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September 22, 2010

Bridging the Gap: 5 Objectives for Improving Relations between Sales and Marketing (Part 1)

SUMMARY: The relationship between sales and marketing is one of give and take. But how is an ideal partnership achieved? To help you prepare for the MarketingSherpa B2B Summits in San Francisco and Boston this October, we searched our library and found in-depth information to address one of the biggest challenges facing B2B marketers – alignment with sales.

In Part 1 of an extensive two-part excerpt from our B2B Lead Generation Handbook, we begin to explore five objectives to help you research, build and nurture strong relationships with your sales team.
[From the MarketingSherpa B2B Lead Generation Handbook]

Your relationship with the sales team will make or break you. We cannot possibly overstate its importance. From the day you start, you must make it clear they are your top priority. If you take someone to lunch, let it be sales. If you need an opinion about campaign creative, ask sales. If you want support during budgeting meetings, get sales to cover your back.

We realize this is the antithesis of most marketer-sales relationships. We also realize that sales will not make it easy for you. In sales-driven organizations, sales is often slow to see or acknowledge the value of marketing. You’re the redheaded stepchild. And, as academic studies of professional personalities have attested, the sales and marketing mindsets are polar opposites. You’re not built the same way -- nature did not intend for sales and marketing to get along.

That said, it’s going to be your job to make it work no matter how difficult they are to communicate and deal with. Grit your teeth and make it happen. A happy sales force ultimately means a stronger marketing organization.

To begin to turn grimaces into grins, keep these five objectives in mind:

Objective I: Sales Team as Marketing Prospects

Your biggest marketing goal may be to the sales team. Internal politics can be more work than external ad campaigns. Research the sales team as carefully and fully as you would any other critical prospect base. Understand what makes them tick, what their pain points are, and what would thrill them beyond measure. This includes the head of sales, the top performers, the old guard, the new recruits, and everyone in between.


o Take sales training. Attend your organization’s sales training as if you were a new sales hire instead of in marketing. If the time commitment is too overwhelming, at least attend a few sessions in person and grab the workbook, handouts or other materials to study on your own time. Ask your staff to attend sales training as well.

o Monitor meetings. Wrangle an invitation to attend regular sales meetings as a mostly silent monitor. Your goal is not to interject marketing commentary or requirements, but rather to sit, listen, and learn.

o Go on sales calls with field reps. Promise to be a silent companion and keep that promise. Do nothing with the information you gain in the field that the field reps might view as a betrayal.

o Talk to them in their language. Sales and marketing often use the same words with different meanings; this annoys both sides to no end. Marketing must give in. In the world of office politics, sales is top dog so you have to use their language. If they use the term "hot prospect" and you use the term "lead" to mean the same thing, you’d better switch.

Nothing destroys marketing’s credibility faster than using sales terminology incorrectly. If sales terminology is not formally written down anywhere, set up a meeting to get it written down, take notes, and then distribute the resulting "sales dictionary" to all involved.

o Discover their work rhythms. Sales rep’s days, weeks, months and quarters are made up of activity rhythms. You need to know what their big due dates are, when they tend to make prospect phone calls, when they are stuck and bored in airports, when they check email, when they call in, when they begin relaxing before the weekend, and when they should never be disturbed. Sales reps are "coin operated" and, for them, time is money. Demonstrate that you respect that time.

If you know when their down, relaxed and bored-now times are, you can schedule in your calls, emails, internal webinars, and information requests around these. Don’t forget to account for time zone differences.

o Determine their (true) pipeline requirements. Many reps will tell you, "Give me all the leads you’ve got!" Ignore this request. In reality, if a rep had a choice between ten incredibly qualified leads and 100 undifferentiated leads, he or she would ask for the ten anytime.

"We’d offer whitepapers and get 1,000-2,000 leads, but sales didn’t want to call them because a lot never developed into true leads," explained Marty Brandwin, Marketing Director, Jinfonet Software. "Sales told us they would rather have one solid qualified lead -- someone with a project in mind to start in the next six months -- as opposed to 40 whitepaper leads."

Everyone has a limit to the number of accounts they can work each day, each week, each month. If you give them too many, they’ll simply cherry-pick and ignore the rest. You don’t want to ever keep a good lead from a rep -- they must have a feeling of control over and access to the pipeline. However, you also don’t want to overwhelm a rep with too many leads.

Best case -- give them the best possible leads (as defined by them) to fill their available time, and push the rest to a database and various cultivation activities into which sales has a peephole at all times. If they want to yank a lead from the cultivation pool to add to their pile, that’s all right.

Every rep also has his or her own private pipeline -- they don’t rely 100% on marketing for leads because they don’t trust you as much as they trust themselves. There’s also a certain thrill in hunting down one’s own prey. Assume that as many as 40% of leads will come from the reps themselves. So, marketing will need to provide the 60% of possible leads while somehow accessing private rep pipeline contacts to keep everything in a central database. This can be even harder than it sounds.

o Discover their media use and contact research patterns. Sales reps are not known as big readers. But they do have a hunter instinct, always keeping an eye out for prospective customers. And, many have a great deal of time sucked up in airports and on planes. Reps tend to use media in four ways, all of which marketing may be able to automate and assist them with so their time is spent as valuably as possible -- interpreting information rather than digging it up:

- Lead qualification: Reps are always looking to see whether a prospect got funding, is involved in an M&A, released quarterly financials, or is launching a new division. They may set themselves up to get press releases and news alerts about particular prospect companies, any of which might indicate an account in flux. You can offer to help with this via a Google Alerts service or Factiva account.

- Prospecting: Reps scan Hoovers, new hire announcements and industry execs quoted in articles looking for names to call on. They also use online communities, such as message boards, email discussion groups, Facebook groups, LinkedIn and Jigsaw accounts to uncover new names and contacts.

