In the olden days of tech (all of 10 years ago), messaging exercises took three to six months and cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. I was involved in a number of messaging projects over the years as “the voice of sales” in the room.
As a lover of modern art with a background in psychology, discussing the emotions evoked by various images and words with marketing savants from fancy ad firms was super fun. I could do it all day.
Even for the most technical products, the images and words used to describe value are important. Branding elements subtly communicate core values and competitive advantage—and of course those remain steady over time.
However, how companies communicate these values and address the problems their customers are facing—the words they use, and specific scenarios actively discussed—evolve continually. In other words, how we message should be a dynamic process if we want to be close to our market.
Signs pointing to a lack of Sales involvement
Today, Sales still gets updates on company and product messaging in quarterly and annual kickoff meetings. In fact, shortly before I wrote this, Salesforce was having an eight-hour-long Zoom Sales launch showcasing the various product plans, sales incentives, and updated messaging packaged by Marketing.
What percentage of attendees are shopping online or cooking while listening to all the new content?
In previous times, when we attended kickoffs in person, it was often like visiting Vegas; most attendees were exhausted from excessive PowerPoints and/or too many cocktails. Product and marketing teams spent hundreds of hours on these events and materials, all in service to Sales to crush the revenue goals.
In these circumstances, how can attendees be expected to retain all of this information AND execute these carefully crafted plans? Audiences only retail about 15 percent of a PowerPoint presentation, and that’s without a hangover.
So, how can we make messaging more effective in terms of making sure 1) Sales sticks to it, and 2) it remains relevant in constantly changing market conditions?
Solving the marketing-sales messaging disconnect
Forward-thinking B2B companies are wrapping Sales into the messaging process. At Altus, we are piloting “scrum sales.” This means we are using our clients’ sales apps (CRM, AI) to create an ongoing feedback loop between 1) what Sales and Service are hearing from the front line, and 2) the materials and messaging Marketing is creating vis-a-vis the competitive landscape.
Earlier this year, Altus did a study revealing the best practices for building resiliency in sales leaders. One of the key findings suggested wrapping Sales and Marketing into one function to both optimize spend and refine customer-facing communications. For example, marketers who tap top sales reps and leaders into messaging exercises hear the words that are used to describe current, salient business issues.
The process of B2B company branding and messaging is typically siloed. Marketing creates it then delivers it to Sales via decks and FAQs, which can’t be revised.
Tips to take down the silos
Below are some practical suggestions to facilitate a partnership between Sales and Marketing around the messaging platform.
Marketing leaders: get Sales into the messaging conversations
Why you want to embrace this goal:
- They have what you need. If sales reps (your frontline to the market) give regular input, you will hear what prospects and customers are saying about their priorities and problems. You will hear the WORDS they are using to describe their situation firsthand. These insights are key to being current and showing empathy within your market.
- They will buy in. If Sales has skin in the game, they will be more likely to understand, use, and be invested in the success of the messaging platform.
Remember, sales leaders are masters of spin in a formal meeting, you need to get informal to learn what’s really happening with the team and market. Put it on your calendar to contact your Sales counterparts every two weeks—walk to coffee or grab lunch together. Here’s how to make it happen:
- Be welcoming. Invite at least one top salesperson and one influential sales leader to messaging meetings. Ask them to prepare 5 minutes on what they are hearing in the market. Don’t expect them to stay the whole meeting; ask them to join for the 15 minutes that are most relevant to them.
- Be patient. To engage sales, you will have to pick up the phone, invite them to meetings—even if they are just there for 15 minutes to give their input. Yes, it’s frustrating. But don’t expect them to read lots of material in advance or respond to long emails. If sales reps are able to give input a couple of times without debate from Marketing, they will enjoy the process, see how they are adding value, and become more engaged.
- Be persistent. Remind them about meetings. Once a month is the minimum frequency that sales and marketing should review materials together. Ready yourself with questions to engage them and gather quotes: What words are your prospects using to describe issues? What are customers and prospects complaining about? What objections are you hearing?
- Be reciprocal. Ask your counterparts to attend sales meetings—at least two a month. If you have a trusted relationship, they will allow this. Take an observer role and avoid any feedback or criticism unless asked. Again, this will help you learn and build trust.
Sales leaders: lend time and reps
If your reps don’t think they are getting what they need from Marketing, or you’ve observed that the team isn’t using consistent, effective messaging, then get your team actively involved.
- Use your sales best practices. Communicate in a way that works for your audience, in this case, marketing leadership. Review the information your marketing counterparts have sent you before the meeting. Prepare your response in bullet format and share it after the meeting in email so they have a reference.
- Enlist the involvement of two to three top reps. Yes, I can hear it now: “I DON’T HAVE TIME.” However, it really is important enough to spend 30 minutes a week to get a better process started. Ideally, a top sales rep should deliver an updated deck to the team, not Marketing. This will take some practice sessions, but, in the end, the materials will resonate better with the team.
Begin the messaging mend
You, Sales, want useful material from Marketing. Marketing, you don’t want your work to be for naught. Although these steps require change and effort, they are enlightened self-interest. Put your teams on this path; start by calling your counterpart in Sales or Marketing and grabbing virtual or real coffee.