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Listening: A Critical Skill for Sales Alignment

January 26, 2011 | By John Neeson

One of marketing’s biggest challenges is demonstrating its value to sales so that salespeople not only appreciate what marketing can do, but also take full advantage of marketing’s capabilities.

One of marketing’s biggest challenges is demonstrating its value to sales so that salespeople not only appreciate what marketing can do, but also take full advantage of marketing’s capabilities. As we stated last May at our annual Summit, in b-to-b marketing the fifth “P” (along with price, place, product and promotion) is sales productivity. While marketing has strategic roles in developing awareness and creating demand, it is also tasked with enabling sales to become more productive. Consider these facts:

  • The average salesperson is face-to-face selling only 18 to 20 percent of the time.
  • Salespeople spend 20 to 35 percent of their time researching, preparing for calls and doing administrative work.
  • The average rep needs 7 to 16 qualified leads to close one deal.

Since it seems clear that sales can use marketing’s help, the obvious question is: Why the disconnect?

The reality is that most sales teams are “heads down” doing their work and, frankly, don’t even know how to ask marketing for help. In addition, with so much having changed in marketing during the last five years, it’s difficult sometimes to communicate the breadth of opportunity marketing offers to impact sales.

While we believe that it’s up to marketing to start the conversation, this should not begin with marketing “talking up” what it has to offer. Instead, marketing should make time to listen to sales and then provide feedback in sales language to describe the specific marketing programs that sales can leverage. Communicate these programs by sales segment (e.g. channel, commercial, major accounts, small and midsized businesses) and explain in specific terms how each marketing program can help.

For example, let’s say you meet with a variety of sales teams and listen to the issues they raise. You can then circle back to share with them what you understood to be their most pressing concerns, and explain how marketing programs align to these concerns.

This approach will help sales ask more questions of marketing in the context of their key issues. After looking at this diagram, a major account manager might say, “I need more enablement and targeting,” while a territory-based rep might ask for more demand generation. These responses would then lead to deeper discussions of how sales can leverage each marketing program. The best practice here is to create a productive platform for discussion, and to gain credibility by first listening to sales and then following up.

John Neeson

John Neeson is Managing Director and Co-Founder of SiriusDecisions. He is a well-recognized thought leader in business-to-business marketing, with more than 25 years of experience focused on marketing, product development, sales management, communications and general management. Follow John on Twitter @jneeson.

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