Adjusting to the BTB Marketer's Role

For a direct marketer with roots in mail order and traditional DM, it can be a real shock to migrate into the world of business-to-business direct marketing. All of a sudden, you're in a service role. You're a cost center. Everyone complains about you. After a life running a P&L, it can be a real come-down. It sure took me some time to adjust.

I have a friend in BTB direct marketing who insists that he's an equal partner with his counterpart in sales. But I know better. In BTB, sales flies the plane. We in marketing serve the coffee.

This painful situation has its roots in the history of industrial marketing, which is BTB's predecessor. Traditionally, a company that sells to other businesses has a manufacturing, engineering or merchandising arm and a sales group. Manufacturing makes the product, and sales takes it to market. Sales people operate on quotas, with incentives, and have complete responsibility for revenues. Beyond commissions, they might incur some other selling expenses, known as “sales support,” like creating collateral material, running seminars and what-not.

Eventually, sales support morphed into marketing. But it continued to be viewed as an expense, something to be cut when times are tough. Hard to measure. Subject to great scrutiny at budget-setting time. Almost as fuzzy as advertising. Yuck.

By now, solid direct marketing tools and tactics have been widely introduced into the world of industrial marketing. Direct marketing generates leads, manages telesales operations, institutes customer relationship marketing, gathers and analyzes customer and prospect information. Direct marketing is everywhere in BTB, it's generally measurable, and it adds tremendous value. But it still lives in marketing, and it's still the handmaiden of sales.

The upshot is a wide chasm in understanding between sales and marketing. In short, they hate each other. OK, I am exaggerating to make a point. Sales people think marketing is irresponsible and irrelevant. Marketing thinks sales is arrogant and lazy. Sales says it never get anything useful from marketing. Marketing says sales ignores its contribution. It's not pretty.

But instead of moaning, what can we do about it? Here are some ideas for building bridges across the chasm:

· Waiting for sales to change its stripes is an exercise in futility. They are who they are. If marketing has the problem, we have to find the solution. So it's up to us to get proactive, and make some changes.

· Read the sales plan. If we are the hand-maiden of sales, we have to share their goals. Our objectives should mirror theirs.

· Eliminate the marketing fuzz. Make every communication a direct response communication. Measure it, benchmark it, test, and seek regular improvements over last period.

· Plan together. You don't have to sing Kumbaya, but you must bring the sales team in at every stage of the marketing process, to understand their needs and gain their buy-in.

· Get input from sales, but don't let them push you around. Some reps will say they want to be copied on every customer communication into their territories. You have to find a middle ground that makes sense economically and satisfies the sales rep's need for account control.

· No more unqualified leads. You must engage sales in defining the criteria for lead qualification, and deliver only leads that clearly meet those pre-agreed levels.

· Insist that the sales compensation plan include rewards for follow up on marketing leads, and penalties for ignoring them.

· Get senior management support. They consider marketing a cost center, too. Show them your numbers.

· Take great care when claiming results. You may have the greatest closed-loop lead tracking system around, but it's a slippery slope when you brag that your marketing program drove the sale. Better to limit yourself to activity-based measures, like cost per qualified lead, and leave the revenue claims to sales. At least when you are in public.

Is this annoying you? Are you ready to quit and go back to mail order? Wait! There are plenty of rewards in BTB direct marketing. Think about how complex and interesting the data is. How gigantic the value of each account. This stuff is a blast. Especially when you get a well-deserved pat on the back from the sales team. It happens, sometimes.

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