Marketing Inwardly: Why Half of Our Sales Teams Think We’re Failing
Bridging the sales/marketing gap starts with helping your star salespeople.
Now that marketing is inbound and content is “king” (I’m thinking of starting a Twitter-based drinking game that revolves around that phrase), we content producers might be feeling pretty good about ourselves. More than ever before, we’re directly involved in bringing in leads and helping them through the buying process. SEO, such as it is, is working. Surely sales guys must finally love us! Right?
50% of sales teams aren’t satisfied with their marketing teams.
I think we can all agree that’s a red flag.
Many sales teams feel their marketing teams need to improve targeting to bring in better leads. Meanwhile, marketing teams all over the country are pointing their fingers right back toward the sales team, saying they’re simply failing to convert leads to deals.
So what’s the “fix”? How do we start closing the marketing/sales gap so forward progress can happen?
I think the first place the marketing team should look for answers is to the company’s star salespeople.
PART I: UNDERSTANDING THE STAR SALESPERSON’S PIPELINE
Top salespeople sell more because they’re more charismatic, more tenacious, and harder working. Right?
Actually, “smarter working” might be more accurate.
Corporate Executive Board examined the pipelines of salespeople from both ends of the performance spectrum and found that top performers spend less time chasing “bluebird” leads – the prospects who look best on paper. How does this happen?
Ignoring the Bluebirds
Pretend you’re a salesperson. Let’s say a call comes in from a major company who would make an excellent client for your company. They found you via a Google search (way to go, inbound marketing team!), and they’re a lead gen rep’s dream – they fill in every slot on the BANT scorecard (budget, authority, need and timing). The best part is: you’re already on their short list.
Aaron Garza, Sales Manager for cloud computing company Profit Bricks, has seen this happen many times while working in the hosting industry, in his current role and with other top web hosting companies including Rackspace and Hostway:
“When you’re an inexperienced sales rep who’s working on a monthly quota, you get really excited when a ‘bluebird’ lead comes in,” he said. “You run around telling your manager and VP about the great prospect you have lined up, and it’s a great feeling.”
Of course, the prospect still needs a few things from you – some specific numbers you don’t happen to have handy, proof of a certification that is rumored to exist in your industry (but that you’ve never actually seen in person), and of course, a very detailed cost summary. But they’ve been kind enough to provide an RFP spreadsheet, so all you have to do is fill in the blanks.
“If you’re new to sales, you don’t know the red flags yet, and you end up spending a lot of energy trying to get the prospect all the info they need,” Garza said.
Average performers’ pipelines are full of late-stage, reactive pursuits.
So what happens? You lose focus on the other opportunities in your pipeline, you schedule a meeting and present the stellar info you’ve spent so much time gathering and…the company goes with another vendor.
Why? Because they were never going to choose you to begin with.
You were simply a checkbox on a list, part of the due diligence that many companies are required to perform when choosing a vendor such as a hosting provider. Some even have to perform the exercise every 2-3 years. Star salespeople learn to recognize these exercises and spend less time on them. Instead, Corporate Executive Board found, they go after very early-stage, proactive opportunities.
“The best opportunities and leads I’ve received throughout my career have been the companies that initially don’t seem interested in any way,” Garza said. “With the monthly sales quota system in place, it can be a big challenge to treat every lead like it could be gold, but it pays off.”
High performers focus on early-stage, proactive opportunities.
If the timeline they give to your sales team is extremely short relative to their expected financial outlay – chances are they’ve already done the legwork elsewhere and unofficially chosen someone else.
PART II: REMEMBER THE SERENITY PRAYER
Now switch back to your marketing hat. Your first instinct might be to spend time investigating these corporate due diligence exercises to see if there’s a way you can address their questions via web content or social marketing – save the sales folks some time.
But Garza cautions against wasting time trying to solve the problem of time-wasters.
“No matter how many different types of content you provide to your salespeople or the public, it’s just not going to shift the dynamic of working with someone who doesn’t mind wasting your time,” he said. “It’s hard to guard the salesperson from it, beyond training them on how to spot a good prospect.”
Spend a little time focusing on your top-performing salespeople and the early-stage leads in their pipelines.
5 Types of Content that Might Make Star Salespeople (Finally!) Love You
1. Email Templates
I’m not talking about automated drip campaigns here (although those are important, too). Chances are, your star salespeople spend a lot of time establishing connections through email, including cold emails, responses to inquiries, and meeting requests. They’ll most likely want to customize these messages for each prospect, but they probably also have a paragraph or two that they re-use.
Have you provided them with this re-usable content? Does it conform to your brand story and direct the prospect to the most appropriate content resource for an early-stage lead?
Alex Ramati, Director of Sales at Austin-based startup OneSpot, does a great deal of outreach via LinkedIn.
“I write a custom email to everyone I contact, but usually there are a few talking points I repeat – certain data points, background info, an overview of what makes OneSpot different,” Ramati said. “It’s helpful for marketing to weigh in on that type of content.”
2. Technical Content & Comparison Charts
Create content that talks about the practical questions – what is the day-to-experience of using your company as a vendor?
“My early-stage conversations usually take place with the director of IT or CTO,” said Garza. “Usually their questions revolve around customer service expectations, as well as pragmatic concerns, such as how fast the network runs and how the data center network is built.”
Marketing reps should speak not only with their salespeople but their product engineers to get ideas for content geared toward more technical audiences. Garza even suggests adding a “For the CTO” area to your website to answer specific questions that might be too technical for your company’s general audience.
3. Migration / Implementation Info
Do you have content that talks about how the implementation process works?
For a company like OneSpot, which turns its clients’ organic media coverage and blog content into amplified display ads, this might mean an overview of how long it takes to begin the program once a contract is signed, and ongoing, how long it will take for each new content piece to become a display ad.
4. Case Studies for a Variety of Verticals
The other type of marketing content that both Ramati and Garza’s companies rely on is case studies. According to the CMO Council, 48% of B2B customers cite case studies as a content piece that plays a role in their decision-making process. That role becomes even larger, Ramati explained, if you can share a case study from the prospect’s own vertical.
“When a prospect can see that someone just like them got good results from using our service, they’re much more willing to consider using us,” Ramati said. “We make a big effort to get those case studies. We just signed a client from a new vertical, so we asked them right away to participate in a case study, which we’ll create as the relationship progresses.” See 8 Creative Ways to Use Your Case Studies
While it’s not always treated as a “content piece,” a client reference list can play a similar role to case studies. The marketing team can help by gathering a testimonial or quote from each client on the list, giving the prospect a starting point in determining who to call. These lists will most likely need frequent updates as the individual relationships grow and change. Again, representing a variety of verticals increases the references’ credibility for prospects.
What It Boils Down To
Your star salespeople are resourceful, and they find ways to excel no matter what content they’re given. But the easier you can make their job, the more sales they can make (and the happier they are, which is key to a company’s long-term success). Maybe they’ll even start to like you a little.
“The prospect is almost always asking for a compelling reason to continue speaking with a rep,” said Garza. “So it’s extremely helpful for your sales team to have content that’s tailored to some specific requests, but also broad enough to be shared over and over again.”
Of course, you can’t provide your star salespeople with the content they need until you open up a conversation about their sales process. Spend a day shadowing them, if you can. Talk to them about not only the content you should create but the best way to provide it to them, update it, and keep the lines of communication open. Before long, you might start to notice the marketing/sales divide narrowing.