How to bridge the gap between Sales and Marketing

7th September 2014

During my tenure as Head of Marketing & Sales at several IT education companies, I distinctly remember the discord which weighed on the minds of my team of marketing professionals to get that token of appreciation which they felt they very much deserved from the salespeople in the company. But finally we were able to achieve success in that area only by becoming the company experts in assessing our customers.

The salespeople did not care about the marketing campaigns organized, strategies designed or product portfolios developed. They are more concentrated on individual customers and fail to understand the broader perspective which concerns the marketing team. After an effective analysis and assessment of target customers in the IT education sector in India, we could shorten the sales cycle for the sales executives who followed our strategies and this led to the clearance of that blockage allowing free flow of respect and recognition from the sales force.

It has been observed that increasing sales and marketing alignment needs to be constantly dwelt on as a part of continuous improvement cycle. The marketers and sales force question one another's skills and often seen fighting over the quality of the leads as they have different perspectives. Both the marketing and sales team need to clearly define and have a thorough understanding of the lead generation process. The lack of alignment usually leads to the blame game where salespeople who are adept relationship builders are quite critical of the highly analytical marketing team.

Sales people are often been accused of not sharing their valuable knowledge about prospective customers and bypassing the marketing team. Marketers, in turn, complain about how the materials they produce are often ignored by the salespeople and the sales leads they generate are left untouched leading to a friction.
A common feature at a company's latest product launch event is that the salespeople are often found to be disinterested in the data oriented marketing approaches and usually seen not lending an ear to the features of the latest product or service developed by the marketing team. At times they even seem bored fiddling with their gadgets instead of paying attention.

Difference between Sales and Marketing. Since there has been a surge in the IT education industry I had to deploy various channels – creating web content, brochures and banners, SEO and emails to drive both sales and marketing success, therefore, it is essential that we take a little time out to look at the differences between the two functions. Understanding the difference is absolutely vital to close the gap between marketing and sales and generate business faster.
The marketing professionals need to comprehend and assess the potential customers—essentially, group of customers—and communicate to these groups in a one-to-many approach. Marketing people have to be expert communicators who can stimulate demand among the potential customers they reach who might not always be ready to have a sales discussion.

The marketing team draws the attention of prospective customers and drives those people into and through the sales process. The content developed by the marketing professionals—blogs, YouTube videos, info graphics, e-books, webinars and the like—can help to connect with the target audience. But the content to have a great potential to generate sales leads which can eventually culminate in the buying process, an exhaustive research needs to be conducted on prospective customers.
The salespeople have a completely different role to play. They need to identify the triggering situation and influence one customer at a time when the customers are much closer to making the buying decision. Whereas marketers need to cultivate their persuasion skills to attract a group of target audience, salespeople must excel in persuading the individual customers. They can create their own tools while including the company's expertise, products and services. This rounds the fulfilling of the potential of the marketing team's content at the precise moment the customer needs it.

Bridging the Gap Closing the gap between Marketing and Sales means the marketing staff needs to have expertise on customer preferences and needs and not just be content with the product knowledge. They need to focus not just on projects but study customers as well based on real data collected from direct customer conversations. The marketing team needs to have factual clarity about how markets full of prospective customers think while buying the product or availing the service of the company. That's when marketing team is ready to add tremendous value to the sales process.
Customer research yields surprising information and if you are able to pinpoint the problem that people are willing to spend money for will help to build a product that offers a solution which spells success. A comprehensive consumer research eases the process of marketing products or services. The trick lies in creating marketing content which will actually pique the curiosity of the prospective customers and let them share their needs, wants and views.
This is usually not the conventional approach of organizations. Either they fail to identify the right segment of the market ending up creating nonspecific marketing for everyone or they develop product-centric approaches for segments.

Understanding the Customers The question arises - how, exactly, do we design questionnaires which will aid in developing customer profiles? These interviews are best conducted by marketing professionals because they can gather a lot of relevant information by having conversations with the real customers. It is a better option not to involve the sales team here as it is most often been observed that the prospective customers hesitate to open up in front of the salesperson and the marketing team needs candid feedback related to the product or service available when it comes to evaluating the options provided to the customers. There are several methods which can be employed of either recording the interview or jotting down the relevant points. Verbatim quotes collected from the interview can be used in preparing the final customer profile.

If you are planning to launch a product you need to interview your potential customers in earnest by throwing a handful of relevant questions about the new product that isn't yet available. Instead of talking about their problems you should get them talking about the problem you plan to solve. You must make sure to keep the conversation focused on the potential customer as it will help unlock the true potential of your product and learn more about the target market as well as the competitors. Getting clusters of customers interviewed is also another option to extract valuable information. Targeting the correct segment and interviewing them could provide a wealth of information. After spending about 10 minutes or so with open-ended questions you can tell them about your proposed solution and ask them for feedback. Your unbiased conversation and an eagerness to learn about your customer’s problems and requirements will give you a fair idea if they are worth solving with your product.
If you have responsibility for both Sales and Marketing, you need to make certain that marketing is focused on customer profiles. If the marketing department works in a different part of the organization, you need to be an agent of change. You have to look for the opportunities and develop their skills they need to interview potential customers and master the art of capturing the mood of the right segment. You can also coordinate with the head of Sales or the CEO if need be. Marketing can contribute in an incredible manner and provide greatest value to an organization but only if the marketing professionals have a thorough understanding of the customer requirements.

Note: Portions of this article excerpted from The New Rules of Sales and Service: How to Use Agile Selling, Real-Time Customer Engagement, Big Data, Content, and Storytelling to Grow Your Business, published by Wiley and from published by Marketingprofs.

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