What is the typical reaction at most companies when sales revenues don’t meet expectations? There isn’t a seasoned sales professional alive that hasn’t heard this from their management team—“we have a sales problem.”
That’s because this has long been the perspective of most C-level executives. As a result, the sales team at the receiving end is almost universally forced to go on the defensive-running countless reports showing how many cold calls have been made and to whom, the number of visits that have been conducted, who the decision makers are and of course, the always generous offer to help “push” prospects faster through the sales pipeline.
There’s obviously only a few ways to increase revenue. You can close more sales at a lower price-but that cuts into your margins. You can close the same number of sales but increase the price of each deal (far easier said than done, particularly if you are perceived as a commodity). Or, you can close the same number of deals but sell additional services or functionality to drive up the total contract value (yet, clients often perceive this as being sold something they don’t need. Not the best place to start off a long term relationship).
But let’s take a step back. Do you really have a sales problem? Or could it be a marketing problem
If you were to take an informal poll of 100 prospective customers in your target market and asked them to name the top two or three vendors that provide the particular product or service your organization provides, how many of them would name your company or its product? Maybe 10? 25? 50?
Even if 50 out of 100 can name your company as one of the top three, that’s still 50 potential prospective companies that won’t even know to include your company in the mix when the need arises for your type of solution or service. Even the most accomplished sales professional is going to have difficulty combating zero awareness of your company in its respective market.
Assuming that you are confident your close ratios are strong, then chances are, the best model for increasing sales revenue is to bring more opportunities to the table or, as a colleague of mine was find of saying, ”bringing ‘em to the dance.” He always understood the need for marketing and sales to work together to develop strategies that drive revenue and ultimately, advance the company’s business objectives.
When sales and marketing function together in the roles they are experts at doing, companies succeed. This is evidenced in countless business surveys time and time again. In the companies where sales and marketing were aligned, they experienced faster growth, a higher closing rate on new business and significantly less client churn than their out-of-alignment counterparts.
So how should marketing go about “bringing ‘em to the dance”? Marketing’s efforts should be heavily geared toward initiating opportunities with prospects and customers.
Some of the best ways to do this include developing positioning papers/white papers, writing and placing bylined articles, booking speaking engagements for articulate executives and hosting online seminars that provide information on their industry. These thought leadership-type initiatives work especially well with complex technology solutions and services where prospects would benefit from receiving ongoing information to keep them informed of industry trends. More traditional awareness-building and lead generation activities such as tradeshows and email marketing can also be deployed, but should be done in conjunction with some of the other programs mentioned for maximum impact and longevity.
Marketing should also provide the sales team with tools they need to nurture prospects throughout the entire sales cycle, not just at the point at which they show up on the radar screen (i.e. the website). Again, informational, value-add materials such as articles, newsletters and in particularly, case studies, are exceptional tools for this purpose and can help sluggish prospects move more effectively through the pipeline.
Finally, marketing should assist at some level in the initial qualifying process so that a higher percentage of quality leads can be brought into the pipeline. A few intelligent questions at the front end of the lead capture process, perhaps a brief (5 question) needs analysis or other tactics developed in conjunction with sales will deliver warmer leads than just a name, company and phone number.
When companies focus a strong percentage of their marketing initiatives toward attracting more prospects through awareness building programs to generate awareness and establishing the organization as a thought leader, then sales will get more invitations to the dance.