I cringe when I talk to a business leader who thinks their fancy new sales or marketing automation tool is a substitute for a true strategic or operational foundation in sales capability.
“We just bought (INSERT NAME OF FANCY SOFTWARE HERE) and want to do more in SEO, social media and content marketing.”
This is a common response when I ask prospects what they are doing to find new clients.
The first reason this is a trap? Because technology purchases are not sales strategies. Technology acquisition is the step after polishing your sales, marketing and content campaign strategy and writing the campaigns that are ready for execution.
You may find the subscription isn’t worth the benefit and a solid admin assistant can handle the entire program without needing something like HubSpot, Salesforce.com, Infusionsoft, Marketo or the like.
This is not a condemnation of investments in B2B technology software or CRM systems; there are some good ones out there. The flaw in this thinking is that once you’ve procured either (or both), your sales problems are solved.
Here’s what I’ve heard from prospects in the past:
• “We bought HubSpot, so we’ve got it covered.”
I’m a fan of HubSpot (love their sales blog), but what these companies really bought was a monthly fee and a way to send out a ton of content which doesn’t actually drive business. We’ve found that even robust, on-target content marketing needs to be yoked to some fundamental outbound sales practice (and infrastructure) to get the right new clients into your pipeline.
• “We send out a ton of emails or do this through an outside provider.”
There is a huge difference between sending emails and delivering those emails to the prospect’s inbox. Even worse, you are probably violating the terms and conditions of your email provider and trashing your domain and IP server reputation. Email marketing is rocket science. GDPR and other emergent regulatory trends are going to make this practice even tougher. The days of bulk sends are already over.
• “We’re already paying for search engine optimization and pay-per-click.”
These can have value, but when I hear this, I like to ask how those leads are performing. Are they turning into real business or are you attracting curious bystanders that can’t afford your services, but are still desperate for help?
Marketing and related technology for us resides firmly under the control of the sales department. It’s not at the core of the prospecting or sales effort. We don’t expect B2B marketing to drive leads into the arms of sales, but rather to work as part of a fully integrated prospecting program that includes a significant sales effort to attract people and work through the pipeline.
Software can’t do the hard, front-end sales thinking you need to get new revenue.
The Agency Part of the Trap
Again, what follows is not to say that engaging with a B2B marketing provider is a waste of time. I’ve walked away from idea-sharing calls with agency leads that leave me blown away with the elegance of their approach and the near-scientific certainty of the outcomes they’re able to generate.
Yet, there can still be painful gaps here. Here’s one illustrated by another oft-heard comment:
• ”We’ve already positioned and branded our company.”
Positioning and branding exercises are critical, but more often than not, they get put in a drawer with your other homework. This is valuable stuff to have, but I have rarely seen boilerplate marketing messaging work well with an outbound sales approach. Moreover, did anyone in a sales role actually read or know what to do with the expensive PowerPoint that you bought? Did a more focused website messaging or a new tagline drive any real business your way?
The problem with the industry is that marketing and sales are two different disciplines run by very different sorts of people who struggle to find common ground and work from the same incentives. Because of this a large pool of consultants emerged to get marketing and sales to work more effectively together. It’s best to put marketing operations into the purview of sales rather than constantly trying to solve the motivational, strategic, methodological and personality puzzles that leaders always have to solve to make them work together.
Perhaps this story will better illustrate my point: A technology company in the digital marketing and analytics industry hired me as a direct sales contributor to get them new business in a defined territory. I was supposed to be an enterprise sales director and spend my time setting up and closing deals. The sales department had an inside sales team and the company employed a marketing department. Both of these departments worked independently and reported up to the CEO.
The first thing that I did after starting was to aggressively mine my Rolodex and LinkedIn network for opportunities. It was a nice start, but that ran dry fairly quickly.
At this point the fatal divide became evident: The salesperson in fear for their job starts to blame marketing. (“Why can’t you get us any decent leads? Where’s the updated website and new case studies?”) Meanwhile, the salesperson flails around, trying different approaches without a strategy. They want management to pay for trade shows, bulk up inside sales or hire a lead generation or B2B marketing company.
Some actually advocate for a HubSpot program to drive them leads. I actually did this for a data marketing agency startup (not as solid a company as the one mentioned above). The guys running it were incompetent business owners, but they did know enough to tell me “no” if I didn’t have a strategy for using the technology.
Basically sales blames everyone else for their failure. The truth is that it’s the CEO’s fault, not marketing and sales, as the head of the business is responsible for setting the direction and getting what’s needed in place. (Try telling that to your CEO in a tense sales pipeline review.)
At some point, waiting around and blaming someone else for your failure isn’t going to help you keep your job or make money. Rather than complain, I built my own lists, marketing messages, email outreach program, made cold calls and wrote custom content for my prospect list. That was basic job security.
