Regardless if you’re in communications, public relations, or marketing you’re still selling something. We’re all selling something even if it’s just our point of view. Yet many marketing professionals I have met avoid getting too involved in sales. For the past ten years or so I’ve been mainly on the sales side of marketing – In the trenches, on the front line and engaging with the customer. Sales is the original social networking platform. The most successful sales professionals I admire are experts at developing genuine relationships and above all look out for the best interests of their customers. I believe every marketer and communications professional would benefit by spending time in sales because it is invaluable experience regarding what actually matters when it comes to developing mutually beneficial relationships that drive business.
Sales is the client of marketing and it is the primary job of marketing to generate leads, help foster them, and provide support once a sale is complete. Branding, advertising, events, and promotions are important but if they don’t provide value to your customers and support sales then they’re simply academic exercises (and wasted money). When I work on client projects the first people I want to talk to are their sales people because they often hold many valuable insights. Based on my experience here are three must-haves marketing needs to be effective regarding it’s primary function of selling whether it be products, ideas, or stakeholder buy-in.
1. Know your audience. Who are you really trying to impress and influence? Put aside your ego and covet regarding the competition and focus on what matters to your customers. If you take the time to know them and care about them, they will take care of you. Know what sort of things they value and ensure communications and presentations are catered to them. Aside from talking to front-line staff and sales people on a regular basis there are a number of online research tools available to ensure you keep your finger on the pulse. Simple online surveys can be conducted for free or a nominal fee with tools like SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, SurveyGizmo, ConstantContact, and even Google Docs. Many of them also have templates with predefined survey questions. Customer’s appreciate client satisfaction surveys because it shows you care and it’s valuable to the business for identifying new opportunities and areas for improvement. Alternatively, conduct small focus groups with your top clients to better understand their needs and involve them in helping shape your service offerings. Such things also build loyalty.
2. Provide value. What purpose will a marketing initiative achieve? Whatever the purpose, it should be for the benefit of your customer/prospect and building their trust in your organization. Putting on events or sending newsletters to celebrate how great your company is are not much interest to your customer. They don’t really care about most of your news unless it provides value to them. Instead offer a free consultation, be a resource for valuable information pertaining to the industry, conduct seminars that spread knowledge, recruit customers for case studies or joint presentations, and make sure these materials are easily available on your website and social media spaces. Some tools to help achieve these tactics are blog software like wordpress.com, online seminar application GotoWebinar, and presentation sharing platforms like SlideShare and YouTube. Track which customers and prospects take advantage of these resources and use it for future conversations or follow-up (HubSpot is a turnkey system for generating content resources and tracking performance).
3. Make it easy to do business with you. Does your business provide a good user experience? It’s a balancing act between the needs of operations, finance, and sales, but effective marketing permeates every department of successful organizations. Impressing, getting, and keeping customers is the duty of the entire organization. One weak link can break the whole chain. Effective marketing strategy should have influence from the front-line to the invoicing. Ensure employees are happy and that they’re appreciated since they are the means of production, clearly outline client/vendor expectations, have a well defined workflow that is easily and regularly communicated to clients, avoid onerous terms and conditions just to satisfy lawyers, ensure accounts payable have customer service skills, and try to inject some personality into the mundane tasks. Organizations like zappos.com, FreshBooks.com and WestJet Airlines are good examples of providing a great customer experience.
There are many skills and tactics marketers need to be effective at their job, but the above three items should form the pillars of any strategy since in the end marketing’s ultimately about driving business and achieving objectives. Nobody is more in tune with the customer’s needs, desires, and goals than those on the front line dealing with them everyday. If you’re in marketing take some time and hang out with the sales folks; you’re meant to be together.