Put Away Your Swords: Modern Times Demand a Collaborative Approach

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Head: Put Away Your Swords: Modern Times Demand a Collaborative Approach

Author: David Ben-Gal Kramer, Fieldstone Hill Group, Inc.

As successful sales and marketing executives, we’re trained to break problems apart to figure them out. We’re very good at reducing and fragmenting the world into small pieces in hopes of making complex tasks and subjects more manageable. There is a long tradition of singular focus and individual initiative in our world: This is the rainmaker model, of course, supporting the team quarterbacks and field generals.

Put away your swords. Today’s chaotic, hyper-competitive markets demand new archetypes and updated models. The age of specialization has evolved. It’s now the age of collaboration.

Working with clients as a sales and CRM consultant, I have found that today’s challenges are too complex to be managed by any one person or department. They require more than a single perspective to solve them. Together, we are smarter than we are on our own. So I help clients harness their collective intelligence by facilitating the tactical convergence of sales and marketing operations.

Agile collaboration between sales and marketing can be a clear, competitive advantage when:

  1. Performing market segmentation
  2. Developing a unique product and service offering
  3. Implementing an effective go-to-market strategy
  4. Executing in “downstream” sales performance
  5. Accelerating longer-term, loyal, customer relationships
  6. Improving both sales revenue and profitability

Realistically, you can’t hand someone a Leatherman pocket tool and expect him or her to build a community hall. This is a transformation.

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The kind of sustainable collaboration demands a more holistic approach to organizational change and performance. So I always seek to compliment the utilization of existing CRM applications with a far more robust emphasis on our client’s people, processes and strategic intent. Here are two examples of how this can be accomplished, drawn from my consulting experience.

Business Case A

The board of a $23 million e-commerce firm requested that founding executives improve sales and CRM outcomes in the hyper-competitive pharmaceutical sector. The client sells “e-details,” interactive web sites that substitute for the brief, in-person sales visits that legions of pharmaceutical reps routinely make on doctors’ offices to introduce new drugs and to discuss new protocols for existing ones. The client’s customers are brand managers, responsible for marketing major drugs at large pharmaceutical companies.

A brief market assessment revealed that the client’s chief competitors are very good at focusing their messages. This requires considerable agility and flexibility. For example, one competitor touts its leadership in e-detail sites for cardiac care compounds. Another projects expertise and historic success with drugs that control depression and anxiety.

The client employs about 25 dedicated salespeople but has a smaller, under-resourced marketing department. There was little, if any, historic collaboration. To remain competitive in the marketplace, though, sales and marketing now had to pool resources and coordinate in an effort to identify high-gain customer segments as well as develop a flexible marketing position and targeted communications collateral.

My team helped the company create a pilot group of representatives from both sales and marketing departments, with an emphasis on dialogue, shared strategic vision and tactical alignment. The new cross-functional group optimized the collaborative planning and problem solving required to identify target markets—and accelerated the creation of customized, marketing communications pieces to “deliver the right message, to the right prospect, at the right time.” We coaxed things along with downstream training, coaching (with metrics). With target markets in mind, their new, niche-driven, marketing materials were set up as a library-style resource on salesforce.com.

Business Case B

A $15 million IT company is attempting to enter a competitive, new market with a complex product that targets a very specialized niche within the Fortune 100.

Because the company is operating with limited resources, the client is intent on minimizing risk and cost. The CEO appreciates that it is critically important to learn as much as possible about the new opportunity landscape as the company proceeds. The message is to be aggressive but move in measured steps.

This company employs 10 to 12 dedicated sales reps, who spend the majority of their time educating new prospects about the technology and supporting existing clients who are their internal “champions” and influencers for account development, referral opportunities and longer-term loyalty.

Clearly, marketing communications has to coordinate with sales operations here. Marketing can identify the high-gain prospects. Sales can then seamlessly employ the processes, systems and tools to reach them with the right message, at the right time.

The practical solution my team proposed is a high-impact “sales blog.” Sales blogs are the new home page. With sales blogs, marketing can create 70 percent of the content—like a template designed to address specific, vertical niches—and leave the rest for salespeople to reach out with personalized notes, surveys, service updates, product news, URL links and “drag and drop” articles. Customers can ask questions, too. All the sales reps have to do is execute, periodically refreshing content and emailing the interactive site to selected contacts.

Utilizing group dialogue, the client is in the process of creating consensus between its sales and marketing teams. Then it can move forward collaboratively to create a process flow for jump-starting blog production and then implementing the strategy with a “roadmap” that outlines both quantitative and qualitative performance benchmarks.

These two scenarios show that the tactical convergence of sales and marketing is no longer a luxury; it is a driving business requirement today: a timely transformation that generates a sustainable advantage on today’s hyper-competitive market landscape. CRM or SFA tools, alone, are not the silver bullets. They are a start. But my experience shows that only those committed organizations and collaborative leaders who approach this challenge in a holistic, systems perspective—while also emphasizing people, process and strategy—will prevail.

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