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Perfecting the Pass from Marketing to Sales

Marketing

Aden Andrus

September 22, 2020

Hut…hut…hike!

“Marketing’s got the lead! He signals to sales! Sales is in the end zone! Could this be it? The pass is up and… nope, it’s another incomplete pass.”

Sound familiar? If your business relies on driving and closing leads, this scenario is probably one you’ve experienced far too many times. Passing a lead from marketing to sales can be tricky, and even the most experienced marketing and sales teams can struggle with the handoff.

So who’s to blame? Is marketing lobbing a regular stream of Hail Marys? Is sales cherrypicking and only fielding easy passes? Or is it something else entirely?

Whether it’s football or business, there are a lot of reasons why teams struggle to get results. And, more often than not, it’s not because of a lack of effort. It’s because of a breakdown in communication.

In this article, we’re going to talk about several common problems that plague the marketing-sales handoff and how to get everyone operating from the same playbook. It’ll take some time, effort and more than a little re-training, but in the end, both marketing and sales will be able to take their game to the next level.

Breaking Things Down

As any good football coach knows, the best way to figure out what isn’t working is to start by breaking down your playbook. Let’s start by taking a closer look at a failed pass situation.

For the sake of this example, let’s imagine that you work for aa a B2B company that specializes in cross-product integration. Your business has a variety of out-of-the-box integration options and also offers custom solutions.

Most of your customers have very specific needs and typically find your business by searching online for the names of the two products they want to integrate. With that in mind, you’ve been running paid search ads for a while. You’ve got solid landing pages that match the content of your ads and your campaigns are delivering a good number of leads at an acceptable price point.

The only problem is, most of those leads aren’t turning into sales.

To figure out where things are breaking down, you contact a few recent leads who didn’t sign up with your business to find out why and soon discover that they all tell some variant of the following story:

Your prospective customer, Integrating Isaac, is looking for a way to simplify his company’s accounting by automatically transferring data from Salesforce to QuickBooks. While searching for a solution on Google, he runs into one of your ads:

Since this is exactly the sort of thing he is looking for, he clicks on your ad and ends up on your landing page.

salesforce-integration-landing-page

Your landing page mentions “Easy Salesforce Integration” and “out-of-the-box integration solutions”—which is exactly what Isaac’s looking for, so he pulls out his phone and gives your business a call.

The number on your landing page is a direct line to your sales team, who quickly answer and the following conversation ensues:

Stevie Salesman: What can I do for you?

Integrating Isaac: I’ve had a lot of clerical errors lately when information gets passed between customer management and accounting. I’m looking for a way to sync my Salesforce account with my QuickBooks so I can cut out the time and mistakes of transferring information by hand.

Stevie Salesman: I can see how that would be a problem.

Integrating Isaac: I was reading about you guys online. Do you think you could get my accounts to talk to each other?

Stevie Salesman: We can definitely do that! Our programmers work on custom orders like that all the time.

Integrating Isaac: It’s a custom order? How long would it take to get up and running? Tax season is coming up fast.

Stevie Salesman: Once you start with us, a programmer will be in contact within 24 hours.

Integrating Isaac: Okay, cool. So how much would this set me back?

Stevie Salesman: We actually have a promotion going right now—custom jobs get 40% off the monthly subscription. That’s only $300 a month after the initial setup!

Integrating Isaac: And how much is the setup?

Stevie Salesman: Well, it depends on the size of the job, but it usually runs from $5,000 to $10,000.

Integrating Isaac: Hmmm… Well, I’ll think about it and get back to you.

Stevie Salesman follows up several times via phone and email, but Integrating Isaac never responds or calls back…until you email him asking if you can interview him to find out why things didn’t work out.

At the end of the interview, Integrating Isaac tells you that he didn’t really have a problem with either marketing or sales.

Salesman Stevie was straightforward, pleasant and offered every incentive to buy that he could. He liked the idea of what your business had to offer, which is why he clicked on your ad, read your landing page and gave your business a call.

The problem was the marketing-sales hand-off.

