When Marketing & Sales collaborate
Effective collaboration between Marketing and Sales can be a real headache for business managers but when it works, it delivers real benefits. This case study describes a high-tech B2B project that ran between 2021 and 2022.
After several consecutive years of double-digit annual growth in the North American market, the director of a division within an international manufacturing organisation felt the time was right to expand geographically. Positive responses to early conversations with prospects in Italy and Germany made Europe an obvious choice. Asia Pacific also offered huge potential.
The big challenge was how to get the message out and win business in new markets. Success in North America had been achieved by doing a good job, one client at a time. Word spread throughout the industry that for the design of custom components and high-quality manufacturing, this is the firm to partner with. However, all work for clients had been done under Non-Disclosure Agreements. So, while there were plenty of strong informal anecdotes for use in sales situations, no formal case studies were available to introduce the manufacturer to a completely new audience.
At the same time, the experienced marketer who had successfully assisted in the growth of the division in North America for the past five years had recently opted for a new role elsewhere in the company. The division director and head of sales spoke with the global marketing director, who invited me (Ansaco) to join the project on an interim consulting basis. My brief, from the head of sales was to design a “kit of parts” that the sales team could use to generate new business. They asked me to create a plan and implement it.
Right from the start, marketing resources were limited. This had two significant impacts:
My brief allowed for just one day a week on the project, so the first issue was focus. The question was not “what can we do?” but “what must we do?” Not “how much can we do?” but “what are the critical few items that are essential to sales success?”
The second issue was how to structure the available time to identify and achieve those deliverables. In practice, we set up a one-hour weekly meeting with the global Sales director and the Europe Sales manager to move project items forward. There was also a monthly meeting for one hour, during which we would update the division director, validate direction, report on progress, and summarise the next steps.
For me, this was the start of another steep – and exciting – learning curve. Initially, I knew nothing about the components that the division manufactured, nor how the customers in multiple market segments used them. But as our conversations dug ever deeper into products, applications, customers and buying journeys, the facts quickly became clear.
The key to creating an effective “kit of parts” to win sales in new geographies was intensive collaboration with sales colleagues. The foundation layer was the go-to-market approach. This included:
- the positioning and messaging we would use to address prospects
- the segments and how we would prioritise them
- the choice of communications channels to reach those prospects
- development of the components that would form the communications campaigns
To round the project off, a hand-over period would be necessary to brief a new full-time marketer on the practices and processes we were about to define.
Re-positioning from Product to Service
A wise man* once observed: “significant breakthroughs are the result of breaking with old patterns of thought and practice”. And so it was on this project. As we discussed the “features, functions and benefits” of the products, we discovered that there was a fundamental difference between what we delivered and what we needed to sell.
What we delivered to the customer was an agreed volume of physical components that were manufactured to match a custom design specification. But that came after the contract was signed. To win that contract, we realised that we had to sell abstract ideas – our expertise and experience as a manufacturing company.
This shift in perspective about the solution – from product to service – created enormous clarity. For example, talking about the technical characteristics of the finished component was always a problem as well as an opportunity. If we went deep into the details of one application, we were ignoring others. Solutions for some applications and industries were measured in the centimetre scale and others in the millimetre scale.
By talking about service, rather than finished products, we could concentrate on tangible benefits that delivered value across applications. The skills and abilities of our staff offered a strong source of material. We could now talk about ‘proven expertise in developing compact solutions’ without getting distracted by the size and shape or the purpose of the finished item.
Understand the customer’s buying process
We also identified the critical moment in the Buying Cycle that so far hadn’t been addressed by any of the processes or materials developed to date. Experience showed that once our engineers got together with customer engineers around a problem, the conversion rate from exploratory discussion to project was high.
So we made that our primary objective: get engineers at prospect organisations to request an online meeting to explore the possibility of a first project. The key step for marketing and sales was to convince the prospect of our expertise and experience as a manufacturing company. These insights enabled us to define the essential, missing marketing pieces. We had to communicate the value of past experience and depth of expertise so that engineers could see the advantages of investing a small amount of time in a meeting.
This approach also meant that we had a single set of messages that were relevant across all applications and industries, rather than having to develop separate messages for each. To evaluate our proposed “solution” from different angles, we used a variety of models and then put the results into a Go-to-Market presentation. We called it the “Short & Sweet” PowerPoint because it had just five slides:
- the Core Offering (Pains and Gains)
- the Value Positioning (service-problem ‘fit’)
- the Vision Statement (Sinek Golden Circle)
- the Concept Graphic (with key messages)
- the Value Messages (to establish differentiation)
We developed all five elements to play effectively together and mutually reinforce each other. We jointly developed the language and the descriptions of Pains and Gains, Features, Functions and Benefits. Whilst this was developed with customer communication firmly in mind, it also provided a fast way to brief management and colleagues in other divisions, or to on-board new team members.
We also made sure that the growth strategy would be flexible so it could be adapted to actual success in the field. Segment selection and prioritisation followed the Bowling Alley approach described in Geoffrey Moore’s 1991 classic, Crossing the Chasm. The industries and applications areas that had delivered success in North America would be first priority in Europe. The Sales experts compiled lists of target organisations, and prioritised them by cross-referencing potential and probability. Market acceptance would dictate the longer-term sequence.
Given that we were aiming at a series of clearly identifiable industrial niches with named organisations, LinkedIn was the obvious choice for the primary outbound communications channel, with Sales Navigator as the operational back-end. This was a new approach for the sales team and one they were keen to try. Recognising that there was a lot to learn about style and tone, as well as online etiquette, we found excellent external support to bring us up to speed. This quickly proved to be a good move, resulting in a high volume of new contacts with the desired depth of interactions.
In the meantime, marketing activities focussed on creating two new deliverables that would enable Sales to accompany the new Contact on their Buying Journey from Awareness to Decision.
The first was the 90-second “Explainer Video” which summarised the Offer and the Value. The second was the Solution Process piece, which demonstrated the company’s ability to provide a solution by laying out a roadmap: the stages and milestones, and the key value messages of “partnership” and “easy-to-do-business with”.
This 12-page pdf “brochure” established the company’s credibility (expertise and experience) and led to the Call-to-Action: direct contact with the Sales team. Exploratory conversations frequently went deep into customer-specific issues and discussions of ways to solve them. These in turn often led to an agreement to set up a formal business meeting with a project-focused agenda.
For both these pieces, the most important criterion was quality. “I want the text compact, tight, succinct”, the Sales director said. “Make every word work.” It took time and effort from both Sales and Marketing to get the video script, sound and images right; to get the brochure concept, text and graphics just-so.
The sales experts provided deep insights into prospect issues, concerns, and questions. The marketing challenge was to get deeply involved in creating the material and then step back and review it as if hearing the messages for the first time.
On completion however, both teams felt that they owned these pieces and were proud to use them. Pleased too, that the concepts fitted snugly together; that the video led naturally into the brochure, that the brochure expanded and elaborated on the key themes highlighted by the video.
On this project, effective collaboration between Marketing and Sales was a side effect, rather than a goal in its own right. Our objective was to help the customer make a key step in a complex buying process. We achieved that by focussing on customer-centric pains and gains. We wanted to create an effective sales process and I believe we did so. In addition, we reflected company values about partnership, and long-term value.
* SOURCE: Dr. Steven Covey, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.