June 29th, 2023

How to Win Over Your Old-school Sales Team to New Marketing

Author: Laura Lynch
Laura Lynch
Director of Marketing

Manufacturers need to overcome the sales/marketing divide if they intend to grow their business.

The disconnect between sales and marketing is old enough that most of us can immediately recognize the stereotypes. Marketing spends hours researching audiences, finessing language, and developing creative visuals only to be shot down by a Sales department that is suspicious of change. Meanwhile, the Sales team spends their days in the trenches, busting their backs to land new business—all with minimal support from a Marketing team who seems out of touch with their labor.

When things go well, both sides want to take the credit. When they go poorly, the blame game starts: Sales thinks the leads are bad; Marketing thinks the good leads are going to waste. When a Sales team runs on commission these resentments can run especially deep.

This problem appears to be particularly entrenched in manufacturing, a sector that boasts a wealth of experienced sales people with decades of industry knowledge, but which is also at the cutting edge of emerging technologies. Sales teams need the insights that modern marketing strategies have to offer. But, like it or not, it’s up to Marketing to win them over. Here’s how.

1. Recognize that Marketing is an extension of Sales.

Marketers sell. It’s just that the products we sell are less tangible than what happens in Sales. Marketers sell customers on a brand, on a solution, on a way of thinking, on an opportunity. For a marketer, the corollary of closing a sale is landing a lead. We’re following the same process, but with different finish lines.

That said, our job is about more than bringing in leads, just like the job of the sales team is about more than closing them. If Sales is closing leads by making false promises or misleading statements, then all they’re really doing is setting up the service department to be flooded with complaints and irate customers.

All of which is to say that we all need to be pulling in the same direction. Sales is going to get what Marketing sends them, so if you’re in Sales and you want to get better leads, you need to be offering constant, productive feedback. And if you’re in Marketing and you want to make your case to Sales, show them how their cooperation can lead to better close rates, shorter turnarounds, and higher sales figures.

2. Dig into the pain points—for the customers, and for Sales.

As marketers, we have to understand pain points from two sides: our customers’, and our sales team’s. At build/create, we put a lot of work into identifying customer personas. We want to know what type of leads are useful, and then develop materials around how to speak to those people. If we’re not bringing in the kind of leads we’re aiming for, then it’s time to refine those personas and try again.

It’s our job to think strategically about who we’re trying to reach. That often means talking to the sales team about who came in through our efforts. If the leads coming in aren’t income qualified, we need to know. If they’re looking for a service or product package that we don’t offer, we need to know. If we have leads coming in who are outside the service area, we need to know. These are pain points on the sales side that we can address.

But bringing in qualified leads means we need to understand the customer pain points, too. Large and small companies will respond differently to marketing messages. If we’re trying to land a large company, we might talk about saving on the bottom line by streamlining large processes. If we’re talking to a small company, we might focus on flexible solutions.

Cultivating a deep knowledge of pain points sometimes takes a very hands-on approach. When I became Director of Marketing at a previous job, I asked the sales team to send me tapes of calls so that I could listen through and understand their pain points. I did this as part of the integration process, so I could offer solutions that addressed their actual needs.

3. It’s up to Marketing to show Sales what they want.

A lot of the time, the conversations between Marketing and Sales look like this:

Marketing: What do you want?

Sales: What do you mean, what do I want? I don’t know!

Marketing: Why are you being so stubborn?

This disconnect is frustrating for both sides, and it’s especially easy for Marketing to dismiss Sales as being uncooperative. But the reality is that Sales isn’t steeped in the world of resources. If they don’t know what their options are, they don’t know what to ask for. It’s like asking them to order off a menu they’ve never seen before.

Sales teams are never going to ask for a sell sheet or a handout, because that’s what’s already in their head. On the other hand, if you bring a resource idea to them (“would having a piece of content that showcases a case study about a previous client help you in your sales process?”), they are much more receptive.

Sales teams want to be brought solutions, and it’s our job as marketers to be the thinking, living, breathing portion of their operations that makes that process easy. The best solution of all, if you’ve convinced them to talk to you enough about their customers and their sales process, is to just create a piece of content and then ask for five minutes of time during the next sales meeting to run over it with them. Send the content ahead of time and bring printed versions with you. Make sure that it’s thoughtful, that it represents their pain points, and that it demonstrates that you listened to what they told you.

I followed this strategy in one of my previous roles. When I asked the Sales team if they thought commercials would be helpful, they were skeptical. They didn’t understand what the commercials would look like or what they would say. But we went ahead and did it anyway, and when we showed them the videos, they gave us a standing ovation—and these are the same guys who said they didn’t want the videos in the first place!

4. Marketing’s job is to bring the ideas. It’s up to Sales to ratify them.

It’s Marketing’s job to handle big-picture strategy, and that means bringing in ideas. But it’s important for Marketing to present those ideas in ways that are uncomplicated, but still show the thought process. Sales people aren’t dumb, but they are very focused. They don’t need to know every detail, just enough to show that you aren’t making things up on the fly.

Regular meetings between representatives of Sales and Marketing can also go a long way toward increasing collaboration. Too often, the knee-jerk response from Sales when presented with a new idea is to say “we don’t need that.” But there are so many opportunities to do things differently, and given the potential to make the sales job easier, it’s important to give ideas space to breathe rather than dismissing them outright.

If the Sales team has always relied on cold calls for leads, it’s about time someone from marketing sat down with them and laid out the case for newer strategies, like live events, paid media, and content marketing. When Marketing brings the numbers and says “I can bring you twenty more leads a week by deploying a paid media strategy. Our current cost per lead is X. Our cost per lead on the marketing qualified leads will be Z. That is a savings of X minus Z,” those are numbers that the Sales team will sit up and listen to.

Set your ego aside and have a receptive ear.

Marketers are savvy people. We’ve built our careers around understanding nuance, appreciating the details, and using every bit of our accumulated strategy and wisdom to steer our brands into positions of success. It’s natural, when we’ve worked so hard to come up with creative solutions to difficult business problems, to want those solutions to be warmly received. It’s pleasing to imagine our Sales coworkers eagerly anticipating the release of our latest round of marketing materials.

But on the other hand, Sales teams have an advantage that Marketing doesn’t: They’re the ones in direct contact with the prospects. The wealth of knowledge they’ve gained from those years of experience is of huge strategic importance. But it can only be put to work if they’re willing to open up and share.

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