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Sales or marketing: who's in charge?

I have a good friend, Bob, who is a Boston-based venture capitalist. He's always needling me about the role of marketing claiming he has never met a marketing person who could sell anything. I tell him I've never met a salesperson who could market anything. Of course we're kidding each other, but it's based on reality. I believe that good salespeople can sell anything But good marketing makes sure they sell what you want them to sell in a way that makes money.

A good salesperson intuitively knows how to sell the "benefits" of a product or service, regardless of whether they are given direction. They do their homework, understand the market, know their competition and position products to prospects to help them solve their pain points. But is this reliance on your salespeople a selling strategy? More important, does it lead to profit and growth?

I know of a company--let's call it SoftEx--that sells a highly complex software service to the retail industry. It has a lengthy sales cycle and involves many meetings and demonstrations to a variety of people in a prospect company. The SoftEx salespeople are under tremendous pressure to close deals. As a consequence, they'll try anything to shorten the sales cycle Since the company has no formal marketing program, the salespeople put together client proposals on their own, set pricing (with CFO approval) and send their custom-crafted proposals off to the client.

This kind of "maverick" sales effort results in success or failure that is as individualized as those doing the selling. The simple truth is that salespeople left on their own to position and sell products puts the company at great risk.

The result is often a misalignment between client expectation and company delivery.

How many times have you seen arguments between sales and product delivery people about what a client should be getting? It happens every day in companies where management has not deafly understood or embraced the key role that marketing should have in their company. The consequences can be costly.

While high-achieving salespeople can make up for many weaknesses in marketing, the "average" salesperson flounders without dear direction. Unlike the "good" or "natural" salesperson, the "average" one lacks the selling instincts--typically through lack of experience--to make a product come alive. The result is high turnover, which is costly, disruptive to the organization and extremely unproductive, given the time it takes to train new salespeople

And regardless of whether the client is working with a "good" or "average" salesperson, the lack of control--from the initial sales presentation to the final service proposal--wreaks havoc on the process.

Without marketing controlling the sales message and proposal process, clients may be turned off because they never quite understand what your company does. Even if they do understand your product or service and make it to the proposal stage, a lack of marketing discipline means the proposal is likely to be filled with promises and customization that will make delivery either difficult, costly or impossible to deliver.

One of the senior managers at SoftEx got fed up with the maverick sales process. He drew a line in the sand and made a standard proposal template that followed what the standard sales presentation highlighted. He then wrote a standard Statement of Work for the product deliverable and would not allow any deviation from the document. As you can imagine, everyone was up in arms and ready to kill this guy. Guess what happened?

It wasn't long before projects were being delivered on time, margins improved and client satisfaction rose. The icing on the cake was that the productivity of the average salesperson rose right along with the structure and discipline in their selling efforts.

Without standardization and control inside a company, chaos reigns. And, the standardization comes from the product-marketing department, with authorization and empowerment from management.

I like to tell my Boston-based venture capitalist friend that there should not be a rivalry or hierarchy between sales and marketing. But that is the exception rather than the role. The tremendous skill set that good salespeople bring is the ability to qualify a lead, rapidly move a deal through the process and close in a timely manner. That is worth its weight in gold. If you couple this with a solid product-marketing plan that provides standard presentation materials, proposals and statements of work, you've got a winning formula.

Rudy Nadilo is a New Hampshire-based sales and marketing expert. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Selling with Nadilo
Author:Nadilo, Rudy
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Jul 4, 2008
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