SPIF Tip #20: Sales is Not Just What Salespeople Do

birth-of-a-salesman-imageThe selling of products was once

done mainly by traveling salesmen (yes, they were usually men in the early days), presenting their wares personally to customers. This was the case whether those customers were housewives needing carpet cleaners or company presidents needing machine tools. Selling directly worked, but it was expensive. Therefore, companies began experimenting with catalogs, direct mail, and advertisements in newspapers and magazines. They learned that these techniques could often work as well. Although it required knowledge and writing skills somewhat different from those of the salesperson, it required the same insight into the customer’s wants and needs.

So experimenting with different ways of selling started long ago. In the 1990s, companies began selling successfully with telesalespeople rather than outside salespeople—even for expensive, complex products and services such as computers and software. Today, people are experimenting quite successfully with the Internet as a sales medium. There is nothing magical about using salespeople or various channels or media to get prospects and customers to act. The same basic principle applies: people have free will, and they will take action only if they have a reason to do so, that is, only if they see the value to themselves.

The lessons learned in websites that sell things are highly relevant to managing entire sales and marketing organizations. For example, if you replace salespeople with websites and generated more revenue, does the improvements result from better “marketing” or better “selling?”

Although selling and marketing both produce value for customers, they does so in very different ways from manufacturing work. This can make it more difficult (at first) to translate the principles of process improvement from manufacturing to sales environments. In large organizations especially, marketing and sales typically operate as separate silos. One major cause of this is the composition of the sales and marketing functions. Jeff Watts, vice president of account services at Creata, put it this way:

When you look at the roles of people [in sales] who are doing lead generation, account management, and account development, or a sales engineer or a closer, they all sort of think the same way, even though they wear different hats.

When you come into marketing, you have a product marketer, a public relations person, a media buyer, a creative or messaging designer, and perhaps a merchandiser. The experiences of these people are really very isolated and don’t overlap nearly as much as in sales. As a result, the skill sets of marketing folks are more specifically and departmentally defined.

The cure for this is process thinking, that is, examining the end-to-end chain of activities in terms of how the pieces fit together and the cause-and-effect relationships within that chain. Process thinking enables companies to identify and measure with numbers whether various media, messaging, design, or merchandising help customers buy more, and buy now. It places these functions under the same microscope salespeople face regarding their actions. In fact, the right marketing can augment and amplify the effectiveness of salespeople dramatically.

This places the focus where it needs to be on doing more of what adds value, and less of what doesn’t.


Action item:

Ask your sales team how your firms marketing is actually helping them sell. And, vice-versa, ask your marketing team how they are helping your sales team sell. Chances are you’ll get different answers, and thereby uncover a great deal of opportunity to improve sales and marketing effectiveness.

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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