Sell Smarter, Not Harder

Neil Mahoney


A study of 722 U.S. business executives showed:

 1. Almost 60 percent said their company only converts 10 percent of their leads to sales.

 2. Another 60 percent said company revenues could be increased by 15 percent or more with proper follow up.

 3. 53 percent said their company had no formal process for qualifying and validating new-business opportunities.

 4. Only half the execs thought sales and marketing worked well together on projects that required teamwork.

 5. A paltry 7 percent said sales and marketing teamed effectively on new business development.

If senior management really believes this and wants to reap more of its substantial investment in advertising, publicity and trade shows; newsletters and direct mailing; websites, social media and other promotional efforts, it will institute an inquiry qualification and development system – separate from sales and marketing communications – using customer service or customer relations management systems to do it.

Sales and Marketing: Taking separate paths to reach the same goal

While that survey of 722 business execs is eye-opening, it’s really not too surprising when you think about it. Salespeople and marketing communications types are very different animals that see things differently as well.

Salespeople see trees, not forests. They are on the firing line every day seeing real-world customers react to their companies’ products and service in the form of compliments, questions and complaints.

MarComm sees forests, not trees. They are sure in their beliefs about the markets, products and prospects. They are sure their ads, sales materials and websites are fine just as they are. After all, management approved them, didn’t they?

Being on the firing line every day, salespeople receive information that makes up bits and pieces of the whole picture. It’s only bits and pieces, but it’s often valuable information about both the company’s products and those of their competitors. Sometimes the information is obvious; sometimes it isn’t.

Since salespeople have a real-world understanding of the individual prospect’s opinions and preferences, management and marketing should gather input from them more than once a year in sales meetings. More frequent interaction is needed – let’s say joint calls on a quarterly basis – especially by top management and marketing communications.

Reflecting back on that survey of 722 business execs, think about the disconnection – not just between sales and marketing communications, but between sales and marcomm and the rest of the organization.

If a company’s manufacturing costs were out of whack, you can bet that manufacturing and engineering would surely meet to try to solve the problem. If they didn’t do it of their own accord, the CEO would make sure they did it – and fast.

But this rarely happens between sales and marcomm – yet they both report to the same boss. Also, meetings with sales are rarely scheduled with other departments in the company – even during annual sales meetings, which is truly a lost opportunity.

Also, sales should be included in developing the company’s all-important positioning statement or value proposition. Since marketing has a better understanding of the overall market, the company’s relative strengths and weaknesses, and its strategies, they should balance their perceptions with that of the sales force – which they all too often don’t.

This dichotomy between sales and marcomm frequently manifests itself when it comes to trade show exhibits. Marcomm wants the overall theme and appearance of the booth to be an extension of the national marketing campaign. This is reasonable and makes good business sense. Plus, the budget for exhibits usually falls under marcomm, so the exhibit is “theirs,” so to speak.

The sales force, on the other hand, has to man the booth and take valuable selling time away from their territories to do their share for the company. This costs them in lost commissions and lost selling time in their territories, so they have a justifiable claim to make on the appearance of the booth and its content. They want a booth that helps them demo and sell the products.

I have been on both sides of the fence during my checkered career and I know this is a fact, not theory. Another fact is that inquiries need to be qualified and developed in a different and better way than they are currently handled in most organizations.

Inquirers Take the Path of Least Resistance

Of the several gulfs that separate marketing communications from sales, the Sea of Clicks and Inquiries is one of the largest. Marketing communications thinks all inquiries are golden. Salespeople know most of them are dross.

Clicks and inquiries are the be-all and end-all of all promotional efforts. They’re proof that real, live people expressed interest in the company’s offering. Presidents and CEOs are one of the main causes of this fixation. They’re a quick and easy way to judge the value of the promotional programs. It’s not that way in the real world, however.

When prospects inquire about your product or service, they aren’t just interested in your offering alone. They’re collecting information on a number of competing products to learn what they have to offer in order to make an informed buying decision that’s best for their companies. They may choose your brand; they may not. They may not even want to see your salespeople to get a demo – or even get more information. This is why sales is so leery of hot leads that are passed on by marcomm.

As eager as your reps are to sell your products, few prospects share your enthusiasm. A significant period of time usually elapses between a prospect’s request for information, and when a purchase takes place. On average:

  • Only 40 percent of purchases are made within six months of the initial request.
  • 30 percent are made between six months and one year of that request.
  • 30 percent are not made until after one year.

Neil Mahoney is the founder of Mahoney/Marketing and has 30 years of experience at all levels of sales and marketing, including stints at General Electric, ITC Inc., Bausch & Lomb, and ABC Broadcasting. Visit www.mahoneymarketing.comfor more information.