I want to preface this post by asserting my undying admiration and respect for salespeople. In terms of marketing strategy, they are the point where the rubber meets the road. In some cases, skilled salespeople can make more than their CEO, and they’re worth every dime. Companies love their salespeople. I love them too...until they get promoted to Marketing Director.
I see this most often in B-to-B companies (and life science in particular, because we work a lot in that segment). I understand why these companies promote employees from sales into marketing. After all, they are kind of related. In the same way that a plumber is kind of related to an electrician. I mean, they’re both construction workers, they dress the same, both drive vans, they work in the same construction site, and both are mucking around with the innards of the building.
Still, I wouldn’t want a plumber wiring my home any more than I’d want an electrician laying my pipes. Why? Because I appreciate that they represent two related, yet completely different, skill sets, experience bases, and worldviews. Despite the relationship, they are not at all interchangeable. The same goes for sales and marketing. Let’s review a few of the things that make salespeople and marketers different and ill-suited for each other’s jobs.
To start, the sales-trained Marketing Director has a view of marketing that is heavily skewed towards sales-related activities. A couple of years ago I was trying to make this point to a medical device company we were pitching. They were puzzled at the lackluster performance of their brands, particularly in contrast to their competitors. My agency did an audit of the range of marketing activities being employed by their competitors. The list included 38 different activities. Some were sales-related like trade shows, sales presentations, and brochures, but the majority were not. They included things like trade advertising, online campaigns, podcasts, etc. These were 38 different things the competition was doing to raise awareness, influence demand, and generate pull in the market. The same audit performed on the company we were pitching yielded six—all of them sales-related. Guess who was running their marketing department?
Sales activities are critical, but they are just one small wedge in today’s marketing spectrum. That doesn’t mean that every B-to-B campaign needs to be 360°, but it surely needs to broaden its focus beyond sales. When competing with a true marketing company, these sales-focused marketers are at a disadvantage. Their competitors are fighting for market share with a complete arsenal of marketing weapons at their disposal and the sales-oriented company has only a handful of sales tactics to defend themselves with.
Why would smart people do this? As Jung once said, “If your only tool is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Salespeople-cum-marketing-managers do this because most have little experience or skill in the other parts of the marketing spectrum. And, just as often, neither they nor their CEO really understand the function that marketing is intended to perform in a company, or how it is different from sales. So they fall back on what they know.
In fact, I’d maintain that the very same skills that make people great salespeople are, in many cases, the exact same skills that make them lousy marketers. The skill set that fuels the careers of many sales people seems to be the opposite skill set required for a good strategic marketer. Here are five ways in which the two differ:
Persuading vs. Responding. Sales is about persuading people to see the world from your viewpoint. Marketing is about seeing the world from the market’s viewpoint, and then responding with products that address their needs.
Push vs. Pull. Sales push the product into the market. Marketing creates pull from the market before the salesman arrives.
Quota vs. Value. Sales is driven by a pragmatic, short-term need to move product and meet quota. Marketing is driven by a long-term goal to consistently generate value to people whose value criteria are in a constant state of flux.
1 to 1 vs. Many to Millions. Sales is a one-on-one endeavor. Marketing is many to millions, which requires a different type of numeracy.
Demand fit product vs. Product fit demand. Sales tries to make consumer demand fit the product that has already been produced. Marketing is all about producing a product that fits consumers’ demands and ensuring they know it’s there.
So, is all lost for B-to-B companies? No. As long as their competitors use the same promotion practices, they can compete. But it feels like many companies in these sectors are beginning to see the light with regard to the value of professional marketing and brand development. To compete more effectively, I suggest starting with the basics:
Respect roles. Market like marketers, not like salespeople. Respect marketing as a specialized discipline in its own right and define its role in their company. The CEO should have a firm grasp of what marketing does and how it differs from sales.
Accept limits. Accept that sales experience does not confer strategic marketing skill and that marketers and salespeople have different skill sets, experiences and outlooks that are often non-transferable.
Find the right solution. Do not try to solve marketing problems with sales solutions. Pursuant to point number 1 above, recognize a marketing problem when you see one and respond in kind with any number of the full spectrum of marketing tactics at your disposal.
Find the right person. If you need strategic marketing help, and almost all companies do, find a strategic marketer. Short of that, ensure the salesperson, engineer, or office bard chosen to fill that role is properly trained and is surrounded by a strong and experienced support network.
Running your marketing as if it were just sales on a bigger scale may seem intuitively pleasing, but in practice it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete with this strategy. The best way to support sales is to ensure sales plays its role in the context of a complete marketing program established by someone with the experience and skills to do the job.
Sean Duffy is a founder of Duffy Agency, the digital marketing agency for aspiring international brands. Sean has over 25 years of experience working with strategic marketing in Boston, San Francisco, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. In addition to his involvement with Duffy Agency, Sean is a frequent speaker on strategic international marketing and online brand management. He serves also as Lecturer and Practitioner in Residence at the Lund University School of Economics & Management and as Mentor in their Masters Program in Entrepreneurship. Sean is an active member of TAAN Worldwide where he has served two terms as the European Governor. He is also a speaker, blogger, Twitterer, and is on LinkedIn. With offices in Malmö and Boston, Sean splits his time between Sweden and the States.