.

There are three key ingredients to getting this cooperation between marketing and sales.

First, it’s about tracking and measuring how prospective customer go from being leads through to closed sales, so the respective roles and contributions of marketing and sales can be clearly measured and the progress gauged. Second, there is a critical need for both groups to use a common language to describe where a prospect is on the sales process.

Confusion around terminology can be the biggest source of friction between marketing and sales.

Finally, it is about both teams having some mutual agreement about what each other will commit to, for marketing in terms of producing quality leads, and for sales in terms of their efforts to convert those into customers.

Rather than blame sales people for not delivering, we need to examine how they are supported, and whether they are fed diesel or jet fuel in terms of their sales leads. It is about making sure these ‘‘race cars’’ can perform at their best and not disappoint, like those dodgy sounding F1s.

 

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