Many of us grew up in a business model where sales and marketing were considered two separate functions:
- Sales was responsible for identifying, qualifying, creating and managing customer relationships. They were the “face-to-the-customer” and were accountable for achieving the sales goals of the company.
- Marketing was responsible for branding, advertising, lead generation, printed collateral, trade show exhibits and promotional items. It primarily served in a sales support function and operated as a separate “silo” in the corporate organizational structure.
This model has existed for decades with very little change, even though all other aspects of business were changing dramatically with the advancement of technology. Think of advanced manufacturing, lean principles, quality control initiatives, supply chain management, enterprise software implementation, outsourcing, etc.
So is that old sales and marketing model still applicable today? I think not!
Changing Customer Expectations
Let’s be totally honest. Customer expectations have changed dramatically over the last decade. First, they have neither the time nor the desire to see “salespeople.” Just ask any of your salespeople how easy is it to get an appointment to see a customer these days.
Instead they want trusted partners that can provide them a solution to their problem, and only when they need it. And how do they find and determine who those potential trusted partners might be? That’s right - through a Google search. This trend will only accelerate as our younger workforce takes a more prominent role in making supplier and purchasing decisions. Did you know that Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers?
That means that customers are increasingly relying on generic web searches to find what they need. If your website does not provide a great customer experience, one that has the information they need and is easily navigable and intuitive, they will move on quickly.
Also, customers want access to information 24/7 with the ability to see technical content, price and availability information in real time, and on any one of a myriad of mobile devices. Can a customer place an order in your business system directly from their mobile phone at 11pm?
Re-engineering Sales Processes
All of these changing behaviors and expectations forces us to re-evaluate and reengineer our sales processes. Customers expect to be able to engage with us in multiple ways. No longer does “one-face-to-the-customer” work. They want 24/7 access to information through eCommerce and web portal options, immediate and technically competent phone assistance, and partners who can help assess their business challenges and suggest potential solutions.
At Cross Company, we have re-engineered our sales processes to provide multiple channels for customer access as follows:
Inbound Vs. Outbound Marketing
Another change that has taken place is the transition from outbound marketing techniques to inbound marketing. Mass mailings and email blasts, although still used, are far less effective as lead generation strategies. Instead, customers will find you - or your competitor - when they need something.
Again, they default to the internet to accomplish this. They conduct searches and make decisions based on their experiences with selected websites. Making sure your website is near the top of page one of a search is critical. Thus Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is so important. To maximize your SEO, you must stay abreast with the Google algorithms used to determine positioning. A well designed website with rich content that is constantly updated and expanded is the minimum price of admission. Blogs, videos and whitepapers will significantly increase traffic to your website. Constantly evaluating your website’s performance using analytics is also essential.
Customers will also research salespeople on the internet before agreeing to meet with them. Will they find an interesting, knowledgeable person? Are your salespeople’s LinkedIn profiles professional and contain a clear value proposition? Have they published blogs, videos and whitepapers that lend credibility to their expertise? Can they afford not to take this opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competition?
Our experience with this transition to inbound marketing has been profound. We have been contacted by customers that we had never called on or known, informing us that they had selected us to be their partner on specific projects. This has resulted in significant orders and is one of the main reasons we are outperforming the market.
As already mentioned, customers are increasingly demanding to transact business through an easy to use, intuitive, Amazon-like webstore. If you do not provide them this option, you will lose customers!
A successful eCommerce webstore starts with SEO positioning. Without it, they will never find you. You will likely have to spend advertising dollars to initially drive traffic to your site.
It also requires high-quality digital photos of products, complete and accurate product descriptions, technical specifications, pricing, availability and recommendations of complementary products. It must be easy to view on a mobile device of any size and load quickly.
Building a successful eCommerce platform takes work and investment. Without both, it will fail.
Sales & Marketing Are Now Joined As One
Clearly there is a confluence of sales and marketing departments taking place. One is no more important than the other, and in today’s environment they cannot succeed without each other.
It will become increasingly difficult to generate sales growth relying solely on an outside sales team. They will need modern marketing to help create professional looking content and SEO positioning to create inbound leads. They will need to collaborate to differentiate themselves from their competition.
In turn, marketing will need highly trained and specialized sales teams to provide telephone support and customized onsite services. Marketing will also need their technical expertise and industry experience to create the rich content needed to drive traffic to their websites and webstores.
In the final analysis, they can no longer act like independent silos in an organization. They, along with their IT teammates (think eCommerce integrated with ERP business systems and CRM software) are now joined as one. They must all work together for a company to maximize its sales potential.
Please let me hear your thoughts on this subject.
About the author:
Steve Earley is the CEO of Cross Company, a 100% employee-owned ESOP headquartered in Greensboro, NC. Their mission is “applying technologies to improve machine and manufacturing process performance.” For more blogs from Steve, please read his Leadership Series.
You can contact Steve directly by e-mail.