How marketing is shifting sales’ focus from process to customer


Unless businesses build an exceptional experience around their brands they risk losing the all-important loyalty of their customers, which can now be translated into measurable commercial value.

“Sales has often been considered its own specialism, with little need to collaborate with other departments, as it has a very set role – to win business,” says Rob Milloy, director of sales at Opus Energy. “This has led to sales becoming siloed, and as a result, it has not necessarily used insights which may have been beneficial.”

But this is changing. Salesforce’s latest State of Sales report reveals that 60% of sales professionals say collaborative selling has increased productivity by more than 25%, while more than half (52%) say it has done the same for increasing pipeline.

A number of factors have woken sales teams up to the need for greater collaboration, particularly with marketing - not least the empowered consumer, whose expectations have increased considerably in a world of ultra-convenience brands such as Amazon and Uber. Today we expect excellence, regardless of brand or industry.

Simon Carter, interim marketing director at Wendy Wu Tours, who formerly held senior marketing roles with both Fujitsu and Thomas Cook, says: “Customers are probably more informed than they have ever been, and as such, if a salesperson is not able to put themselves in the shoes of their customers - to understand their challenges and know what keeps them awake at night - then they will rarely build empathy with that customer, and hence not get the sale.”

Marketing is the key source of the customer insight that sales people increasingly need at their fingertips, and the level of data now collected means marketers’ understanding of the customer is never static. Another factor driving increased collaboration is today’s complex customer journey, which comprises numerous touch points, and has disrupted the linear sales funnel. Understanding customers’ buying motivations and behaviours has never been more important.

As Milloy says: “Aligning sales and marketing enables sales teams to understand the profile of the people they’re selling to, and tailor their pitch accordingly. It’s not about going in for the hard sell – it’s about appealing to the prospect, educating them on why you are the best business for them, and giving them a smooth, enjoyable customer journey.”

“If a brand wants to be known for something, then everyone needs to be delivering a message in the same way.” Rob Milloy, Opus Energy

Goodbye process, hello customer
A shift in emphasis is evident, from sales as a process-focused discipline to a customer-focused discipline – and marketing is helping push it in that direction.

In April this year, Helen Warren-Piper moved from her role as marketing director at Premier Foods to become sales director at Mars Petcare UK, following more than 20 years in marketing. She says Mars is a collaboration-based organisation and is therefore well placed to realise this opportunity to put customers at the heart of sales. “I have found from my own functional skill-set point of view, that having a broader understanding of marketing and demand principles is helping to drive the right conversations internally with the right people, to drive mutually beneficial results with our retail partners.”

This more customer-focused approach is also shining a light on the importance of customer retention, sometimes forgotten by sales teams incentivised based purely on acquisition. “The reality is that bottom-line profitability generally comes from customer retention, but that is rarely glamorous [like sales], and hence does not get a look in,” says Carter.

He adds that when he worked in the retail gas and electricity sector, salespeople signed up customers to contracts with little thought, relying on customer inertia not to cancel. “The people picking up the pieces were the poor customer service teams, dealing with cancellations and irate customers, who were not at all happy.”

It is a different landscape today, and every part of the business must now take greater ownership of the customer experience. Salesforce’s report shows that one of the top objectives of today’s sales teams is to increase retention through deeper customer relationships, something cited by over half (51%) of respondents.

“The reality is that bottom-line profitability generally comes from customer retention.” Simon Carter, Wendy Wu Tours

Consistency and the personal touch
The research also shows that high-performing sales teams are 2.9 times more likely than underperformers to say their organisations have become much more focused on providing customers with a consistent experience. As Milloy says: “If a brand wants to be known for something, then everyone needs to be delivering a message in the same way. We continuously work towards ensuring everyone involved at Opus Energy understands what we stand for, and the high level of service we want to deliver to every customer.”

But it goes beyond consistency. Consumers increasingly expect a personalised experience. High-performing sales teams are 2.8 times more likely than underperformers to say their sales organisations have become much more focused on personalising customer interactions over the past 12 to 18 months, according to Salesforce. Indeed, providing customers with a more personalised experience is cited by 37% as a top sales objective.

Carter says two of his former companies, Fujitsu and Arco, both reorganised their businesses by industry sector in order to begin the personalisation journey, and ensure that sales people understand the difference between manufacturing, retail and public-sector clients and their unique needs. “This is also where account-based marketing (ABM) comes in - developing marketing campaigns to individual clients. This is very much marketing-led, and is a good example of where sales teams are recognising the value that marketing teams can bring.”

Milloy expects personalisation to continue to play an important role for sales teams. “Be it direct mail campaigns which actually speak to the customer, or tailored individual tweets to engage them, little changes such as this show you understand the customer, and usually improve how they feel about you as a result.” He adds that using insights, “which marketing often controls, can help unlock a wealth of goodwill”.

A cultural shift
As the Salesforce report notes, sales departments are “now positioned to be the testing grounds for advanced technologies of the future, such as automation and intelligence, to meet customers on their turf”. It adds that leading sales teams empower reps with these innovative capabilities “to usher in the Age of the Customer”.

Tom Pepper, director and UK head of marketing solutions at LinkedIn, agrees that technology holds the key to unlocking valuable insights, adding that top-performing sales people are taking the time to get to know their clients, increasingly with the help of digital capability. “It’s about harnessing tools and technology to automate research, empowering salespeople to reach the right audience with the right insights and a tailored approach which builds relationships. We are using our own unique insights and tools such as InMail to make this a reality.”

But technology alone isn’t enough to drive change. Mars Petcare’s UK sales and marketing functions have recently evolved into what the company calls the ‘One Demand’ team, combining marketing, line sales and strategic demand. Warren-Piper believes culture is a key driver of such successful collaboration between the two disciplines.

“The best versions I’ve seen are where marketing and sales are in lock-step, there is true trust, and very visible alignment between the marketing and sales directors. At its worse, it is a culture of blame, where sales gets blamed for not getting the listings [for products to be carried by retailers] and marketing gets blamed because the product doesn’t sell.”

Carter echoes Warren-Piper’s words: “Collaboration is cultural, and culture tends to start at the top and demands consistent implementation. If you get that within the DNA of your business, you are halfway there.”

Sales and marketing are no longer working to different agendas, focused on often divisive short-term and long-term goals that create tension. The secret is to work together, using technology to empower both teams and to drive the right culture.

Salesforce’s findings show that across all performance levels, 73% of respondents believe collaborating across departments is ‘absolutely critical’ or ‘very important’ to their overall sales process.

Or as Warren-Piper says, sales and marketing “will achieve disproportionately better results together” rather than separately.

“The best cultures are where there is true trust and very visible alignment between the marketing and sales directors.” Helen Warren-Piper, Mars Petcare

Marc van den Boogaard