Sales and marketing. Marketing and sales. So close, and yet, so different. The unique, sometimes contradictory principles of these two business disciplines are well documented.
There are countless treatises on this eternal conflict, many right here within in these pages. People with very big brains spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between these two critical, but often conflicting business disciplines.
But are the pundits simply perpetuating a legendary feud, a culture of conflict that really isn’t relevant anymore? I mean, without this topic, what else would they write about? Are they like the dentist who doesn’t really want cavities to go away, at least not all of them?
I for one believe we can start burying the S&M hatchet once and for all. Because today, effective sales and marketing really aren’t so different. “Effective” is the key word, of course. But in the current business environment, the chasm that has always existed between those who create the brand and those who push the product seems to be closing.
In fact, the fundamental qualities of good marketing and good sales were never all that out of alignment. The most immediate goals of those practicing their respective crafts were, and that probably led to all the misunderstanding. But in the end, very similar principles applied. And whatever real differences there may have been are rapidly fading away, simply because both sides of the debate are now reporting to a new boss, one that has never been so powerful, so critical, so fickle and so unforgiving their target audience.
THE AUDIENCE CALLS ALL THE SHOTS
In the past, we sales and marketing experts held most of the cards. Marketers pushed information to audiences through a relatively small number of communication channels traditional broadcast, print, outdoor, direct mail, PR. Sales professionals were pitching prospects who had few, if any available options. Of course there was always competition lurking in the shadows; but they were relatively scarce when compared with today’s competitive landscape, where access to messages, promises, deals and promotions is virtually unlimited.
People just aren’t so easily persuaded anymore. The world is totally transparent to anyone who cares to look inside, and as a result, audiences of all kinds demand greater accountability from the companies they do business with.
Today there are endless options, and endless methods of accessing them. The reality is, we can no longer tell our targets anything they don’t want to hear. Because someone else is right there waiting for the chance to provide exactly what they’re looking for.
LET’S GET ENGAGED!
So what’s the answer? How can marketers and sales professionals alike get their respective audiences to say “yes”?
By engaging them.
“Engagement” is undoubtedly the word du jour of the marketing world. And while the term may not be used as frequently in weekly sales meetings, engagement has always been the goal of any good salesperson.
Just what is engagement? While there still seems to be no definitive definition, as a starting point, engagement is about building meaningful relationships with audiences (or prospects), on their terms. Engagement is all about involvement, entertainment, relevance, relationships, customer focus, listening much more than we speak, then speaking in our audience’s language rather than our own.
All of this might seem self-evident. But it’s easier said than done in today’s world of continuously shifting tastes, interests and communication/entertainment options. Both sales and marketing professionals have a lot to think about if they’re going to effectively engage their targets. And each can learn a trick or two from the other.
THREE ENGAGEMENT SKILLS MARKETING CAN LEARN FROM SALES
Nimbleness. Great salespeople have always been able to turn on a dime. They know that the prospect leads the dance, and if they are to succeed, they must be in concert with their partner, sensitive to their subtlest move and quick to turn and spin and dip whenever they’re ready. Many marketers still want to lead. They know about this engagement thing, but at the end of the day, still think they know better than the audience what the audience really wants. Learn from your sales colleagues. Give the audience what they’re asking for, even if it changes day-to-day. They decide, you provide.
Immediacy. There are no more long-term propositions, at least not in the way there once were. Everything is “now,” this moment. In fact, now is already old news. Super sales pros have always been ready to move when the time was right before a competitor beat them to the punch. Marketers have traditionally been more deliberate in their efforts — research, develop, research again, refine, research. Take that tack today and you’ll soon be a footnote in the business history books. Think Wang Word Processors. “You snooze, you lose” is true more than ever.
Over-Service. The really great salespeople are never too proud. They’re always ready to bend over backwards for a valued customer and hopefully enjoy a fleeting moment of customer loyalty. The successful sales pro is there whenever needed nights, weekends, early mornings, holidays. Because that’s what customers demand. Marketers have always had it a little easier. Set the campaign in motion and watch as the audience eats it up. No more. Today, the most successful marketers are engaging audiences whenever and wherever that audience demands in the street, on three screens, in their neighborhoods, on vacation. Don’t expect them to come to you anymore; they won’t. Go where they are and give them everything you’ve got!
THREE ENGAGEMENT SKILLS SALES CAN LEARN FROM MARKETING
Research. Marketers have always put a lot of stock in getting to know their audience, spending millions to understand just who they are, how they think and most important, what they’ll buy. Today, effective sales requires an equally inquisitive approach. Learn everything you can about your prospects married or single; golf or tennis; Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts; where they were born and where they went to school. And of course, what matters to them in their career and their life. The more you know about your audience, the better you will be able to speak their language, and the more engaging your sales efforts will be.
Thinking Big. Master marketers have always focused on the “big idea,” the overriding brand benefits their audience values. They don’t sell a neat product, they promise a solution. Likewise, “solution selling” is all the rage these days, and for good reason. It works. Look for ways to provide big picture solutions to clients, ideally ones that encourage a long-term relationship. Don’t make their life better today. Give them the hope that it will be better tomorrow, for the next year, the next decade. Not with this sale, but with an understanding of their needs and an ongoing commitment to providing answers. That’s real engagement.
Strategy First. The most effective marketing programs have always been based on a carefully designed strategy, essentially ensuring that the right message is being delivered to the right audience in the right way, in order to achieve a desired objective. Sales has traditionally involved a bit more hip-shooting. And while “nimbleness” is listed above as an important sales skill marketers can benefit from, a strategic approach is equally beneficial for sales professionals in today’s chaotic selling environment. Before ever making the first call or sending the first email, develop specific, measurable goals, work to identify your ideal prospects, determine what’s important to them and craft your proposal appropriately. Determine just how they can be most effectively engaged and only then execute your strategy flawlessly. Plan your sale, sell your plan.
It all used to be easier, I think. People could be led to a desired outcome, even manipulated when necessary. Today it’s the smart salespeople and marketers who know, they’re the ones being led, and are willing to follow along. Ask what the audience wants and how they want it, and then give it to them. Whether it’s a brand or a product, a message or a service contract. Make sure it’s all part of an immersive experience that meets and exceeds all their expectations.