The regional sales leader for a major manufacturing company once said to me: "Sales leads are very good. But it’s one thing to know where to show up. It’s an even bigger deal to know what to say when you get there. And there’s nothing in my CRM system that tells me that."
When people talk about marketing and sales alignment, they usually start with demand generation and qualified leads. A lot has been written about this topic, and many companies have put great effort into programming and automation. However, they’re missing a key link: what I call the “forgotten alignment point,” or what salespeople actually say when they get to a meeting. As a B2B marketing executive, you must arm your salespeople with the ability to have a great conversation with the prospect–one that speaks to his or her needs and provides a bolt of fresh, revealing insight that makes the salesperson relevant and valuable. In many circles, this is referred to as sales enablement and is becoming absolutely critical for the success of your campaigns.
You also need to connect with this emerging corporate discipline because the success of all your new product launches, go-to-market strategies, and campaigns still rely on your salespeople with their lips moving in front of a prospect or customer.
Customer Conversations Are An Alignment Opportunity
In its recent Growth Team Membership (GTM) survey for the Americas, Frost & Sullivan asked marketers about their biggest challenges. Ahead of many of the traditional concerns, developing a great message and story that causes prospects and customers to care–to create a compelling value proposition–was cited as marketing’s top struggle.
A lot of companies have defined their segments, targeting prospects and customers pretty tightly, so the challenge isn’t necessarily knowing where to go or who to speak with. Rather, it’s knowing what to say that will cause prospects to want to change–and then choose you.
What you say and how you say it is becoming your biggest point of differentiation. Here are three steps to create greater alignment around your value messaging and ensure you create compelling content that gets delivered in the field with confidence:
1. Team Up For Value Messaging Development
Message development can’t be done in a vacuum–and it can’t be done without seeking input from key stakeholders across the value chain. Marketing must work with sales to create messages that salespeople feel comfortable delivering to prospects. This will ensure that your messages are on-point, speaking to your prospects’ story–not your company’s story–and that the materials you create will actually be used.
Be sure to include product/service subject matter experts and salespeople who have demonstrated success speaking with your target audience in a cross-functional workshop to determine your value message. Asking customers what pains and problems they are having only gives you a sense of what they know, but it’s usually what prospects don’t know and a fear that they may be missing out on something that will cause them to actually listen to your message.
Identifying a customer’s problem, the pain it will cause, and why the market’s current approach is inadequate or unsustainable will make your message relevant. Then your sales team can put the problem into a context that customers will care about, in a way they will want to share it, and with sufficient urgency to get them to reconsider their status quo.
Having the combination of marketing and sales in the same room to shape the message will ensure that you keep it customer-focused, while at the same time pointing to a unique strength of your solution. It will also improve the message launch and adoption in the field to promote the fact that it was vetted by key players that the sales team respects.
2. Timing Is Everything For Value Messaging Deployment
Salespeople understand that you have to reach out to prospects at the appropriate point during their decision-making process with a tailored message that speaks to their specific needs. For example, in early-stage executive conversations you must deliver messages that loosen the status quo. Prospects need to see a reason to change before you can tell them why you are the best answer. In later stages, your messaging needs to create a clear contrast between you and the competition to make sure the customer understands your value and picks you.
Make sure your messaging is relevant to where customers are in their decision-making process. Most companies’ natural drift is to lead with why their company is the best and why their solution is the best answer. However, in a recent Forrester roundtable, participants indicated that 65 percent of decision makers will give their business to the company that “creates the buying vision.” This means they need to hear from you and your salespeople about why they should even consider change. They want to hear your insights about their current situation, the issues in the market, and the potential business impact if they maintain their status quo. As a result, you need to make sure you are creating value messages, along with campaigns and selling tools focused around these “why change” messages.
Next, you need to look at the specific interactions that occur along the buying cycle, understand the conversations your salespeople have at each moment, and make sure that the selling tools and assets are designed to match the actual selling task. These moments require significant messaging, but if the tools don’t match the type of interaction, your message won’t be well-received.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice The Value Messaging Delivery
A recent Aberdeen Research report on improving sales performance revealed that best-in-class companies are focusing on “improving sales conversations” as their top initiative for increasing performance in a tough economy. In other words, the moments when salespeople are moving their lips are where companies are investing for optimal impact over other sales improvement alternatives.
The importance of training your salespeople to deliver your value messages in an engaging and memorable way cannot be underestimated. For many organizations, there is a large disconnect between sales training and the customer conversation. In some companies, sales training is product training–the training group reports to product management, and the entire training focus is around getting salespeople to memorize and certify on the product speeds and feeds. At other companies, sales training is dedicated to sales processes and negotiating. Agreeing that companies should follow a common approach to running deals, but only teaching salespeople where to show up and who to interact with, has nothing to do with what they actually need to say and how they should say it when talking with a prospect or customer.
If you adhere to these three steps for aligning your marketing and sales teams, then your salespeople will be more successful in having effective and engaging conversations with your prospects–and will ultimately win more business.