The 3 Crucial Questions You Should Ask Your Sales Team to Improve Marketing Results

Image courtesy Flickr user ** RCB **
Image courtesy of Flickr user ** RCB **

Marketers love to A/B test web treatments, tweaking the phrasing of a message or position of a button to improve campaign results.  But do we really know what content moves the sale forward when our sales team are in front of prospects?

When it comes to determining which messages are most effective in really meeting objectives and moving specific needles, the company’s sales team can play an instrumental role. A new report from Aberdeen’s Peter Ostrow bears this out, finding that top performing sales organizations exhibit strong collaboration between sales and marketing. (Report Link)

According to Ostrow’s research, the collaboration runs deep, exceeding the usual discussions between sales and marking, such as what exactly constitutes a lead and how quickly sales will follow up.  Best in class organizations exhibit strong integration from the very top, in terms of shared goals, and that alignment trickles down through the sales and marketing organizations, providing powerful incentive for the the two teams to work toward the same goals.   In practice, this integration is expressed a number of ways, and 360 degee feedback on messaging and content is one.

Image via Business2Community

If a divide between marketing and sales exists at your organization, an good place to start collaborating is on the messaging marketing is developing. It’s easy to get started and pays enormous dividends in campaign effectiveness and goodwill with sales.

At the outset of a campaign or project – and any time the organization is performing persona research on an existing customer base – marketing should turn first to sales for a deep dive into the customer mindset. The information gleaned will be a rich source of intel and useful in informing message development.

Mining the sales team for marketplace intelligence

Surveying your sales team can reveal at a glance the marketplace challenges customers are facing, the messaging and materials sales finds most useful and most importantly – the gaps that exist between market conditions and the company value proposition.

3 crucial questions to ask your sales team:

  1. What questions do prospects ask for which you don’t have a good answer? The answers to this question will reveal holes in either the brand’s value proposition or your sales enablement tools.
  2. What questions do you hear over and over again? Questions that recur in the marketplace should be red flags for marketing – they indicate a gap in marketplace perception or understanding or sales knowledge (or both.)
  3. What curveballs do customers throw at you? The curveball questions are generally fewer and further between, but they can be an important indicator of early shifts in market needs or sentiment.

A mix of in-person interviews and short, quick-to-complete surveys can deliver insights for the marketing team. If your brand organizes sales teams by vertical market or customer segment, conduct discrete surveys among each group to develop the clearest picture of the market.

Field sales feedback: the ultimate testing tool

Using the insights gleaned from sales is just one advantage marketing can gain from collaborating with field sales. However, don’t stop there. As messaging is developed, test it with your sales teams.

Expose them to the messaging and have key players weigh in on the sales enablement tools. Deploy messaging on a limited basis and collect feedback from the teams involved.

One of my favorite tactics is to road-test concepts directly with clients when invited to present to client groups (something I did regularly.) I’ve given major event presentations dry runs with clients and used their reactions to gauge the stickiness of key messages within. This direct exposure has enabled me to determine which messages and concepts were sticky, and which needed additional work.

At the outset, these hands-on and high-touch methods can seem inefficient, and obviously, because the sample size is small one should not overlook the data sets available to us in our analytics and automation platforms. However, for developing those ‘last mile’ messages that make the difference when the sales team is in front of the client, feedback from the front line teams is crucial.

This sort of feedback and alignment is not abdication of marketing turf. While there are certainly times when the organization will want to limit exposure to messaging, there are plenty of more routine communications and campaigns that can benefit from these exercises. Overall message performance will improve – even for digital campaigns – when the organization closes loops and fills the information gaps that stall sales and leak leads.

Author Sarah Skerik has decades of B2B marketing & sales experience, with emphasis on content marketing strategy integrated with social media, demand gen and public relations. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik and connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/sarahskerik

Marketers: Your Most Important Audience is Sales

Peer-generated social content is on par with editorial content and vendor content. The content brands create needs to have utility in order to support sales and resonate on social channels.  Via Marketing Profs.

If you Google the terms “content marketing and sales,” you’ll find scores of white papers, articles and blog posts attesting to the value of content marketing as a lead generation engine that fuels sales.

