I’m fascinated about a lot of the discussion about marketing and sales alignment. Inevitably, the discussion narrows to MQL’s and SQL’s. The alignment discussion inevitably focuses on gaining agreement on the definition and metrics surrounding these two metrics.
Some of the things discussed are, agreement and alignment around the definition of lead quality and lead volume. Usually marketing is saying “sales isn’t following up on our leads, consequently we’re losing lots of opportunity.” Sales takes the position, “The leads we get are crap, just because someone wants a white paper doesn’t mean I should be wasting my time calling them.”
I still see the same old diagrams, the marketing funnel and the sales funnel, with the marketing funnel feeding the sales funnel.
Essentially, these discussions reduce down to agreeing on the size of the window in the brick wall between sales and marketing.
While this agreement is important, I think we miss opportunities in aligning around how our customers buy.
Our marketing and sales funnels basically identify our workflows in marketing and sales activities. Continuing to look at these sequentially, defines our workflows as sequential–marketing does its thing, leads are passed through the window in the wall, then sales does its thing.
The buying and informational activities our customers undertake aren’t necessarily aligned with our marketing and sales funnels/workflow. To be effective in engaging our customers in buying, we need to look at our marketing and sales workflows differently, integrating marketing and sales rather than aligning them.
It seems we do better by aligning our marketing and sales workflow around models of the customer buying process and workflow. In doing this, we engage the customer most effectively and impactfully. We deploy the right resources (marketing/sales/other) at the right time and in the right way to help the customer buy.
In designing an integrated marketing and sales workflow, we have must clearly define roles and responsibilities. We must work truly collaboratively. Our metrics are broader and more aligned not just agreement on MQL and SQL. Our organizational structure is more reflective of how our customers buy, rather than the meaningless silos that exist today.
In a truly integrated marketing and sales workflow, sales may initiate the process by engaging customers with insight. Customers may then leverage content or experiences developed by marketing to enrich their understanding of the issues, alternatives and possibilities presented by change. Sales may re-engage at a point where the customer needs that direct interaction. Marketing doesn’t stop, they provide content, materials, and tools to support both sales and the customer later in their buying process, ultimately helping them make a vendor decision.
Today, marketing and sales looks a lot like an Olympic relay. Marketing starts, then hands off the baton to sales to finish. In an integrated marketing and sales design, it looks a lot like a basketball team, with each person on the team knowing their role, with clearly defined plays. But like the basketball team, an integrated marketing and sales function enables us to be adaptable and nimble. This nimble marketing and sales team can change, based on the way the customer changes–“passing the ball” from one to the other to most effectively achieve the goal.
If we want to engage the customer most impactfully and effectively, we need to stop looking at marketing and sales alignment, and start talking more about marketing and sales integration.
I recently wrote about Teaching Our Customers To Buy. In the article I mentioned the importance of customers selling within their own organizations. To many, that’s an unnatural, detestable act. After all, if they wanted to sell, they’d be sales people, wouldn’t they?
“Selling,” internally, is critical to people getting things done and moving their initiatives, strategies, programs forward. Within organizations, there’s always selling going between people and groups, but people don’t tend to think of it that way.
Too often, also, people are relatively naïve about how to get what they want within their organizations. They think, “I put together a good argument….. I put together a good business case…… My boss is my buddy, she and I have a great relationship, she’ll approve….. They have to do this, I really need it….” (Starting to sound a lot like what goes through the minds of sales people.)
But internally, there is always competition. Other points of view, other approaches to solving the same thing. The inevitable political jockeying. Other ideas or projects that are addressing completely different issues—They want a new cafeteria and I’m trying to get funding for a new marketing automation system.
In every organization, there are always competing ideas for resources, funds, and management/executive attention. Management can’t and won’t do everything. Part of the job of management is to drive the projects, programs and initiatives that have the most impact on the execution of the organization’s strategies and priorities.
And then there is always the alternative of doing nothing.
Getting things done within organizations requires strong sales skills–but most people don’t think of it that way. Consequently, people don’t use many of the tools, strategies, processes that come natural to high performing sales people. As a result, they struggle in moving things forward and getting approval.
It’s not limited to lower or mid level people, I recently met an executive running a multi-billion part of a larger corporation. He was trying to drive some very big changes, but struggling to get alignment and support with his own management team (selling downward). Additionally, he wasn’t getting the approvals/investment from the CEO and Board. Too often, execs in non sales roles (even some in sales roles) don’t think of “selling” as a method of getting things done.
We can help our customers move their buying initiatives forward, for our mutual success, buy helping them both recognize they have to sell internally, and to help give them the skills to “sell.”
