Perfecting the pass from marketing to sales

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Hut… hut… hike!

“Marketing’s got the lead! He signals to sales! Sales is in the end zone! Could this be it? The pass is up and… nope, it’s another incomplete pass.”

Sound familiar?

If your answer is “yes,” you’re not alone. But why does this happen? Bad sales? I mean, if marketing got a lead then it did its part, right?

It’s possible. There are definitely plenty of ways a sales team can drop the ball, but if the pass is a wobbly Hail Mary, you can’t put all the blame on sales.

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The question is, what can marketing do to ensure that they are setting up their sales team for success? They’re on the same team, after all.

Slo-mo replay

Let’s start by taking a closer look at a failed pass situation.

Say you are marketing for a B2B company that specializes in cross-product integration. Your business has a variety of out-of-the-box integration options and also offers custom solutions.

In your background research, you’ve discovered that most of your target market starts the buyer journey by searching online for the names of the two products they want to integrate.

With that in mind, you come up with a set of keywords, write some dynamite paid search ads and put together a nifty dynamic landing page that adjusts content on your page to match the integrations mentioned in your ads.

Soon after you launch your campaign, Joe Customer — who’s looking for a way to simplify his company’s accounting by automatically transferring data from Salesforce to QuickBooks — finds one of your ads:

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Since this is exactly the sort of thing he is looking for, he clicks on your ad and ends up on your landing page.

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So far, so good, right?

Your landing page mentions “Easy Salesforce Integration” and “out-of-the-box integration solutions,” so Joe — won over by your brilliant marketing — picks up his phone and calls in. Stevie Salesman picks up the phone.

Stevie Salesman: What can I do for you?

Joe Customer: I’ve had a lot of clerical errors lately when information gets passed between customer management and accounting. I’m looking for a way to sync my Salesforce account with my QuickBooks so I can cut out the time and mistakes of transferring information by hand.

Stevie Salesman: I can see how that would be a problem.

Joe Customer: I was reading about you guys online. Do you think you could get my accounts to talk to each other?

Stevie Salesman: We can definitely do that! Our programmers work on custom orders like that all the time.

Joe Customer: It’s a custom order? How long would it take to get up and running? Tax season is coming up fast.

Stevie Salesman: Once you start with us, a programmer will be in contact within 24 hours.

Joe Customer: Okay, cool. So how much would this set me back?

Stevie Salesman: We actually have a promotion going right now — custom jobs get 40 percent off the monthly subscription. That’s only $300 a month after the initial setup!

Joe Customer: And how much is the setup?

Stevie Salesman: Well, it depends on the size of the job, but it usually runs from $5,000 to $10,000.

Joe Customer: Hmmm… Well, I’ll think about it and get back to you.

Joe Customer never calls back.

What went wrong here? Did Stevie drop the ball? Not at all! He was straightforward and honest and offered every incentive to buy that he could.

The problem was with marketing.

The advertising that got Joe Customer interested implied that your company already had a solution to his problem. And, since “out-of-the-box solutions” are usually cheap, Joe assumed that your solution would be quick, easy and affordable.

A custom-made, $10,000 solution was not what he had in mind.

Now, your company does provide integration services for QuickBooks, but it’s not an “out-of-the-box solution,” and it isn’t cheap. Since you didn’t make that clear in your ads or landing page, Joe thought your business had an offer that sales couldn’t actually provide.

Essentially, you threw sales an uncatchable ball.

Changing the game

The sad thing about this situation (and many others like it) is that it could easily have been averted.

Often, as marketers, we tend to focus on getting leads to sales without thinking about what happens after the lead converts. However, if you can get marketing and sales working from the same playbook, you can significantly improve the performance of both departments.

Here are three simple ways to make sure that you are passing sales the best leads possible.

1. Make deliverable claims

In our example, your marketing did a great job of producing the right kind of leads, but it didn’t do a very good job of setting the right expectations for your sales process.

Basically, by emphasizing the ease of your service, your were making an undeliverable claim. To Joe, it looked like your business had an “out-of-the-box” option for QuickBooks, when you could only deliver a custom solution.

Unfortunately, it can be surprisingly easy to fall into this trap of making undeliverable claims.

The job of the marketer is to generate interest in a product. Interest is often measured with metrics such as conversions, leads, traffic and calls…

… but not sales. That’s the salesperson’s job, right?

A marketer who finds that certain claims get more clicks and calls may not stop to wonder whether or not those claims are also producing more sales.

Unfortunately, while those claims may produce more leads, they also produce leads with unrealistic expectations — resulting in happy marketers, but upset sales people and customers.

Whether you meant to or not, guess what you just started marketing…

Snake Oil

So, how do you know when marketing has started to sell snake oil?