The ad Integrating Isaac clicked on implied that your company already had a solution to his problem. And, since “out-of-the-box solutions” are usually cheap, Joe assumed that your solution would be quick, easy and affordable.

A custom-made, $10,000 solution was not what he had in mind.

Now, your company does provide integration services. You even have out-of-the-box solutions. But based on your ads and landing page, Isaac thought he was calling to get more information about an affordable, out-of-the-box-solution and got pitched and expensive custom job.

In other words, marketing and sales weren’t working from the same playbook. As a result, they missed on the handoff and a potential customer was left surprised, frustrated and in search of a better fit for his business.

Changing the Game

Now, I can’t speak to the specifics of your marketing-sales handoffs, but this sort of situation is pretty common. The goal of marketing is to get leads to sales at an affordable price, so that’s what they’re held accountable for. The goal of sales is to close leads, so they focus on closing leads.

But, because both teams are focused on their piece of the puzzle, no one takes the time to step back and look at the big picture. That’s a real shame, because to your customers, marketing and sales are all part of the same experience.

If marketing doesn’t set the right expectations and if sales doesn’t meet those expectations, your customers don’t think, “Gee, I bet their marketing and sales teams are a little out of sync. That’s pretty normal, though, so I guess I’ll just see how things shake out.”

Instead, they think, “Something is really wrong here. I’m going to bail and look for a company that has its act together.”

And just like that, your marketing and sales teams have blown the pass and missed out on another prospective customer. It’s a sad story, but it’s one that will play out over and over…until you can get marketing and sales working from the same playbook.

With that in mind, here are three simple ways to make sure that you are passing sales the best leads possible.

1. Make Deliverable Claims

In our example story, your marketing did a great job of producing the right kind of leads, but it didn’t do a very good job of setting the right expectations for your sales process.

Unfortunately, it can be surprisingly easy to fall into this trap of making undeliverable claims.

The job of the marketer is to generate interest in a product. Interest is often measured with metrics such as conversions, leads, traffic and calls…but not sales.

That’s the salesperson’s job, right?

A marketer who finds that certain claims get more clicks and calls may not stop to wonder whether or not those claims are also producing more sales.

Unfortunately, while those claims may produce more leads, they also produce leads with unrealistic expectations—resulting in happy marketers, but upset sales people and customers.

Whether you meant to or not, guess what you just started marketing…

Snake Oil

So, how do you know when marketing has started to sell snake oil?

Try asking the sales team!

Ask your sales people for feedback about the expectations of your leads. If sales can’t realistically meet those expectations, you should either change your marketing or…

2. Change the Product

Changing the product can take a lot of effort and may or may not be feasible, but if people respond a lot better to a certain marketing message or offer, you may have just discovered an unmet market need.

After all, when you first launch a new product or service, you usually have to make some assumptions about who needs it and why.

You start marketing based on these assumptions, but it often turns out that market wants something different than you anticipated. What seemed like the perfect product for one market pain point may end up actually attracting customers with a different problem.

If you can figure out what your market really wants and adjust your offer to meet that need, you can often end up with a much larger and happier customer base.

The question is, how do you know if your marketing has uncovered a new market opportunity?

Try asking the sales team!

As the on-the-ground members of your team, salespeople know what gets people to buy and why they buy it. They know what aspects of the product are most exciting to potential customers and how to best bring up those selling points.

Coupled with what’s working on the marketing front, this insight could help you change your product to meet your customers’ real needs and open the door to a much wider market segment.

3. Get on the Phone

Your salespeople know your customers better than just about anyone. In fact, many of the best marketers have some sort of sales experience with your customers.

But what if you don’t have a background in sales?

If you feel more dialed into your statistics than your customers, the simplest solution is to get on the phone and call your customers. Or call up leads that didn’t sign up with you. Or call former customers and find out why they left. Or all three.

The experience of listening to actual customer questions, complaints and expectations can provide you with an enormous amount of insight into what your customers are actually like.

And if you can get in on a few calls with some of your sales people and actually help close a deal, you’ll learn even more about what makes a customer want to close and how to use your marketing to get people ready to close.

