One of my favourite conversations between a sales person and a marketing person started quite badly. The sales person, having been chastised for a lousy quarter, landed in front of this marketing manager with a lengthy list of materials he believed would solve his sales shortfall. As he listed the case studies, white papers, sell sheets and videos he needed, the marketing manager became more and more agitated. I was just circling in for a better view of the punch up when the marketer ended the whole thing with this: “…and did you want fries with that?” What it may have lacked in originality it more than made up for in delicious delivery.
If you’ve been working in marketing for any length of time you have had a similar encounter with the sales team. And, because you are a team player and want to help, you’ve probably worked very hard to put together pages and pages and pages of materials to help your colleagues sell. You’ve made videos, podcasts, endless PowerPoint loops, webpages, pocket folders, silly trinkets and logoed golf balls (I had a sales manager who swore every sleeve of balls was worth $50K in revenue).
Just like the house cat that has successfully helped the budgie through a Circle of Life event, you’ve proudly brought your wares to the feet of the sales team and sat back waiting for the applause, the backslaps, the Nobel Prize in Propaganda. And what did you get? A grunt? A muttered thank you? Complete silence? A weak smile and a condescending suggestion about branding?
Perhaps you had the singular humiliation of having your carefully constructed creative copy-edited by a sales person (or their helpful spouse) and returned to you for “fixing up”. Better yet, perhaps you encountered your beautiful PowerPoint deck several months later after the sales team had “tuned” it a little. Tragic.
These painful memories are brought to you by a few realities of sales teams. First, many sales people don’t actually like selling. Selling is hard. Selling is work. Selling is hearing “no” twenty times for every “yes”. So many sales people manage to fill their days with the peripheral busywork that passes for selling when nobody is looking particularly closely. This can include rewriting product literature, redesigning your corporate stationery, whining about a lack of marketing support or exploring the contents on their left nostril. The good news about these guys is that by the final month of the quarter they figure out that harassing marketing is not putting food on their tables and they go away and attempt to sell something.
The second is that sales managers and sales people are not always on the same page when it comes to marketing support. Sales managers like to order up reams of product information and testimonials which then gather dust in a cupboard somewhere because the sales people don’t actually want to use them. Maybe the sales manager forgot to tell the team they even exist. How many times have you mentioned a document or pulled it out at an event only to have a sales person tell you they had no idea it was available?
The third is that sales people understand sales. They don’t understand marketing communications. They have no idea how long it takes to write a product sheet. No conception of the steeplechase that is the approval and revision process. No bruises from the product manager’s gutting of a webpage. No ongoing need for therapy following the Legal department’s interpretation of the personal pronoun.
The result is that for sales people, marketing materials are a lot like McDonald’s meals. Intellectually they know that a Big Mac is not a substitute for a good meal prepared well and with fresh ingredients, but that doesn’t mean they don’t crave one. Just like a McDonald’s meal, the first few bites satisfy the salt-sugar-fat craving and the rest is actually pretty disappointing. And the pretty brochure turns out not to be the thing that closes the deal and, like its fast food friend, ends up blowing across the parking lot an hour later.
So what are marketing people to do? Are we condemned to stand at our little windows dishing out the materials to a sales team that is never quite satisfied? Should we turn our pens to the task of educating our friends up the hall about how difficult this stuff is to create and maintain? Should we report them to the Brand Police every time they screw around with a slide show?
As much fun as that is, I don’t think so. I think there will always be lazy sales people who are prepared to blame things on marketing. And there will be excellent sales people who probably don’t even need us. There will also be a perpetual line up in the drive through lane of content and no matter how fast you work, how greasy the product and how free the coffee, it will never quite satisfy the sales team. But that’s okay because they aren’t your target. They deliver content; they don’t consume it.
Marketing content creation needs to work more like a fine dining restaurant than a drive through. Special requests are always welcome and a good chef will do his or her best to give them a go – within reason, but they won’t retool the kitchen just to accommodate one diner. So we need to have better conversations with sales managers about what the team really needs, when they really need it and what form it ought to take. We need to engage these sales managers to ensure this material actually gets to the sales team and, through them, to the customer. We need to say no (not maybe) to unreasonable requests and we need to manage expectations about how long things will take when we do them.
Mostly, however, marketing people need to borrow a lesson from the people in the drive-through window and grow a much thicker skin. Throwing a plastic toy in the bag may help too.