Series: The war within: This is the third article in a series that focuses on overcoming the obstacles marketers regularly face within their own organizations. Don’t fight the sales staff

You spend loads of time, money and energy building and strengthening your brand - do you really want it to wind up in the 99 cent bin? Likely not, but with your sales staff naturally focused on making their numbers, chances are good that at some point they'll strike a deal you're not exactly comfortable with. What's a marketer to do? The answer, according to companies like Bayer, American Express and IBM, is to cosy up to the salesforce - and, in the process, solidify a more influential role for marketing within the organization. This also means giving the sales department more input into the marketing process.

You spend loads of time, money and energy building and strengthening your brand – do you really want it to wind up in the 99 cent bin? Likely not, but with your sales staff naturally focused on making their numbers, chances are good that at some point they’ll strike a deal you’re not exactly comfortable with. What’s a marketer to do? The answer, according to companies like Bayer, American Express and IBM, is to cosy up to the salesforce – and, in the process, solidify a more influential role for marketing within the organization. This also means giving the sales department more input into the marketing process.

‘Because business has become more complex, there are parts of the marketing plan that the marketing function can no longer implement,’ says Ajay Sirsi, associate professor marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, author of Marketing Led – Sales Driven, and founder of a global consulting practice that specializes in marketing and sales alignment. Clients have included Bayer, Pioneer Electronics and Royal Bank. ‘In B2B, there are different segments to serve, and each one has a different set of value propositions. The function that implements is sales.’

When the two facets operate as silos, he adds, they have very different objectives, with marketing focused on the long-term health of the brand and sales being responsible for the ‘here and now.’ What happens is that ‘a lot of sales functions are compensated on volume. And you may, for example, have retailers discounting your brand, when you want it to be premium. So you have an insidious situation developing, where one function is working to destroy the value created by another.’

Tim Riesterer concurs. With 18 years of marketing, communications and sales support behind him, he co-founded Wisconsin-based Customer Message Management (CMM) Group in 2004 to help firms ‘bridge the sales and marketing divide with a customer-focused messaging process.’ Notably, as director of the American Marketing Association’s Customer Message Management Forums, Riesterer has seen interest in CMM grow among marketers, with Webcasts and offline seminars attracting between 900 and 1,000 participants, versus 300 to 500 on average for other topics. ‘It’s hot because it’s following closely on the heels of a hot topic that preceded it – marketing ROI. People started to discover that if marketers are to generate ROI, they need to have objectives companies care about – which [are] usually sales related.’

This is particularly true of organizations reliant on B2B interactions, where an actual physical salesperson is needed to help close a deal. Notes Riesterer: ‘Companies are [saying] ‘my product can be eclipsed very quickly with competitor products.’ And they’re turning to the ability to equip the salesforce to differentiate as the last bastion of competitive advantage.’ (For details about the CMM Group’s process, see gist box.)

Benefits of collaboration are huge, says Riesterer, whose clients have included AmerisourceBergen, Caterpillar Equipment, FedEx and American Express. (The latter two were clients at a former company.)

He cites a sales performance research study published two years ago by U.S. research firm Chief Sales Officer Insights, which found that firms that defined themselves as ‘world-class’ at CMM (as opposed to ‘dismal,’ ‘poor,’ ‘average,’ or ‘very good’) are enjoying better sales results. For instance, they were three times more likely to avoid excessive discounting, while 61.4% of them exceeded sales targets compared to only 49.1% of all

the others.

American Express Canada aims to be in the world-class camp, according to Liana Guiry, senior manager of the Toronto-based firm’s customer development team, which was created three years ago to bring together sales, marketing and account management expertise in an effort to better support and understand the needs of its merchant network. The team provides customers with ‘solution-based’ offers, she says, including everything from customized point of purchase to targeted DM, and media ad campaigns in regional locations.

‘Although I am a marketer, I don’t even consider myself one anymore,’ she points out. ‘I’m truly a consultant for the sales channel.’ But that doesn’t bother her. Guiry, whose objectives are identical to her sales counterparts says that being involved in ‘every aspect of the sales cycle,’ has its advantages.

‘There’s such an in-depth understanding of both the marketplace and customer because we work so closely together,’ she explains, adding that the four managers in her group even attend sales calls. ‘It has been one of the greatest learning experiences, from a marketing perspective, because we got rid of that ‘ivory tower’ thinking – we don’t just pump out programs and sit back and wait for response rates.’

Guiry points to a co-branded direct mail campaign for a large furniture retailer that spends the bulk of its marketing dollars on mass media. ‘The customer is franchised and you’re dealing with multiple decision makers. We took a very holistic approach and with [input from] both our national and regional sales channels, we pooled resources, and developed a highly customized marketing [program] that was time sensitive. We sold it into head office and franchises simultaneously. Three years ago, it wouldn’t have come together as quickly and seamlessly as it did.’

So far the customer development group has been exceeding revenue and signing targets, she says, as well as increasing sales productivity and closing deals more quickly. As a result of its success, the department is currently being expanded.

Toronto-based Bayer Canada is another firm that is keen on making progress on alignment, with help from Ajay Sirsi, for two of its brands: Sativex, which deals with MS-related neuropathic pain, and Trasylol, a drug used in coronary artery bypass surgeries. The person leading the cause is Michael Jurincic, formerly a marketer at Bayer and now area sales manager for the two products. (Sativex launched in March and Trasylol in June.)

