Q&A: How To Align Sales And Marketing

Aligning the two sides will not only improve results, but allows sales reps to speak the language of their customers.

In his career as a sales and marketing consultant, Ryan Sauers has run across countless promotional product sales reps who fall into the product and price mindset. What they don’t account for is the big picture of how promotional products fit within the scheme of a marketing campaign, often because it exposes their lack of essential marketing knowledge. “Salespeople get nervous by bigger marketing types of questions,” says the president and CMO of Sauers Consulting Strategies and author of two books, including Would You Buy From You? Your Brand Makes the Difference. “For some of them, it’s easier to concentrate on what they know the best. I think your top performers do get that the integrative sales/marketing approach is a key part of the puzzle.”

The remedy can be found in an essential but often overlooked strategy: aligning a company’s sales and marketing efforts. By coming together, not only will it improve each side’s results, but it will enable sales reps to improve their marketing knowledge, and speak the language of their customers. In this Q&A, Sauers discusses the best way to align the two sides, and why salespeople need to think like marketers now more than ever.

Q: What’s the key to getting sales and marketing aligned?
Ryan Sauers: This veil between the two has to be knocked down. If you’re a marketing person, who better to talk to about what’s working than frontline salespeople? And salespeople don’t appreciate what the marketing discipline is about and how it can make their lives easier. They need to be in the same room. A couple key leaders can sit down and discuss what is and isn’t working and how each side can help the other. At many companies, it’s not like people don’t say hello or sit in the same meetings. I just don’t see enough of true collaboration. And you can’t get to the next steps until you have some common ground.

Q: What should they collaborate on?
RS: You have to take some of your issues with key customers or prospects and start working together on them. Pick a couple key customers and identify what’s not being done and how it can be fixed, or how to get some important prospects in the door. It’s kind of like reading a putt on a green. You ask somebody, “What’s your read on this?” They say, “We see it breaking left.” And you say, “Really? We didn’t see a break at all.” Collaborate and create different angles. Even put some incentives in place so that marketing and sales people benefit if their sales go up.

Q: What comes next?
RS: Once you start collaborating and the walls of communication start breaking down, I think some cross training is in order. People will argue they don’t have time to do this, but once you’ve solved the issue of aligning sales and marketing, you need to share the success story with people in both areas and make it part of more formal training. Sales staff can mirror what marketing is working on; they may not realize all the marketing tools at their company’s disposal. And marketing should definitely go out on a sales call and see what it’s like and what they’re hearing on the frontlines. To me, that’s deepening the learning and making it a lot more real.

Q: Who initiates this alignment?
RS: Without top management saying we want change to occur, then you may have sales and marketing people biding their time and saying, “this is stupid.” I’ve seen that. I’ve seen examples where progress is being made, but half the group is buying in and half the group isn’t. It poisons the rest of the group. And it’s not just inserting a single marketing person with the salespeople and saying “Go get ’em pal.” Well, it’s them against the world. You can’t just stick them in a little bubble – that won’t solve all of your problems.

Q: Why does a salesperson need to know about marketing?
RS: To me, the salesperson has to think like a marketer more than ever. There are a trillion choices, not just of promotional products, but of marketing dollars to be spent. Ads before a movie in a theater, display ads on a phone, an app, billboard, Google AdWords, traditional print advertising and more. The noise and the options become so big that salespeople have to get their hands around it and know the pros and cons of all. And not just recite the standard answer, “Did you know a branded end-user product can be seen 47 times?” And that’s true, but they have to be able to talk to the person, generally someone who is responsible for marketing, in an intelligent and informed manner. Otherwise it simply comes down to price. The expertise is not being shown.

Q: Many promotional product clients are marketers, so do salespeople need to speak their language when it comes to marketing?
: That’s one of the biggest problems. This person has been pitched 12 different media marketing opportunities to promote their company. The person they’ll trust the most is the one who has the confidence to talk shop with them. If you’re not being able to speak in that kind of language, and you can only talk product, unfortunately you’re dated in the information you’re bringing out.

Q: What types of marketing tactics should salespeople learn about?
Probably the things they’re most unfamiliar and should get exposed to are Google AdWords and digital marketing channels. Most of these salespeople think, “Oh digital marketing, you mean Facebook.” It’s much more than that, and you don’t have to be an expert, but you need to get exposed. How can it not make you better at what you do? At the very least, by picking the brains of your internal people, you can get on the same page with them and go out to the market better prepared.