[GUEST POST] The secret trick to working with sales

Working with sales is easy. Just think like a salesperson!

Working with sales should come naturally to a marketer once you get into the head of your sales colleagues.  More than once I have been accused by my colleagues of “sounding like a salesman”.  While not often meant as a compliment, that’s how I take it.   If truth be told, I have spent a few of my years in the Sales trenches and believe that’s what gives me a unique perspective on working with sales.

Sales incentives, illustration for blog post by Jonathon Gordon / EMI on the IIAR website

Just like in any relationship, to really get to know someone, you need to understand what makes a person tick.  The thing I really loved about being in sales, is that in most cases, it’s easy to know what you should be doing and how it’s measured.  Mostly it’s about the target.  OK, there may be other KPIs thrown in for flavor, but it’s the target that really matters.  That’s pretty much what makes sales people click and how to get there is what keeps them awake at night.  The key to working with sales is helping them reach and pass that target, quarter after quarter, year after year.  Do this, and they will always be there for you.

Two brutal truths about B2B marketing & working with sales

  1. Marketing has no reason to exist without sales!

  2. We are all sales people or should be!

Some marketing folks like to think certain aspects of their job are not about working with sales – positioning, branding, awareness, thought leadership, PR, AR, etc.  Sorry to tell you, it ain’t so! As marketers, we really have no reason to exist beyond that of serving sales. I not advocating that marketing be enslaved to sales, it is more about joining forces.  Our job is to spread the word, find prospects, produce sales collateral and tools.  In the end, we should also be thinking about what will close the sale.

Everything you do should be about the sales process, or don’t bother doing it.  Marketing is an inseparable part of this process, which has defined steps, with a start point and a clear objective.  In team meetings, when we go round the table for updates, everyone knows they need to think like a salesperson.  Team members, whether working on a campaign, corporate video, new mailer, building personas or a presentation – everyone needs to be able to explain clearly how that task or deliverable is going to move the sales process forward.

 Working with sales – Create value, not likes

Keep your eyes on the metrics that count.  Don’t get side tracked with vanity metrics or the latest hype in social media.  You can only hope to gain respect from sales if you can create value and demonstrate a clear understanding of their needs and a willingness to focus on them.  In the end, we all need to know how to sell and the end goal is more often than not measured with a currency symbol.  If you start speaking the same language, you will be surprised at how well marketing and sales can communicate.

 Working with sales – Leads

Whether you are using the latest marketing automation software, or handing out leads on little yellow post-it notes, leads are what feed the machine.  Too many marketing folks complain that sales can’t, won’t or don’t take action on the mountain of leads they generate.  The root cause of the problem, more often than not, is that there is no clear definition of a qualified lead.  Marketers may have their own definition of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).  They know when a visitor become a prospect that should be nurtured. However, defining Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) requires discussion and agreement with the sales team, it cannot be done alone.  Some salespeople I know will say a “hot lead” is only when they get an email with a PO attached, but realistically speaking, a frank and positive discussion between sales and marketing will help set expectations and set a clear, agreed definition of what an SQL is. It will help to set SLAs for salespeople to follow up on leads, and make sure there is a feedback mechanism in place for sales to rate the SQLs.

Working with sales – Build a relationship

Make sure your teams are interacting, both formally and informally.  Set quarterly or half yearly meetings to understand what the situation is in each region or with a particular product line.  Make sure your team members ask salespeople for input and feedback when creating collateral or messages.  The salespeople should be intimate with your target audience, so use them!  The relationship should go both ways.  Create a sales wish list and let them know they can add items to it.  You won’t get it all done, but even a little will create some goodwill and who knows, they may have some good ideas.

Working with sales – Ask for feedback!

The good thing about sales departments is that they are mostly managed. They have quarterly business reviews and annual sales conferences. Take advantage of these events to get feedback from the sales teams.  The best approach would be to write up a short questionnaire and let them tell you what they thought about different deliverables you initiated, what they feel they need to succeed.  One year I had them rank by importance a list of six white papers in which we were prepared to invest time and budget in and the numbers told us where to start, which white paper was really urgent for them to have (it was about NFV if you are curious…).  An additional event was a Sales Management meeting where all the regional directors came to a review with the CEO and VP Sales.  We asked them to rank their confidence in the new messaging and how relevant it was to their region.  It was very helpful to get their feedback and they actually helped tweak the messaging.

Working with Sales – Never Skip Sales Training

Make sure the sales training program always has a slot on the agenda so you can introduce yourself, the marketing team members and the marketing platforms and resources.  Sales training is a good opportunity to meet new sales people that have just joined.  Take a few minutes to review the corporate website and its content, the resource library and any other platforms you have created for them to use.  New salespeople are eager to find information.  Take a few minutes to explain how the lead process works, and what are the leads’ criteria are.  All of this front-end investment will make sure they are aligned.  At the same time, make sure that you and your team have gone through at least one sales training course yourself.  See what they are being trained for!

Additionally, for product or solution training that includes a major marketing launch (major investment) make sure you share the launch plan with the sales team.  Tell them how the new product will be promoted, what the planned messages are and what kind of leads should they expect.  Sharing is Caring.

Working with Sales – Get out of the office

Do you want to understand the sales process and really contribute?  Get out from behind your desk and go on a sales call.  Just being in the room when salespeople present to clients and prospects will teach you more about working with sales than anything.  Make it a regular thing, for your team members too.  Switch between salespeople, regions and product lines and check out their style, pitch and how (or if) they use your content and tools.  Sales will appreciate it and you will learn fast what is working for them.

Marketing should not only understand the sales process, but be an active participant in it.  The dividing line between marketing and sales should be saved for the org charts!


By Jonathon Gordon / Directing Analyst, Expert Market Insight (LinkedIn, @Jonathon_Gordon), originally posted on his LinkedIn page on the 4/2/16. Opinions expressed in this guest post are not an IIAR position and may not reflect IIAR members individual opinions.

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