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The Sales/Marketing Dance

Phelon Group's Stout says it could be killing your company

Take a peek behind the sales and marketing curtain at some companies, and you would think you were seeing battling bulls in a fight to the death. Too often, sales and marketing organizations are working at cross purposes. And that disconnect creates tremendous barriers for companies seeking to make headway in a slumping market.

In many companies, sales is all about "pain." So reps follow the "selling an aspirin" approach because their experience tells them that it's easier to get budget dollars from prospects in pain. Marketing, on the other hand, is reading from a different manual. Marketers' experiences tell them that senior decision makers are looking to grow, not just to ease pain. So marketers take the "selling a vitamin" approach—they focus company messaging on how a solution drives performance, profits, and growth.

The result is not only a huge (and growing) gap between sales and marketing but also a gap between your company and its prospects, leaving customers unclear about your value proposition. Lack of clarity leads to confusion, which in turn leads to slow and stagnating sales. Sales blames marketing. Marketing points the finger at sales. And so the dance continues.

Out of Whack

The Phelon Group recently studied the purchasing patterns of companies across 16 industries to see what buying looks like from customers' eyes. We found that the sales process is often out of alignment with how customers want to buy and, compounding that, the marketing process is out of whack with both customers' buying behavior and the sales process. For instance, in our study, buyers said they identified potential vendors based on word of mouth or Internet searches. (Note: The least common ways to find a vendor were through cold calls and online/print ads.) But if you ask marketing organizations where they are putting their money, it is in online/print ads or in brochures for modern-day cold calling.

In fact, some prospects not only identify possible solutions before they talk to a vendor, they also solicit sales references from peers long before the vendor's sales team is involved. One vice-president for IT development who participated in the study told us: "For big-ticket items, we want to talk with references. But we want candid feedback. We want all the details. So we usually try to get around the formal reference process by going within an organization to an actual user." Not only did this buyer seek a reference before he engaged with the vendor, but he also did so outside of the vendor's formal process.

Once there's a better understanding of how customers buy, it's time for sales and marketing to stop butting heads and pointing fingers, to start learning to work together to address larger issues and help the bottom line.

Autodesk (ADSK), the world leader in 2D- and 3D-design software and a client of ours, is one company that did just that. "A key role for marketing is to manufacture opportunities [prospects] for sales to pursue and turn into customers, but that is only effective if both sales and marketing are working together to deliver the right products to the right customers, at the right time," says Ken Bado, executive vice-president for sales and service at Autodesk.

For Autodesk, that means sales and marketing must be in sync not only with each other but also with the customer's buying cycle. The two departments must also understand key pain points and the market's readiness to adopt new solutions. To turn this critical wish list into reality, Autodesk invested in a proprietary product management discipline called "Path to Volume," which is designed to move products smoothly from launch to ongoing sales, and thereby to deliver products that meet customers' expectations about features, usability, and quality.

What's unique about Autodesk's approach is that it ensures that sales and marketing are working in unison to deliver outstanding customer value at each stage of the product life cycle. Marketing develops the market—qualifying prospects, educating, promoting—to a point at which sales can effectively communicate and engage with prospects, sans confusion or wasted cycles. And it works: By following this methodology, Autodesk's customers and prospects always get the right products at the right time.

Bulletproof Steps

Autodesk's continued success hinges on senior management's mandate that sales and marketing work together. If senior mangement at your company is courageous enough, your firm can experience similar success. These three bulletproof steps will get you started in the right direction:

1. Create a tight partnership between sales and marketing. The longstanding gulf between these two organizations can be bridged. All it takes is for marketing to have a formal "voice of sales" process to elicit intelligence from the sales channel. The kind of insight you'll glean is amazing: For instance, did you know that, according to Sirius Decisions, sales cycles are now 22% longer than they were three years ago, and 3.6 more decision makers are involved in closing a deal?

Capturing the voice of sales doesn't mean marketing launches a survey to discover whether sales would prefer e-mail or phone notices about new product announcements. Instead, it means conversations with sales to discover what's not working and how to fix it, and what's working so marketing can deliver more of the same. It also calls for marketing to avoid jumping to conclusions such as "sales never takes our advice." Instead, it requires marketing to say to sales: "Hey, we noticed you had a tough quarter. Let's talk about what went right, what went wrong, and how we can help."

2. Move from insight to action. Tying insight to action means marketing has to move beyond surveying sales to a true realignment. Sales and marketing proceed at different paces. Out of necessity, sales thinks quarter-to-quarter while marketing operates campaign-to-campaign.

It's often risky for companies to ask salespeople to change their mindsets, so marketers must change theirs. If you're a marketer and you want sales and marketing to jibe, stop creating marketing plans, product launches, and e-mail campaigns around calendered events or in separate silos. Instead, marry marketing process to sales methodology. In doing so, you'll be much better able to "operationalize" insight.

3. Introduce sales methodology to marketing strategy and adapt both to the customer buying cycle. The ticket to double-digit growth is to bridge the gap between sales and marketing—and then to align both groups around the customer's buying cycle.

Several years ago a large software company engaged Phelon Group to assess why there was such a large disconnect between marketing investment and revenue growth. Within a few weeks, the answer was clear: Marketing was so busy investing in "awareness" that it neglected to do anything to help move deals—and sales was overwhelmed with them—through the buying process. Recognizing the disconnect allowed marketers to more closely harmonize their efforts, which reduced their workload while increasing the marketing organization's value to the company.

Calming the bulls, ending the dance, and bridging the sales and marketing divide requires new thinking, It also takes time. But, as we've seen over and over again, the results are oh-so worth it. If the newly empowered buyer and increasingly competitive market hasn't yet created a sense of urgency for change within your company, then it is my hope that this article helps you move the issue a little closer to the top of your priority list.

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