No argument there.  Content is the layer that drives demand gen in the marketing stack.

But precious little attention is paid to what is arguably the marketing department’s most important audience, namely, the company’s sales team.  The sales team is one of the primary brand voices, and if they’re not singing from the same page as marketing,  the result will be a fractured marketplace image, and real difficulty in overcoming perceptions the brand is eager to change.

The sales team can also be powerful advocates and partners for marketing.  The historical conflict and finger pointing that exist between marketing and sales makes no sense.  Buyers today are making decisions without vendor input, against timeframes they dictate.  This calls for an agile approach to sales enablement and responsive marketing plans with flexible frameworks.  This means listening to the sales team and the marketplace, and having the resource and flexibility to swiftly adjust messaging and capitalize upon emerging opportunities.

The changes in the buyer decision journey have also altered the mechanics of selling. We’ve all seen the studies about B2B buyer habits, which focus on online research and sidestep traditional sales channels until the decision is almost made.  We also know that B2B buyers rely heavily on their social networks for information about products and services they’re considering.

These changes offer marketers more than a few opportunities to impact the company top line, but they require marketing teams to balance long-term planning and projects with real-time opportunity and sales team needs. However, as you’ll see, providing strong marketing support to sales needn’t diminish campaign planning or demand gen strategy.  These elements are not mutually exclusive.

If you have credibility with your sales team, you’ll have credibility with your audience.   

To win, brands need to retool marketing outputs and ensure the content they publish has utility in the hands of the sales team as well as the marketing automation stack.

The content the sales team needs isn’t the thirty-thousand foot thought leadership piece.  They need content that bolsters the case with the customer.  They need tactical advice, evidence, examples and proof.   This sort of content is vitally important to the sales process, for a few reasons:

  • It opens doors and builds credibility for the brand. Useful content communicates a potent subtext to customers and prospects: it says “We understand you.”  It signals affinity, and it builds trust quickly.
  • As a leave-behind or follow-up piece, evidential content provides a powerful, visible and memorable reinforcement of the message the sales person is conveying.  If you’ve been in sales, you know how hard it is to get messages – or even concepts conveyed in in-person  conversations – to stick with your customers.
  • Tactical advice and customer examples educate your sales team as well as customers and prospects.  I learned this shortly after I launched the company blog, when I started hearing “I’m learning so much from the blog!” from individual team members, over and over again.  As soon as I realized that, I started treating the blog as a conversation between me and our widely-scattered sales team, keeping them firmly in mind with each post, and making utility for sales a primary goal. The content we published and promoted there became an important sales education tool.
  • Grist for social selling.  The sales reps I worked with were increasingly active on social networks.  I quickly learned that they were willing to share interesting and useful content we published widely with their audiences, and even more interestingly. They consumed the content quickly, incorporating the vernacular into their own social posts and conversations.  By happy accident, I discovered how important a role the brand’s social sellers can play in building a unified brand voice and story.

Creating content that empowers sales also builds the marketing team’s credibility with sales.  That trust is important capital, and the dividends are paid when the sales team trusts marketing’s messaging and takes it willingly to the field.

The power of integrated marketing is undeniable, and it’s efficient.  Using events and content marketing to build runway for campaigns, and earned media to build credibility, awareness and search pull, and tying everything together from an analytics standpoint — these are sound ideas.  The efficiencies that can be gained when the organization develops aligned messaging that has utility in the field, resonates on social networks, generates search engine pull and (yes) generates leads is undeniable.

However, these opportunities are overlooked when silos exist, or when marketing has a singular focus. As a result, the marketing team misses opportunities to deliver measurable impact right now, and the sales team ends up wasting time cobbling together its own materials. You can’t let long term planning eat your short term opportunities.

How do we bust those silos? It starts with alignment at the top, specifically aligning marketing and sales goals and strategies.  But there may be an easy and practical approach, which I’ll explore next week: Intel & Integration.

Author Sarah Skerik has decades of B2B marketing & sales experience, with emphasis on content marketing strategy integrated with social media, demand gen and public relations. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik and connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/sarahskerik