In fact, this kind of side-by-side work can be so effective that Hubspot actually recommends changing the configuration of your office so that marketing and sales desks are permanently intermingled.

Whether or not you choose to take things that far, talking to potential customers is one of the best ways to sync up your marketing efforts and sales process.

Building Team Spirit

“Now you go too far, Aden!” you might be thinking, “You talk about shadowing and asking for advice, but in my company, marketing and sales don’t play nice together.”

You’re not alone. The sales/marketing war is the common cold of businesses. In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board survey found that when marketers and sales people describe each other, 87% of the terms they use are negative.

There’s usually fault on both sides in these situations, but in the spirit of this post, I’ll focus on what marketing can do to improve their relationship with sales.

1. Cut the Red Tape

Salespeople love talking to and interacting with people. So, what’s the best way to build bridges with sales? Start talking!

Salespeople are salespeople because they like direct interaction. They typically didn’t take the job because they want to push paper.

So, if you even find a way to decrease paperwork and increase direct interaction, your sales team will love you for it.

2. Back Them Up

Salespeople live and die based on their reputations. Successful salesmen and saleswomen love to be seen as competent, successful, knowledgeable and trustworthy.

So, if you make the sales team look and feel like all-stars, they’ll be a lot more inclined to return the favor.

Simply setting your leads up with good expectations goes a long way toward making your sales team look credible. In addition, if you are willing to jump onto the occasional sales call and lend your expertise, that’s just icing on the cake.

Overall, if your sales team feels like you’ve got their back, they’ll have yours, too.

3. Ask for input

Meetings between sales and marketing teams are vital and should really happen on a weekly (or at least monthly) basis.

However, if you don’t approach these meeting the right way, they can do as much harm as good for interteam relations.

For example, if meetings are focused on marketing statistics and figures rather than customers and sales, the sales team may start to feel neglected and frustrated.

On the other hand, if your meetings revolve around the customer and how marketing can send sales more highly qualified leads, you’ll definitely have the sales team’s attention. This situation isn’t just for the sales team’s benefit, either, because the better you understand your customer, the easier it will be to market to them.

With that in mind, consider having your sales team report on some of the following questions on a regular basis:

  • What kind of person (e.g., age, gender, location occupation) are our leads?
  • What aspects of our product/offer get leads most excited?
  • What aspects of our product/offer are the biggest turn-offs?
  • Which words do leads frequently use to describe their problems?
  • How do you talk about the product to increase lead interest?
  • What kind of expectations do leads have?
  • What makes leads commit to buy?
  • Do leads wish our product/offer had a feature that doesn’t exist yet?
  • Why do leads feel that they need the product/offer?

This sort of information and cross-talk can be invaluable to your marketing efforts and do wonders for building marketing and sales alignment.

Making the Pass

It doesn’t always work out this way, but when marketing and sales work well together, everything improves for your business. The more integrated marketing and sales are, the lower your cost-per-lead, cost-per-sale, sales cycle and market-entry costs will be.

Those kinds of results are good for everyone.

Making a successful pass from marketing to sales isn’t easy, but as any good coach knows, if you take the time to figure out what’s working, what isn’t and how to get everyone working together, the end result is magical. So, if you’re looking for better ways to grow your business, one of the first places you should look is at how well marketing and sales are working together.

If things aren’t running smoothly (and they probably aren’t), it’s time to get everyone together, build alignment and develop a cohesive strategy for carrying customers all the way through your buyer journey.

Oh, and by the way, if you’d like help creating marketing that works with sales, rather than independent of sales, let us know here or in the comments. Marketing-sales integration is our bread-and-butter here at Disruptive and we’d love to help!

How do you approach the handoff from marketing to sales? Do you agree that most teams struggle? What tips do you have for improving things? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Aden Andrus

Author

Over his career, Aden has developed and marketed millions of dollars of successful products. He lays awake at nights figuring out new marketing tactics and is constantly upping Disruptive's internal marketing game. He loves to write, dance and destroy computer monitors in full medieval armor.

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