IN DEFENSE OF SALESPEOPLE.

Sales may not be on your resume, but it’s part of every marketer’s job.

I came to a couple of conclusions early in my career that have served me well.

  1. We’re all selling something.
  2. The best salespeople solve problems.

Salespeople get a bad rap. They’re punch lines, the butt of jokes, and typically reduced to cliches and cartoon characters. I think the stereotype of the used car salesman started the trend and has remained the gold standard for abuse. It stuck because we all feel screwed when we buy a car.

We’re all in sales.
This statement almost always makes people bristle. “That’s a different department.” “My job is more complicated than that.” “I don’t have a ‘sales’ personality.” When I started my career in an ad agency creative department, I would have never viewed my job as sales. But I quickly learned that without the ability to sell an idea, it would never go anywhere. The path from a concept sketched on a notepad to a produced campaign involved selling it––to my creative group head, the executive creative director, the account team, and the agency principal––all before the idea was pitched to a client. If you must convince someone of something in order to do your job, you are selling, my friend.

The best salespeople solve problems.
Let’s turn our attention to the profession of sales, specifically within a B2B organization. What I’ve observed is that the best salespeople are truly experts in their field. They care more about providing customers with solutions that solve problems than making a quick sale. They understand better than most of us that products and customers aren’t always a good fit, and the worst mistake you can make is closing a deal against your better judgment. A big payday is small consolation for a damaged customer relationship.

Marketers make mistakes that make life difficult for sales professionals.
Now that we know salespeople are our friends, why do we judge them so harshly? Often, the problem is us. And by “us” I mean marketers. When good salespeople get a bad review, it’s usually because we’ve made one (or all) of the following mistakes.

Mistake 1 – There’s no foundational brand support.
We live in a culture with a tragically short attention span combined with a need for immediate gratification. That’s a double whammy when you’re trying to build your brand. And the problem isn’t millennials; it’s shareholders. Even if you’re not in a publicly-traded organization, there’s a high likelihood that sales are closely tracked, and we want our ROI and we want it NOW! The lack of any kind of brand messaging makes the sales process an uphill battle. Without product positioning to keep innovation, relevance, and value top-of-mind, even your best sales pro is stuck making what amounts to a cold call.

Mistake 2 – They aren’t trained on new products and programs.
This is often a function of limited time and poorly allocated resources. Let’s say you’re launching a product you’ve spent years developing and testing. Why would you spend your limited marketing budget on training salespeople when you’re racing to get the word out to your customers? I’ve simplified the process to make a point, but we’ve all seen the sales training step get bumped to the bottom of the to-do list. In my experience, that’s a failure of priorities, regardless of the budget or rollout schedule.

Mistake 3 – The sales tools are inadequate for the job.
This falls into the same category as training, though it deserves a separate mention. To be effective, salespeople need support materials that are—let’s face it—less than exciting to develop. They need that dry, technical, feature-and-benefit stuff that makes most creative people cringe. But that’s precisely the kind of information customers need at the coveted narrow end of the path-to-purchase funnel. And if you’ll indulge me in a bit of finger-wagging, I think the aversion to “dry” technical content has more to do with a lack of imagination than a lack of creative––or ROI––opportunity.

The job of marketing is to enable salespeople to be more effective––which makes sales part of your job. So find ways to train them, support them, and show them the respect they deserve. Because in this era of obsessively tracking every possible metric, ultimately there’s only one metric that matters: sales.