Marketing Said, Sales Said

Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, Corporate Visions

Profitable growth is the top goal of every company. What will a marketer say if you ask, “What is the most important contribution you make to driving profitable growth?” What if you ask a salesperson the exact same question about marketing’s role? Will the answers be the same?

Nope. But, you probably already guessed that. A recent survey conducted by Sales & Marketing Management magazine sheds new light on the specific gaps and agreements between the two teams.

Branding versus sales enablement
In one of the most telling questions in the survey, the 300 respondents — split between marketing and sales across 15 industries — were asked to rank in order of importance the marketing strategies that have the greatest impact on driving revenue.

Marketing ranked “branding” as its top tactic, while salespeople said “product positioning” was the biggest opportunity for marketing to improve company performance. Marketing did agree that positioning was important, ranking it the second-highest priority.

But, here’s where a difference in opinion showed up. Salespeople went on to rank “sales enablement” as the second-highest strategy they felt marketing should execute on to help drive business. Meanwhile, marketers ranked sales enablement dead last after “demand generation” (third) and “inbound/social programs” (fourth). (See Graphic 1.)

A number of factors could contribute to this delta in viewpoints, such as the fact that sales enablement is a newer, emerging concept that is still finding a home inside organizations, while the other strategies are more institutionalized. However, sales support has been around forever in the form of marketing communications tools and training built in the name of enabling greater sales effectiveness. Marketers simply don’t seem to want to prioritize it ahead of even newer strategies such as inbound and social marketing.

Ranking the value of sales conversations proves shocking
You can see the disconnect between marketing and sales in an even brighter light when you ask them to rank the factors that help prospects choose a solution.

A couple years ago, the Corporate Executive Board did a survey that gave the whole industry an “aha” moment when buyers ranked “field interactions” higher than price, brand and product quality combined, when it came to the impact on buying decisions and loyalty.

That was the customers’ opinion of what mattered most. But, how would marketing and salespeople respond when we asked them to pick the biggest impact from that same list?

Turns out both groups felt “product/service quality” was the top reason companies buy from them (see Graphic 2). Further, they both ranked “pricing” last.

Not surprisingly, marketers placed “brand reputation” second, while salespeople said their conversation with buyers is the next-most influential.

The most astonishing finding was how little credit marketers give sales conversations for why buyers choose a solution (10 percent). Even salespeople were more generous about the impact of branding (16 percent).

Customers believe your products and services are more commoditized, and are relying on their conversations with your salespeople to discern the difference and determine if they are willing to pay your price.

Yet, marketers appear to be stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that salespeople with their lips moving are actually the last bastion of differentiation — as evidenced when they put sales enablement at the bottom of their strategic priority list.

One thing we all agree on
There is one thing marketers and salespeople are completely aligned around: the negative consequences of poor sales conversations. Respondents were able to pick their top two consequences from a list of four, and both sides came up with the exact same rankings (see Graphic 3)

The good news is marketers and salespeople alike seem to agree on where sales performance breaks down when the field interactions are poor. However, the bad news is they don’t necessarily agree on making these conversations a strategic priority. To ultimately improve profit growth, marketing and sales teams will need to recognize the true importance of sales conversations for creating opportunities, differentiating your solutions and capturing the value you deserve.