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Sales and Marketing: Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

Traditionally, sales and marketing each have had distinct roles. But, in practice, these roles have unavoidably overlapped at one (or more) levels over the years. While many companies have tried to keep these two areas totally separate — that is, as they say, “never the twain shall meet” — the line of demarcation between sales and marketing has become more ill-defined (and more confusing) than ever. 

The increasing blur between sales and marketing boils down to whose responsibility it is to “carry the load” with regard to communication. Historically, marketing has been directly tied to advertising and promotion; by contrast, the sales function has been tied to informing — that is, educating — buyers in more detail than marketing does, and thus closing the sale. We now enter the world of IoT and the world in which information is available anytime, anywhere, on any device. This has further complicated the issue. What this shows us is that marketing and sales cannot (and should not) be relegated to totally separate camps. This begs the questions of how they might collaborate at a higher level and what the new roles are. 

Fundamental Changes 

As noted, the internet has fundamentally changed not only the way people buy but also how they get their information. Customers self-educate by way of the content they find on the internet—for example, on a company website or on social media. They are increasingly informed, savvy and discerning. Today, roughly 70% of a buying decision is made before a buyer even talks to a salesperson. Research also shows that there are more people involved in the buying decisions than ever before. This, too, can be traced back to the easy availability of information on the internet, as well as seamless sharing and collaboration among colleagues. Suffice it to say that the processes of marketing, selling and buying have changed. 

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Think of how things used to be in the commercial AV business. A person looking to buy a product (a big-ticket item, in particular) would see one or more advertisements, typically in a trade publication or at a trade event. Then, that person would contact a salesperson to meet with them and help them learn about the product. In the process, the buyer would collect some printed marketing/sales/technical materials as points of reference for internal discussions and take time to think it over. The process of marketing, selling and buying was very time consuming. But it was very effective for the day. 

By contrast, today, buyers hop onto the internet. They do an online search and see numerous links to vendors who have products that fit their search parameters and appear to fit their project. They read a plethora of readily available online materials and tend to think they know what they need to know about products, where to buy them and how they should be priced. They also tend to do all this before a salesperson ever becomes involved. Keep in mind the concept that they think they know. But do they really? Consider that a tease for later! 

Marketing’s Purview is Growing 

It’s safe to say that marketing is taking on an ever-increasing portion of the sales process. Increasingly, marketers provide information to customers that, previously, sales provided. Customers have come to expect readily available online resources with written content, videos, website copy, social media and an email component. Marketing, when properly implemented, educates prospects so they can conveniently move through the buying process without relying on salespeople in the way they once did. In fact, some statistics suggest buyers don’t want to talk to sales representatives at all. So, where does that leave the sales team? 

Traditionally, marketing “teed up the ball” and piqued potential customers’ interest; then, a salesperson took it from there. The salesperson then educated the customer in more detail about the product or service and closed the deal. But with the plethora of information available online, sales’ role has changed drastically. Instead of answering questions like, “What can you tell me about your product?”, they’re now confronted with people saying, “I know about your product, and I think I may want it. So, tell me what I don’t already know.” In many cases, what they don’t know is whether the product will really fit their needs (or whether it just appears to). 

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To reach the highest levels in both sales and marketing, you must begin with education. There are two parts in the education journey: First, the salesperson must know their products and applications thoroughly, which means in greater depth than potential customers know them. The knowledge must go beyond what a customer can (and will) effortlessly find online. Yes, marketing materials — for example, value-proposition descriptions and product images with short blurbs — can be valuable, but they only set the stage for sales to add value beyond what customers have seen on their own. 

Second, the salesperson must educate themselves about the customer. This involves research; it entails going beyond “knowing of” a company and, instead, knowing a company in detail. Prior to engaging with a customer at the decision-making and buying levels, the salesperson must dig into the company (i.e., research the staff organizational chart, the buyers and the company’s customers). Much of this information is available online; however, if it isn’t, the salesperson must utilize a direct exploratory approach before entering the core sales process. 

Take Time to Educate Yourself 

It’s important for the salesperson not to consume the customer’s time by asking the customer to educate them about the company. If you walk in the door with a certain level of knowledge, it will show the customer that you, the salesperson, have done your homework. This goes a long way to building trust and becoming a trusted advisor — not “just a vendor.” Trust leads to an open discussion of what the customer does and does not already know.

The salesperson can add value by telling the customer things they did not know and by sharing information they’re uniquely qualified to provide. As potential customers get closer to a purchase, the sales team needs to be there at the most critical time, providing information that customers didn’t already know. Good salespeople can clearly, confidently and efficiently help prospects become customers. Investing this research time upfront will pay dividends in the end. 

It is time to take a fresh look at marketing, too. For too long, marketing has been looked at as an expense. This harks back to “the old days” of marketing basically being an advertising medium, whereas the sales team was viewed as the true purveyor/deliverer of information. In many companies, marketing was thought of as a reward for sales. This view is outdated. Today, many sales can be traced directly to marketing having closed the deal on their own. Marketing should take responsibility for expected revenue and be able to prove their ROI in the process. Both sales and marketing should be seen as bringing in revenue, and each department should be funded as such. 

Think about it this way: If marketing is now responsible for a large part of what once fell under sales’ purview, and if we acknowledge that revenue is coming from sales, then marketing, too, is driving revenue. 

Marketing is now responsible for a large part of what once fell under sales’ purview. And, if revenue is coming from sales, then marketing is a revenue driver, too. NTONIODIAZ/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Marketing Should Not Work in a Vacuum 

Now for the overlap. Marketing should not work in a vacuum. They should reach out to the sales team as the proverbial “feet on the street” who have direct, face-to-face contact with customers, and marketing should ask sales to share their experiences and expertise. Sales reps have intimate knowledge of the questions prospects ask during the buying process.

This knowledge should yield marketing content that can further increase sales and shorten the sales cycle. In this way, sales can help in the marketing process, just as marketing has come to help in the sales process. By collaborating, both teams get better, and the company becomes more efficient, more transparent and more successful. Now, is that a sales process or a marketing process? As one expert opines, “It’s a new kind of sales experience, designed by marketers to cater to a modern buyer.” 

This year and beyond, it will be harder and harder to distinguish between sales and marketing. Forward-thinking companies are opting for a blended revenue plan inclusive of marketing and sales. This eliminates the segmentation that has divided sales and marketing for so long.

The blended teams can collaborate, and then they can focus on providing customers with a seamless experience: relevant content, appropriate digital marketing and sales that creates an education-based buying experience. 

Times change. So, too, must organizations and their approaches. 

This article is brought to you with the support of LG.