The CEO and head of marketing talked quite a bit about what was coming for sales. We waited and waited. When the final items were delivered, none of it was particularly helpful for me.
- Inside sales was going to follow a new program. We held meetings talking about process issues like the merits between sending a warm-up email and then a cold call or calling first and then sending an email. I weathered interminable discussions between the CEO and marketing about how many emails to send and the percentage targets for conversion.
- Marketing was going to drive leads from the website. Metrics were made up and a marketing automation process and the relevant technology was under review. This was going to take at least six months to finish and wasn’t very helpful anyway. Clients working in big retail and financial services don’t find the sort of software tool we sold from a Google search or on a LinkedIn advertising or content marketing piece. (Update: Since writing we hired a CMO who knows how to pull it together with our sales campaigns. Good agencies know how to do this too but then what happens to the leads when they come?)
- The company had bought a list from an outside party and was going to put these “leads” into a CRM system for marketing to nurture and sales to cold call. Frankly, a name on a list is not a lead. It’s a name on a list of someone that may or may not even be working in the company. Inside sales performance was measured by number of demos completed (another misleading metric).
- Marketing had signed up for a trade show and was going to run a contest for prospects who participated in a game and provided their business card. A free promotional item would be awarded to those who attended a product demo. These were heavily product-featured and run by sales engineers working for the CTO. In my attempt to shift the approach to only provide a highly customized demo after a business conversation to probe for business value, I made an enemy of the sales engineer who couldn’t understand why I was making his life so difficult.
The problem is that the CEO, CTO and marketing people had never worked in sales. They had never made a cold call or run a cold prospect call from scratch.
It never occurred to the CEO that his head of sales struggled not because of the team, but because the company had fallen into Trap #3, which was to rely on marketing best practices and technology and process rather than build a fully functioning sales department that started with business strategy and ended with outbound prospecting tactics.
I ended up having to make a solution on my own. It was, of course never adopted by the company. The result was my closing one of the company’s largest clients, sourced from a cold call. The lead came from me and not inside sales or a marketing program. If all your salespeople have to invent their own systems and strategy, you have a debacle on your hands. Here were the issues:
The company message was wrong. They talked about having a better ability to solve a very complex math problem. Yes, a paid trial to prove this against an incumbent was a smart offer, and one that I always recommend when possible. Still, the entire company talked about product features with some slant on a one-off basis to benefits.
It was rough, but I researched the market and figured out that each prospective client had its own metrics that were tracked carefully. When the company was not hitting them, we had an opportunity. It wasn’t necessary to explain how the software worked differently. In the case of the financial services company that I closed, the issue was a rocketing cost per lead, as an arms race was underway on Google. The business was paying more for new clients than the clients were worth. I learned that this was common and created a cold outreach to that industry using my custom message. It worked.
Inside sales wasn’t strategic. The CEO was consumed by some ideas he found in a book that promised predictable revenue for the company. Nobody ever talked about how to speak to the market. The inside salesperson assigned to my area decided on her own who to call. She wanted to schedule demos, so she went after small companies that would never become key accounts for me or the company. I did close some business there, but it didn’t really matter much. My own inside sales efforts secured my bonus and job security, not her.
Marketing missed the point. I needed marketing to spend a lot of time learning how our market segments operated and to put together content that spoke to them. For example, another client that I sourced and closed was a nice-sized internet retailer. They measured a sales metric on a weekly basis and often struggled to consistently deliver. This finding should have led to a series of articles for online retailers about how to establish, measure and improve a variety of metrics common to the industry. That would have helped me. Then we could have created a program to keep in touch with those that I delivered to the pipeline. At Kaul Sales Partners, we call them pipeline acceleration programs.
Because most marketing departments are separate from sales, it becomes sales job to ask for what they need. Marketing follows directions and sends articles and newsletters to appropriate lists without knowing what is needed because they never attended or ran a prospect call. In this company it was worse. Marketing put out “sell sheets” that talked about the product and innovation concepts in the industry. The clients were not in the big data industry, so the articles were only relevant to competitors.
This is a typical story. Software companies hire regional sales directors and a head of sales. They build an inside sales group (now called Sales Development Reps or SDRs) and rely on marketing for messaging, content and leads. Marketing doesn’t know anything about what sales really needs and the sales group is so tactical that they aren’t putting together a coherent message strategy. Success becomes talent dependent and very expensive regional salespeople spend a lot of their time doing what I did in the company described above.
As of this writing we’ve hired a CMO to build our our marketing capabilities. Despite the comments above, I can’t stress enough the importance of digital marketing and marketing technology to help deliver new business. It’s the disconnect between these systems from sales that causes the problem and a reliance on technology to solve what are strategic problems.
Marketing is important. Software is helpful. But if your marketing functions are separate from sales and your technology purchase precedes sales strategy and operations, you’re wasting money.