Through these special blog postings, our goal is to offer advice and insights from top BtoB marketers. Recently, John Coe, president and founder of the Sales & Markeitng Institute and author of the book, "The Fundamentals of Business-to-Business Sales & Marketing" responded to our questions. You'll learn about today's challenges and his advice for overcoming them.
1. How do you think the current state of the economy will affect the way BtoB marketers and Sales professionals do their jobs, and what advice do you have for them?
Ironically, the current downturn in the market has exacerbated the need for marketing and sales groups to better integrate to drive increases in overall sales productivity. That's the headline today. Unless this is accomplished, many marketing and sales people will be looking for jobs, as companies are now highly focused on this last great frontier of productivity improvement, and will cut costs and people unless convinced otherwise. In fact, it has already begun.
2. What do you see as the biggest challenge for marketing and sales?
It's not lead generation and qualification, as that has been focused on quite a bit over the last 10-15 years. What is now facing companies is the inability of field sales to cost effectively grow and keep the customer base. Frankly, customers don't want to see sales people, and particularly when they don't see the benefit of the meeting. Seth Godin used the term "disruptive marketing" in his first book, "Permission Marketing" to describe how we try to interrupt people with our marketing messages, and that's one of the reasons advertising is loosing its effectiveness.
Well, guess what? We have the same situation today in sales, because sales people want to see customers on their time schedule and need rather than on the customer's, and are practicing "disruptive sales." Now with the internet, sales people no longer hold the keys to information and knowledge, so the primary reason customers would accept a face-to-face sales call has mostly disappeared. In addition, many more buyers are involved in the decision process now, and this further complicates the sales person's job.
This is where database direct marketing can ride to the rescue. Developing a new blended sales coverage model using the tool sets of database/direct marketing in close cooperation with field sales is the biggest challenge and opportunity in B2B today.
3. It's recognized that sales and marketing need to work closer together. What two tips can you give for developing a closed-loop process between these important departments?
Closing the feedback loop between marketing and sales seems to be the never-ending problem. I am continually asked about this at every seminar. Frankly, sales people are busy and could care less to tell marketing anything, as they are focused on making their numbers and not doing marketing's job. So I have two basic suggestions.
First, unless marketing clearly identifies and convinces sales that there are benefits for feedback (to sales not marketing), there will only be sporadic feedback. So the first job is to detail and continually communicate the benefits to sales for closing the feedback loop – keeping your job is not one, as no sales person who is meeting their numbers will ever be fired for not giving marketing feedback on leads.
Secondly, and specific to the first suggestion, the major benefit is the delivery of higher quality (not quantity) sales leads. Unless marketing communicates the benefits to sales, little or no feedback will be the result. A flow of poor quality leads will lead (pun intended) to no follow-up by sales, as they know it is a waste of their time, but also they will not admit to not doing the follow-up and disguise this by not closing the feedback loop! Make sense? You bet it does.
4. What piece of information would you recommend to marketing professionals having a tough time proving their worth to C-Suite executives?
If marketing wants to prove their worth to the C-suite today, they have to move up the "measurement ladder" to value and results, and leave activity measurements behind. No senior executive wants or cares about how many responses, clicks or attendees to events that marketing has caused. What they always were interested in, and are on a war path now to measure, is what value and results marketing has generated and can actually demonstrate. No news here, and in B2B this can be a vexing problem, as the sales cycle can be long and no feedback (sound familiar) of actual sales can be attributed to specific campaigns and activities. This is a complicated subject, and I have written a white paper on Converting Inquiries to Qualified Leads that will help define how to do this. In the end, you need to climb the measurement ladder to save the budget and even your job.
5. What were some hits and misses in your career, and what do you think could have made the processes easier?
The best story I have is actually one that happened to me when I was in sales many years ago. It's a tale in two parts about why qualification of inquiries is important. When I was in chemical sales we received copies of magazine inquiries only containing information on the company and person who inquired and what product they inquired about. No other information or qualification was present.
The first one I followed up was for a flammable solvent used in PVC pipe cement, and once I finally found the company (have you ever driven in Pittsburgh?) I realized that it was a garage next to a railroad track, and certainly not worth my time and effort. This was a miss.
Several months later I followed up on another inquiry for a urethane ingredient. After phoning the company (the best method of qualification) I flew up to Hibbing, MN in the winter – stupid or brave – who knows? Six months later we had a $250,000 account, and also beat DuPont to the sale much to the delight of my boss. This was a hit.
So what's my point? Sales people should not be following up and/or qualifying inquiries – marketing should. At $500-$700 for each sales call today, sales people should spend their time on more valuable activities. This story never fails to make that point to B2B companies that are still sending inquiries to sales groups, and believe it or not, there are many who still do.
6. What's the best advice you ever received and who or where did it come from?
The best advice I ever received was from a mentor (I was lucky to have one at Quaker Oats, Chemical Division), when he said: "John, don't desire the next job, act like you already have it!" What he was really saying is "think up" to what your boss is facing and needs if you want to get promoted. I took his advice to heart and less than a year later was promoted to National Sales Manager –I guess it worked!
7. What makes you happy about going to work everyday?
The thing that drives me today is that we are in the midst of a true revolution in B2B marketing and sales, as the old traditional model is not working. We are in the midst of inventing this new "go-to-market" strategy and model and that's very exciting. It's quite a trip for an old road warrior like me to be on!