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.
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.
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.