Informed buyers are forcing Sales and Marketing to finally unite

Why must we change the way we sell?

I recently delivered a sales training programme to seasoned sales professionals in France. Naturally one of the topics we covered was the sales process. Given their experience, I didn’t want to dictate to this sales team how their sales process should evolve because of today’s more informed buyer. Instead I incorporated a simple exercise that would allow them to explore that for themselves.

I asked participants to consider a significant purchase they’d made recently and describe the purchasing process and their final decision to their neighbour. Each pair then presented one other’s buying process to the rest of the group.

Their significant purchases included typical things like motorbikes, cars, and houses. The process was usually complicated by the fact that decisions had to be agreed with a significant other. What became apparent was that the buying process began long before the buyer approached a sales person. The outcome of the sale was influenced heavily by the relationship they developed with the salesperson. What surprised me most, though, was that the ultimate decision to buy was quite spontaneous.

The results were fairly consistent:

  • Buyers asked friends and family for their opinions – both in person and online on social media platforms
  • Buyers consulted online forums for reviews by previous clients
  • Buyers used comparison sites to compare features
  • Buyers did extensive research, but their actual buying decision was impulsive
  • Buyers needed to feel convinced of the quality of the product or service – they were influenced by their personal impression of the brand

Even with a relatively small purchase, the duration of the buying process could take up to a year.

When we compared everyone’s buying process we determined that each buyer:

  1. First developed a need
  2. Carried out their research
  3. Determined their budget
  4. Made the purchase

I was reminded of a similar process when I purchased my MacBook Pro. I’d been pondering getting one for ages. I’d checked out sites online, talked to people who had one – including a brother-in-law who works for Apple. Then I won a specific project and decided I had the funds to buy one. I went along to my local John Lewis one evening with the sole intention of comparing MacBook sizes. And I walked out with one under my arm! That whole process probably took a year. Once I’d convinced myself of the need and my related wants, I found the budget for it.

Buyers may be taking a long time to make their choice, but once they’re convinced of the value, they’ll find the budget to get what they really want.

What do Sales and Marketing need to change?

Buyers today have ample choice, so they’re in a stronger position to negotiate. They’re more likely to:

  • Self-educate
  • Do thorough research, predominantly online
  • Define for themselves what they want
  • Strive for the budget to buy what they want
  • Negotiate harder to get what they want

And because buyers are educating themselves first, they extensively rely on marketing content at the beginning of the buying process. This means online marketing materials need to be engaging and informative, and quickly demonstrate your credibility.

The upshot is that informed buyers need to trust that you’ll deliver the value they seek. But how do you build trust you when you haven’t even met the buyer yet?

More than ever, sales professionals need to:

  • Establish trust early in the buying process – in the first call or email
  • Establish continued trust, by delivering on their promises
  • Serve as a trusted advisor – someone who won’t just make a quick sale at the expense of a long-term relationship
  • Provide exceptional care post-sale

Selling is no longer about selling. It’s about serving. Sales professionals need to hone their skills in customer service and social media. As a minimum, they should:

  • Be savvy with social media, in order to spot unexpected customer issues and opportunities
  • Produce or curate content that reflects their specialty and expertise – so they’re referred by others as the expert in that field
  • Be knowledgeable about value that their product or service provides, so they can negotiate effectively
  • Be aware of the options available in their sector

What initiatives are needed and how can managers help promote that change?

The ability to communicate still stands out as one of the most important skills in a world dominated by technology. I’m discovering that the most successful businesses understand the importance of equipping their sales teams with communication skills, as well as providing them with technology that supports their sales.

In summary, you need to equip your sales team with a blend of:

  • Product training – so everyone knows your product inside-out, where its value lies and who it’s best suited to
  • Competitor Awareness – so you know who and what you’re being compared to, and whether those differences are to your advantage or not
  • Communication skills – so you can express the value of your products or services in verbal and written form, to influence the buying process
  • Social media skills – so you may leverage the power of social media to promote your brand and share your expertise

These four sales capabilities all depend on having excellent marketing at the core of your business.

There’s an emphasis on social media right now, but fundamental marketing principals still apply. In a buyer-informed society, marketing needs to be generating high-quality content and providing Sales with the resources they need. This is the content- or inbound marketing world we recognise today. But I’d say your marketing team needs the following capabilities in equal measure:

  • Market Research
  • Brand Management
  • Product Marketing
  • Online Marketing
  • Competitor Analysis

If you strengthen your marketing talent across all five areas and create appropriate communication forums for sharing insights with Sales, your Sales and Marketing teams will start working together more closely. But Sales and Marketing alignment requires some adjustment to the working environment.

Managers are responsible for creating an environment that unites Sales and Marketing

If your Sales and Marketing teams are still squabbling over what the other team does or doesn’t do, it’s probably a communication issue. Or it’s down to lack of resource. Most likely the sales team is frustrated that they don’t have the tools to do their job. The marketing team is probably equally frustrated because they’re overwhelmed by the number of sales tools they’re expected to produce.

What would I do? I’d merge the Sales and Marketing teams right away. Sales IS Marketing. And Marketing IS Sales. In the words of Frank Sinatra, ‘You can’t have one without the other’.

If there’s friction, you need to address it. Sometimes individuals are too busy arguing about how an issue gets solved, rather than recognising the fact that they aren’t working towards the same goal. Once both sides are convinced that they’re both aiming for the same goal – to sell more – then you can clear the path to get there together.

As a Manager, your role is that of facilitator and leader of the change. This century’s successful Sales and Marketing Manager ensures sales enablement by first facilitating change. Strong leaders are able to:

  • Remove the barriers between Sales and Marketing teams to resolve any conflict
  • Develop a unified team that’s working as one
  • Improve selling and serving skills across the combined team by allowing team members the time and space to share their sales and marketing expertise

Even if you prefer to keep your Sales and Marketing teams separate, I believe that the Sales and Marketing Managers of tomorrow will need to sharpen these three skills to effectively lead their teams:

  • Change management
  • Conflict resolution
  • Team-building

Organisations who are able to develop their Managers in communication and leadership skills will achieve Sales and Marketing unity, enabling them to respond to the increased expectations of today’s well-informed buyer.

Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa is Director at Vanessa Hunt Consulting. Her forte is helping businesses and non-profit organisations improve their sales and marketing. Educated at Exeter University and graduating in French and German, Vanessa has been a training consultant to many of the world's leading tech businesses, focusing more recently on helping organisations realise the value of their CRM platforms.