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Friday, August 01, 2008

"Sarketing" -- the art of combining sales and marketing

This image of Suzanne Lowe, president of ExpertiseMarketing, on the surface doesn't 'connect' to this posting's content, but her company has done some intriguing research about the advantages of correctly aligning sales and marketing, which I will describe in future blog entries.

Recently, I observed some Internet pundits using the word combination "Sarketing" to describe the integration of sales and marketing in a seamless process. (The inverse expression "males", obviously connotes an entirely different meaning). The craft of combining sales and marketing, indeed, may explain the difference between mediocrity and excellence in business development initiatives. If business owners, salespeople and marketers can overcome the institutional and structural barriers, an effective integration effort can, I believe, significantly improve your business results.

Traditionally, sales and marketing live in two separate universes, often under one overall manager in larger organizations. Salespeople complain that the marketers don't understand the real world -- they fail to provide useful resources and valid leads. Marketers, meanwhile, feel that the salespeople are only focused on short term gain, often at the expense of the business's long range image and brand. I believe both arguments are correct.

So how can we get marketing people to see their work really means something when they make it so easy to make sales that salespeople are almost unnecessary? And how can we get salespeople to realize that 'getting the order' is not always the primary goal; especially if you want to get many more orders? Simply put, there are many times when salespeople should stop worrying about selling, and think instead about marketing -- building the relationships and brand reputation to the level that people virtually beg the sales reps to do business with them.

I've been working on this counter-intuitive logic with our own sales team. One of my biggest business mistakes in previous years had been to allow the salespeople to go out and 'develop the business' without understanding its effect on the community and longer term relationships. Over time, our business acquired a reputation as a money-grabber -- we seemed to be there, with a friendly disposition, any time people were to do business with us; but shied from sharing, giving, communicating, and respecting the community outside the immediate sales process.

Now, I seek to evaluate our salespeople on how well they put their selling machine away and focus on relationship and community-building involvement. We can give free advertising, support, time and resource contributions to trade associations and community groups, without worrying about whether they will endorse or support us. Then, relationships reliably established, we can offer our services where indeed we make some money from the process, and receive genuine acceptance.

To explain this a bit further, one of our salespeople approached a local construction association about a feature profile about the organization, with the aim of selling advertising to its members. The association reasonably declined this proposal. A few weeks later, knowing this fact in the back of my mind, but respecting that I was in the relevant community, I dropped by the association offices and without hesitation said we would like to join the association. I then gave my credit card and joined. I told the association office manager that it doesn't really matter whether or not we can do the feature -- we want to support the association without expectation of anything in return. Without prompting, she asked if I would like to meet the association's president in person. I agreed.

When we got together for coffee, I thanked the president for his time, and took notes and pictures for a story we would write about the community/association in an upcoming issue. Then, in the midst of the conversation, feeling the time was right, I said:

"I hope you don't mind this, but we like you are in business, and of course we can certainly use some sales leads. Do you have any suggestions?"
And he suggested several possible people with whom we could do business, and gave permission to use his name as a referral point.

Marketing and sales, combined, in one shot. Now the important thing is I would have been happy if the association's office manager had simply accepted the cheque, arranged for us to receive their newsletter, and we would write some great stories about the group in future issues. And I certainly would have respected the association president if he told me he couldn't help me out on the leads. But people indeed change their perspective and behaviour when you show respect, connection, and a sharing attitude. They will reciprocate and support you, and of course, if you are in sales, that is exactly what you want to happen. (And if you are in sales, you know there are times when it simply makes sense to ask for the order, which in this case I did, when I sought the referrals for leads.)

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