Revitalizing the long-term relationship between marketing and sales
Contributor Josh Aberant explains why the relationship between sales and marketing has changed -- and how leading SaaS firms are leveraging it for growth.
Dealings between sales and marketing are a lot like any long-term relationship. There will be moments of passion when business is booming; at other times, it will seem like the process has become a comfortable routine. And then there are the periods of resentment and shouting matches when it feels like nothing’s working and communication has broken down. But nothing dooms a relationship like building walls, tuning each other out and accepting stagnant interactions.
While it may be stretch to look to the tech industry for advice about romance, the fastest-growing SaaS (software as a service) businesses today have at least gotten that last part right. They’re shaking up traditional roles in sales and marketing and developing a working relationship that challenges assumptions, is collaborative and, dare I say it, intimate.
You had me at ‘sales enablement’
In any B2B enterprise, “sales enablement” is a big part of marketing’s job. And it means just what it says: giving sales teams the tools they need to succeed. I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.
Some of that support might take shape as the crafting of buyer personas, giving salespeople profiles of each buyer who’s part of the decision path within a targeted account. Best practice guides are a sales enablement tool, too. As are demo and trial products, product collateral and pitch decks.
But sales enablement is less about the tools than it is about the strategy that guides exactly how you utilize and empower sales teams. That’s changing, as those teams now must function in a B2B technology marketing landscape where many of the old rules don’t apply. Except for one: being a good partner to your sales colleagues.
Sales and marketing’s five love languages
There’s a wide range of variation in how product marketers and product managers work with sales teams. You might think it’s better to be highly directive and controlling, with ironclad guidelines to dictate every move they make, right down to tightly scripting (and recording) sales calls.
Or you may be more comfortable being hands-off, lending positioning and marketing support but deferring to the salesperson’s own experience and native abilities to charm and cajole a prospect.
For most of us, the middle ground is the best place to be. Even then, it’s important to stay flexible and adaptive in that relationship with sales. Market dynamics and the strategies to exploit them are guaranteed to change, and sales enablement has to be one of the places where you stay agile.
Yes, a thousand times yes
What are the key characteristics of a good sales enablement program? We’ve already defined its basic definition — like a good dance partner, marketing should help sales shine. But that doesn’t come without a lot of work and practice. The most successful sales enablement practices have many things in common:
- Buyer-centrism: This is the most important because your sales process must always make the buyer the center of your attention. So you’ll want to always know what resources will be of the greatest value to the prospect at key points in their journey.
- Training: Whether you’re using a dedicated training program or collaborative tools, making sure sales teams know how to leverage the resources you’re giving them is a prerequisite for success.
- Great intel: The more high-quality information and analysis you can equip a sales team with, the better. Give them reports on competitors and rival products, feature and benefit comparisons, links to buyer/influencer communities and sites, updates on sentiment scores and user complaints and more.
- Ease of use: The resources you give them have to be easy to access and deploy, and they must be spot-on in terms of relevance, freshness and quality.
- Accessibility: Everyone in sales should have equal access to enablement resources.
- Clear accountability: The best sales enablement programs mandate that sales teams employ available resources and track whether or not they’re being used, as well as how and when.
- Measurement: Some of the factors that get analytically scoped are sales cycle length, deal size and how resources performed as part of that cycle. Did a specific email drive trial, for instance?
You should always be reviewing and polishing these elements, so your enablement efforts never grow stagnant. Why? Because your marketplace and your position in it are always in flux, in one way or another.
Justify my love and expense account
“Halt and Catch Fire” was a prestige TV series about the early days of the personal computer and internet revolutions. The character of Joe MacMillan was introduced as a relentless ex-IBM sales guy whose gifts of persuasion were only exceeded by his drive to obtain a killer product he could hawk in pursuit of the Next Big Sale.
The old enterprise sales model meant putting all of a tech provider’s eggs in a Joe MacMillan basket. IT architectures and software products were big-ticket investments for buyers, which entailed a long sales cycle. So a salesperson needed to build relationships, work the phone, log a lot of airline miles and slap more than a few martinis and steak dinners on the expense account.
Swipe right for data
Today, though, the feet-on-the-ground approach doesn’t work as it once did. For nearly all software providers, whether they’re global firms selling global systems or startups pushing mobile apps, it’s not cost-effective to rely strictly on the traditional sales model. There’s an eternity of difference between a mainframe giant selling an IBM System 360 for $3 million in 1966 (that’s $23 million in 2018 money) and a SaaS provider asking for a $50.00 monthly subscription, let alone an app studio charging $4.99 a pop.
Over the last several years, we’ve rolled out an all-new sales toolkit, leveraging automation and predictive analytics, AI and bots to carry much of the weight of modern IT and application sales:
- Big Data personalization is nearly old-hat by now, enabling higher-quality automated engagement with prospects; by using Big Data to personalize emails, for example, businesses see transaction rates that are six times higher, according to a 2014 report by Experian.
- Inbound marketing platforms have taken on the top-of-funnel duties for putting content in front of visitors to websites, with automated follow-ups via email or other channels.
- Salesbots powered by AI, like Drift, promise to qualify true leads among site visitors by applying “conversational marketing” to each encounter. As these systems get smarter, they’ll take on tasks from the top to the very bottom of the proverbial sales funnel. Already, many enterprises are using AI in some form or another,
- Lead identification platforms utilizing machine learning can quickly sort through terabyte-sized shoals of data to pick out the best potential leads for marketing and sales to target.
- Account-based marketing tools leveraging smarter lead gen are replacing the nearly-defunct cold call, reaching prospects with persona-based content and advertising in their social feeds and search results.
Does this mean a human sales team is an anachronism? If the example of the marketing department is any guide, probably not. The transformation sales teams are going through right now mirrors what marketers had to contend with as marketing automation systems and “new media” took hold.
And long before that, Don Draper was fretting that the advent of doom had arrived, in the shape of his agency’s first computer. But marketer and marketing departments are still here. Evolution didn’t kill them off; it allowed them to evolve, too, and expand what they were capable of doing.
Stand by your man or woman
With a little change management, then, this shift is going to actually benefit sales teams that are willing to adapt and also receive support that moves with the times.
In fact, the very widgets we’ve listed above are already exactly that — sales enablement technologies capable of making massive improvements in the quality and rewards of a flesh-and-blood salesperson’s job.
How? By providing one of the best possible forms of “enablement” in giving people more time to spend on the one area no AI or bot can yet emulate: human interaction with prospects and customers.
The lead-gen platform that builds real-time personas, or the web bot that sorts the wheat from the chaff within site traffic, are performing tasks at which a human being is hopelessly inefficient. The upside of that — and it’s a big upside — is that the sales team gets sprung from the tedium of pushing paper or electrons, and from employing guesswork instead of insight.
Technology will finally free them from the mundane time-sucks every salesperson in history has probably carped about as a distraction from selling.
Meanwhile, the buyer analytics provided by all these data-driven tools will give them more nuanced insights about prospects, improving the quality of those human interactions.
We’d add this, then, to our earlier list of characteristics that define the new and improved version of a great tech sales enablement program:
- Frees salespeople to sell: By leveraging technologies that liberate them from distractive and routine tasks, salespeople are given more opportunity to forge human contacts and productive engagement.
All you need is love
So, this Valentine’s week, I hope sales and marketing teams take a moment to appreciate the contributions of their mates — and then recommit to a culture of growth. That means embracing the best of what marketing technology has to offer while empowering sales teams to make the most of it.