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B2B marketers up for the sales game?

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B2B marketers up for the sales game?


The point of marketing when all the pie charts are exhausted, the yadda yadda dies down and the coffee goes stale is of course to sell. No matter how you cut it, or rationalise it, you can discuss ‘branding’, ‘getting the word out’, ‘corporate communications’ etc, but the cut and thrust is selling.

How many B2B marketers out there have spoken to a customer of the company? How many have engaged personally with a suspect, turned that into a prospect, and made a sale? How many marketers are there who can look at their sales resources in the eye and say, “I know how you feel. I know what it takes to make a sale. I know the ups and the downs and all the iffy bits in-between”?

How many marketers have had a rocket put up them because the sales pipeline is not happening? Or in fact, how many marketers understand how a sales pipeline works? I’ll tell you how many based upon an exhaustive and comprehensive gut feel: very few.

Over the years I’ve met a lot of marketers. Hardly any know anything about professional sales. They can quote from books, or esteemed articles such as this, but in a real dogfight they don’t have the chop. In fact, rare indeed is the brilliant marketer who is also a brilliant salesman.

No wonder then that many campaigns fail to reach anything near their potential. And I guess that is the absolute issue to consider. It’s where you set your expectations, and if you set them low enough you’ll be a winner every time. I think in some parts of Australia the true definition of real commercial success in the context of global standards is not what it should be. There are too many companies running around thinking they are doing well when in reality the performance is utter porridge when you consider the potential that is not being met.

Without an absolute connection between marketing and sales, where you have a complete understanding about how to consistently connect with the marketplace in the most meaningful manner possible, you are not firing on all cylinders. You might think you are, but you are not.

How can any worthwhile marketer provide the support and direction needed for this to occur if they themselves do not know how to sell? If I were a CEO, I would insist that the marketers experience the entire sales process as a part of their regular training. There is no better way to totally understand the customers, their needs and what it takes to make them hand over large volumes of cash.

I greatly admire the work of David Ogilvy. The most famous adman of all time happened to be a brilliant salesman. In fact his AGA sales manual is still considered (despite the painful sexist treatment of women) as a pinnacle of how to sell. Now of course, this is all B2C stuff, but the principles are largely the same.

To be a sales god you must have the ability to listen intently for the things that a customer really wants. Oh damn! I wish I had known this so much earlier in my career. I made the ass mistake of confusing being a great communicator to mean the same thing as being a great salesman. Oi! When I reflect on the number of presentations I gave, where in the reptilian part of my brain had me quacking like a duck, and not one question was asked at the beginning…

Telling is not selling. Asking good questions is the optimal way to make a sale. There is no close. The close happens from the moment you engage. The close is all about taking a journey with a prospect, and working out together what is the best possible commercial ground for working together.

The more detailed and researched the questions the better. If you do this with enough skill, conviction and passion two magical things will happen. Firstly you improve the prospect’s confidence that you understand the situation, and therefore will be the one to provide a solution. Second, they will cough up valuable information that will help you to help them understand how to place a value on what you are offering. Understanding the value you can provide is the pathway to making profitable sales.

The challenge I would love to see more marketers take up is to get stuck into sales, just to experience the process, refine their sales skills and gain first hand customer feedback. But do this in a variety of ways.

Cold call: Pick up the phone and call a suspect, meaning a person who you can reasonably suspect of being the decision maker at a company your company could do business with. Feel the fear, the stress that potential rejection generates, the need to prepare yourself and a script. Make the introduction, confirm you are talking to the right person, and ask the question: “Can we meet to discuss potential commercial grounds, to work with each other?”

Campaign follow-up: Send out 20 direct mail pieces or emails to suspects, and follow up on them to feel the difference from a cold call. You can try different messages to see what works best, and refine the messages as you personally learn first hand what works brilliantly, and what is more useless than a fart in a hurricane.

Event follow-up: Go to a trade show, networking event or any other place where suspects congregate, get some business cards and follow up on them.

Doing these things will introduce you first hand to the wide world of sales. What you will discover is that sales is something that is as hard as you personally make it. On the face of it, anyone can ask good-quality questions. But not everyone can overcome the fear of rejection which has to be the number one blocker to people reaching out and connecting with other people. It also has to do with your own attitude to sales. Think sales and you just might draw up a picture of slicked-back hair, a greasy tongue and pants that look like uranium. We have all had poor experiences with poor salesmen, and have somehow convinced ourselves that a ‘good’ salesman has the magical gift of the gab. I think we can draw a big fat red line through this right now and declare for once and for all that the salesman who relies upon his mouth is a salesman who is unskilled. The salesman who relies upon their ears on the other hand is in another league.

Fact is, professional selling is not about trying to convince people of something they don’t need. If you work in a company like that, you either have crooks running the show or the business won’t be around for long because the market has moved and forgot to take you along for the ride. The thing I love about B2B is that you are effectively connecting one set of experts with another set of experts.

The common ground between buyer and seller is normally broad and deep. Both parties will typically share a similar background in terms of education, career experiences, concerns and network. In the sales process, there is a lot of leverage there, because people like people who are like themselves.

If you have an attitude that sales is sleazy, beneath you, and is to be avoided at all costs, then you are severely confused. Let’s look at it logically. What is the purpose of a business? To sell a product or service at a profit which allows it to not only exist, but to also improve itself and provide a return to shareholders to make it all worthwhile. To sell requires someone to approach other parties and find out what they need. The sales function within a business is critical, no sales no business. So why would you turn your nose at that?

When done in a professional and skilful manner, sales should be highly revered in an organisation. The people who lead the sales activity deserve all due respect, because it is the sales that delivers the lifeblood of revenue, and benefits of profit. Conversely, poor sales performance needs to be eliminated swiftly because you will suffer in three ways:

  • missing out on current opportunities, and potentially lower profits because sales take longer, and poor salesmen are often poor negotiators, and therefore can get crunched on price,
  • carrying the cost of non-performers is more than just their salaries. Non performers suck out the energy and enthusiasm from an organisation, and
  • missing out on future opportunities because there is no real sales pipeline, and therefore the time they have squandered by occupying a chair.

The damage that poor sales people can cause is immense. And you must have measures in place to detect poor sales performance before it tears a hole in the business. And for a marketer, the best way to do this is to know how to sell yourself, work through the system and process, so that you have the first hand experience and knowledge.

If you are looking for a winning sales campaign formula, here it is. First make sure you have a database of suspects, place that into a CRM system. Next create a communications campaign that is memorable, compelling and relevant. Send that out to the database, and in doing so you will slowly clean the database and refine it (it could be a DM, or email). This happens by having people follow up on the campaign, contacting every single contact, and getting a result, one way or the other. You will also get feedback about your communications to make improvements where possible, and strengthen your offer to the market.

By following this simple formula, you will create a sales pipeline, have a genuine database, and learn how to sell god-like.


Kimon Lycos

Kimon Lycos is founder of Mihell & Lycos, a leading business-to-business marketing communications agency, helping companies sell technology and innovation to other companies. He is also an Adjunct Professor with RMIT University. Tweet Kimon: @b2bmarketer, and visit Mihell & Lycos website.

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