Christine McGee Sales and Marketing Director, Clean Harbors, USA on why we need both.
You can do sales or you can do marketing. But you can’t do both.
So as a starting point, you have to visually show and describe the ideal relationship between the two functions, and how they need to work together. This doesn’t require complicated ideas or visuals. At Clean Harbors, we borrowed an analogy from the US marines – marketing is the spotter (focused on determining the right markets, the right product mix, the right customers, and the right price points) and sales is the sniper (focused on building the day-to-day relationships, communicating the value, and ultimately closing the sale).
We also visually diagrammed and explained who does what. Strategic marketing helps the company choose its value: analyse market trends and customer needs, segment the market into customer groups, target the most valuable segments, and position and price the offering. Marketing communications helps communicate the value through a variety of tools (for example website, brochures, media, sponsorships, events) to create awareness, generate leads and reinforce the value proposition.
However, these roles can’t be done in a silo or a vacuum. We’ve found that when both groups involve each other in all stages of the process, the end result is better. An example is how we grew the market in Colorado by having marketing and sales working together to properly segment our customers, develop a plan of attack, and provide the operations team with some early indicators of changes in what customers wanted from their service providers. The result of those joint efforts was that we became one of the leading service providers in the Rockies at the end of 2014.
Respect the differences
As closely intertwined as these functions are, people attracted to one or the other often have different temperaments and drivers.
Good sales people are action-oriented and futurethinking. They are impatient (in a good way) and often have strong personalities and opinions. When I only oversaw marketing, sales people sometimes exasperated me with what I considered to be their didactic requests and last-minute time frames. They didn’t want robust conversations about what they needed to achieve, and what might be the best combination of marketing channels to get there. Instead, they wanted marketing to work like a fast-food restaurant: “here’s my order for a brochure. I want it to look like this and sound like this, and I need it by the end of the week.”
Being on the front line of sales now, I understand the driver behind their specificity and immediacy. Sales people are often the first – and then a continual – embodiment of the organisation for a customer. They intimately (and oftentimes instinctively) understand which approaches and messages will resonate. So when a sales person says, “I need the picture on the front of this brochure to be West Texas and not the hilly terrain of PA,” it’s usually not based on personal preference. It’s because some customers in West Texas don’t care about what we’ve done in other parts of the US, and can’t immediately ‘get’ the visual impact that we operate in West Texas if we don’t make it easy for them.
Likewise, their time frames often are last-minute because the opportunities are last-minute. While the image of the sales funnel, which has been with us for decades, is elegant in its simplicity, I would argue that the sales process just isn’t that linear and predictable any more. Some potential customers move from prospects to actual customers in the space of 48 hours … others meander on the 48-month timescale. Both teams must have the flexibility to capitalise on these types of rapidly moving opportunities.
Longer term, the solution to solving these types of issues is to involve the sales force as much as possible in the creation of venues and materials that they need to help sell and reinforce the verbal messages they are delivering. It does make the planning and creation process a bit messier, and can take longer at the front end. The end result, though, is having a plan and materials that they actually use.
On the flip side, the sales force has told me that having the marketing mindset of longer-term customer and market strategy has been instructive for them. When the price of oil started its rapid descent, the sales team immediately asked what our across-the-board discount was going to be in the new environment. When I said we weren’t going to take that approach and would consider each discount on a customer-by-customer basis, they initially seemed confused (and truth be told, a bit frustrated).
The rationale was that not all customers are equal in terms of their current spend with us, their longevity with us, or their potential for growth with us in the future. It made sense to structure the pricing accordingly. This approach makes for a lot more phone calls and the occasional frustration. But we also aren’t losing our shirt on every job we do, even in this challenging environment.
Two really is better than one
In the end, the concept of sales without marketing or marketing without sales is like rowing with one arm. You can do it and still make progress. But you won’t get there as quickly as you want, and it won’t be as efficient as it could be.
Sales needs marketing because marketing helps them improve efficiencies. Marketing simplifies which markets are the most lucrative, which customers have the most potential, and which differentiators carry the most influence. It helps improve awareness of a company’s offering before a salesperson steps foot in a customer’s office, and reinforces the value proposition when the sales person leaves. In the best-case scenario, marketing even delivers quality leads that can speed up the sales cycle.
Marketing needs sales – especially in the B2B environment – because it’s the most direct artery to the customer. No substitute exists for personal, face-to-face communication. Websites, meaningful content in articles, blogs and webinars, trade shows and the like, all generate awareness and leads. Nonetheless, it’s the sales force that actually closes the deal and often helps retain the business through personal relationships and reinforcement.
If I heard that same comment today about only doing one or the other, I think I would be able to answer it a lot more succinctly (and a lot faster) than I did several years ago. Having now done both, I truly am a believer in why you need both.