Are Your Marketing Messages Aligned with Sales Conversations? [Q&A]

May 30, 2013 | Brendan Cournoyer
Are Your Marketing Messages Aligned with Sales Conversations? [Q&A]

Last week, I came across an interesting blog post by Bob Apollo (@bobapollo) titled Why Marketing Needs to FieldSource More Ideas from Sales. Bob is a seasoned sales/marketing coach and CEO of the U.K.-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, and his article made some excellent points about the importance of sales and marketing alignment from a content perspective.

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At Brainshark, one of our primary goals is to help companies make better use of content to fuel the sales engine, and Bob’s perspective falls very much in line with our approach to sales enablement. In this short Q&A, Bob expands even further on the ways marketing and sales can work together, with insights on what marketers can learn from today’s reps, the types of resources that can truly improve sales effectiveness, and much more.

In your post, you wrote about the importance of aligning marketing messages with sales conversations. From a marketing standpoint, why do you think there remains such a disconnect with some organizations?

Bob Apollo: I think there are a number of reasons. Firstly, and particularly in technology-based businesses, marketers are often over-fond of jargon and of using meaningless phrases like "industry-leading", "state-of-the-art", "unique", etc. These phrases are valueless because every competitor tends to use them – so they do nothing to differentiate the vendor – and because no prospect would use that language naturally.

But more broadly, in many organizations there is no culture of sales and marketing getting together on a regular basis as peers to agree on what needs to be done to find more of the right sort of prospects, and to identify and eliminate the obstacles that prevent otherwise well-qualified opportunities from being converted into customers. If the organization sees marketing's role as "lead generation", then they are likely to behave with a much narrower (and less effective) focus than if marketing's role is seen as "sales enablement" or (even better) facilitating the buying process.

You also note that sales and marketing have a lot to learn from each other. Obviously, sales reps tend to communicate more directly with potential customers, so what are some of the things marketers can learn from them to improve the overall quality of their messaging?

BA: Because the salespeople are in regular conversation with their prospects, they get to hear and recognize the language the prospects use to describe their situation. The words and phrases used by prospects tend to be much more natural and jargon-free than the language typically used by B2B marketers.

The salespeople also get to hear about the issues facing their prospects and get a real sense of their real priorities, motivations and concerns. They are able to tell pretty quickly what terms and phrases resonate with the prospects and which have no effect. The best salespeople will be successfully using stories and anecdotes to make their point. They will have developed ways – often informal – of qualifying opportunities that can be captured and shared with their colleagues.

If marketing really engages with salespeople on a regular basis, they can develop a much better idea of what an "ideal prospect" looks like and how prospects make buying decisions – and what marketing can do to help.

A lot of marketing content is geared toward “top of the funnel” inbound strategies and lead gen, but your post talks about marketing-created selling tools as well. What kind of resources should marketers be creating to help better enable their sales reps when engaging with prospects?

BA: Relevant content has a role to play at every stage in the buying decision process. Let's start with the basics. At the briefing stage, and before a single new piece of content is produced, marketers need to answer the following questions:

  1. Who is this piece of content aimed at?

  2. What stage in the buying decision process is this intended to support?

  3. What do we want the prospect to do as a consequence of consuming the content?

  4. How can we equip the sales people to have effective follow-up conversations with people who have consumed the content?

  5. Do we really need this content?

Most marketing content is wasted, because it hasn't been designed to answer these five questions.

Marketers need to be creating resources that help the salesperson move a prospect from one stage to the next in their buying decision process. At an early-to-mid-stage in the funnel, the content needs to help the prospect come to the conclusion that they need to change. At a mid-to-later stage, the content needs to help persuade the prospect that the vendor's approach is the one most likely to deliver the results they are looking for. Examples of successful sales enablement tools include sales playbooks, qualification guidelines, conversation planners, cost justification tools, success stories, etc.

It works the other way too, as marketers may already be creating valuable resources that salespeople either A) aren’t even aware of, or B) fail to utilize properly. Would you agree? How can companies close that gap?

BA: If the resource isn't being used, it can't possibly be regarded as "valuable". But let's say that marketing has come up with a potentially valuable resource – how can they ensure that the sales people take full advantage?

First, they need to involve sales in the design stage. There's no point in throwing something fully formed over the fence to sales without any prior involvement or engagement and hoping they will pick up on it.

Next, they need to clearly position how the resource is designed to be used. Who is it aimed at? What stage of the buying process is it designed to support? What action is it intended to stimulate?

Finally, great content needs to be surrounded by things that amplify its value. For example, any whitepaper ought to be accompanied by a simple list of "talking points" that the salespeople are encouraged to use in a follow-up conversation. Pulling this all together in an interactive, regularly updated "sales playbook" is a tremendous way of closing the gap between marketing, sales, and the prospect.

One last observation: the approach I've outlined above can sometimes be seen as "yet more work for marketing to do". But – given that so much of marketing's work is poorly regarded by sales, or even invisible to them – wouldn't it be better to do a few things really well, in collaboration with the sales team, and to choose which things to do on the basis of their potential impact on the prospect's actual buying decision process?

For more thoughts on improving your B2B sales and marketing strategies, visit Bob’s blog, Inflexion Points: Smart Ideas for Acceleration Revenue Growth

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