I was speaking with a global VP of sales the other day for an international services organization. I asked him what he expected from the marketing function at his company. His answer didn’t surprise me because I’d heard it before.
He expected marketing to manage the company brand, plan events and send emails. In other words, marketing handles the company image and sales handles the clients, the actual revenue generating activity of the business. In his mind, sales and marketing were separate. Sales people made money and marketing people spent money.
This mind-set is prevalent in a lot of service organizations today. But is it heathy? Is it effective? Can the marketing function do more than curate the brand and create awareness? Can the marketing function actually drive revenue? I believe the answer is yes. Let me share with you why I believe this.
If we concede that building relationships of trust is what produces revenue, then we must also concede that marketing is now in the business of building relationships.
What Do I Mean By Sales?
Before I go too far, I want to explain what I mean by the term “sales.” Sales is often a dirty word in service organizations, especially those companies where people who serve clients have advanced degrees, years of experience and a sophisticated approach to service delivery. Many of our clients have JDs, PhDs, MBAs and other degrees.
These people often hate the term sales because it implies characteristics that they would never want associated with them. For these folks, “sales” people sell you something you don’t need, take no responsibility for the outcomes and don’t hang around after the sale to ensure everything goes according to plan. These type of “sales” people are lacking in character and cannot be trusted.
By comparison, consultants, business development executives and vice presidents, to name just a few common titles, thrive on trust. These people shoot straight with clients. They take responsibility for their recommendations. They build long-term relationships based on fulfilling the promises they make. They are there for the long haul.
So when I talk about “sales” in professional service organizations, I’m referring to those people who are responsible for building trusted relationships with clients, developing and closing proposals and thereby generating revenue.
Why Marketing Is Now In Relationship Management
In days gone by, marketing people rarely talked to clients. About the only time this happened is when marketing would conduct research, build case studies or ask for testimonials. But nearly always, this activity would take place long after sales had closed a deal and built a relationship with the client.
In fact, when sales people are asked which of their clients might be willing to offer a testimonial, they often act in very protective ways toward their clients. They don’t want marketing people to complicate the relationships they had worked so hard to build. In their minds, sales people own the client relationship.
But a shift is taking place today that is the result of three phenomena:
- Content marketing
- Marketing automation
- The in-bound journey
These three have placed marketing squarely, albeit often ineffectively, in the path of incoming clients. This is why it is no longer effective to think of sales people as owning client relationships.
If we concede that building relationships of trust is what produces revenue, then we must also concede that marketing is now in the business of building relationships. This means that effective marketing functions are, in fact, driving revenue opportunities for the company. How can I say this?
In today’s world, it is far more likely that a prospect will spend time with the content the marketing function creates before talking to a sales person than it is that the prospect will bypass marketing content and go straight into sales dialogue. Content is the gateway to the relationship.
This means that marketing is touching prospects first. Marketing is not only creating awareness of the brand. Marketing is now creating expectations about the kind of relationship the prospect will have with the company. That is a huge shift.
This means that the relationship, the process of trust-building, actually starts with and is dependent on marketing people.
How Content Marketing Starts Relationships
Most people these days, especially B2B buyers of complex products and services, will not make a decision without conducting a fair amount of research. There is simply too much risk to the buyer if they get the decision wrong. It could end, or severely damage, their careers.
This means that they are looking for ideas, expertise and insights to help them make the right decision. That expertise is usually delivered today via content marketing. This might include webinars, blogging, case studies, action guides, e-books and other types of content.
In every service organization I know of today, marketing is responsible for creating this content. Marketing may be drawing ideas from sales people, and smart marketers are most certainly doing this. But the actual content production, the voice if you will, is from marketing.
Marketing people are usually making three critical decisions that have a huge impact on the relationship-building process with in-bound prospects:
- What topics do we pick?
- How do we ideate the best content?
- What channels do we choose to broadcast the content?
The actual choice of content topics determines whether or not a relationship gets started. If you pick topics that no one cares about, no one will respond. But if you pick topics that people in your target market really care about, you’ll get lots of conversions. You’ll build good will and start relationships.
