I participated in a Gartner Local Briefing in San Francisco last week with a number of my colleagues. We had about 150 people in attendance from both small and large technology providers. The first presentation was from Todd Berkowitz where he shared how technology purchase patterns have changed and the buying cycle is more dynamic and customer-driven. His session called out a few recommendations:
- Technology and service providers must rapidly adjust their marketing strategies to create awareness, generate demand and close more deals.
- Provider marketers need to understand what buyers expect at different phases in the buying cycle, align their activities to those phases, and ensure they are telling a compelling and differentiated story that resonates with both prospects and customers.
I couldn’t have asked for a better set up for my “Future of Sales” presentation which immediately followed his. I asked how many people in the room were responsible for ‘marketing’ and almost everyone raised their hands (all but 4), which gave me a great opportunity to ask questions, test some of my thinking and tailor the advice I usually give to sales leaders to marketers instead.
While I had a bit of fun with it, the answers to my questions validated one of my biggest concerns I see between marketing and sales organizations today – they lack the necessary customer connection to respond appropriately to the recommendations given above. While not scientific by any means, or worthy of a Gartner research note, the answers to my quick questions were telling (and concerning on many levels)
- Q: How many of you believe you have a good handle on your customer buying cycle? Only 3 people raised their hands
- Q: How many of you (from marketing) have gone on / or listened in on a sales call in the past year? Only 1 person raised their hand
Honestly, I was a bit surprised – and even when I pressed the responses stayed the same. So, why does that alarm me? Well, the goal of generating ‘leads’, interest and demand is to close more business, right? And a key role of marketing is to enable that process both with content, tools, insights and more personalized engagements. But how can they do that if they don’t ever get in front of customers? While I agree looking at data, message testing, social listening and digital marketing are critical, the problem with only doing those things is you miss the must have perspective of sitting in front of a customer – having a conversation and hearing what matters to them in that moment. The insights you can gain by just going on just a few sales calls (per quarter) will be invaluable to the next decision you make. It should provide a different perspective about what is working and what is no longer valued by the customer.
So I challenged those who were in the room to go on at least one sales call in the next 90 days and keep me posted on what they learned. I also gave them a critical suggestion to ensure the insights they gained were not tainted – the role they were to play during the client meeting is that of a sales rep in training and not a marketer, and they are just there to listen. That way they can hear firsthand what sales deals with every day and see if what marketing produces for sales to use is even helpful. Joining sales calls can also help build trust and alignment with sellers and customers and respecting the customers buying process is where you have a real opportunity to differentiate yourself in 2015. While it might take some work, it will be worth it in the end.
If you weren’t at our session and you are a marketer, I challenge you as well – go on a sales call and let me know what you learned.