In Line

Lance Tyson has been in the sales game for more than 20 years. So when you mention the delicate relationship between sales and marketing, he knows where the conversation is heading. For starters, these are new days in the age old clash between the two departments. Today’s consumers, whether B2B or B2C, are more highly educated buyers. They research. They compare. And when it comes to making a purchase, they know what they are getting and why.

As a highly sought after sales training expert, Tyson has seen this play out in his interactions. He was recently contacted through LinkedIn by a professional who read an article he published online. Getting his share of canned comments after posting articles on LinkedIn, this one was well thought out and offered some relevant comments.

“It was clear that they had spent some time researching who I am and what I had to offer,” says Tyson, president and CEO of sales training group the Tyson Group. “That convinced me to contact him back.”

The experience also paints a realistic picture of what today’s brands must understand when it comes to not only having their sales and marketing teams aligned, but working in tandem. Based on what Tyson sees in his client base, which is primarily B2B, the clash between marketing and sales is all too prevalent. For sales, what works best is highly tailored messaging, customized for each buyer. For marketing, recognizing what the decision maker is doing online and finding a way to reference it is key.

“The word alignment is key because the messaging needs to be consistent across all channels,” says Tyson, whose clients include TopGolf, and professional sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Fenway Sports Management (Boston Red Sox) and Tampa Bay Lightning, among others. “Sales and marketing both need to say the same thing when speaking with prospects. There are too many cases in which the website messaging doesn’t align with the sales messaging, or vice versa.”

“The word alignment is key because the messaging needs to be
consistent across all channels. Sales and marketing both need to
say the same thing when speaking with prospects.”
— Lance Tyson, President & CEO, Tyson Group

When you talk alignment, two reasons for its relevance enter the conversation. The first is transience. These days, there is a lot of turnover on most sales teams, and organizations are constantly being re-engineered. Junior salespeople are mixed up with senior salespeople, and inside salespeople are doing business development prospecting. Tyson says that everyone must work as a team in order to be successful.

The second is that there is so much information out there that it is hard to be a subject matter expert on everything. Because today’s buyers are better informed, having a team approach can be the difference between success and failure.

“Team selling helps to address organizational needs and also helps the salespeople to achieve a higher level of mastery in a quicker time frame,” Tyson says. “People sell to people, and people buy from people. You can’t circumvent that with automation. Much of the difficulty has to do with marketing automation platforms, which are often too general and templated to be effective for sales. There are lots of tools out there, but they can’t really do the job of the salesperson.”

Understanding the journey

More than 70 percent of the buying journey in today’s B2B settings occurs in a self-service manner. As referenced above, there are a lot of different ways to make this point. The key is to understand that this is the way it works today. It means marketers need to work closely with customer-facing salespeople to understand what questions are best answered through digital communications and nurturing tools, and which aspects are best left in the hands of the salesperson.

And sure, while that theoretically sounds pretty straightforward, marketing thought leaders like Kevin Groome believe it logistically can be devilishly difficult to strike the right balance.

For example, Groome, founder of marketing automation company CampaignDrive, says most customers want to get a sense of pricing parameters before they investigate a specific vendor too closely. Typically, salespeople want to leave this issue open so they can create the best possible framework for a pricing discussion or negotiation. So the team needs to decide—either at the persona level or in a completely situational way—where and how to address this issue and how to tie that into value delivery.

“You need to strike a general balance, and then leave flexibility for the team to handle individual customer journeys,” Groome says.

Product feature descriptions pose another challenge where the hand-off from marketing to sales is not as clear and simple as it once was. High in the funnel buyers will want—or will assemble for themselves—checklists that allow them to comparison shop. How your product stacks up in such a comparison typically has been the province of the marketing department. But increasingly, the sales team wants to be able to control how individual features are positioned relative to the needs of a certain customer type—or even an individual customer.

“You need to strike a general balance, and then leave flexibility
for the team to handle individual customer journeys.”
— Kevin Groome, Founder, CampaignDrive

“This can mean managing an extremely complex content matrix to ensure that the team is making promises that are relevant and timely to the individual buyer and can be backed up 100 percent when the time comes to deliver,” Groome says. “Once again, there’s an interleaving of responsibilities where once there was a clear, more linear division.”

Finally, there is the on-boarding aspect of the complex sale. Traditionally, this has been a matter of hand-off from sales to customer success or account management. But Groome says today’s buyers know that on-boarding is critical and they ask for information about it early in the cycle. This can be difficult because the complexity and duration of the on-boarding process can affect pricing.

“Promise too much too early and you could hurt your margins,” he says. “Play it too close to the vest and you may find it hard to build the trusted relationship on which closing depends.”

To overcome these difficulties, Groome recommends that the sales and marketing team employ the principles of two methodologies: agile and account-based marketing (ABM). Account-based marketing forces you to think about the individual customer rather than many-to-one communications, while agile encourages you to collaborate both as a team and with your customer in a refreshingly open way.

“Some people of a more traditional mindset might think this limits pricing power/flexibility too early,” Groome says. “But in my view, if the sales collaboration delivers valuable insights and meaningful assistance to the customer, you’ll find yourself needing less price flexibility than you might at first have thought.”