Anyone who has worked in sales or indirectly worked closely with sales has experienced those curious times when deals that seem to be moving along perfectly suddenly go cold. Was it something you did, something you said, something you failed to do?
Inevitably, the question always gets asked “What could we have done differently to make the sale?” Well, in some cases, you’ve got to chalk it up to the way the cards fall and move on. Yes, a big part of sales is an art, and really great salespeople are masters of their craft. However, the study of management is increasingly uncovering the science behind the sale. There are rules of engagement that can dramatically increase the chance of closing a deal. This science has uncovered structure behind things like persuasion, cognitive perceptions, sensory perceptions, emotional perceptions, attitude and physical attraction. I believe some of these rules can and should be applied to the science of marketing.
While I recognize there is significant overlap between the science of effective marketing and effective selling, it’s painfully obvious that many organizations still do not embrace some core fundamentals of marketing effectiveness. Simple Sales 101 tactics can be applied to marketing and result in much higher customer acquisition.
The question is, can we apply some of the same tools a “rock star” salesperson would use to close a deal for day-to-day marketing operations? Let’s face it, marketing is tough these days. Consumers have power and information at their fingertips through social media, reviews, ratings, and the Web. If marketers can influence perception before a prospect even talks with sales, it can only lead to more deals in the pipeline and tangible justification for MORE marketing budget.
Adapting to Market Dynamics
Yes, we are in a recession. Yes, it sucks. For years, salespeople have been taught to “find the budget holder” and sell to that person. To a certain extent this is still true, but the recession has dramatically changed the discovery process for really effective salespeople.
The recession has caused companies to tighten up; rarely do major purchase decisions (anything over US$10,000) require the approval of a single individual. Whether it’s obvious or not, decisions are largely being made in “committees.” So salespeople may have to build relationships with multiple parties to maximize the chance of closing the deal: the CFO, CIO, CMO, line of business managers, regional VPs, etc. A good salesperson knows each of these individuals has different needs and will require different conversation.
Usually only one of them is the ultimate decision maker, but collectively the salesperson must overcome objections from the entire group of influencers and they may be just as likely to influence a “non-decision” or “alternative solution” as they would be to make a purchase.
Now, apply this to marketing. Marketing collateral needs to support the unique needs of the most likely decision influencers for a particular product or service. Sounds obvious, but it’s not common to see this in the market. Perhaps it’s a lack of resources to create the collateral, but to me, marketers are missing the boat big-time if they are not thinking along these lines.
I’ve seen way too many generic, “add water and stir” marketing schticks that miserably fail to address the unique dynamics of purchase influencers. Marketers need to start developing targeted, personalized, role-specific messaging in whitepapers, email copy, Web site copy and other collateral.
More importantly, does your marketing department even know the unique criteria budget influencers use based on role? For example, what does the CFO care about versus the CIO? Here’s a hint: It’s not features and function, it’s cost and tangible ROI — “What do I get for spending X dollars on that? Convince me it’s not risky and it has some kind of return, and I’ll be open to saying yes.”
In this day and age, marketing needs to support sales. Collateral that mitigates objections before they come up can dramatically influence whether a sale closes and how soon it closes.
Marketers Need to Walk in Sales’ Shoes
Sales are won and lost on the salesperson’s level of knowledge about the prospect, the product that is being sold, and the competition. Effective sales pitches address how the product or service is unique in the market, and the salesperson conveys a sense of passion for their firm belief that what they are selling is unique, compelling, and delivers the benefits promised. Prospects and customers have access to a ridiculous amount of data, which they will aggregate and use to make purchase decisions. However, if the market has access to this data, so do you, and both sales and marketing need transparency on how to position the product relative to competitors, overcome objections, and build the relationship.
How many marketers really understand the most common objections reps get and how to overcome these objections? I know, markets don’t want to sell and reps don’t want to do marketing, but how effective can marketers really be if they don’t understand the fundamental reasons customers became customers? Marketers really need to walk in sales’ shoes to create effective collateral. Product positioning and go-to-market messaging should overcome objections before they come up with sales, that’s when marketing becomes invaluable to the organization.
Likewise, effective selling is about attention to detail — Do you show up on time? Are you likable? Is your handshake firm? Etc. Marketing conveys attention to detail when they truly understand the market and deliver targeted information that decision influencers will be looking for when making a purchase.
Ian Michiels is a research director and the practice leader of the Customer Management Technology Group at the Aberdeen Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.