- Prospect nurturing: Nurturing is generally not a rep’s strong point. (In fact, if it is, the VP Sales may consider switching that person’s position to a relationship building and lead qualification job instead of closing deals.) However, reps like the idea of being able to ping key prospects with items of interest, such as studies, columns, blog postings. If they can find something in the paper or a trade magazine, they may use it that way. If you can find something and give them the tool to ping the right contact about it, more power to you.

- Competitor PR: Reps are always looking at the competition with narrowed eyes. Was the competition mentioned in the press? Is a competitor’s exec speaking at an event? Did the competition win a key account? You need to track these things and be able to speak about how marketing plans to combat them. You never want a rep to know consistently more about the competition’s moves than you do.

- Your own PR: Aside from a fat commission check, nothing warms the cockles of a rep’s heart more than a big fat golden PR mention about your company in the press. Strangely, we’ve noticed that sales reps are often more interested in and supportive of marketing investments in PR than marketing departments tend to be these days. PR is now easier to measure than at any time in history, and reps adore the results. They feel like they’re working for the winning brand, and the PR gives them an excuse to ping prospects.

You also need to know what sorts of media reps prefer to devour themselves. If you decided to start an internal media channel for sales rep news and education, should it be an email newsletter, a podcast, a printed magazine, a bulleted list of factoids sent to everyone’s handhelds? You’ll probably find a variety of preferences, some loving webinars, others wanting a printed summary, etc. You’ll need to serve all important preferences with your internal messaging and communications. Never rely on a single channel of communication.

Objective II: Lead Definition and Scoring


Sales-ready, AKA "HOT": This is a lead that’s ready, willing, and able to purchase or submit a formal RFP for your product or service in a fairly short time period. For some, this may mean now, next week, later this month, or within the next quarter. They have identified a need, are ready to act, and their budget is enough to warrant your sales team’s time and attention. At this stage, they should also be aware of your brand and possibly be ready to short-list it.

Your sales team should own this lead but is prepared to hand it back to marketing with a scoring downgrade if it’s not up to snuff. Marketing should also provide support on sales’ command with items, such as presentation materials, customer references, one-to-one microsites, leave-behind materials, videos, and even possible single-prospect-focused promotions to assist sales in landing the account.

Qualified Prospect, AKA "WARM": This is a lead that has been qualified by their activities (whitepaper downloads, webinar attendance, catalog requests, site surfing, etc.) as well as by a list of required data on your part. You may have telemarketed them to get more information, or asked them to complete a survey. They fit the profile of the sort of customer you’re seeking -- company size, industry, region, etc. They are considering a purchase, but their timeframe is still a bit extended. They may require more education as well.

Marketing owns this lead, but it should be visible to sales on demand. For example, if a sales rep is flying into Des Moines, IA, for the day to spend the morning with a hot lead, he or she may have several hours to kill afterward and want to meet with a few warm ones in the area.
It’s marketing’s responsibility to nurture and cultivate this lead, with continued measurements until it may be deemed hot, or sales-worthy. That hand-off may take as long as a year or as short as a week or two.

[Note: Not every "warm" will graduate up the ranks to "hot". Some will fall off your list for negative reasons -- a competitor won the account, the project lost its funding, etc. Others will stay on your list for good reasons -- these are committee members, consultants, evangelists, business users and others who are not final decision makers, but whose education and nurturing may make all the difference. The sales rep may never spend a heartbeat meeting with these people; instead, marketing should excel at keeping the relationship ongoing and sweet.]

Prospect, AKA "RESPONDER": This is the type of lead that marketers are infamous for calling "leads" when sales doesn’t consider them anything of the sort. This is an individual who has responded to a marketing offer. The offer could be anything from filling out a contact form on your website to getting one’s badge zapped at a trade show. You may have little or no information about this lead beyond an email address and the offer he or she responded to.

Marketing owns this lead, and it’s marketing’s responsibility to take the next step, re-approaching the lead to get more information about their situation. Responder names should be triaged as quickly as possible, moving into the "warm" or "dud" category.

Keep track of your ongoing investment and the age of the lead carefully -- you don’t want to spend too much on this less-than-qualified name trying to get it up to snuff. And, the contact information may go out of date in just a few months. (Remember, people’s job responsibilities change, and they switch jobs.)

Suspect, AKA "COLD CALL": These are names that less-experienced sales reps sometimes mistake for hot leads. The name seems perfect in every respect -- right job title, right company, right industry, maybe even right business indicators showing a possible need for your products or services. The thing is that they haven’t approached you.

They have not accepted a single offer. You can’t even see their IP address on the list of anonymous surfers on your site. They should be interested, but you have no proof that they are.

Marketing should own these names and be responsible for any investment in reaching out to them. In reality, some sales reps will waste time head butting and spamming those "perfect names" and never tell you. Unfortunately, their activities can do more harm than good. Work with your head of sales to refocus rep time on only acknowledged hot and warm leads.

Not a Chance, AKA "DUD": These are responders on whom you don’t want to spend another marketing cent. They may be too far outside your target marketplace, students, competitors, or Mickey Mouse. This doesn’t mean you can’t still profit from the names, so don’t dump them from your database completely.

If your company is considering expanding to other marketplaces, such as the small business world or Asia, these names could be the start of your new warm list. Also, some firms hand off their "too-small-to-fry" fish to smaller partners in exchange for a revenue share or some other kickback.

Next week, we will continue to explore the complex relationship between sales and marketing in Part 2 of this exclusive excerpt from the MarketingSherpa B2B Lead Generation Handbook to help you prepare for B2B Marketing Summit ’10, in Boston and San Francisco.

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