Some of the simplest things we do every day in selling are the things our customers need to do to buy and to sell internally:
Qualifying: We look at, “is the customer committed to do something.” Internally, customers need to do the same thing. “Is our management committed to this change? Are they prepared to invest the time and resources necessary to support the change? Do they have a high sense of urgency for this initiative, or are there higher priorities?” Our customers need to qualify both their management and organizations before they even start an initiative.
Often, and approach to getting senior management and the organization qualified is through providing Insight. They need to bring new ideas to their management and organizations, “There are opportunities we are missing, we can improve the way we do things, we can better serve our customers, we can outperform our competition…..” Our ability to engage customers in Insight based conversations helps them sell internally.
Discovery: This is the most important part of selling–it’s also the most important part of buying. We work with customers to understand their needs, requirements, priorities. We want to understand who’s involved in the decision, alternatives they may be considering. Our customers go through similar things in their buying process. They have to align their buying team around solving a particular problem. There may be other groups (competitors) looking at different solutions, or other groups (competitors) who will be competing for the same funding in entirely different areas. They need to understand what they need to do to get approval–who are the decision makers, what are their hot buttons,,,,,
Proposing: They need to create a plan and a proposal. It has to address the issues executive management cares about, it has to provide a business justification and value proposition that is meaningful and relevant to executive management. They have to be prepared to handle objections, disagreement, concerns.
Closing: Both of us have to get the order. Lots of times it’s a lot of detailed stuff–getting scheduled to present and get approvals/signatures from management, the review with the CAPEX committee, and so forth.
Call Planning: Just as we plan our meetings/calls to be purposeful and accomplish our goals, our customers need to plan their meetings with the team, execs, and others in the organization. They have to set agendas, objectives, understand/anticipate potential objections, challenges. Make sure the right people are attending, close on next steps and actions.
I’ll stop here, the point is that a lot of the things that come naturally to us as sales people are not natural ways for our customers to think. They aren’t things they do to get what they want, to get approval to go forward, to have the ability to spend money and invest resources.
If our customers want to get what they want, they have to sell internally. We can create huge value in helping them recognize the need to sell and how they might be most effective in selling.
We’re officially into the fourth calendar quarter of the year. It’s the time where you start seeing various pundits dusting off their crystal balls guessing what the big issues facing sales and marketing professionals in 2015. It’s also the time, various publications ask my views–even though at times I think my crystal ball is a little murky, I’ll contribute to those.
I worry that I start showing my age, that I start looking old/crotchety, or that I appear slightly cynical. But every time I read these articles and start discussing the big issues for the coming year, I get this overwhelming sense of “Deja Vu All Over Again.” I have visions of Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day running through my mind.
The lists are all interesting, but not, at the same time. While there’s some variance, I tend to see the following:
Demand Generation/Lead Gen/Content Marketing/Nurturing
Customer Focus/Customer Centricity
Go To Customer/Sales Deployment Models/Inside/Outside/Channel/Web/Hybrid
Sales Effectiveness/Sales Efficiency
Social Selling/Social Media
New Customer Acquisition
Buying Process Alignment
Value Creation/Value Delivery
And I’m sure I missed a couple… but you get the idea. This is my prognostication, these will be the critical issues facing sales and marketing professionals in 2016. These will be the same thing on most people’s lists. They may use slightly different words to make themselves sound some how different or smarter, but the concepts are probably the same.
Those were the issues I saw a year ago, talking about the key issues for 2014. And the same ones that I saw in 2013, 2012………1980.
Hold on Dave!!! A lot of those things didn’t exist in 1980! Big Data/Analytics, Gamification, Social Selling, all the Marketing and Sales Automation tools……none of them existed in 1980!
Well yes and no. A lot of them are fundamentally the same principles of the key things we focused on in 1980. We may be using different, more fashionable words. We may have applied a veneer of technology that enables us to do the same things we did in 1980 at the speed of light (or at least at the speed of our wifi connections.
I sometimes chuckle at the term Gamification. As a brand new sales person in 1980, we called those sales contests. I remember participating in a “Prospecting Scavenger Hunt” in 1985. It was pretty cool. Yes, we’ve applied a technology veneer to sales contests and now use a multisyllabic word, gamification, but at it’s core its the same thing. Likewise, content was important in 1980, we called it collateral. And like today’s content, some of it was very good and relevant, some of it was crap. We delivered most of that content in “paper form” because PC’s were just coming in, but penetration was very low. And it tended to be less customized–though most of today’s content is really not terribly well customized (I still am overwhelmed with a lot of “Dear occupant of current CEO” stuff.)
It’s also true, that we have made dramatic strides in productivity and efficiency–that the new tools enable us to accomplish so much more–and so much better than we were able to do in 1980, so I’m not negating the real power of many of these things, but the underlying basics and principles remain evergreen.
