When we ask CEOs a critical question—"Who positions your company's offerings?"—we often hear the same response: "Marketing." This is true whether they are using a direct or an indirect sales organization. In our experience, though, this is a gross oversimplification—to the extent of not being a response at all. So what we tend to do next is ask the CEO to consider the following scenario:
Your company makes a major new product or service announcement and trains the entire sales organization on the offering in regional meetings for 2 days. The following week, your salespeople begin calling on buyers and customers. Let's assume that calls are made by three different salespeople attempting to sell the new offering to the same title and vertical industry, and let's assume that these calls are videotaped. Would someone reviewing those tapes be able to determine if
The same offering was being sold?
The salespeople worked for the same company?
At this point, most executives—especially those who have come up through the sales ranks—face a sobering reality that they don't like to dwell on: The burden of positioning offerings falls, by default, on the shoulders of individual salespeople. This is true no matter how many hours the Human Resources (HR) department has devoted to carefully creating job descriptions and detailing responsibilities across the entire Marketing apparatus. In the final analysis, many CEOs simply abdicate responsibility for their customers' experience—as well as the attainment of top-line revenue targets—to individual salespeople.
A CEO can safely assume that Tactical Marketing has responsibility and exerts control over literature, brochures, advertising, web site content, trade shows, seminars, and so on. But marketing support and the control of the selling process are far more tenuous. At the end of the day, the positioning of offerings boils down to the words and phrases salespeople use when they communicate with potential buyers. So how consistent is the message that is being delivered? Most CEOs, when answering truthfully, have to say, "Not very consistent."
Who's to blame? We now hear from many senior sales executives that Marketing has become irrelevant in terms of supporting their selling efforts. According to the American Marketing Association's Customer Message Management Forums held in 2012, between 50 and 90 percent of the material created by Marketing to support Sales is never used by salespeople. Of course, Marketing should not shoulder all the blame for this situation. Part of the problem results from the fact that in many cases, no effective interface between Marketing and Sales has been defined. In addition, it is virtually impossible to provide effective support if an effective sales process has not been established.
We have already discussed how most PowerPoint presentations and glossy brochures are of minimal help to salespeople in structuring conversations with buyers, or in closing business. Much of today's marketing collateral simply is not designed to be used by salespeople while making calls.
Similarly, much of the training provided to salespeople also misses the mark. It is, for the most part, product-focused, not customer-focused. We've already seen how traditional salespeople tend to launch almost immediately into a product pitch, without regard for what the buyer may either want or need. Well, cramming a newly hired salesperson's head full of product information points that salesperson down this same exact path—the wrong path if the salesperson is expected to engage in a customer-focused conversation with a buyer. Yes, there is a need for product training, but we believe it should be distinguished from sales training.
Companies that are unable to bridge the gap between Tactical Marketing and Sales have no alternative but to rely on—and be at the mercy of—the opinions of their salespeople. Is that such a bad thing? Well, salespeople are just like doctors, lawyers, electricians, or the members of any other profession in that
10 percent are exceptional
70 percent are average
20 percent are marginal
The small percentage who are naturally customer-focused are capable of overcoming the lack of marketing support. They are able to resist the temptation to recite verbatim what they have learned in product training. On a sales call, they can listen, and respond, and ask smart questions to properly position offerings during conversations with their buyers. The question or challenge then becomes, "What production can be gotten from traditional salespeople?"