By Matthew Schwartz
In early September 2016, Legrand North America, a global supplier of electrical installations and electronic products, rolled out a new marketing campaign to plug the company’s home automation and wiring products. Following targeted email and outbound marketing efforts, Legrand asked some prospects whether they wanted to meet with sales reps. High-volume prospects in the U.S.— the top 100 home-building companies—were asked whether they cared to meet in person with senior marketing execs, as well.
Don’t laugh. While having senior marketers ride along with sales reps may be the B2B marketing equivalent of the “Swallows” of Capistrano, it’s fairly routine at Legrand.
“We know we’ve been successful when we’ve had both marketing and sales at the table,” said Fritz Werder, VP and general manager for Legrand’s Nuvo and On-Q product lines. About 12 senior marketers at Legrand—from 20 marketing staffers total—get requests to accompany sales reps into the field, Werder said, adding that the practice has been growing the past few years.
“In the short amount of time you have to tell a story, it’s helpful to have marketing support to develop and communicate that story,” he told CMO.com.“When you have marketers working together with sales, you’re able to present total solutions to the customer, rather than just parts and pieces.”
Werder pointed to three specific benefits for having B2B marketers accompany sales reps to meet with customers and press the flesh:
Better leads: By having marketers view the sales process firsthand—rather than using digital tools exclusively—they get better conditioning for distinguishing quality leads from lousy ones.
Stronger relationships: Marketers get a sharper idea about prospects’ pain points and can more easily select the types of marketing content that will help their brands and, in turn, strengthen the overall relationship.
Deeper discussions: In tandem, sales and marketing executives are able to have strategic discussions with prospects and customers, as opposed to simply looking to close a deal.
Nevertheless, most B2B companies take a dim view of having marketers accompany sales reps into the field. Scott Benedetti, VP of sales at The Pedowitz Group, estimated that roughly 10% of B2B companies send marketers to ride along with sales.
“The challenge lies in sales accepting and understanding the value in the request,” Benedetti told CMO.com. “Sales needs to change that perception from looking at marketing as a service bureau to one of a partner delivering qualified leads. They’re not yet aligned that tightly, although they want to be.”
Ties That Bind
Sales execs often bemoan how marketers put a drag on their resources, which might explain why requests from marketers to accompany them to meet with customers and/or prospects face to face are often declined.
B2B marketers recognize the need for change. Seventy-three percent of B2B CMOs named their relationships with the head of sales as the most critical for success, according to a Forrester survey that was released last summer. The survey, based on responses from 275 CMOs, also found that 71% of B2B CMOs said that having sales experience was valuable or highly valuable to their current role.
The growing influence of marketing technology could force the issue between B2B sales and marketing executives.
“Sales and marketing are going to become inherently combined because of the level of digital marketing technology adoption,” Benedetti said, pointing to a Gartner study showing that by 2017 CMOs will spend more on IT than their counterpart CIOs. “It’s imperative that sales and marketing present a unified front both digitally and face to face."
Marketing execs, Benedetti added, bring a different mindset to the table. “Sales needs to leverage marketing to be another voice in the room—and another sign that you are so empathetic to the customer that you are willing to bring your marketing department to the meeting to better understand the client’s business pain,” he said.
Better Street Cred
By hitching a ride with sales execs, marketers get a much clearer picture about how the other half lives—and how marketing can provide more value to sales.
Bryan Gassler, director of marketing at Xylem, a global supplier of water technology products, recently accompanied a sales rep to meet with a customer. As they got into the car following the meeting, Gassler asked the sales rep when he intended to download all the data generated from the meeting.
“He said he would possibly do it later and said he was more focused on getting to the next call,” Gassler told CMO.com. “That was a real ‘a-ha’ moment for me because it showed that marketing and sales operations need to partner to create a process where sales can find the time to download the information [they get from the field] as part of their post-call routine. That is going to better enable sales and improve audience targeting.”
Xylem sales and marketing execs are now working closely with position CRM tools as a value-added task for sales reps—rather than a nice thing to do—and establish better protocols for sales pipeline reviews, he added.
“Having marketing going out with sales reps is really about putting the customer in the middle and understanding the customer through the eyes of sales, but at the same time, giving marketing more direct experience,” Gassler said. “You get a granularity of what’s really going on in the process. Data is great, but if you want to bridge the gap with sales, it’s about being there [in person] front and center.”
By attending sales calls in person, the prospect’s needs become a lot less gauzy. “Now I understand the buyer persona because I’m sitting right in front of her,” said Kelly Harman, Partner, and VP of marketing at Department 60, which provides digital signage and consulting services for AV and IT systems integrators.
Harman often accompanies her clients’ senior sales reps when they meet with prospects. “You get to appreciate the underlying dynamic within the sales scenario, in terms of body language and nonverbal communications,” she told CMO.com.
“You’re hearing the questions prospects are asking sales reps—about competitors, about products—and you’re soaking up all this information that ultimately is going to make you more powerful.” Harman also sometimes meets with her clients’ new customers to ask why they chose specific products and services and their key brand differentiators.
“The insights gained by going on sales calls are invaluable,” Harman said. “You’re going to generate better leads because the [marketing] messages are on-point and resonate with prospects and customers because they’re based on real-life experiences.”
Both sales and marketing execs most likely will have to modify their behavior if they want to have more open dialogue and ultimately serve the greater good. Questions of compensation also will have to be addressed by upper management if marketing is to play a larger role in generating sales. But the most pressing issue is for CMOs and senior marketers to reach out to sales reps and demonstrate that marketing activities can add to their success.
“In marketing, in the past creative was king. Now data is the dictator. So many decisions are driven by numbers,” said Daniel Burstein, director of editorial content at MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute. “But what marketing can easily overlook is the human element behind those numbers to make sense of the data. That’s where sales reps can help. They have real, human conversations every day.”
Burstein stressed that among B2B marketers, half the battle is treating sales reps like internal customers. “By asking their opinions and going along on sales calls, marketers show sales reps they’re trying to learn more about how the sales process works,” he told CMO.com. “This enables both sides to better serve the external customer throughout the buyer’s journey.”
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