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Integrating marketing and sales is the key to driving business

LONDON - Marketing and sales are the two forces that drive business and are the distinct channels of reaching customer and prospects. Or at least that's the traditional way of thinking, writes James Krouse, director at ABI Europe

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The problem is that this traditional approach creates a rift between two forces that should be working together. Sales often thrives on relationships that may or may not be beneficial to a company's overall growth goals.  Marketing, on the other hand, may be producing leads but doing very little to close sales faster or help enhance already existing relationships.

Merging the tactics of these two traditionally separate elements into an integrated initiative can grow your share in the markets you need to grow in as well as close sales faster.

The good news is that creating an integrated initiative can be done from almost any level of an organization and in tandem with strategic partners such as designers, advertising channels and lead tracking mechanisms. In closing the loop between sales and marketing there are some key strategies that can help make the transition successful.

One of these is that an integrated initiative can redefine ROI by applying marketing and sales tactics together in a coordinated effort to reach goals in specific markets.

For example your company has a new product release next quarter and an ad has been created for the launch. A traditional definition of ROI compares the cost of creating and placing the ad to the sales generated. If you sold more than it cost - you had a good ROI. This is an important benchmark, but let's look how an integrated initiative redefines it.

In our hypothetical integrated initiative, the ad doesn't just sit passively in a magazine. It becomes part of the sales cycle. Reprints of the ad are used in direct mail pieces personalized from each member of the sales force to prospects in their territories. A press release previews the product in a wider range of trade media. That press release is sent to current customers in a preview email offering them special pricing or incentives. A unique URL is created incorporating the advertisement and the press release. Customer testimonials for related products can also be posted on the site. Downloads from the site can be tracked and again fed to sales. All of these materials are also provided to the sales force for leave-behinds and tradeshow handouts. Powerpoint slides also would be created to drop into presentations.

In other words, an integrated initiative is a coordinated push to garner more leads, continue ongoing relationships, close sales faster, and increase sales volume in the right markets.  ROI is measured not just in how well the ad worked for you, but how well you worked the ad message through every possible channel of communication with your customers and prospects.

One of my clients recently told me that, through conversations with salespeople, he learned customers often refer favourably to a customer story that appeared in a trade publication. That's a rare compliment in this business and I'll take it - but not without asking:   "How many of your salespeople are talking favourably to your customers about that article? Are they using reprints to build relationships? Can they mail out reprints to hot prospects to help close sales?" My client simply was looking at the quantified results - customers liked the article. He wasn't considering that his sales force might be able to add to the momentum of this positive feedback. (By the way, we did use the article and an ad in a very successful direct mail campaign that garnered significant sales within days.)  

Reaching thousands in an ad is very important, but ultimately it's a single handshake that closes a sale. Integrating advertising, marketing, and PR into the sales culture of your company backs them up both in decade-long relationships as well as initial cold calls. If a marketing message can be part of the process throughout that entire sales/marketing spectrum, increased sales will follow.

Diversity is key to an integrated initiative.  After all, if you're going to integrate the tools you're using, diversifying those tools will simply give you more to work with and more opportunities to succeed.  

Take advantage of new technologies to expand the tools at your disposal. For instance, you might be able to negotiate a print ad program that provides you with pdf's of all ads and news that appears in a publication. The material cost is little or nothing for the magazine, and it provides the sales force with an easily emailed piece to customers and prospects. 

Another example is packaging editorial consultation with an advertising program. Advertising in a special issue focusing on a key market could warrant a conference between sales, marketing, and magazine editorial staff to preview the issue and offer perspectives on that market.

A direct mail piece to a select list of readers/customers for that issue with a letter from regional sales personnel further concentrates efforts to target markets and helps boost the advertising impact.

In this case, advertising, public relations, direct mail and sales are all part of a loop that will ultimately reach prospects from several different angles. This in turn draws in leads and tightens sales cycles.

While these tools are not necessarily free, they are comparatively inexpensive. More importantly, they add significant value to elements that are already in place such as advertising and PR. Diversifying tactics is simply realizing the full value of core markets and sales tools that already exist. 

Repetition is known to be a highly effective means of communication. It is how we learn as children and it's how we remember as adults. An integrated marketing program ensures that your message is penetrating markets with repetition. If you have a customer testimonial program, for instance, reference those customers in press releases, trade show literature, your web site, industry speeches, annual reports, and ads. Even incorporate them as talking points in sales pitches and presentations. 

Repetition such as this ensures your message to the market gains traction at every contact with customers and potential customers. Often, this is a simple, easily implemented element that can serve as a good first step to integrating a marketing program.

Putting together an integrated initiative that intelligently closes the loop between marketing and sales harnesses the power of each and delivers results greater than the sum of its parts. More importantly, it refocuses the attention on the larger goal of strategic growth.

Careful planning and execution are necessary and the rewards can be an overall sales/marketing organization focused on the same set of priorities at the same time. In other words, closing the loop, closes sales. And that's good for everyone.  

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