Is Marketing the New Sales?

Atri Chatterjee, CMO, Act-On Software

Just a few short years ago the business world was a very different place. Traditional marketing departments were focused on brand building and name recognition with some lead generation thrown in. They created catalogs and direct mail pieces, bought billboard space by the month, schemed coupon strategies, hired agencies to create radio, television, magazine and newspaper ads, hired other agencies to create packaging and point-of-purchase displays, hired still more agencies for focus groups and testing, and did their best to measure everything. We all remember John Wanamaker’s famous quote: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”

At the same time, sales departments were doing all their own prospecting, dialing for dollars and logging time on the road. The cold call – dialing a stranger or just walking in a door and hoping to catch the right person – was endemic. There was a bright line between the sales and marketing departments, which had different concerns, different responsibilities, different lexicons and different ways of measuring success.

Then the world became digital. Buyers changed how they bought, doing their own research and delaying contact with sales. But business hasn’t evolved as quickly. Three quintessential business complaints persist:

  • Sales just lets our leads die.
  • Marketing sends us rotten leads.
  • Go away, I’m not ready to be sold to yet.

Technology spurs change and growth

For a growing percentage of forward companies, life is very different from 1999. They’ve adopted a customer relationship management model that revolves around understanding buyers at a granular level, aided by technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service and technical support. As these separate systems evolve and integrate, the getting and keeping of customers becomes a series of stages in a continuum rather than segregated, siloed functions that begin and end inside departments hermetically sealed away from each other.

Sales and marketing have been dramatically affected by these technological and attitudinal changes, although as with any advance requiring behavior change, there’s a lag between possibility and adoption. But adopters in effect equip themselves with an evolutionary edge for survival, and the success they demonstrate serves as a beacon for others.

The top performers mostly began with sales force automation, which furnished sales reps with a support system to manage leads and contacts. At the same time, their marketing departments were embracing email marketing and the automated programs to make it feasible. Marketing automation emerged, marrying email capabilities to various new online capabilities and providing crucial multi-channel tracking. Once sales force automation and marketing technologies integrated, the result was a continuum not based on company structure, but centered on the customer’s own lifecycle.

Key gains from sales/marketing alignment

Integrating marketing and sales systems creates interdependency. Sales and marketing personnel work closely together at every stage in the customer lifecycle, from the nuts-and-bolts of lead scoring to the nuances of creating and applying personas. This technological revolution allows sales and marketing key gains that were for the most part unthinkable even 10 years ago:

Engagement is the interplay of questions and answers, education and commentary, between the prospect and the vendor.

Social listening lets marketing take the pulse of the target market, and lets sales respond as leads do active research. Customer success groups listen also in order to make the vendor a hero by responding to problems quickly and compassionately.

Automated nurturing programs let marketing keep contacts gently warm, meeting the proven needs of early-funnel leads with content designed to educate and create trust. Contacts can exit right into a sales hot list.

Trigger emails created by marketing and signed by sales, with a reply to the sales person, are personalized to the trigger action and garner exceptional response rates.

The prospect has more control over the process than ever before, choosing to self-pace through discovery and engage at will.

Marketing can create email programs sales can deploy, with well-planned links and language.

The marketing database can be segmented (without damaging the sales data base) by almost any imaginable criteria: geography, title, company size, industry, web page visited, webinar attended, search terms used, product purchased, email opened, technology use and so on. Campaigns can be created that target a finely tuned segment so closely that the content is personal to the recipient.

Intelligence is aggregate data for reporting and trend watching, and aggregate data on an individual that indicates next steps.

Marketing automation reports on campaign results and conversions, helping marketing become accountable for a portion of sales revenue.

Inbound marketing features can track AdWords conversions, providing guidance for media buys and budgets, and keyword optimization for organic search.

Salespeople can access entries in the marketing database (from their sales force automation dashboard, so it’s not disruptive) to see aggregate data including demographic and behavioral, search terms used, etc. Seen holistically, the data provides intelligence the sales rep uses to take the next step – including knowing when the customer is ready to buy and it’s time to close the deal.

Insight should be thought of as insight into individual behaviors and customer needs. As examples:

Marketing automation gathers information at the individual level, both explicit (someone’s title) and implicit (the web pages they visit), and appends these observations into the individual’s history profile.

Characteristics and behaviors can be scored, and leads that pass a scoring threshold can be passed from the marketing system to the sales system automatically, perhaps making it onto a prioritized list for the salesperson if the score’s among the highest that day (or hour).

The cold lead can be seen and acknowledged as cold. This makes it a candidate for a nurturing program, but also keeps it in the marketing bucket and out of the sales rep’s part of the lead funnel. Sales is spared wasting time on leads that won’t ever be sales-ready.

Website visitor tracking shows who visits which pages; sales can get real-time visitor- or page-triggered alerts.

Inspiration. When manual tasks are managed by technology, people get better results – and might even have time to indulge in a bit of creativity.

Happy customers can be inspired to refer, advocate, support, and defend you. They’re also more likely to buy again, adding to that lifetime customer value.

Inspired marketers and salespeople come up with new ideas for campaigns, new ways to talk about product capabilities...even new products.

What used to be marketing’s turf and what used to be sales’ domain have bled together, as technology removes the wall between the departments, and the barriers between the customer and the company. Whose job is it to send an email? In a company that has well-aligned sales and marketing departments with the common goal of revenue, the answer is: It depends on where the buyer is on the journey.

With an integrated customer relationship management system, you know where the buyer is, and you have the intelligence to serve them appropriately. It’s an ecosystem in which all parties – customers, salespeople and marketers – succeed and flourish.

Atri Chatterjee is responsible for all things marketing at Act-On Software. His 20-plus years of experience span marketing, product management, business development and engineering at high-growth innovative companies ranging from start-up ventures to large public companies.