Sales makes you smart
The time I spent in sales made me much smarter and much better at my roles in Marketing, Product Development and General Management.
There’s nothing quite like a customer locking you in a room, (literally), because the product is not doing what you said it would, and they won’t let you out until it works…This actually happened to me twice in my career.
When you are in front of a customer you don’t get to wait for marketing to provide you the fully polished, vetted, carefully positioned answer. You say something. And over time you figure out what works.
Getting the real story
My time in the field gave me a life-long appreciation for working with sales people to guide and reinforce my decisions as an executive on product and business strategy, forever after.
The most valuable time I spent as an executive was going on customer visits all over the world.
The value was not from the customer visit itself — The real magic happened in the car with the sales rep, between the airport and the customer site.
It was in those moments that I got to hear and understand what business I was truly in.
I could sit back at headquarters and imagine my business was any kind of business I wanted, but when I was out in the field, hearing real-world experiences, struggles and suggestions from sales people and sales engineers — I would then know what the business needed to do.
The best kept marketing secret…
Steal the best stuff from sales!
I see too many marketing people and organizations that stay locked up in headquarters and theorize on how to best position and sell the product.
If you want to know the best way to position and sell the product, ask the sales person that sells the most what they do — then steal that.
If you want to know what good sales tools look like, go see the best sales people, ask who they target, what they sell, how they sell it, what presentation they use, and how they overcome competitive pressure.
Then take their presentation, and everything else you learned back to HQ and turn that into a playbook of the best ideas, that you can give everyone. (with credit to the sales person/author(s), of course). That’s what good sales tools look like!
Marketing organizations are always too busy
Create a sales review board
When I ran marketing organizations, I would create a review board of sales people. I would send them the pile of everything marketing created and ask them, “please tell me which things you use”.
They would typically pick less than 20 percent.
When I asked if they cared if we stopped doing the other stuff they never did.
You can save a lot of time in marketing if you only produce what sales people actually use.
Better than smart
Your job in marketing is not to be smarter than the product developers or smarter than the sales people. It’s to make sure that the product is the best fit for a growing market, and that sales people are equipped with the best strategy, tools, and market environment to sell a lot.
Sure, sales people are typically short term focused on closing the deal they are working on, but that does not mean that don’t have valuable, strategic thoughts too.
And even if they are only short term focused…
if you never experience what it’s like to actually close a deal in your business — what that conversation with the customer is like — you will never create good sales tools in the marketing department.
If you cut off the sales force as a source of ideas (because you think you are supposed to be smarter), you are cutting off some of the very best ideas, and shooting yourself in the foot.
Building the Brand
Finally, I also see some marketing people make the mistake of thinking that building the brand is solely the job of marketing.
While marketing helps to guide the brand strategy and the rollout of the brand, it’s critical to realize that your sales people are delivering the reality of your brand with every single interaction they have with a customer.
If you don’t keep a strong connection to sales, you don’t know what brand experience sales is delivering.
If you want to get your brand out into the world consistently, you have to make it part of the sales playbook – one they’ll actually use.
The best way to do this is to build from field-tested stuff that really works, and wrap your branding into it. Then you’ll stand a chance at everyone using the same stuff, and building a stronger brand with every customer interaction along the way.
Build your credibility
By keeping a strong connection to sales, caring about what they think and need, and serving as a curator of the best tools and practices, you win a lot of favor both internally and externally.
You become known for delivering really useful, valuable stuff to sales that really works. Marketing gets a reputation for being responsive, connected and highly competent.
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)