Three Steps to Align Marketing and Sales Around Value Messaging


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When 100 percent of companies say they want better alignment between marketing and sales, but a whopping 92 percent of business-to-business (B2B) companies say they don’t have good enough alignment (according to Forrester Research), where do you start?

One recommendation for a quick win is to uncover an area of shared pain between marketing and sales.

Earlier this year, in Frost & Sullivan’s Growth Team Membership (GTM) 2012 survey for the Americas, marketers were asked about their biggest challenges. The most difficult issue turned out to be creating a compelling value proposition. Ahead of many of the traditional concerns, developing a great message and story that causes prospects and customers to care is marketing’s top struggle.

Similarly, in their PMM Survey, SiriusDecisions, another analyst firm, asked sales management about their biggest challenge. More specifically, they asked what are the inhibitors keeping your salespeople from achieving quota? Topping the list, it’s the salesperson’s ability or inability to communicate value messages.

In both cases, marketing and sales said they essentially have the same problem: creating and delivering compelling value messages (see graphic below).

Align Around Value Message Creation and Delivery

This makes sense if you think about it. A lot of companies have defined their segments and target prospects and customers pretty tightly. So the problem is not necessarily knowing where to go or who to speak with. The bigger problem is knowing what to say that will cause prospects to want to change, and then choose you.

What you say and how you say it is becoming your biggest point of differentiation. Here are three steps to create greater alignment around your value messaging, and ensure you create content that is compelling and gets delivered in the field with confidence.

  1. Value messaging development needs to be a team sport
    Instead of developing messages in a silo with little to no input from key stakeholders across the value chain, marketing must work alongside sales to create messages that salespeople feel comfortable delivering to prospects. This will ensure that your messages are on-point, speaking to your prospects’ story – not your company’s story ? and that the materials you create will actually be used.

    Your specific alignment action: Include product/service subject matter experts and salespeople who have demonstrated success speaking with your target audience in a cross-functional workshop to determine your value message. Asking customers what pains and problems they are having only gives you a sense of what they know, but it’s usually what prospects don’t know, and a fear that they may be missing out on something, that will cause them to actually listen to your message.

    In the cross-functional workshop your job is to dig into the unknown problems that are putting your customers at risk. Ask product marketing to help identify the magnitude of the problem, the pain it will cause and why the market’s current approach is inadequate or unsustainable. Ask your sales experts to help put that into a context the customers will care about, in a way they will want to share it, and a message that will create sufficient urgency to get the decision maker to reconsider their status quo.

    The combination of both sides of the story being in the same room to shape the message will ensure that you keep it customer-focused, while at the same time pointing to a unique strength of your solution. It will also improve the message launch and adoption in the field to promote the fact that it was vetted by key players the sales team respects.

  2. Value messaging deployment needs to be relevant to the task
    Any competent salesperson understands that you have to reach out to the prospect at the appropriate point during their decision-making process with the right, tailored message that speaks to their specific needs. For example, in early stage executive conversations you must deliver messages that “loosen the status quo.” Prospects need to see a reason to change before you can tell them why you are the best answer. In later stages, your messaging needs to create clear contrast between you and the competition to make sure the customer understands your value and picks you.

    Your specific alignment action: Make sure the messaging you create is relevant to where the customer is in their decision-making process. Most companies’ natural drift is to lead your messaging with why your company is the best, and why your solution is the best answer. However, research from Forrester Research, presented at a recent industry roundtable, indicates that 65 percent of decision makers will give their business to the company that “creates the buying vision.” This means they need to hear from you and your salespeople about why they should even consider change. They want to hear your insights about their current situation, the issues in the market and potential business impact if they don’t do anything different. As a result, you need to make sure you are creating value messages, along with campaigns and selling tools that deploy these “why change” messages.

    Then, you need to look at the specific interactions that occur along the buying cycle, understand the conversations your salespeople have at each moment, and make sure that the selling tools and assets are deigned to match the actual selling task. These moments require significant messaging, but if the tools don’t match the type of interaction, your message won’t be adopted and used.

  3. Value messaging delivery needs to trained

    One of the most shocking pieces of recent research came from the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales Executive Council. In its book, “The Challenger Sale,” the CEB identified that field sales interactions have the greatest impact on buying decisions and loyalty (53 percent), compared to product/service quality (19 percent), brand reputation (19 percent) and price (9 percent). In other words, salespeople with their lips moving have greater impact than all of these other high-profile strategies combined.

    Your specific alignment action: The importance of training your salespeople to deliver your value messages in an engaging and memorable way cannot be underestimated. For many organizations, there is a big disconnect between sales training and the customer conversation. In some companies, sales training is product training. The training group reports up to product management and the entire training focus is getting salespeople to memorize and certify on the speeds and feeds. At other companies, sales training is dedicated to sales process and negotiating. Agreeing that companies should follow a common approach to running deals, but just teaching salespeople where to show up and who to interact with has nothing to do with what they will actually need to say, and how they should say it when they talk with a prospect or customer.

Alignment Success Story

One example of a company that has successfully developed value messages and trained their sales force to deliver those value messages is CenturyLink, a Fortune 500 company in the telecommunications industry. To make the shift from selling products to total solutions, CenturyLink Business, the B2B side of the company, developed new differentiated messaging based on the approach described. This content was then deployed into new tools, including whiteboards, and integrated into a skills training solution that equipped their sales force to have engaging conversations with prospects/customers.

A third-party survey company documented an impressive business impact on new and won deals as a result of the initiative. When the new value messaging and conversation skills were put into action, CenturyLink identified an $8.2 million total impact on deals, with $5.8 million in new pipeline, and $2.4 million in won deals. This was at least a 10-fold return on the program in less than one year. Also, high adopters of the new messaging and skills achieved 92.6 percent of quota on average, compared to low adopters who only achieved 78.1 percent of quota.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, communicating value messaging has more to do with the way your story is delivered than it has to do with the content. Understanding how your customers engage your message, how their brain processes information in your presentations, and making sure you create an experience that sets you apart from everyone else is literally the last mile for marketing and sales alignment.

Make sure that the messages you develop, and the tools you deploy are integrated with skills training to deliver that message in a unique manner. You need to make sure salespeople practice the messages, play with the tools, and get comfortable and confident with conversation and presentation techniques that go beyond pushing PowerPoint slides. Giving salespeople great value messages and new techniques for impressing their customers and prospects is a sure way to increase adoption of the messaging and alignment with the story deeper into the customer buying cycle.

Tim Riesterer
Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer at Corporate Visions and Chief Visionary at B2B DecisionLabs, is dedicated to helping companies improve their conversations with prospects and customers to win more business. A visionary researcher, thought leader, keynote speaker, and practitioner with more than 20 years of experience in marketing and sales management, Riesterer is co-author of four books, including Customer Message ManagementConversations that Win the Complex Sale, The Three Value Conversations, and The Expansion Sale."


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