My posts over the last few weeks on sales/marketing (mis-) alignment have tended to focus on two areas -- 1.) addressing the seismic shifts in the operating environment facing modern B2B sales and marketing professionals and 2.) exploring ways to find mutual empathy between these two teams. And there is no question that both of these are important considerations.
Yet as I've thought more about this topic and have discussed it with some of my colleagues over the past few weeks, I've shifted some of my thinking. Much of the sales/marketing alignment conversation today seems too inwardly focused. Craig Rosenberg, a.k.a. 'The Funnelholic,' refers to it in a recent blog post as a quest for "... sales and marketing 'glasnost.'" We cite that the buying environment has changed, but we talk too much about the working relationship between sales and marketing.
Isn't the real challenge (and the opportunity) one of better aligning against the evolving needs and processes of the modern B2B buyer?
As marketing is tasked with managing an increasing amount of the dialogue with the buyer, the real issue becomes one of alignment around that dialogue. Re-conceptualizing this issue in these terms shifts one's perspective. Alignment then becomes less about organizational dynamics and more about the continuity of the dialogue with the buyer. And mis-alignment becomes most apparent when there are hiccups in the dialogue when marketing hands off a lead and sales picks it up.
So as marketers, what can we do to improve the continuity of the dialogue with the buyer in our demand generation activities?
I like to think of building continuity in two stages -- first, in initial planning, which I'll focus on in today's post, and second, in implementation and management, which I'll focus on in my next post.
Planning for Continuity of Dialogue with the Buyer
Here are thoughts on three actions we as marketers can take to improve the continuity of dialogue with the buyer ... and in doing so, improve fundamental sales/marketing alignment.
> Analyze the dialogue paths for different buyer segments and use them as the basis for building your nurturing campaigns: Marketing author Akin Arikan, whom I've cited before on this blog, writes in his book Multichannel Marketing: "In order for the [customer] experience to be consistent and relevant, it needs to be born from a dialogue with the customer rather than a monolog. ... [T]he business needs to listen to customers and study their behavior. Otherwise, how could the business come up with relevant responses or treatments and remain consistent with ... interactions?"
I like to think of this combination of listening to customers and of studying their behavior as analyzing the different 'dialogue paths' that potential buyers follow. While every buyer is different, over time there are observable common paths followed by different segments and personas. How did they find your company in the first place? What do they know about your product/service and its category? What questions do they ask? What materials do they leverage in the buying evaluation process? At what point do they transition from online content and e-mails to live dialogue? What information do they need to be armed with before they're ready to discuss a purchase? This is their dialogue path.
The implication is that if you truly understand dialogue paths, you will understand the role different communication channels, marketing assets and sales/marketing interactions play in the buying evaluation process. It will help you develop dynamic marketing automation campaigns that can anticipate and respond to the upstream dialogue, and it will inform downstream dialogue with sales. As a result, both marketing and sales will have a clear idea of the roles they should play in nurturing the buyer dialogue and will be aware of -- and able to maintain -- the continuity of the dialogue that has transpired throughout the entire process. Voila ... alignment.
I also believe that dialogue paths are the right way to think about approaching lead scoring and routing within a marketing automation framework. A lead score fundamentally represents a combination of the demographics and behaviors that qualify a lead for a sales discussion. Dialogue paths, thus, should be the starting point for mapping out the behavioral elements that constitute various levels of leads scores. And lead routing fundamentally focuses on the lead’s condition when it comes into the marketing process and the actions that need to be taken to nurture that lead, improve its score and move it to a sales opportunity. Dialogue paths, thus, help marketers understand the interactions required for nurturing different buyer segments and translate into various routing paths that should be built into a nurturing campaign.
Dialogue paths also will help marketers better assess what other elements need to be integrated into managing buyer dialogue -- such as inbound marketing interactions and requisite brand perception. And dialogue paths highlight the importance of compelling and engaging marketing content. Again, all of this maps back to continuity and -- ultimately -- to sales/marketing alignment.
> Engage sales as you are developing the messaging and voice that will underlie your marketing content: Eventually a B2B buyer winds up in an interaction with a sales team member, discussing a potential purchase. That’s the goal after all. That is why it is critical that as marketers we engage sales as we are developing our messaging and thinking through the 'voice' of our content. Ultimately the core messages and voice that will be engaged by a successful sales team member also must be supported through upstream continuity of the marketing dialogue with the buyer. I think of it as ensuring that the voice of sales is omnipresent ... even though at earlier steps in the buying dialogue that voice cannot be too heavy or intense.
Kate Headen talks about his in a great, recent post on her Savvy B2B Marketing blog:
Early on in the collateral development process, tap a member of the sales team as a reviewer. Invite them to the kick-off meeting, and give them a chance to talk about what they have seen and heard in the trenches. ... [Y]our marketing messages will be stronger and the sales team will be more likely to reach for them -- after all, they helped write them.
Engaging sales in the evolution of messages and of the content voice is a critical aspect of ensuring downstream continuity of dialogue with the buyer.
> Use two qualifiers for marketing content: Is it substantive, and is it responsive?: Understanding the dialogue path for a given buyer segment and having input from sales into how you will speak with leads is critical, but as marketers we are still faced with a huge task. How do you populate the vast amounts (and iterations) of dynamic and conditional content necessary to support complex, segmented and multi-path lead nurturing campaigns? Delivering marketing programs that revolve around buyer dialogue is no small task.
I think that there are two additional filters that are necessary, which should guide every piece of content developed -- asking whether content is substantive and also whether it is responsive. What does it mean to be substantive: Does the content answer a real question from the buyer? If not, it’s just mindless slogans and catch phrases that do not support the dialogue. And what does it mean to be responsive? Is the content delivered in the right place and at the right time, based on the dialogue path? If not, it will not be absorbed by the buyer.
Brian Carroll, author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, commented on effective messaging in a Q&A with BtoB Magazine: "It's about being a resource for that prospect and offering relevant, thought-leading ideas-and not being a pest, and asking over and over, 'Are you ready to buy yet?'"
If marketing content does not support effective dialogue with the buyer, it ultimately will be felt when sales picks up the dialogue. The result will be lower-quality lead flow to sales and dramatically-lower conversion rates. And questioning whether content is substantive and responsive is just common sense -- the same common sense that drives the actions of a successful sales person in his/her dialogue with a hot prospect. So by applying this yardstick, we can further refine our overall sales/marketing alignment.
Today's post should have helped you think through planning for continuity of dialogue with the buyer. The next post will tackle implementing and managing for continuity of dialogue with the buyer. Stay tuned ...