By John Saxe, Scratch Marketing + Media
Last night I had the good fortune to have been invited to attend a panel discussion and networking event at Tufts University focused on the value and importance of careers in sales. It was hosted by Tufts Career Services and geared towards giving current undergraduate students in the School of Engineering a sense of the opportunities that sales provides and coaching them on the skills they’ll need to be successful in these roles.
Personally and professionally, coming from a B2B marketing perspective, I found the event incredibly interesting because of the increasing alignment that is required between sales and marketing in successful B2B organizations. As account-based marketing (ABM) gains traction, thanks in large part to the proliferation of technology tools developed to help sales and marketing professionals identify, target and personalize content for the members of increasingly complex buying committees in their key accounts, what was once known as the named accounts strategy has been granted a second life as account-based marketing. And the underpinning of any successful ABM initiative is a fundamental shift towards closer alignment of the sales and marketing functions.
What used to be a sequential process of generating and scoring leads, designating each first as a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) and then elevating it to sales-qualified lead (SQL) status based on the behaviors and attributes of the individual lead (which by definition involves a handoff from marketing to sales rather than a cooperative approach), is being subsumed by a more holistic strategy of keying in on ideal accounts, identifying the members of the buying committee within each account, monitoring the behaviors of the committee as a whole, and developing and delivering content appropriate for each persona within that committee that will help lead the account to embrace the solution your company is offering.
Such an approach requires sales and marketing to closely choreograph their movements and activities. And last night helped me realize that while the sales role and the marketing role are fundamentally different, the qualities that the occupants of these roles must possess overlap significantly. And yet, in B2B organizations, such tight integration and collaboration between sales and marketing is uncommon, to say the least.
Now, for sure, account-based marketing, or sales and marketing alignment, was not the focus of the panelists at last night’s event. That said, it struck me that while these sales leaders (most of whom have also gone on to become executive leaders within their current and/or previous organizations) were talking about the mindset needed to be successful in sales, it is this same mindset needed within all employees of a B2B company for ABM to take root.
One executive from an enterprise data-as-a-service company spoke of how today’s buyers get themselves far along the buying journey before ever reaching out to a brand they are considering purchasing, intimating the need for the sales executive to be consultative with the prospective customer and able to provide the right information at the right moment to address the prospective customer’s specific needs.
Another, a founder (and therefore chief sales executive) of a healthcare IT company developing a solution to boost patient engagement and improve patient outcomes, spoke of passion as a driver for success. While that’s certainly true in sales, I’m having a hard time thinking of a role where bringing passion isn’t important. It’s certainly vital in marketing, and when sales and marketing teams apply passion in equal measure in a collaborative fashion, their chances of figuring out how to orchestrate their efforts to close deals quickly increases dramatically.
And, speaking of figuring things out, another panelist, who leads the sales organization at a SaaS company that accelerates website performance, spoke of the crucial skills of thinking on one’s feet, diagnosing poor performance, handling objections from prospective customers, and applying systems thinking to the sales process. All of these are embodied in the successful execution of account-based marketing. With any strategy, no matter how carefully conceived, not everything is going to go as expected right out of the gate. Targeting key customers with personalized content and reaching out across the right mix of channels is going to require testing, measuring and optimizing. Success comes from a blend of patience and persistence.
The more I reflect on this evening of listening to sales rock stars talking about what they look for in a candidate for a sales role, the more I realize we look for the same things on the marketing side. Whether you’re developing customer-facing materials designed to deliver the right messaging to address the business needs or technology requirements of a given customer persona at a specific stage of the sales funnel, or you’re directly in the customer-facing role providing the needed consultation and information to your customer, you need to have a natural inquisitiveness about your customer and his or her needs and you have to be well-versed in the pains they are facing in their jobs and how your company’s solutions can ease those pains. And when it comes to close collaboration within and across teams (regardless of your role), it sure helps to possess a strong sense of self-awareness, keen listening skills, an ability to think quickly, and a drive to deliver excellence to everyone with whom you interact.
We all need to be good storytellers in our professional lives, whether we are helping a customer say “Yes!,” whether we are developing the perfect content for each stage of the buying journey, or whether we are interviewing for our first jobs out of college convincing a hiring manager that her candidate search has just successfully concluded. The art of telling starts with the art of listening, and what I heard at last night’s panel discussion on the value and importance of careers in sales truly energized me to dig deeper into sales and marketing alignment.
Want to hear more about sales and marketing alignment as the foundation for account-based marketing? Get in touch with us. We’d love to hear your story.