Is Sales Becoming Marketing Technical Support?

By Nick Van Weerdenburg October 19, 2010

Sales was always the group responsible for targeting messages to buyers. Marketing was background support. Marketing didn’t have access to the customer mind and as a result was largely product focused.

That’s no longer the case. Where sales was needed to deliver targeted content, buyers now look for the content themselves. And if they don’t find yours, they’ll find someone else’s. Last-generation marketing that was background to the targeted sales message is now leading the charge.

In this new environment, selling has become buying facilitation. And it’s measurable.

Inbound marketing, online lead generation and Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC) all test marketing through conversion rates on goals such as newsletter signup, RSS subscription, Facebook fans, white-paper downloads, requests for a demo, purchases, and so on. There are literally hundreds of  measurements and tests that can be applied.

This is enabling marketing to be test-driven, and in complex markets, it’s providing the tools for marketing to become agile. This is exactly what happened in software- the focus on feedback from customers and tests enabled software development to become agile. Indeed, the concept of Agile Software Development was somewhat meaningless until the feedback mechanisms were there.

Marketing has become like software. You run it, test it, and it either works or it doesn’t.

But this does raise an interesting question-  Does Sales still matter?

Sales used to be the primary conduit for the customer to learn about a product or solution. There were essentially no other channels. A few brochures and white papers, but that was only in support of the sales interaction- it wasn’t meant to sell, and never fit that closely to the customer’s specific reality.

As a result, Marketing worked on lead generation and trade shows because that was the best they could do through the limited customer communication channels available to them. Brochures were background value-add to the sales process.

When you hear about “buying cycles” replacing “sales cycles” this isn’t just an improved understanding of purchasing psychology. It’s something that has been enabled by a fundamental change in the environment.

Customers buy on their own terms now. And as a result, marketing has become far more important.

Marketing needs to generate content that sells rather than supports selling by others. This content also needs to be more specific and relevant to the buyer. There is no sales team present to interpret and communicate a deeper message to the thousands of visitors that find you or your product on the web.

In the past, lead nurturing was clearly a sales function. It requires a soft touch, an understanding of the customer, and solution selling to present the information in a meaningful and manageable way.

The economics of today’s selling means that a 30% cost of sale can’t be supported by most companies. You can’t spend enough time with the customer and that means they’re on their own more often. The customer isn’t paused until the next sales meeting, waiting to be feted and wowed by your solution selling greatness. They’re on the Web, researching, browsing your site, browsing your competitors’ site. The expectation of web content is now extremely high. It’s the first stop for information.

10 years ago content had to be presented face-to-face because there were no other viable channels of communication. Now, most content is presented online. And that content ends up doing more of the selling.

What does this mean for Sales? Are they destined to become technical support for automated marketing efforts?

Not likely.

In most non-trivial markets (e.g., complex B2B sales), relationships are still central to any buying process. In fact, properly managed, sales can focus on more value-add activities, handling more accounts and driving more business.

In most cases, the early soft touches guiding prospecting and lead nurturing need human contact. The flow of marketing content to the prospect needs guidance and filtering based on human interaction. Facilitation, problem discovery, solution mapping- sales is becoming a lot more about consulting and project management. But your online content is always ready to jump in as a sales advisor to your hyper-literate prospect.

Categories: Roles & Activities Go-to-Market
Nick Van Weerdenburg

Nick Van Weerdenburg

Nick Van Weerdenburg is founder of TestDrivenMarketing.com, a blog focused on the new era of marketing that is growing out of the digitization of our day-to-day business activities, including sourcing and buying products. Analytics, testing, indirect and multi-touch influence, and an extreme focus on the customer and his mindset at the time of contact currently obsess and occupy most of Nick's time. Nick consults in the Toronto and North American B2B market, and can be reached at vanweerd@gmail.com.

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