Managing The Marketing And Sales Relationship

Sales and marketing co-operationMost now agree inbound B2B marketing delivers more quality leads, at a lower cost per lead, than traditional outbound marketing. However, inbound marketing presents a new set of challenges and managing the marketing and sales relationship is crucial to success.

Sales lead generation methods have changed, as has the point leads are generated in the sales cycle. In traditional outbound marketing the emphasis is on building initial awareness via advertising, telemarketing, press release, direct mail and Email marketing. The Leads generated tended to be early in the sales cycle with sales tasked with delivering information to develop that early lead, building relationships and taking the sales process forward.

The model has changed from push to pull and B2B Buyers now tend to research products and services they need before engaging with sales. A survey by BaseOne, across four of the major European economies (including the UK), found 87% of B2B buyers look for advice before making a purchase and of those 71% used the web as their primary source.

Research from Knowledge Storm/Marketing Sherpa shows 85% of technical buyers need to encounter at least three pieces of content before engaging with a solution provider. Using the old, and somewhat outdated, AIDA model, buyers tend to be in the late interest (or even desire) phase before engaging with a supplier.

The Impact On Marketing and Sales Responsibilities

Fundamental responsibilities have not changed. Although some in marketing may wish to believe otherwise their prime responsibility was, and remains, lead generation. Sales prime responsibility remains taking a lead forward to the point of sale.

What has changed is the impact on relationships and length of time (further down funnel) marketing are involved. With leads generated at a later point in the sales funnel there is less time for sales to build relationships.

However, people still buy from people in B2B markets and personal relationships are still vitally important. However, sales need to grasp that leads delivered can cover prospects at various points in the sales process.

Integration Issues

Decisions need to be made on nurturing leads. Sales may want to get in at earliest opportunity or may prefer it to be later in process. What is vitally important is sales understand that the lead is unlikely to be at the point of first customer interest.

A part educated customer will be unimpressed if, during the first sales interaction his time is wasted by a sales team who insist on going back to first principles. More importantly sales need to avoid any tactics that destroy the hard won credibility achieved by marketing.

As sales are primarily focussed (rightly so) on results in the short to medium term there is the risk a proportion of leads will be discarded while sales chase those that are most likely to turn into short term orders.

Managing The Relationship For Best Results

Sales and marketing need to co-operate closely to decide what type of leads are being handed off and at what point in the buyers journey. The approach that minimises confusion is for marketing to hold all leads until they reach a given point in the sales process. Although this provides certainty to sales it can also waste opportunities as good leads could fall out of the process before reaching the required maturity.

A more effective approach is for marketing to classify (grade) all leads before they are passed to sales. This approach is resource intensive and requires a highly effective lead generating system that is able to accurately classify leads with the minimum of effort.

Whatever system is used sales need to be incentivised to take all leads as far as practical to avoid substantial waste in the process


While inbound marketing has some real advantages over outbound it is a different approach that requires both sales and marketing to change and adapt their working processes. If this change is not managed effectively it can result both in conflict and results that fail to live up to expectations.


The value of sales visits in B2B markets

What is the true value of sales visits in B2B markets? After many years working in both B2B marketing and sales I took some time out and with that time for reflection I came to appreciate what a complete waste of time and money many B2B sales visits are.

I clearly remember a week I spent with the sales team. As the marketing person I spent a week on the road making presentations on a new product concept. I spent a day with each area sales engineer, before linking up with the next. In each day I would typically do one presentation and sit in on a further two to three of the sales visits arranged for that day.

Looking back, in the entire week I would classify only two of the twelve sales visits as true sales discussions based on really understanding a prospects needs or progressing a sales process. The rest where simply stay in touch or deliver information visits.

In the majority of my own five visits the information could have been delivered by cheaper and perhaps more effective means. It could have been delivered when the prospect was at their most receptive to that information.

The costs of the week were significant. Taking in petrol, salaries and car costs for four area sales engineers (disregarding their support and the office based sales manager costs) I now estimate that week cost in excess of GBP3000 or approximately GBP250 per visit. When defined in those terms the waste involved in deliver information and ‘stay in touch’ meetings starts to come into focus.

The problem perhaps comes from a focus on number of visits. The old style sales process tended to be based on a number of cold / warm calls gives a number of visits and a proportion (normally a low percentage) of visits result in a number of sales. More calls equals more visits, equals more sales. Little time, or thought, was given to increasing conversion rates of leads to visits or visits to sales. Increasing the effectiveness of each sales visit was often ignored in pursuit of the simple numbers.

