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Are Your Marketing and Sales Channel Buying Journeys Aligned?

I talk to a lot of salespeople and marketers like myself on a consistent basis. I listen to their observations on capturing market share and about winning business. One of the biggest observations that I have keyed into is that top organizations that achieve consistent growth do not rush the sales cycle. To clarify, both the marketing and sales business units have a seamless understanding of how and when their roles begin and end within a customer’s buying journey.

When speaking to other accomplished, professional salespeople about their past and present successes. They are the first ones to commend and give credit to working with a knowledgeable marketing team that has a clear understanding of what a “warm” lead means within the organizations buying cycle, and how to successfully pass “warm” leads to sales, to qualify and close. Those great marketers are being raised on a pedestal and being called great, because they were able to establish a positive view of the product/service’s brand during initial engagements, and understood when the potential customer was ready to talk about buying.

What a Great Marketer Understands

A salesperson today in 2020 has fewer opportunities to have a meaningful conversation with a prospective customer, which is due to the market noise that is being generated and pushed through personalized and targeted advertisements. This has fueled the fire that requires customers to collect their own data first, to ensure they are making a valid decision, and not being “sold” by flashy marketing and buzz words. So, when a salesperson is provided a “lead” by marketing too soon, it is a complete waste of time, as the customer has no interest in having a “sales” conversation which leads to a negative experience for both the customer and salesperson.

A salesperson’s true job is to sell, not market. The salesperson’s primary role with a potential customer is to identify scope, budget, and timeline, identify the customers pain-points that their solution can solve, and ultimately look to establish a baseline relationship with the customer.

When a salesperson is speaking to a prospective customer too early, there is a clear disconnect between the needs of both the customer and salesperson. The customer is just starting their buying journey, they are in research mode, they are looking for information to determine a GAP analysis between the solutions they are researching. The salesperson on the other hand, is looking at understanding where the customer fits within their pipeline, they are driven on obtaining and hitting their target goals. This creates a lot of wasted and awkward conversations being passed back and forth, as the customer want’s and requires initial information, but cannot answer any of the salesperson’s direct questions, as they don’t know, or don’t want to share their buying information, as it is too soon for that discussion to happen.

This can and will create a negative impact when the customer is “actually” ready to have that buying conversation, as they end up with these situations:

  • They will remember that after they told the salesperson they were not ready to buy within the current sales cycle, that the salesperson stopped being pro-active and began to avoid them and their questions.
  • They will remember that the discussions they had with the salesperson were more about trying to be sold on the solution, than being provided the product/service information they needed to fill in their GAPs.
  • They will remember that they keep getting sales material and communication that is focused on buying the solution, instead of discovering how and most importantly “why” the product/service will improve their business need.

The Great Salesperson’s Truth

The truth is that every great salesperson understands that they are only as great as the marketing team that is truly aligned with helping them reach out to prospective customers at the right time. A great salesperson will never stay with an immature marketing team, as they know they will consistently be put into situations that are not ready for a sales discussion, which lead to higher failed opportunities, and ultimately reflect poorly on the salesperson for not being able to qualify and close the immature leads.

Great salespeople are numbers driven, and for the most part analytically driven. Identifying a law of average that represents success is key for a salesperson, as they will work towards those numbers and sales driven activities to obtain success. When immature leads are consistently handed to salespeople and they are told that it is their responsibility to close a deal when no opportunity presents itself because the buyer is not ready, then the salesperson loses in two major ways:

  1. Adding those immature leads into a pipeline to project present and future success is extremely troublesome, because there is no way to provide alignment with executives and other business channels on win/loss percentages for quarterly and annual reports. This is because the “immature lead” is not a lead!
  2. Significant time and effort is spent trying to justify why quotas are not met, and where failure is happening, instead of using valuable time to create more successful engagement opportunities.

Step #1 in Analyzing an Organizations Customer Journey

When organizations sit down with me to discuss their customer journey’s, one of my very first initiatives is to ask sales and marketing this question separately. “Please define what you consider a warm lead?” The outcome is always the same! Great organizations are aligned throughout their business channels, on their sales funnels and pipelines, goals and objectives. While struggling organizations tend to have very disconnected views of the funnel, and who is responsible and owns each step of the pipeline. ***This is true every single-time, without fail!!***  

My Advice

Here are some high-level bullet points to help change a struggling alignment between sales and marketing:

Communication between business units on the buying journey funnel is key!

This seems self explanatory, but it is truly the crux. Executives from each key business unit should be inline, agree, and are ready to own their portion of the pipeline and funnel. If there is not a clear top-down message on when a customer is ready to move through each phase of the funnel, then “stop”, “sit-down together”, and “hammer out the process”! (remember this is an ever-evolving process, with multiple steps and missteps)

Content and brand marketing activities/campaigns are journeys to a sale. If those journeys do not have key performance indicators that match funnel and pipeline initiatives, then what the hell is the point?

The first question should never be “how” you will get the message out, but “why” your customer finds your message important to their business needs. If you can consistently inform your potential customers on your value proposition during each phase of the customer journey, then when sales takes over it will be easier for them to help close the GAP’s through a more engaged discussion on product value.

The internal sales team are actually marketers!

Pre-sales should be wearing two hats; Marketing and Customer Service. By training your pre-sales team to perform marketing duties, they will build your pipeline more effectively because they can:

  • Communicate a deep understanding of the market through their own active market research, content writing, social media posting and channel monitoring. This will make them invaluable to the organization, as they will be better informed to help qualify customers, as well as provide more useful information.
  • Be active ambassadors of the business.
  • Build their own authority on subject matters that are important to potential customers, so that they can provide clear messaging directly to the customers pain-points.

Analyze everything!

There is no one magic bullet to acquiring customers. The reason it is called a “funnel”, is that marketers need to produce more content and make more noise in as many areas at the beginning of the buying journey, so that engagement can be funneled into deeper events that allow potential customers to begin to earn brand trust. The outcome of each phase of the funnel is to identify market patterns, that help build vertical channels, that make it easier for communication to happen when buying signals are realized. This is so sales can create actionable activities that win deals.

Final Thoughts

I love collaborating with people, which is why I believe I am successful. My best and most cherished results are working with a team of people who genuinely want to collaborate together, and we create results that are seen as amazing and inspiring. It goes without saying, that my most hated moments are when communication with other business units refuse to work together and ignore each-others expertise and data, and the end result is having to justify the time and money spent. The cliché statement is “you are only as strong as your weakest link”, has the most meaning for your organizations sales and marketing teams, as they are the most directly tied and connected to the bottom line, and the most important link to building a winning and successful business.

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