Sales Force Issues May Be Because of Us

outsideinview.comIn a recent blog post, Forrester CEO George Colony wrote that CEO’s want better sales forces. As the sales enablement arm of the organization, how do product marketing professionals, ensure that our sales team is effective and ready to sell our new products and have well designed sales tools aligned to the ever-changing sales cycle?

One of the comments by Walter Adamson in reply to this blog post said “that salespeople are simply not needed in the same way as before, and not at the same points in the cycle, as they were due to the social web and the information available. The buyer’s cycle has changed faster than the seller’s cycle.”

True…in some cases. While the social web and information available certainly has changed the way buyers find information, it is even more critical to understand your buyer personas, addressing the buying process as part of your persona development, and direct sales down the correct path by creating and using tools that complement the sales cycle. By understanding your personas and how they typically gather information you can more effectively spend your marketing resources to help buyers speed up the decision making process. Fair warning – social media in itself is not the answer. Understanding the buyer and how he prefers to find his information will be more effective. Should you take out full page ads in the Wall Street Journal, advertise on HGTV or exhibit at a trade show instead of using social media? Your persona will tell you.

By creating a sales enablement role or point person, a dedicated champion, the organization can have someone focused on helping sales to succeed in a rapidly changing environment. The sales enablement function in the organization provides information, tools and technology that helps sales to succeed. This role might sit in field marketing or in sales, but acts as a bridge between the academic personas and the actual buyers. Sales enablement may include training, product knowledge or tools to collaborate. This nimble role is better suited to monitor changes in buyer behavior than sales would be.

Who is better suited in the organization to understand the changing buyer’s cycle than product marketing? In this case, product marketing acts as command and control software to sales as the guided missile leading towards a sale. If sales is not enabled with the tools necessary to hit the mark, who will the CEO hold accountable? Would you expect sales to understand rapidly changing market dynamics? Usually sales is in repetitive motion and has difficulty with change. Would an on-going sales training effort help to keep sales focused?

Mr. Colony, with all due respect, if your sales force is not keeping up, perhaps they need better guidance and tools from the folks who have developed and targeted your buyer personas and product launch plans. Looking in from the outside, the key to a better sales force may, at least in part, lie with the strategy, not the implementation.

7 thoughts on “Sales Force Issues May Be Because of Us

  1. As a person mentioned in your post I agree that social media isn’t THE answer to anything per se. The point is more that it is one part of the changing buyer cycles, and that the buyers, in some cases, are using it faster and more effectively than many of the sales people who are trying to sell to them (the buyers).

    No doubt more rigorous attention to buyer personas and their buying process is of over-riding importance.

    You ask: “Who is better suited in the organization to understand the changing buyer’s cycle than product marketing?”

    You ask it rhetorically but I’m not sure that the answer is so obvious. I agree in a sense with your observations about why it would not be Sales. But on the other hand Sales are the only people connected to the actual benefits and VALUE for a client, no matter how clever the persona development.

    On the other hand the Marketing people can only be connected to features and advantages. The advantages relate to the persona e.g. different features become different advantages for different persona.

    I would have thought that among the Sales teams that the best of them would be acutely aware of the buyer’s search for value, and the trends and dynamics influencing that over time. They would be the ones bringing back that information to the product development and product marketing people, would they not?

    In fact the best the product development people can do is background analysis and research including with social media, to determine trends and needs. That is, unless they talk to customers and presumably they do that in tandem with their key sales people?

    My conclusion is that there is a role for coordination of “sales enablement” as you call it. But that role is informed by Sales more so than product marketing, but in any case has multiple informed inputs. And where it actually lies in the oganisation can be wherever it works best, whether Sales, Marketing or elsewhere.

    Walter @adamson

  2. No, no, no! Whenever sales brings back information to me, I personally question its value and their motivation. Most sales people that I have worked with are very short term focused and similarly remember the last 2-3 conversations with customers.

    Product Marketing, in contrast, is primarily tasked with understanding the needs of the market – not just existing customers or today’s prospect, but non-buyers, fence sitters and others in the market but not purchasing my product.

    Using sales to gather research, while cheaper, introduces a bias that may be potentially catastrophic and ever changing.

    If product marketing does not understand the benefits of their product to each persona and also what other benefits they are seeking, the job is incomplete.

  3. Sales kills organizations. If you doubt this look at organizations that had successful sales capabilities, but little or no marketing.

    The cries for sales enablement has been caused by the simple fact that a recession is a period when sales reps can’t sell. There were things that should have been done before the recession, but sales enablement wasn’t one of them. These things were not done, because sales hates them and sees them as a waste of potential commission income and funding for additional sales staffing.

    Once the recession ends, sales will go back to selling, the CEO will be happy, marketing will be pushing to be recession ready for the next recession, sales will resist this, and sales enablement will be a thing of the past. Sales might even convince a sales-originated CEO that marketing isn’t needed.

    But, beware, late markets happen. They look just like recessions. They kill companies. Are you going to let sales kill your company? Probably.

  4. David, I’d tend to agree with your observation, and Barry sure the search for new value should extend beyond current customers. I understand your view about sales staff, but I also think that it is highly theoretical to say that marketers understand benefits. Even the best sales people are often completely lost as to why a client doesn’t buy and that’s because “benefits” are defined within the context of the buyer and their organisation and emotion etc. Not something marketers are even close to in most cases.

  5. Certainly some of the problem remains with us – product managers & product marketeers. In particular in times when people are getting more educated, information is brewing in no time. In order to help Sales to stand knowledgable in front of the prospect they need all the help they can get. Sales Enablement is one of the aids needed.

    But guess what? Sales Enablement faces new challenges in the times of social media, economic roller coasters and every new global catastrophes.

    Sales Enablment used to be a point during the product launch. Get your material together, set up a bunch of trainings with teh Sales people and job done.

    No more. Sales Enablement is becoming more permanent. The job isn’t just training on the features, competition and some nice stories. It is about being a partner to sales, organize the feedback they bring from the latest competitive encounter or the latest viral campaign against the environmental impact of your product and category. For those situations Sales Enablement has to find answers quickly.

    Unfortunately I am not seeing lots of agile Sales Enabler out there. Still most of the folks work through check lists of “Material to be created”.

  6. Walter, I can agree that the advertising component of marketing does not convey “value” awareness. I’ve had discussions with marketers who tell me that my notions of marcom fulfillment chains are not realistic, and I meet marketers who don’t know that it takes at least six contacts before a sales appointment should be set, so I’ll agree that even the direct marketing components do not convey “value” awareness. Still, product marketing should be defining value. If this isn’t happening, you have development churning out product without marketing input.

    If I ever get to do marketing my way, value will be conveyed across the full width of the buying process. Still, products do get used beyond the scope of their design. I’m someone that uses products in that way all the time.

    Marketing is wide. Sales likewise. If we are not selling, it is an enterprise wide problem.

  7. Ah, one of my favorite topics.

    Sales enablement is less about producing slick glossies, PPTs and videos, and more about the hard work of Actually Talking With Salespeople – both in groups and one-on-one. It is a process of building understanding on the part of both the enabled and the enabler of how products connect to user/buyer agendas.

    The frustration that sales people experience when they are forced to go into the marketplace (armed with quotas and mortgages) to sell products they don’t understand to people they can’t relate to is hideous. It is Not Their Fault.

    Those CEOs who say they want better sales forces would be well advised to sit down with some of them and ask them why they are not being as successful as both of them would want them to be. I have tremendous respect for salespeople and the craft of selling – when armed with the right information and given a market with $ to spend – most will do what they do best. Which is get rich. Which is a good thing for all of us.

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