Early in my career, I inherited responsibility for marketing a financial product to corporations at a company far more invested in its consumer business. “Write some brochures and a presentation for salespeople to use,” I was told, “and then focus on direct marketing.” New to B2B and grateful for the advice, I did just that.
Until a few months later, when the phone calls from the field began. They would go something like this:
“Hi, this is Janice from the western region. I manage the ABC account and have a meeting with the CFO, and the hot button is cash flow. Do you have a something that talks about that?”
“Well, we have a collateral piece in inventory that covers our credit features …”
“Nah, that doesn’t really cover what they’re asking about. This is really urgent; the contract is up soon. If we don’t address their concerns, they’ll go with someone else. Can you write up new slides for me? Maybe plug in some data about their current expense schedule?”
Or like this:
“Alisa? Jerry Brown, East Coast sales. Got a prospect. Very hot. High-tech sector. Seven-figure potential. About to ink a deal with you know who. But agreed to let us submit a proposal. By tomorrow.”
“Can we use what was written for XYZ last week?”
“No, no. Different focus. Very specific.”
And I’d drop everything and scramble to support the revenue opportunities (though I could never keep up with the volume of requests on my own). Because it didn’t take me long to realize that my job was about something far more fundamental than running campaigns—it was about delivering value to the sales rep, in the form of tailored tools and expertise, to help move deals along. It was about having an impact on sales effectiveness.
But I also knew that this model of marketing-sales interaction was decidedly not effective.
- Marketing had the best knowledge of the product and the skills to communicate it—and yet, as a resource-constrained department fighting too many fires at once, how could marketing apply expertise consistently in a way that would benefit many?
- Sales was skilled at building relationships and uncovering customer needs—but without immediate, tailored marketing support, what choice did sales have but to sacrifice critical face-to-face interaction time to devise its own materials?
Sound familiar? This dynamic is borne out even today, at organizations of all shapes and sizes:
- Fewer than 27 percent of CMOs report being confident that they adequately prepare sales to be on-message in customer communication (in a study by the CMO Council).
- A typical salesperson devotes just 26 percent of work time to actual selling, vs. a whopping 43 percent on preparation and administration (according to research by the Yankee Group).
The impact on revenue opportunity is clear: Less time devoted to selling equates to longer cycle times, lower win rates and smaller deals.
Fortunately, as my career evolved, so has the availability of technology as a means to facilitate sales effectiveness. One step beyond the administrative and organizational efficiencies of CRM, “next practice” platforms now exist to help align marketing and sales around those crucial customer interaction moments that are so tightly tied to bottom-line results.
Benefits of technology
As a consultant to companies implementing such solutions, I have seen the immediate positive changes technology can enable for marketing and sales teams:
- A centralized, web-based access point for sales asset templates saves marketing time spent responding to countless queries, duplicating efforts, policing message accuracy
- Marketing time saved is channeled into developing and organizing materials around criteria that matter to sales and customers—such as sales stage, competitors and audience—instead of factors that might matter internally, such as product orientation
- The ability to define a customer situation in searching for the templates with the most precise fit saves sales countless hours hunting down previously-created items or writing new ones
- Customization tools enforcing marketing guidelines (including those promoting product cross-selling and enforcing legal/compliance rules) enables sales to easily tailor a chosen template to best represent insight into the customer
- Sales time saved is channeled into direct interaction with customers, which becomes even more productive through extremely targeted materials that facilitate the conversation
- Analytics deliver invaluable activity data back to marketing and sales about what’s working and what’s needed, fueling strategy and action
Sounds great in theory, right? But has it worked? Just ask the vice president of sales operations for a major business service supplier, who recently leveraged a web-based sales asset management platform to help marketing and sales implement a relationship review program. The organization’s vision was to formalize a quarterly presentation quantifying the past accomplishments, milestones, opportunities and future goals of every customer partnership—all 10,000 of them.
Before the program was established, account executives had managed the writing, data collection and verification, data entry, formatting and delivery of each relationship review deck, devoting as many as 40 hours of preparation per presentation. The problem: There wasn’t enough time in the year to complete more than a handful of these meetings while handling all the other responsibilities of relationship management.
Recognizing the importance of maximizing account executives’ time in front of customers, marketing created a professional relationship review presentation template, leveraging the best content from field-developed materials while ensuring currency and accuracy of information. Marketing also worked with IT to define requirements for data used in the presentation and initiated an ongoing upload from the data warehouse on behalf of all account executives.
Marketing provided access to the template presentation and a means to customize it—including population of customer-specific data into charts and graphs—via the new web-based sales asset management platform. In just a few clicks and a matter of minutes, account executives now can have a completed presentation in hand, freeing them to devote more time to preparing for and managing the meeting, with an eye toward new business growth opportunities.
As many as 39 hours per account saved … multiplied by 10,000 customers. Consider the revenue impact if even 1 percent of those hours was to result in incremental new business. Now, that is making an impact on sales effectiveness.