The ideation process is where most content marketing goes awry. Sorry, but no one wants to read a white paper called seven ideas we just dreamed up in the marketing department. Great content marketing tells prospects how to achieve a goal, realize an opportunity or overcome a challenge that matters to them. When content marketing does this, prospects move quickly along the in-bound journey. In every organization I work with, it is marketing’s responsibility to ideate the best content.
Choices about which channels to broadcast content in also have an impact on emerging relationships. We see this most clearly today by way of two key metrics: time on site and time on page. Busy professionals have no time to waste. So if marketers choose channels that require too much time from users, those users might disengage. Think about the number of boring webinars you’ve sat through where you keep waiting for the speaker to get to the good stuff.
But if marketing people choose the right blend of content tactics that gradually pull prospects along the in-bound journey, they’ll get deep engagement. Prospects will spend a lot of time with the content and seriously think about how it will benefit them or change the way they do business.
So as you can see, the marketing function is making all sorts of critical decisions that impact emerging relationships. But this isn’t the only way marketing is involved in relationship building.
Sophisticated marketers today are actually uncovering relationships before sales people. This is made possible because of marketing automation. Contrary to what you may have heard, the primary value of marketing automation is not automation. It’s lead scoring.
With lead scoring and digital footprint tracking, marketing people are now in control of starting relationships. Good marketing automation systems allow marketers to clearly see who is leaning in and ready for sales dialogue.
This means marketing people can now influence, and quite frankly should influence, who sales people are talking to and why. In my experience, sales people only want to talk to qualified prospects. Usually this means prospects exhibit five characteristics:
- They have a need for which your products and services are a good fit.
- They have budget.
- They have a specific reason to take action.
- They have a timeline in which they must take action or there will be consequences.
- They have a willingness to engage in sales dialogue.
With marketing automation, marketing people can now clearly see who fits these criteria, long before sales people see them.
The In-Bound Journey
Prospects today take a journey, most of which is digital in nature. It is rare that someone wakes up one morning and says – hey I need to call this service company and spend my budget with them. That just doesn’t happen.
Instead, prospects take a journey that often looks like this:
- Anonymous: where they surf your website without identifying themselves.
- Acknowledged: where they fill out content forms and identify themselves.
- Engaged: where they spend time with your content and carefully consider your counsel.
- Leaning-In: where they are predisposed to want to work with you.
Most of that in-bound journey takes place on the systems, content and technology put in place by the marketing function. More importantly, a really solid marketing function doesn’t just throw leads over the fence to sales.
Now I know I’m going to ruffle some feathers with what I’m about to say. But here it goes anyhow.Marketing should now be qualifying leads before they are passed to sales. Here is why I say this.
All four stages of the in-bound journey now take place under the auspices of the marketing function. These stages are monitored by marketing via marketing automation platforms.
If the marketing function is also well-versed in the ideal client profile for sales executives, it is a natural progression for marketing to also have the first conversation with prospects to see whether or not there is a fit. This is the logical conclusion to the end of the in-bound journey.
Most busy sales executives don’t have time to be looking at the digital indicators of readiness-to-talk: a person’s lead score, LinkedIn profile and company website. In my experience, even if you train sales people in how to do this, often they will not do it. Busy sales executives want to focus on proposal development and serving existing clients.
But marketing people absolutely can be trained to review these items and then reach out to the prospect for an initial conversation. Marketing people can be trained to suss out needs and set expectations – all before the prospect talks to a busy sales executive.
This closes the sales and marketing gap. This makes marketing a driver of new business development and new client acquisition. This absolutely places the marketing function squarely in the relationship development business.
Why should your company consider this approach? Because service organizations who are asking the marketing function to deliver more than brand awareness, by using sophisticated technologies and processes, are growing by leaps and bounds.
How To Realize These Results
I’ve developed an Action Guide that shows you how to align your sales and marketing functions in the way I’ve described in this article. This free resource contains 7 videos and 7 downloadable tools you can use to start your journey toward a much stronger sales and marketing culture. If you want to realize the benefits of more productive sales executives and faster time to revenue, I know this Action Guide will really benefit you.