There are some things that were unimaginable or impossible in 1980. We did analytics and had what we thought was Big Data–a lot of the time it was limited by the size of my VisiCalc worksheet. But Analytics and Big Data are giving us insights and abilities that were unimaginable in 1980. But like 1980, what we get from the analytics is still driven by the questions we ask.
Social Media/Social Selling is certainly new–we didn’t have LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. We couldn’t even text, though we did carry pagers and I remember messaging all sorts of people on my pager. But we did everything we could to network, connect, and engage our customers in whatever way we could. We did everything we could to collaborate with our colleagues (we sometimes called it team selling, or just helping people out).
So the principles are similar (maybe not the same). Technology has enabled us to do those things very differently than we did before (though possibly not any more smartly). And, without a doubt, technology, our continued learning and improvement have changed a lot about how we do things (less what we do). And it has changed it profoundly for the better.
We’ve changed the words for some things, just because they are cooler and more fashionable. But the underlying principles haven’t changed.
So we have made huge progress. We are able to do far more, much better, than we did in 1980. But still one gets the sense of Deja Vu all over again.
In wrapping up, it’s interesting. There’s one word I almost never see on any of these lists. It’s execution.
Makes you wonder.
By now, at least if you’ve been reading the literature on selling, we know the importance of Insight, Commercial Teaching/Learning, or whatever you call it. The focus of these are to help the customer realize there are opportunities they may be missing. There are opportunities to grow, to improve their businesses, to reduce costs, to improve their customer experience, to respond more quickly to competition —- to recognize the need to change.
If we’re successful at this, we get the customer all hot and lathered to change. To do something different, to take action.
Now the hard work begins. With our Insight and Commercial Teaching, we are only addressing the tip of the iceberg. As we know, the bulk of the iceberg’s mass is under the water, we don’t see it.
The customer buying process is much like the iceberg.
Think about it, 45.9% of forecast opportunities actually close. The majority of forecast opportunities end in no decision made. Imagine what this might mean for pipeline opportunities.
So we’ve invested all this effort in getting customers hot and lathered to change, possibly to buy—but they can’t cross the finish line.
Even if we weren’t involved in creating this need to buy, but they are 57% through their buying process and get us engaged, we face the same problem.
How do we help our customers buy? This is not, how do we get our customers to select a solution, but more about how do we help them organize themselves to buy, how do we help them align the diverse agendas, priorities, opinions, self interests? How do we move beyond getting them interested in taking action to actually taking action (and hopefully with us)?
In some very complex deals, customers recognize this challenge and are engaging outside consultants to “help” them with this process—-and we all know what we think of consultants – present company excluded
We can’t leave this to chance. If we are lucky or skilled (I think it’s some of both), we can help the customer with their buying process. We facilitate their process, we help them develop a project plan, we help them align interests, we help them establish milestones and goals, and we help in the execution of that buying plan/process.
But how real is that? Is the customer really going to invite us into “the tent?” Are they going to let us be the facilitator? More pragmatically, do we have the time to facilitate and project manage all the deals in our pipeline—even if our customers invited us to do this?
So how do we help our customers buy? How do we help them overcome the challenges of managing at least 5.4 stakeholders in moving to make a decision and take action?
It seems we have to do a number of things.
First, we need a customer or customers who can and are willing to drive the process, drive consensus, and make a decision. Whether it’s a project coordinator/manager, a sponsor/coach, a mobilizer, we need someone who has a vested interest in driving the process on a day to day basis, who has the interest, courage, and motivation to take the personal risk in aligning diverse interests to drive consensus and a decision.
Then we need to teach them how to manage the process–or teach them how to buy.
Sometimes we mistake what this means. It’s not the “solutions comparison checklists” (you know those–it’s the one’s where every box in our column is checked off, and the customer can’t check off all the boxes for the competitors). We can’t focus on product evaluation and product selection–which is where we usually focus.
Rather we need to help them learn how to align interests and agendas, deal with conflict and disagreement, establish goals and milestones, manage a project. These involve facilitation, collaboration, project management skills.
But it doesn’t stop there. We have to teach the customers how to sell what they want within the organization. They have sell to gain broader support and approval, across the organization and up the food chain. And selling is probably an unnatural and uncomfortable act for them (unless we are selling to the sales organization). They won’t know how to do it, they will fear doing it–but if they want to get what they want, they have to sell within their own organizations.
Teaching our customers to buy, teaching them how to sell within their own organizations. Helping them align agendas, priorities, objectives. Helping them gain support within their own organizations. Both our success and that of our customers is dependent on how effectively we work with our customers in buying.