How Marketing Should Communicate So Sales Can Listen

by Alison Chandless

Effective selling messages and valuable customer, product and industry expertise are essential to successful customer conversations. Unfortunately they rarely make the leap from marketing to sales. Superior sales execution depends on bridging this gap since supporting the sales organization is all about enabling sales teams and channel partners to navigate complex sales cycles and to manage customer interaction. In fact, sales and marketing organizations that span this divide form a strong partnership so that marketing produces and communicates only the content sales needs, and sales will listen.

Sales Is a Tough Audience. Let’s face it, sales people are notoriously hard to impress—even when you can get their attention. They tend to be very opportunistic learners; they want information when they need it, not before, and if the content isn’t completely relevant to their selling strategies—you’ve lost them. But your sales organization needs a deep understanding of your customer’s business issues and the value of your solutions. So marketing teams need to find new, compelling, and sales-relevant tools and techniques to educate sales teams. That’s why delivering traditional product-focused training and communications is not enough, and it’s also why taking a creative approach to sales communication is a clear winner. Here’s how we suggest you do it.

Bridge the gap between sales and marketing. To improve sales execution, think strategically about your sales audience. Through a marketing-sales partnership, identify and satisfy the communication, knowledge and skills requirements that sales teams have. For a number of reasons a natural friction often seems to exist between sales and marketing, but when the organizations come together in a partnership to create communication and tools for the sales organization, it’s the combination of their different perspectives that drives a better result. A critical foundation to strong sales execution is the union of sales and marketing with a joint strategy to deliver sales success.

Don’t assume they’ll stop to listen. Find ways to send your message on the road; abandon old-fashioned newsletters that get ignored most of the time. Brainstorm mobile, innovative and succinct communication vehicles. Use Podcasts (online content fashioned like a radio show downloadable to a portable audio player), voicemail news summaries with a strong component of entertainment, audio customer success stories and on-line training focused solely on case studies. Sales teams are always pressed for time, so when you get their attention you can’t assume you’ll have it for more than 20 minutes. Keep it brief.

Talk their talk. The fastest way to gain credibility and impress your field audience is to make your content about business, not products or selling. That means putting customer issues at the center of all your content and focusing on how your product or service delivers a solution to their problems. As with any audience you want to connect firmly with sales’ motivations, and there is nothing stronger than a sales team's desire to achieve sales targets and impress customers. So make your content about guiding customer conversations, you’ll give them exactly what they need—more ways to engage customers in productive discussions.

Capture their best practices. Sales will tell you they get more value from the informal success-story and sales-strategy sharing at sales kickoffs than through hours of presentations. Capture this effect all year long by establishing a multitude of vehicles to capture and communicate sales best-practices. For example, companies now use blogs, wikis, newsgroups, and collaboration solutions to develop natural on-line communities that focus on a competitor, target customer, or domain area. These communities create the opportunity for field and market teams to exchange information freely. Use these insights as input for information tools and training.

Drive consistency and forge agreement. Many marketing teams invest in slick PR briefing books or positioning papers but leave sales messaging and communications to be developed ad-hoc in the field, with inconsistent results. Sales training, employee communications, or field marketing—or sales people themselves—end up interpreting or developing the messages delivered to customers during selling conversations. The result is often a hodge-podge of approaches. To ensure consistent sales execution, partner with the sales team to develop and deliver effective sales content. This is such a hot issue that the AMA has an initiative dedicated to the topic. See the side bar for more information.

Reinforce, Reinforce, Repeat. Just as a PR campaign’s success often depends on repetition and consistency, you’ll need to reinforce your message with a drumbeat of field communication such as short web-casts, web-based training, and customer success stories. Sales executives play a critical role in this process as they drive communication down through their organizations.

KickStart Your Approach
In this ultra-competitive environment, sales teams are required to navigate increasingly complex sales situations. Is your sales team prepared? Improving sales execution means much more than delivery of strong product education or clear marketing messages. If you don’t have a strategic plan for your marketing organization to help drive sales efficiency, its time to get “kickstarted.” Let KickStart Alliance help you develop a strategic communication plan. Alison Chandless has developed communication strategies for both large and small companies including Hyperion Solutions, Network Appliance and PGP. To discuss ways to drive up the success of your sales team through better communication, contact Alison.

About the Author:
Alison Chandless is a former principal with KickStart Alliance. She can be reached at 650.341.6164.

Copyright 2005 KickStart Alliance www.kickstartall.com