Building Businesses: Of Sales And Marketing [Ventures Africa]
(Ventures Africa Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) VENTURES AFRICA – Technology businesses that sell to both the end consumer (B2C) and to businesses (B2B) are facing a period of unprecedented change in both sales and marketing. Many owners and managers have started to ask whether separate sales and marketing units wind up duplicating functions, and whether that division is really cost-effective. They are looking for better return on investment in both areas.
Sales and marketing historically were maintained as two separate functions because they had different time horizons. Meeting present-day sales targets was the job of a sales team. Building longer-term brand awareness, maintaining brand integrity, feeding leads to sales for longer term conversion, and feeding the needs of the customer into a product development pipeline were all responsibilities of the marketing function.
But technology-based companies are now casting a different eye on the separation of sales and marketing. The time horizon – for technology especially – has significantly shrunk. Moreover, the evolution of the Internet – in particular the now-pervasive use of social media and mobile technology – has given the end consumer more knowledge and power over a company's brand and marketing efforts. In turn, though, it has given marketing and sales teams deeper insights into consumers.
Shrinking Time Horizons and the Fickle Consumer
While as an advisor to technology businesses I usually focus on restructuring a company's cost base, I often find myself giving advice about the revenue side of the business plan. Recently this area has become increasingly demanding, requiring more holistic planning. With product and technology lifecycles shortening, even the best companies can lose consumers in just a few innovation cycles – and even in cases where there is reason to believe that network effects and product stickiness will prevail. A case in point is BlackBerry, whose demise took just three years despite the powerful network effect of its BlackBerry messenger and the support of corporate buyers due to its superior enterprise security features. Moreover, once an innovation cycle is lost, it is not easy to make a comeback. For marketing and product development teams, the time horizon is inching closer and closer.
The most extreme example of this I have seen in my own work is a company that produced tech products with such a short lifecycle that acquiring new customers became prohibitively expensive. Most of the marketing and brand equity for this particular type of technology product was washed away every time a new product was launched. In this case, the marketing and sales time horizons converged, brand-building being a separate exercise.
Social Media Contagion
Potentially, help has arrived in the form of data. A flurry of posts and tweets on social media feeds databases across the world with invaluable facts about the consumer reception of products and services. The gathered information about a product's user base, competitive positioning and perceived quality – not to mention the needs of customers and their current and future desires – is readily available to a combined team of marketers and sales people.
But what does the data say? Unsurprisingly, given how much information is flying around the Internet, consumers have often made up their minds about a product before they even encounter your sales person or indeed your sales site – virtual or real. Sales teams (or sites) need to be well armed with data and marketing information and need sophisticated mechanisms to "close" a sale. At the point of encounter, they need to turbo charge the desires of the customer – or effectively dispel information the customer has been fed by the social media machine.
Data may be the disease but it is also the cure: coming in the form of more readily available information about our customers. Both sales and marketing teams need a non-superficial understanding of data collected from social media in order to provide a superior buying experience, educating and engaging the customer through the journey to the sale.
The Importance of Fluidity Between Sales and Marketing
The most efficient tech companies have fully integrated both teams and immersed them in their customers' worlds through data. The result of these shared insights is a powerful customer experiences at all touch-points – online and offline. Plugging both teams into each other and into the social web creates a virtuous circle of leads, insights, connections and networks which become the air that both sales and marketing breathe through all interactions with potential customers.
Those impatient tech executives are right: the artificial wall between sales and marketing does need to come down. As their objectives merge, so should the tools (data and information) and the mechanisms (getting into the minds of the customer) employees performing both functions use to achieve them. To reduce the cost of sales and marketing, increase efficiency and get a better return on investment, businesses need sales and marketing to work seamlessly together as one team.
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