Sales Teams Need Real Tactical Marketing

Last Updated Apr 24, 2010 6:55 AM EDT

I've frequently been accused of "bashing" marketing groups, simply because I don't buy into the B-school theory that marketing is "strategic." As I've posted repeatedly (see: Brand Marketing = Dead End Career) that concept of marketing is bogus, unproductive and obsolete.

However, that does not mean that today's sales teams don't need marketing support. They do. Badly. But they need REAL marketing, which means tactical support of the sales effort. REAL marketing is all about helping sales to take place. And it's never been more important. Let me explain why.

In the past, selling involved two primary activities: providing information and persuading customers to buy. The skills required were simple: calling a prospect, showing a presentation, demonstrating the product, explaining the benefits, and closing the deal.

Sales reps were valuable to a customer because they knew product details and how to write the order. And they were valuable to their own firm because they could convince the customer to buy today, rather than tomorrow (or from another vendor.)

The Internet changed all that. Customers can now retrieve product information, order product, check delivery status, contact customer support, and so forth, simply by getting online. Because customers no longer need a sales rep to perform these functions for them, some pundits predicted that the Web would "disintermediate" Sales, leaving millions of sales professionals out of a job.

What happened instead was that the Internet made the sales function more important, even while changing its nature. While the Internet made the traditional sales function obsolete, it also wreaked two unintended consequences. First, the Internet created what social psychologists call a "tyranny of choice"; customers have access to so much information that it can become more difficult to make a buying decision.

The Internet changed the basic economics of business by making companies more interdependent. In times past, companies achieved economies of scale by expanding internally. If you needed to do payroll, you created a payroll department, for instance. Today, however, the connectivity of Internet - and the thousands of applications that crutch on it -- allows companies to outsource major elements of their business model.

Needless to say, somebody needs to manage the complexity resulting from a plethora of choices combined with a patchwork quilt of business relationships. And that's where the "new" sales careers have emerged. Today's sales rep acts as the "manager" of a function within the customer's business model, defining what's needed, negotiating terms, and then ensuring that his firm delivers what's promised.

In other words, the Internet hasn't just changed the way customers obtain information and structure their business. It's also changed the way that salespeople communicate with customers and, in the process, created a demand for a very different skill set.

Two decades ago, the highest tech tool in the sales rep's kit was the telephone. A sales opportunity started with a "cold call" to a name on a phone list. The goal was to make contact and set up a face-to-face, where the sales rep could learn about the customer's needs and whether or not the product was a good fit.

In today's selling environments, smart reps won't even pick up a phone unless they're reasonably certain a customer needs their product. Rather than extracting leads from a telephone book or purchased list, today's sales groups mine the Web to discover not just names, numbers, and email addresses, but detailed corporate backgrounds, employment histories, and even "trigger events" (like a merger or a layoff) that could create a product need.

In many cases, the sales group personally contacts a prospective customer only after that customer has examined the firm's website, or requested some specialized information, like a white paper. Before the phone conversation, the sales rep often knows, in exact detail, what web pages the customer examined, and for how long.

And that's EXACTLY the kind of thing that REAL marketing groups are doing. Rather than bloviating about brand and pretending that they're junior product designers, the best of today's marketers are buckling down and doing the hard work of setting up lead generation and nurturing programs that make their sales teams incredibly effective.

Marketing professionals who really care about their careers, and about helping out the firm in which they work, are embracing this new, tactical vision of what marketing is all about. The rest, alas, are so full of themselves and their "strategic" role, that they're driving themselves and their firms out of business.

READERS: Any comments?