Building valuable bridges that sustain growth.

by David Johnson on March 24, 2010

It’s hot in here.

Although the economy is improving, boards and executive leadership teams are turning up the heat on their operating teams, placing tremendous demands on them to improve execution across all business functions.  And as companies continue to work their way out of our current economic rut, two truths have become apparent.  First, post-recession operation models are not going to mirror pre-recession models. Plans that just dial-down and dial-up past operating models have virtually no chance of being seriously considered.  Second, management teams are now expected to implement plans faster than ever before with regard to re-thinking cost structure and go-to-market strategies. Simultaneously, on the customer-facing front we are also witnessing seismic shifts in customer learn, shop and buy behaviors across the B2B, B2C and P2P marketing and sales landscape.  Net–net, pressure has never been higher.

How is this impacting Marketing and Sales?

With all of the pressure and change management teams face today, you’d think we’d see more big innovation and action. I feel the sense of urgency from the people I talk to, but I am surprised at the lack of change.  And although eMarketer just published a survey that suggests many firms are now integrating marketing activities into broader campaigns, including social media, I don’t buy it…unless the interpretation is extremely loose.  I am not just saying this to be controversial.  I’ve talked with 20 or so companies and a few political campaigns over the last 30 days, and only one organization I’ve talked to is doing anything interesting on an integrated basis.  Furthermore, on the sales front I was just talking to a Sales VP with a software technology firm, and he told me they were in the process of giving reps “big” daily quotas for emails, calls and proposals to be made to customers, to address a shrinking sales funnel and increased sales cycle lengths (assuming it’s just a “sales” issue…and in this case, I know that’s not the issue).

Change?  What change?

So, as much as I want to believe that companies are aggressively adopting new integrated Marketing and Sales operating models that increase effectiveness and efficiency, while improving the client experience, I don’t see it.  In fact, I see the old regimes reverting back to the same things they’ve always done.  The problem is that these companies and their leaders don’t realize they may be doing more harm than good.  Yes, that’s right, more could be worse.

Pharma has been there, done that.

About 4 years ago in the pharmaceutical industry we saw access to physicians decrease dramatically.  Primarily the result of physicians having far less time due to wrestling with insurance companies over reimbursements, and the fact that pharma had increased restrictions placed on them for how reps could interact with physicians (no lunches, dinners, golf, etc.).   So, what did they do?  Many blockbuster brands just dialed-up the number of reps they had calling on targeted physicians…the we’ll force our way in model.  Physicians, clinics and hospitals reacted in many cases by shutting down access all together.  This was the time when you walked in a physician’s office and there were more pharma sales reps than patients in the office.  Pharma quickly learned that forcing themselves on the physicians was not a sustainable model.  The Brand teams then decided to back-fill access to physicians with non-personal promotion and educational material delivered via web, email, DVD, etc., and when the physicians email was chucked full of what they considered spam, they shut these channels down as well.

So what did pharma do?  They listened to what the market was telling them.  They heard physicians say loud and clear: don’t camp in my office, don’t spam me; add value, serve up relevant information to me via my preferred channel (Internet), etc.  Today, pharma arguably does a better job of relevant integrated, multi-channel relationship marketing than most other industries, even in light of all of the federal and self-imposed communication restrictions they adhere to.

Are you being ignored?

Today, most industries and companies are where pharma was 4 years ago.  Getting access to decision makes has never been more difficult.  Gatekeepers are keeping us at bay, phone calls are not being returned and emails are not being responded to.  Why? People have more responsibility, more on their plate, smaller budgets and less time.  So if you cannot get your value proposition across in 15 seconds or less, and it’s not aligned to your clients immediate priorities…see ya later.  So when Marketing and Sales organizations encounter these situations, what do they do?  They do what pharma did 4 years ago; they pump up the volume, and do more of the same.  The result is the same as well; frustrated customers that don’t feel like you’re listening.  If a prospect or client is telling you that they don’t need your product or solution, or they don’t have budget or the timing’s not right, and you continue down the path with an engagement strategy that is focused on pestering them with meeting requests and email spam, don’t be surprised if there are a few more competitors around the table next time a qualified deal does emerge.

Ignorance is not bliss.

The bottom line is that you could be damaging your Brand and your relationship with your clients if you do not take the time to listen to them to understand their communication preferences and adapt your messaging and engagement approach to meet their unique needs.  Leading companies understand this, and they are leveraging all marketing, communication and sales channels to develop new relationships and enhance existing relationships – check out the Dove Real Beauty Campaign – http://www.dove.us/?dl=/scienceofskincare/default.aspx#/cfrb/ and the EMC Community – http://www.emc.com/community/.

Build a bridge.

It is my personal opinion that collaboration between Marketing and Sales is the key to developing integrated, cost-effective programs that improve the quality of the client experience while delivering tangible results.  What does integration mean?  It means understanding all aspects of the Marketing and Sales funnel and aligning the appropriate resources to the appropriate channel to move the needle.  It also requires a deep understanding of your target audience(s), specifically how they prefer to traverse the learn, shop and buy process. Which means that you need to understand how your clients uniquely leverage PR, traditional media (TV, radio, billboard, print), Internet, social media, mobile, etc. in their decision process.  Developing a strategic data asset and tracking client touch-points is the key to delivering sustainable results.  The good news is that many of these touch points can be easily tracked in CRM systems, on-line measurement tools (e.g. www.coremetics.com) or by your agency; giving executives, reps and channel partners access to unique insights that improve the effectiveness of every client touch-point.  Add some analytics to this data, and you can start to identify what investments are moving needle with your clients.

We’ve also learned that when companies take time to intimately understand the learn, shop and buy process and well as channel preferences, that engagement activities can be intelligently divided across both Marketing and Sales, with direct rep time can be freed up so reps can focus on higher value-add activities.  Therefore, giving Marketing and Sales management the ability to re-think coverage models for all stages of the sales funnel, leading to lower cost coverage models by optimally aligning resources to clients based on propensity and opportunity.

Change is good…and required.

As a sales leader, I love quotas and structured/timed communications, and I believe in tightly managing sales activities; and yes, some sales organizations need “boiler-room” micro-management and quota setting.  However, I believe it is equally important to collaborate with the Marketing team to develop an integrated Marketing and Sales approach that is efficient, effective and drives measurable results.  Because just like no marketing tactic is an island, neither can Marketing and Sales operate on islands.

Key messages:

  • Don’t ignore the changes around you.
  • Don’t think that post-recession will look anything like pre-recession.
  • Re-think your business models.
  • Partner with marketing.
  • It is possible to create a more productive, lower cost marketing and sales operating model.

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