Given no better way the old style process made some sense but the problem was often compounded by organisations that perceived little value in marketing and therefore relied on their sales people to generate their own leads. The problem is good sales people tend to hate generating their own leads. In contrast, poor quality sales people tend to hit their visit targets by taking the easy option of visiting those they have established relationships with regardless of the potential business available.

Marketing people themselves have certainly caused many of the negative perceptions of marketing. When stripped back to its basic purpose marketing is about generating sales leads. However, apart from an exceptional few, most people can’t be good at everything and there are only a very small number of sales people that are genuinely good at sales and lead generation.

Today, more enlightened organisations in B2B markets tend to have specific roles defined for sales and marketing and employ a marketing pull process to generate high quality sales leads. Unfortunately, these organisations still tend to be in the minority but their marketing departments are using best practice content marketing with some success.

Sales should be focussed on processing leads, evaluating potential and opening and progressing sales discussions to the point of sales not on generating leads (often of low quality) or visits simply to stay in touch or deliver information. They should rely on marketing to deliver high quality leads and to keep communicating with customers and prospects with valuable and engaging content on an ongoing basis.


Reduce The Conflict Between Sales And Marketing

Use inbound marketing and reduce friction between sales and marketing teamsThe potential for conflict between sales and marketing in any B2B organisation is well known. It is counterproductive wasting significant time and effort. In this post we consider if a transition to inbound rather than outbound marketing may help.

It is an unfortunate fact that many B2B sales teams, pressured by call rate and visit targets, waste significant time on prospects unlikely to contribute to sales numbers. They meet visit targets by visiting those they have friendly relationships with on the pretext of ‘maintaining a relationship’ despite there being little to no business opportunity. They waste time on visits simply to deliver information rather than to gather the knowledge that will lead them down the path to a sale.

Marketing teams, with no real understanding of customers real needs or any field experience set marketing strategies that have no real relevance to the marketplace. They focus on activities with no direct relevance to the day to day grind of generating and progressing sales opportunities. They focus on events without being able to maximise the impact of those events or measure its ROI.

Marketing therefore complain that sales are simply following a path of least resistance rather than pursuing their carefully crafted (although probably invalid) strategic direction. Sales complain that marketing have no real relevance and are of no help in their day to day sales process.

If the organisation has managers for both departments then the potential for in fighting and company politics is obvious. If there is a single manager for both then significant effort is required to be judge and jury between the two.

The Move To Inbound Marketing

With the move more to inbound marketing rather than outbound perhaps there is an opportunity to reduce the historic conflict between sales and marketing. Employing a content (inbound) marketing process can actually drive sales and marketing closer together in a joint effort to close more business.

The theory behind inbound marketing appears logical. It states that prospects, tired of the old push sales process, will seek out the information they need to make a decision. During that research process they will find the information provided by a business, interact with that information and seek out the business when they are ready to engage.

Great in principle, not so easy in practice. What is actually required is a sales process fuelled by content (information). At the top level general content can be used to raise awareness and draw the first customer engagement. Further through the process highly detailed information that addresses a particular concern or makes a direct comparison may be required.

Inbound Encourages Co-operation

The only way this process can work is with close co-operation between sales and marketing. If marketing try to create the required content without sales input it will fail. Sales have the relationship, sales control the process, sales understand the requirement but they do not have the strategic, content generating and content delivery channel experience of marketing.

Inbound marketing provides an opportunity to clearly divide sales and marketing responsibilities. Once that division is in place and both sales and marketing understand the benefits then the prospects for conflict are significantly reduced.

To avoid conflict sales priority should be to prioritise and follow up leads and take them to the point of closure while marketing responsibility should be to deliver high quality, relevant leads. It is not the quantity of content that counts but the quality; measured in terms of its usefulness and relevance.

The trick is to re-organise the sales department into those that prospect for new customers and those that maintain and grow the existing base. The skill set of an Account Manager is often different from a finder and closer.

A change in sales structure and organisation is not sufficient to avoid conflict. Marketing need to understand that it is sales who are closest to the customer. They (not marketing) intimately understand customer needs and information requirements and the process required to take a prospect from enquiry to close.

Sales need to be fully aware of what content is to be delivered, by what means and when so they are prepared for sales conversations but ultimately they must depend on marketing to deliver the fuel for their sales process.

With old push style techniques less and less effective the transition to inbound marketing can be achieved without causing conflict between sales and marketing but only with appropriate planning and role specification.