Marketing Planning

When Sales and Marketing Collide

by Scott Joyce (with intro by Susan Zweibaum) on June 29, 2011

This post is a slight departure from my norm.  Instead of being written by me, this post is written by a guest contributor who I have worked very closely with in the past and is an incredible salesman.  Our goal is to look at marketing from a salesman’s perspective and how these two different corporate groups can best support each other.  I hope that Scott will continue contributing and that it will provide interesting insights for my readers.  Please note that the opinions written by Scott are purely his and I reserve the right to counter in future posts.

 Everyone sells, and every salesperson is in marketing. 

 When you are on an interview, you are selling yourself.  When you act in a film or a play, you are selling your performance.  When you are in management, you constantly have to sell your ideas and concepts to others.  

 Every salesperson is in marketing.  The very definition of marketing is “the activity … of creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value” (American Marketing Association, www.marketingpower.com).  A salesperson is always tasked with delivering value to his/her current and prospective clients.  A salesperson is always marketing themselves and their company to their clients.

 With such interwoven goals, you have to wonder why the sales and marketing arms of organizations are so often on different pages.  I don’t pretend to know all of the answers, but I do know of several common culprits that often drive a wedge between the message and success of the sales and marketing groups.

 1) The Old “Do More With Less” Marketing Method

In a bad economy, one of the first things to get cut is marketing dollars (the wisdom of which is a whole different topic).  So when the marketing organization is whittled down from 10 people to two, they are left understaffed and sometimes lack significant departmental experience.  Yet, many organizations don’t scale back their plans – they had 10 projects on the docket, and they are going to have to figure out how to “do more with less” and get them all done.  This is an awful thing to do and often puts the marketing organization in an untenable situation.  Tasked with completing 10 projects with 20% of the staff (and probably even less of the original dollars), they are forced to produce canned products that are often generic, not on message and just plain useless to the sales organization.  In my world, we call this “checking the box” – you got the task done.  Whether it was done right is another story, but the task itself is done.

 At one organization, this resulted in a laughable result.  The organization needed professional marketing slicks – single-page flyers that told a professional what the organization could do in a variety of categories within their space.  These needed to appeal to upper management, so they needed to be produced in color and on high-quality material.  The project went through on schedule and professional material was produced, but the budget was significantly cut midway through.  Instead of scrapping all of the ideas or the project itself, the creative team decided to cut costs by grouping together multiple concepts on a single page.  The resulting message distracted the target from the main message, creating information overload amid a jumbled cavalcade of ideas that did not flow.  The sales force hated it and ultimately did not use it, so the project became a complete waste of time and money.

 Marketing and sales need to partner together to create joint goals and timelines, especially when annual or quarterly plans need to be adjusted on a large scale.  Difficult decisions need to be made and made quickly – waiting only makes the problem worse.  When an organization’s resources are reduced, they need to pull back and focus on only the key initiatives or ideas where they can get the biggest return on the limited investment that can be made at the time.  If the sales organization had been apprised of the changes, they would have worked with marketing to simplify the message and focused just on one or two main areas.  This would have clarified the message to the customer and produced usable materials, leading to a successful, albeit scaled-back result.

2) When Budget Cuts Strike

 Budgets often change in midstream due to a variety of business circumstances.  When this happens in the middle of a project, the best thing to do is quickly evaluate if it has eroded the foundation of the project or if the project is still viable.  Unfortunately, many executives love to cut budgets but then try to force the organization to achieve the original goal.  We like to call this “phantom budgeting,” where money disappears but suddenly results and goals are stretched to bridge the difference.  No one is really sure how it will work, but these executives feel that if everyone tries hard enough, it can be accomplished.

 Here’s a great example: A technology company’s sales organization had absolutely no branded materials to leave behind or send to customers.  Meanwhile, their competitors were giving away branded laptop cases, USB drives, etc. The sales group was tasked with creating ideas for affordable items and came up with many, mostly technology-related items.  However, in the middle of the project, the budget was cut considerably.  Marketing chose a few of the lowest-end items from the list and bid them out because that was all the budget allowed.  One was a pen and the other a mouse pad.  The pens that came in looked really nice – until you used them for a day and the black paint from the company’s logo flaked off on your hands.  The mouse pads looked OK, but they actually had customers return them (most customers threw them out), because the cheap rubber that they were made from (which turned out to be from recycled tires) smelled so bad that they left an awful aroma in computer rooms.  In both cases, this company wasted a lot of time and effort executing a marketing program that not only hurt their brand, but also created ill will between the sales and marketing organizations.

 Don’t fall victim to this common mistake.  Scale back the projects, extend the timelines or scrap some of them altogether, but don’t produce inferior products that wastes time and hurts your brand.  If budgets get cut, reassess your priorities and the return you expect to get from them.  Creating ineffective marketing materials does more damage than good – it creates ill will amongst the sales organization, doesn’t drive customer retention or sales, and frustrates the few marketing experts you have left on your payroll.