Try asking the sales team!

Ask your sales people for feedback about the expectations of your leads. If sales can’t realistically meet those expectations, you should either change your marketing or…

2. Change the product

Changing the product can take a lot of effort and may or may not be feasible, but if people respond a lot better to a certain marketing message or offer, you may have just discovered an unmet market need.

After all, when you first launch a new product or service, you usually have to make some assumptions about who needs it and why.

You start marketing based on these assumptions, but it often turns out that market wants something different than you anticipated. What seemed like the perfect product for one market pain point may end up actually attracting customers with a different problem.

If you can figure out what your market really wants and adjust your offer to meet that need, you can often end up with a much larger and happier customer base.

The question is, how do you know if your marketing has uncovered a new market opportunity?

Try asking the sales team!

As the on-the-ground members of your team, salespeople know what gets people to buy and why they buy it. They know what aspects of the product are most exciting to potential customers and how to best bring up those selling points.

Coupled with what’s working on the marketing front, this insight could help you change your product to meet your customers’ real needs and open the door to a much wider market segment.

3. Get on the phone

Your sales people know your customers better than just about anyone. In fact, many of the best marketers have some sort of sales experience with your customers.

But what if you don’t have a background in sales?

If you feel more dialed into your statistics than your customers, the simplest solution is to shadow the sales team.

The experience of listening to actual customer questions, complaints and expectations can provide you with an enormous amount of insight into what your customers are actually like.

And if you can get in on a few calls with some of your sales people and actually help close a deal, you’ll learn even more about what makes a customer want to close and how to use your marketing to get people ready to close.

In fact, this kind of side-by-side work can be so effective that Hubspot actually recommends changing the configuration of your office so that marketing and sales desks are permanently intermingled.

Whether or not you choose to take things that far, talking to potential customers is one of the best ways to sync up your marketing efforts and sales process.

Building team spirit

“Now you go too far, Jacob!” you say. “You talk about shadowing and asking for advice, but in my company, marketing and sales don’t play nice together.”

You’re not alone. The sales/marketing war is the common cold of businesses. In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board survey found that when marketers and sales people describe each other, 87 percent of the terms they use are negative.

There’s usually fault on both sides in these situations, but in the spirit of this post, I’ll focus on what marketing can do to improve their relationship with sales.

1. Cut the red tape

Salespeople love talking to and interacting with people. So, what’s the best way to build bridges with sales? Start talking!

Sales people are sales people because they like direct interaction. They typically didn’t take the job because they want to push paper.

So, if you even find a way to decrease paperwork and increase direct interaction, your sales team will love you for it.

2. Back them up

Sales people live and die based on their reputations. Successful salesmen and saleswomen love to be seen as competent, successful, knowledgeable and trustworthy.

So, if you make sales team look and feel like all-stars, they’ll be a lot more inclined to return the favor.

Simply setting your leads up with good expectations goes a long way toward making your sales team look credible. In addition, if you are willing to jump onto the occasional sales call and lend your expertise, that’s just icing on the cake.

Overall, if your sales team feels like you’ve got their back, they’ll have yours, too.

3. Ask for input

Meetings between sales and marketing teams are vital and should really happen on a weekly (or at least monthly) basis.

However, if you don’t approach these meeting the right way, they can do as much harm as good for interteam relations.

For example, if meetings are focused on marketing statistics and figures rather than customers and sales, the sales team may start to feel neglected and put-upon.

On the other hand, if your meetings revolve around the customer and how marketing can send sales more highly qualified leads, you’ll definitely have the sales team’s attention. This situation isn’t just for the sales team’s benefit, either, because the better you understand your customer, the easier it will be to market to them.

With that in mind, consider asking your sales team some of the following questions on a regular basis:

  • What kind of person (e.g., age, gender, location occupation) are your leads?
  • What aspects of our product/offer get leads most excited?
  • What aspects of our product/offer are the biggest turn-offs?
  • Which words do leads frequently use to describe their problems?
  • How do you talk about the product to increase lead interest?
  • What kind of expectations do leads have?
  • What makes leads commit to buy?
  • Do leads wish our product/offer had a feature that doesn’t exist yet?
  • Why do leads feel that they need the product/offer?

This sort of information and cross-talk can be invaluable to your marketing efforts and do wonders for building marketing and sales alignment.

Making the pass

It doesn’t always work out this way, but when marketing and sales work well together, everything improves for your business. Integrated sales and marketing leads to lower cost per sale, shorter sale cycles and decreased market-entry costs.

In fact, I’ve seen clients who mastered this skill grow from 25 employees to 250 and make millions in profit.

It’s not always easy, but when the miracle pass can be perfected, a miracle game is not far behind.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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