By Eric Gombrich
A common challenge we encounter with entrepreneurial and early stage companies is a focus on ‘Marketing’ without reciprocal attention being paid to ‘Sales.’ Grant you, this is viewed through the lens of the entrepreneurial venture selling its wares to other organizations, or Business-to-Business (B2B), and not consumer-based sales (B2C). This context is critical as a previous post touched upon . But today’s thoughts are focused on the B2B context.
When exploring with innovators what their goals, objectives are their strategy and trajectory often times is based in the underlying belief that now that they’ve built their world-changing product, they just need to get the word “out there,” and sit back as the cash flows in the door. Similarly, this was addressed in a separate post, “This isn’t the ‘Field of Dreams’.”  Unfortunately it isn’t quite this simple.
The oft used metaphor is that of a ‘sales funnel’, where “Leads” are pumped into the ‘top’ of the sales process by the Marketing efforts of the organization (i.e., advertising, social media, conferences, etc.), and the sales organization helps those Leads progress through a series of ‘stages’ until they buy, typically indicated by the signing of a contract or issuing a purchase order (again, B2B context).
The natural conclusion is that the more Leads pumped into the top of the funnel, the more revenue to come out of it. While there is definitely some correlation between volume in, and volume out, where most organizations we speak with struggle is understanding the actual correlation between these two, and the mechanics that drive the ratio of what goes in, and what comes out.
Like a drain in a sink, there are several factors that impact what and how much actually reaches the septic tank or the sewer; just dumping more into the sink won’t necessarily result in more getting to the other end. And like a sink, if you’re not careful, you can clog the entire thing, and then you have a real problem.
The inter-workings of this process (in my mind) is what we typically call Sales. Understanding the ‘Sales Process’ is crucial to efficiency and predictability for the business. But equally important is the need to understand the Sales Process if you expect your Marketing efforts to be effective…and efficient. Put another way, in B2B efforts, there is a chicken-and-egg relationship between Marketing and Sales; Marketing may drive Sales, but Sales also drives Marketing. It’s a cycle, not a linear process as the funnel metaphor suggests.
By way of example, if Marketing efforts through advertising and/or social media results in a new ‘great lead’ that may represent a large contract (in terms of revenue) coming into the top of the funnel, everyone gets excited. But what if this new Lead represents a slightly different customer profile to that the business typically sells to? What if the use-case for the product is slightly different? What if the buying process (defined by the customer, and separate, but related, from the Sales process), has some novel steps or requirements?
All of these realities will cause Sales to pounce on the Marketing department to do things like create new collateral, change contracting templates, come-up with new packaging and pricing models, and so-forth. And please understand that I’m entirely negating the reciprocal impact this all has on other parts of the business, like product management, engineering, support, etc. as they will be called-upon to participate in this work.
You may be thinking the business (all the way to the CEO) simply needs the discipline to remain focused, and not allow this to happen. Not so easy!
First, there may simply be a financial reality (particularly in smaller, early stage companies) that they need this revenue, and thus declining to pursue this Lead is not an option. But even if the organization has the luxury to decline its pursuit it faces another issue; how does the organization then justify and communicate to that prospective customer why they are not responding to the interest? If the business isn’t careful, it will send a message that will not only preclude ever doing business with that customer, but customers like them. In other words, the organization faces an issue of potentially catastrophic brand erosion.
This very real predicament can be avoided if Marketing and Sales are aligned and working together from the outset. To accomplish this requires definition and clarity in what is the Sales process. And this Sales process needs to be based in the optimal customer’s Buying process. And this then defines what the Sales process needs from the Marketing efforts. Which in turn then starts the Sales process. Like a balloon, if it’s squeezed in one place, it is going to swell in another; if we ‘turn up the volume’ on Marketing, we may force Sales to implode.
Management of this part of the business – and its alignment with other parts of the business such as the product roadmap, implementation / installation capabilities, support, and finance – are often times overlooked in entrepreneurial endeavors. There is such enthusiasm and focus on the ‘building of the product,’ all of which is born in the “If you build it, he will come” premise. While this isn’t necessarily true in its own right, it’s the relationship between Marketing and Sales that will govern who “he” is, when he comes, how he arrives, and how long he’ll stay. These are mission-critical elements of any business endeavor, but frequently neglected and impeding the success of the entire venture.
Have you ever experienced a mis-alignment or disconnect between Marketing and Sales? Would love to hear about it.