Messaging is Money:
Suborning Marketing to a Sales Culture

I’m willing to bet that you have have been through some flavor of the marketing-driven messaging and positioning exercise: You and maybe your marketing vendor are locked in a room for three or four hours at a time with key members of your team, going through grueling brainstorming exercises and arguing about wordsmithing until everybody’s happy.

The result? Often it’s a new tagline with airy language and some agreement on topline messaging and logos, most of which gets filed away in a drawer along with the other homework; then everybody goes out and does their own thing anyway. Marketing pumps out marketing stuff and hands piles of it to sales; sales jacks the messaging around depending on who they’re presenting to that day.

This is costing you money at the sales strategy execution level. It cost me a client. More than one, actually.

This is costing you money at the sales execution level. It cost me a client. More than one, actually.

One client in particular had a marketing automation system that seemed cool in conversation, but was very tough to describe in a compelling way: As we sweated out campaign after campaign, our review calls got more and more testy. We’d try to distill what we heard about them in new outreach language, only to be caught in endless arguments (them arguing with each other and then with us) about what actually described them. We eventually tired of the tug-of-war and ended up sending out bloated, unfocused messages full of jargon. You can guess at the result and probably be right.

They had no idea who they were in the marketplace. Internal confusion guarantees mushy market-facing efforts. We had no way to solve the core issue on the fly: What is their core market position in an effective sales context?

On the flipside, I have been on exploratory calls with prospects where it becomes immediately apparent that they have some truly special differentiators in the marketplace that are nowhere to be found in their top-line messaging. We have had some enormous quick-start successes by discovering this and quickly acting upon it.

As the CEO of the company, you are the only one able to fix the sales problem by stopping the train and focusing the team on the issues that really matter. The short answer? Suborn all marketing activity to sales strategy.

This starts when we get ourselves into a different mindset about messaging. It’s the most important thing to fix, it but takes the most effort, client patience and smart strategic thinking. The approach taken here is critical and often handled incorrectly.

Why All Messaging Must Be “Sales First”

There is a fundamental problem with marketing-first approach that I don’t see many people talking about: What are the odds of impact when your outbound sales campaign is spinning off of marketing’s work? The fact is, sales approaches that originate with marketing people are unlikely to succeed.

When closes, new revenue and prospect conversations are dwindling, are you often tempted to start “twiddling the dials” and making all kinds of tactical adjustments? The problem is quite probably in your messaging. Here’s why: That market positioning language that was so compelling at the general market level will not differentiate you at the point of engagement.

That’s because it’s not about simply rattling off “pain points” anymore. The prospect needs to know your point of view on the market, how to become a winner in the face of big shifts and how you will help get them to the promised land. (One of our guideposts for this mindset is this great article by master content marketer Andy Raskin.)

If your new business development hinges on listing the same pain points that 50 other companies address, you’ve essentially got nothing on which to execute. It’s not about “outside in” vs. “inside out” — it’s that everybody’s marketing work gets to the same place and gives a jaded recipient no compelling reason to think or act on your message.

If your new business development hinges on listing the same pain points that 50 other companies address, you’ve essentially got nothing on which to execute.

Here’s the crux: Your sales problem might actually be a differentiation problem that you perceive as a sales problem. And the good work that marketing did with your general market messages won’t drive sales at the campaign level until you find “That Moment”: Aligning an area of strength and proven results with a situation that cuts through the noise and makes your prospect think for a critical second before tuning out.

Do you have a strong market and situational perspective that ties into a story of greatness that your salespeople will believe in? Does the story fit into a sales campaign that they want to run?

When Sales-Driven Messaging Turned into Dollars

We once worked with an expert consulting firm in the manufacturing industry that was launching a new software product. The company owner had constructed a message and marketing plan, but did not have the resources or time to build an effective sales department. He wanted us to handle what he perceived as a lead generation problem. But there were deeper issues here.

His solution was best-in-class for manufacturing sales teams that needed to turn around fast, failsafe quotes for extremely complex accounts. But during exploratory conversation, we discovered that this critical value proposition had been totally buried.

Our creative and strategy team worked closely with him to craft an outbound campaign around this strong message: That a manufacturing sales organization can be the first in line with a 100% accurate bid — without the sales team being dependent on factory and technical staff.

Our instincts about the power of this message were quickly validated: The client signed a deal in the first month of our engagement — with 19 promising prospects in the pipeline stacked up behind that. (File under “Nice Problems to Have”: The client requested that we tap the brakes on outreach to the current target segment so that current prospect interest didn’t overwhelm the implementation team!)

The Solution is Simple: Suborn All Marketing Activity to Sales Culture

All marketing and sales revolves around helping your prospect see themselves reflected back in what you have created to attract them. And insofar as it goes, much of what marketing does makes sense. However, the blade must be doubly sharpened to create response and get into closing conversations when you’re reaching into their world instead of them stumbling across you online or at a trade show.

The client signed a deal in the first month of our engagement — with 19 promising prospects in the pipeline stacked up behind that.

We have found that “sales-driven market positioning” not only makes more successful campaigns, but has also provided more clarity and new context around a company’s top-line messaging. Probing for the unique sales angle can reveal ways to talk about the company more effectively in more places than just sales campaigns.

Your sales turnaround story might begin with your messaging and open the door for more effective, sales-originated pull marketing campaigns. Put sales and marketing into the same department and align the measurement and results, helping sales and marketing to join forces. When marketing and sales both take responsibility for the pipeline and closed business, the problem is easily solved.

This is why I decided not to offer marketing and sales as separate services, but rather to put all marketing underneath the sales function. Our clients measure our performance on business generated. For us, mere lead generation doesn’t count. Therefore, marketing merges into our sales culture, changing its nature.

Marketing outreach campaigns strictly support discrete sales campaigns. There is no “marketing for marketing’s sake.” All marketing tactics must directly feed the pipeline or they don’t get used. We do not think of marketing driving leads to sales so that sales can then close the leads. Marketing becomes another sales tactic, coordinated tightly with sales outreach. This has taken our messaging efficacy to the next level.

Might work for you, too.

If you have a head of sales and a head of marketing, physically staple them to each other and ride herd on them until they learn how to think and execute together. If you’re the sales and the marketing leader, operationalize all your marketing efforts as sales activity.

If any of this resonates,  I would love to hear from you, thanks for reading!


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