 3) Creativity Run Amuck

 Most marketing professionals are creative; it is part of the very nature of the position.  Creativity knows no bounds, but budgets and timelines do.  The creative side has to be tempered with leadership that balances the unique with what is practical and necessary.  The sales organization is not much help with this.  Those of us in sales like to think we are creative, so we dream up crazy ideas all the time, usually with very little thought to their practicality.  Get a bunch of creative marketing and sales professionals together, and they can come up with a $300 million advertising campaign that features explosions and famous actors pitching product, all to sell a few thousand purple widgets.

 Too often the creativity of a group exceeds the practicality of the situation or even the sophistication of the customer.  Make sure those that lead these groups are pragmatic.  Executives need to choose project leaders who can balance the company’s needs with the creativity of the team.  These leaders must strike a delicate balance between the executive who often lacks detailed knowledge about the project but knows the organization’s financial means/outlook and the staff who have all the ground-floor details but don’t necessarily see the bigger picture.  This group leader has to have the strength to push back on executives and the patience to continually refocus the group.  A weak group leader who is influenced exclusively by either side almost never produces a result with any lasting value and effect.

All of us are facing economic circumstances that are unprecedented in our lifetimes. As such, we should be looking at the way we do business through a different lens than we ever have before. Executives and leaders need to realize more than ever the influence they have on the course of events within their organizations, the impact that fast-paced decisions have on their people, and how quickly circumstances can and will change in these uncertain times. Employees need to recognize the need that employers have for individuals who not only adapt to change, but who prove that they have multiple skill sets that make them invaluable assets to. And both groups need to ensure that the departments they represent, especially those of sales and marketing, are working together on projects, adapting quickly to the changing marketplace and delivering the best result possible with the resources available. Those that execute this well will not only survive, they will thrive.

Scott Joyce is a senior manager in a corporate sales division of a Fortune 150 firm. He has nearly 20 years of experience in sales management and training.  His perspective is built on his ability to forge close cross functional relationships, particularly with marketing.

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Recently I was catching up with a former agency partner and we got into a conversation revolving around two specific points:  1) The ability of midsize agencies to survive in these tough times; and 2) How to grow the business at a particular client who has never retained an agency or spent consistently.  In my friend’s case, it was the area of PR.  This conversation made me realize that often agencies do not understand how their clients think.  The answers to both of his concerns lay in better understanding client motivations and spending. 

I have spent many days sitting in an RFP pitch or as part of an agency bid process, and I am often amazed at how an agency doesn’t follow the brief, hasn’t done their homework about the brand or is just clueless about how the client is going to evaluate them. Furthermore, there are many on the agency side who have never been on the other side of the table and don’t really understand how the client thinks.   So, I am going to provide a little insider information, starting with the answers to my friend’s two points.

The size of the agency doesn’t matter 

The prevailing thought to my friend’s statement is that the client will either want a big agency with big resources or a small boutique with a niche in specific talents or industry knowledge, thus leaving the ones in the middle lost.  In some cases, that may be true, but often it is about three key elements:  chemistry between client and agency team; creative that delivers; and the knowledge base of the agency team.  An agency of any size can deliver these things and will survive if they are a good agency.  So size is not the issue – it comes down to how you connect with the client and what you deliver.   

Additionally, the actual size of an agency can be hidden.  More than once I have used sister agencies and subcontractors as part of our potential client team.  I have been open that these folks extend beyond the actual employees of the agency, but the client was satisfied in that these were dedicated resources to their project.

You can’t get water from a dry well

There are very specific reasons that a client will spend only so much on a given marketing tactic.  In the case of the client my friend was trying to grow, there were a couple of reasons: 1) The company did not have a need for ongoing PR support, just bursts for new project launches;  2) Social media, which is often managed by PR, was being handled by the media buying and promotion agencies.  Upon evaluation, my friend’s agency would probably have found it a waste of time and effort to try and push for more immediate business because their client would never be interested in ongoing PR initiatives and their business didn’t demand it.  Understanding how a client manages your agency’s area of expertise will provide you with direction on how to not only manage your client’s day-to-day business, but provide more appropriate new opportunities for you to pursue with them.  Generally, these kinds of clients use you as a service provider and not as a partner, so maintain an ongoing relationship to ensure you get the next bit of business that comes up.  Don’t push too hard for something that isn’t there; it will just frustrate you and annoy the client, since you can assume they already know that you are looking to grow the business. 

Chemistry is everything

Following the thoughts from above, when it all comes down to the final decision on who your agency is going to be, there is one key evaluation – are you a good fit with this client, and do THEY feel the chemistry?  Pricing, creative, location all do play a part, but the team choosing to work with the agency has to feel they “like” them, that the agency “gets” them.  It is sort of like dating – do you feel chemistry or not? I have been a part of agency RFP’s where an agency was chosen not because they had the best creative, but because the V.P. felt a connection with the team.  The agency didn’t work out, but that gut feeling often is a driving force.

