Create a Partnership that Delivers Results
Sales and marketing are both high-speed, event-driven careers that draw strong personalities into their fold. As a marketer, you have a responsibility to your organization to deliver strategic results over time. Your sales team is focused on day-to-day execution. Your ultimate objectives are similar – increase your customers, revenue and marketshare – but working together isn’t always easy.
If you find that your sales team’s needs are at odds with your goals, it’s time to look at things differently, and think in terms of our Big Idea for this month – More of the Same Isn’t Better. By understanding and harnessing the nature of your sales team, you can forge a strong partnership that gives them the immediate results they need while driving toward your strategic vision for your company.
Treat Sales as Your Customer
Your first step toward a healthy working relationship with sales is to learn their needs and pain points. In other words, treat your sales team like they would treat their customers. Become invested in their success, understand how they operate, and focus your efforts on enablement.
Sales is the consumer of your efforts. They use the materials you produce, and they reach out to you when they need assistance or funds. If you can approach your job with the goal of supporting your sales customers—your reps—with an overarching strategy, then your focus becomes enablement, rather than deliverables. Your reps are going to feel that paradigm shift. Over time, it will build trust between your teams, and your reps are going to start coming to you for answers and offering ideas, rather than just asking for “things they need.”
Speak the Same Language
If you ask your sales reps to define terms like lead, nurture and qualified, you might find that their definitions differ significantly from your own. Even though sales and marketing use the same terms in their day-to-day speech, your perspective will be different because your focus isn’t the same. While marketing views leads as strategic in nature, your sales reps typically interpret leads in terms of potential, immediate dollar signs.
In order to bridge the gap between sales and marketing, start by coming together to form clear definitions for common terms – such as what a “lead” is. Mark Yeager, President of Yeager Marketing, says, “An operational alignment is required for sales and marketing such that the two share common definitions and understand their roles and responsibilities as it relates to the customer acquisition process. Define the criteria for a qualified lead in as simple and measurable ways as possible.”
When your sales and marketing teams are approaching the concept of lead acquisition and qualification with a single set of criteria, the roles, responsibilities and hand-offs become more evident and natural. Your marketing and sales teams will start working together in a much more unified fashion, producing better results from each team’s efforts.
Be a Good Listener
When is the last time you called one of your sales managers and asked them how things are going for them in the field? Your sales reps are your eyes and ears on the customer. If you ask them how things are going, and you show them you’re willing to listen to their challenges, as well as successes, you might learn surprising information about how effective your strategies are—or aren’t—across each of your districts and regions.
When you take the time to reach out to your reps with the sole intent of listening, it accomplishes two tasks at once. First, as mentioned, you get first-hand accounts of how your reps are leveraging your strategy and whether or not it’s working. Second—and possibly of more importance—you create a human connection between yourself and your sales team. You become approachable, and you’ll be seen as a partner who is invested in each rep’s personal success.
Say No Without Saying No
Your sales team operates in a reactionary world. They take a call or follow up with a prospect, and they tailor their actions to what is happening in the moment. It’s no wonder they’ll reach out to their marketing team with ad-hoc requests or last-minute demands However, it’s not realistic or even possible to accommodate their every request.
Learning how to say “no” without actually saying “no” is crucial to both building trust and maintaining your strategy. According to Bryan Lubeck, Distribution Sr. Marketing Manager of NetApp North America, the secret to denying requests while maintaining your relationship is to, “…ask questions and understand what they’re really asking for. Then, don’t say ‘no.’ Instead, offer an alternate solution.”
Sometimes, it’s possible to accommodate the sales team’s one-off requests in a manner that boosts your camaraderie while still maintaining control of your checkbook. Choose to say yes to ad-hoc requests will create a win for the company and will also help you forge a tighter relationship with your reps. Lubeck says, “First, give them a part in your decision to say yes. Have them complete a series of tasks, fill out paperwork, or do research to show how their request will generate a win for the company. Then, make sure they know that the information they provided helped you sway your execs, but that you’re not sure you can pull it off like that again. You’ll give your rep the opportunity she needs without setting yourself up for a constant bombardment of future requests.”
Even with your best efforts, some of your sales reps are going to see you as the person who holds the checkbook. Even if you manage to convince that person that your “no” to their request comes with valid reasons, they might still try to go around you to get an immediate desire met. In order to keep the team focused on your company’s marketing strategy, make sure you’ve closed the gaps and protected yourself from rogue reps without potentially damaging a hard-earned relationship.
“One of the best ways to bulletproof yourself against escalation,” Lubeck says, “is having a good relationship with both your leadership and theirs.” You also need to have a clear view of the big-picture goals for your marketing strategy coupled with a deep understanding of the numbers for your districts and territories. When a rep tries to go rogue in order to circumvent your decisions, your relationship with management will afford you the opportunity to have the necessary discussions that avoid escalation. Lubeck says, “Your knowledge of the strategy and numbers will give you the data points you need to make your decisions stick without throwing the rep under the bus.”
Know When to Walk Away
You’re not going to please 100% of the people 100% of the time, and that holds true for your relationship with certain sales reps. Some reps might have well-established accounts, and they don’t feel the need to connect with you or to leverage your strategies. Some may be close to retirement or looking for other opportunities. And despite your best efforts, some reps might still see you as a walking checkbook—and that’s okay.
Focus your efforts toward the reps and sales teams that are willing to work together, but don’t single out those reps who are reluctant to work with you. If you know your markets, regions and districts, understand the numbers, and have go-to reps with whom you’ve developed strong working rapport, you’ll set yourself, your team and your company up for lasting success.