Sirsi’s model works like this: Marketing identifies a set of three to five business goals for the coming year. Then there’s a feedback mechanism, where sales pipes in with what they’re actually hearing on the ground floor on a quarterly basis. That learning leads to modification of marketing strategies and tactics.

‘It really takes into consideration the end user,’ says Jurincic. ‘It forces you to rigorously look at your business and capture all the thoughts you have regarding potential needs, do an analysis, and from that determine whether this customer is someone you want to keep as a customer and secondly, are you fulfilling the kinds of needs they have moving forward?’

As an example, Jurincic recounts the development of a marketing idea for Trasylol. ‘What was brought to the table by the sales group was that in their interactions they could really see that cardiac surgeons, cardiac anesthesiologists and perfusionists were part of the team that made decisions around the utilization of the drug,’ explains Jurincic. ‘So we focused on creating journal clubs – or selling opportunities – that were specific to that team, as opposed to a broader approach to an anesthesia group.’

Bayer is trying to develop metrics around the process, and at this point is weighing simple ROI analyses. But Sirsi says organizations can monitor customer satisfaction, ‘and also go beyond that to look at customer retention – which percentage are you losing versus retaining, which percentage of the customer’s wallet do you have? Consider the price you get people to pay for your product, versus the industry average, and the percentage of customers you have developed a value proposition with.’

For his part, Jurincic says October, November and December saw the brand hit multi-million-dollar months for the first time. ‘We can’t attribute it solely to these events, [but]…we twigged on a need, we fulfilled a need, and as a result, the access increased, the acceptability of reps increased, the customer felt we were more in tune with their needs and we brought value to the table.’

Sales results aren’t the only benefit to all this. At IBM Canada, collaboration between the two disciplines has allowed marketing to augment its influence internally. VP marketing and strategy Belinda Tang says that a major transformation has occurred in the last three to five years. ‘We have become more of a catalyst for the business, for integrating what IBM has to offer in the marketplace, in pursuit of where the marketplace is telling us customers are buying and driving that growth for the following year.’

This advancement has been fostered in part by the physical closeness of marketing and sales resources. For instance, IBM’s marketing managers are part of the sales organization, and work day in-day out with that group. Then there is a ‘shared service,’ where sales and marketing personnel come together to work on development, demand generation, advertising, cross brand sales enablement and market intelligence. And finally, the marketing team’s strategy and planning processes are integrated into the larger budget process.

‘We have people in market intelligence, strategy and planning integrated with our finance and sales operation leaders in order to identify growth areas,’ says Tang. Marketing also provides sales with ‘sales playbooks’ quarterly, outlining the hottest offers, events that are happening in their marketplace and partners who can help identify opportunities, ‘so that they become very familiar and well-versed in front of clients.’

Adds Tang: ‘We are talking more about pull marketing, versus traditional push marketing, such as mailings and telemarketing. Those don’t work as well, when you are talking about solutions to a business problem.’

Thus, IBM’s marketing department has worked hard to convince its clients that IBM has ‘thought leaders’ within its ranks, and particularly within its consulting business. Recently, two big pushes for the tech firm have involved solutions for RFID and SOA (service-oriented architecture) issues. ‘With [SOA], we have formed a team and we are developing some enablement material, to make sure that not only our sales teams understand what it is, but that each of our executives will have that ability to speak about it in some depth with clients,’ explains Tang.

Those senior execs then lead sessions, such as ‘knowledge now’ breakfasts, which prospective clients are invited to attend. One such event, ‘Road to Resiliency,’ which focused on security, was held across Canada in the fall. Tang says 200 people attended the session in Toronto alone, where ‘Road to Resiliency’ was oversold.

Like at Amex, Tang’s performance plan has the exact same revenue profit targets as her sales counterparts. And marketing is measured by the proportion of leads generated.

‘I know every week, by each brand, how many leads have been validated as a result of some association with a marketing effort,’ she says, adding, ‘there’s no [point] for marketing, if we’re not trying to help IBM meet what the clients are telling us they need.’

Getting out of ‘no brand’s land’

Tim Riesterer, co-founder of the Wisconsin-based CMM Group, calls the gap between HQ marketing and field sales conversations with customers ‘no brand’s land.’ That’s because ‘we’re finding 90% of messaging and tools [marketing develops for sales] aren’t used.’ Following are his recommendations (and price tag) to achieve ‘one voice to the customer.’

* Messaging: The problem is that it tends to be product-centric, he says. ‘We build everything from ‘here’s what we have, here’s what it does, how many do you want?” Instead, create customer-centric messages, by focusing on what clients are trying to achieve and how the company might help. Estimated cost to craft new messaging: US$75,000-$100,000 per new market segment. (Takes about eight weeks per segment.)

* Sales cycle tools: You need to package what Riesterer calls ‘coaching or customer-facing tools’ in a way that fits the rhythm of a sales cycle. ‘If you look at your current marketing tools, and then look at what a typical sales cycle looks like, the tools don’t support the objectives of the sales cycle. [Companies tend to] have marketing-driven tools, not sales-driven tools.’ Estimated cost: US$50,000-$100,000.

* Fix how sales people access content. Sales people are situational learners, says Riesterer. So instead of your Intranet site being categorized by product, detailers and product sheets, he suggests implementing a program that first allows sales reps to choose between 10 top business needs for each type of customer, and then automatically filters messaging and tools to support that specific situation. The cost would vary depending on whether you retool your existing Intranet with simple interview screens or opt for new software. LD