I knew of a client that was unhappy with their agency.  Staffing had changed, and the agency was dropping the ball when it came to delivering what the client needed.  The client was about to pull their very large business from the agency.  A new leader joined the agency, and his personality, dedication and overall chemistry with the client was evident when they presented to this client.  The client believed in this new leader and the plans he presented because this agency leader knew how to connect and what needed to be said to save the business.  Through the chemistry and the connection, the leader saved the client from exiting the relationship.

Chemistry is everything, unless there are politics involved

Here is my caveat to “chemistry is everything” – politics trumps chemistry.  You’ve walked out of the pitch, you feel great because you know you really connected with the senior team evaluating you.  The team complemented you on the creative, and you feel like this one is in the bag – that is, until the phone call comes that says it went to another agency.  What happened?  Probably politics.  We all know that corporate politics can be brutal, and in the realm of agency selection, it can change the tide of the decision.  For example, on a recent agency search I was involved in, it came down to two agencies.  Agency A was the AOR of another business unit and well respected.  Their creative was dead on, and they connected well with the team.  Agency B gave a great presentation and connected well with the team.  However, the team was split on which agency to choose.  It was apparent that the V.P. felt more chemistry with Agency B and liked the creative better.  The final decision was hers to make, and the team was sure it would be Agency B.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Agency A won. The reason? Politics.  The V.P. had no issues going against key members in the decision-making team, but what she couldn’t fight against was the pressure from above to consolidate agencies and go for the well-respected agency already working with the other business unit.  While frustrating for her, politics won out once again.

Agencies prefer retainers, but companies often don’t

This has forever been the dilemma I have faced on both sides of this equation.  As the service provider, the best way to ensure a steady monthly revenue stream is to have your client on retainer.  You can better manage your staffing and overhead.  Moreover, it is the best way to be seen as a marketing partner and not just a service provider.  For many clients, especially large ones, they support the idea of a retainered agency and even embrace it.  However, many companies much prefer to work with agencies on a project basis.  Their budgets are tight, and they want the agencies to come up with great ideas and execute them, but they don’t feel the need for ongoing support.   Whether you get hired back depends on how well you execute that one promotion vs. being judged on the overall promotional strategy you helped them develop.  While some clients do have agencies of record that aren’t retainered, those agencies are always in sell mode because they don’t have commitment.

 A couple of additional points on ways this isn’t always the case.  As companies have moved away from internal marketing services teams, there is a greater push for agencies of record and retainers.  This is mostly because the company doesn’t have the in-house personnel to manage the programs.  Social media and product ingredient issues are also putting a greater emphasis on things such as PR and consumer outreach programs.  Many companies that utilized PR only for new product launches and general outreach are seeing more of a need for ongoing support.  I saw this first hand while working on sun-care and infant products.  Because product ingredients and packaging such as plastics where consistently being called into question, there was a need for constant media monitoring.  Additionally, enough of a case was made internally for management to approach things differently.  Therefore, PR became an ongoing need requiring a retainered relationship. 

Following the creative brief is important

Your creative may be awesome, your insights into the target demo dead on and your chemistry with the team palpable, but if you don’t provide the answers to the questions the creative brief asked, you are basically dead in the water.  You are being evaluated against other agencies on how well you responded to the brief.  You miss the target, you are evaluated poorly.  You can claim misinterpretation of the brief, but it is your responsibility to ask questions upon receiving it.  There are times in the early rounds where you may be given a second chance, especially if the client liked your creative and your team.  Don’t count on this because sometimes there aren’t multiple rounds.  Your agency may be known for stepping outside of the box and taking briefs in another direction.  That is fine as long as you don’t completely challenge the client’s intended strategy and ignore the direction in the brief.

Clients want to know that you can work with other agencies

In these days of integrated marketing, clients need to know that you can play nice in the sandbox.  You need to always provide examples of agency alliances and instances where you worked as part of an integrated agency team.  The clients don’t want to play referee, and they don’t have time to manage all of the intricacies of how the different elements of the program are going to come together within the different agencies. 

Some of you may think what I have presented is common sense and obvious.  In many ways it is, and those that are aware of these lessons are ahead of the game.  However, you will be surprised how many agencies I have encountered that don’t understand what the client really needs or is looking for.  They get so wrapped up in their amazing creative or wealth of experience that they fail to understand what is motivating the client.  Hopefully, this will help provide some of that basic insight so those agencies that are less aware will be more successful in their pitches.

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The Lessons of the Aflac Duck Voice – Part I

April 13, 2011

How to make the right choices and prepare for disaster with celebrity endorsements I have to admit that this article from the NY Times gave me so much to talk about that at first I didn’t really know where to start.  So, I am going to write two posts that cover two distinct topics.  This […]

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