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What’s the secret to getting Marketing and Sales alignment on your message?

Here’s a thought: Forget about the message for a while.

Focus instead on content.

Recently a firm called Corporate Visions surveyed more than 700 B2B marketing and sales pros on the subject of messaging development. They asked respondents whether their companies had a collaborative, repeatable process for creating their “message.” Further, the survey asked which of their organizations’ stakeholders were typically involved in message creation.

You can see the survey results here, but I’ll summarize  the two key findings:

  • 33 percent of those surveyed said they do NOT have a collaborative messaging process, while another third said their process is only “semi-collaborative.”
  • Of those involved in message creation, field sales reps — the people who presumably know customers and prospects best — were least represented in the process.

As marketing and sales challenges go, coming to alignment on a message is not a new challenge. Chalk it up to egos, silos, or honest disagreements. Whatever the cause, aligning around a message is a persistent struggle for many organizations.

But let’s take a closer look: Alignment around a message. Put another way…

What’s the best way to describe the benefits of our product? How can we position ourselves most effectively against the competition? What can we say to customers or prospective customers that will make them most likely to become aware of us, consider us, and ultimately decide to buy our service?

In short, coming to alignment on a message requires that Marketing and Sales agree on the answer to this question:

What can we tell you about us that will make you want to do business with us?

Try Alignment on Content

Therein, perhaps, lies the alignment challenge.

For starters, it’s a complex question. There might even be several good answers. But the thing to remember is this: More and more, your “message” is a fairly deep-in-the-sales-funnel consideration. By some estimates, today’s B2B buyers might get two-thirds of the way toward making a purchase before they are interested in, or ready to hear, a “what can we tell you about us?” message.

To help them arrive at that stage in the buying process, there are plenty of questions you can help them ask and answer. Questions that call not for your message, but for relevant information. Useful insights. Case studies. Research. Content.

Content that, done well, speaks volumes about your organization and its ability to understand and solve customers’ challenges, long before you have to come up with a message that tells them you understand and can solve their challenges.

Assuming your Marketing and Sales teams will spend time getting in alignment this fall, consider: It’s conceivable that the more time and effort you devote to understanding your audience, and then planning and producing great content, the less time you’ll spend sweating and struggling over a sales message.

Value your audience enough to provide them with great content, and don’t be surprised if they get your message, loud and clear.
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What say you, marketing and sales pros? Have you found the secret to achieving Marketing and Sales alignment on your message? Or are you spending more time focused on content, and not worrying quite so much about message?

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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We’re starting to see signs of growing confidence in the U.S. economy, following the biggest economic swan dive since the Great Depression. The question is: Will consumer and small business owner attitudes toward spending begin to shift as a result?

Last month I heard Dennis Jacobe, Ph.D. and chief economist for Gallup, speak at the Custom Content Council’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. The title of Jacobe’s presentation? “The ‘New Normal’ in Today’s Marketing World.”

If you’re a marketer trying to explain away recent years’ lousy results, or searching for data on which to base future projections, here’s some of what Jacobe had to say about where the U.S. economy has been — and where it appears to be trending. You can download his full presentation at the Custom Content Council (CCC) website.

 

Confirming a “New Normal”
Since January 2008 Gallup has conducted a nightly “Gallup Daily” phone poll phone with a randomized sampling of 1,000 U.S. consumers. The poll seeks to gauge both economic attitudes and actual discretionary spending behavior.

Gallup Daily data appears to confirm existence of a “new normal” for U.S. consumers and their attitudes toward spending. When asked, “Are you the type of person who more enjoys spending money (or who) more enjoys saving money?” Gallup found that in Q2 2011 the gap between “more enjoy saving” and “more enjoy spending” was as wide as its been in favor of saving since they’ve tracked the question, dating back a decade to April 2001.

When asked if spending less is a temporary change, or something they considered a new, normal pattern, it seems consumers are calcifying in their attitudes toward save more, spend less:

  April 2008 Feb. 2010 Q2-2011
Spending less will become a new, normal pattern 53% 61% 64%
Spending less is a temporary change 45% 37% 36%

Small business owners presented a more mixed outlook, according to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index. When asked in 2011 if they were spending more, the same, or less, 42 percent said less, 29 percent said the same, and 29 percent said more. Just over half, 51 percent, saw their recent spending pattern as temporary, while 49 percent considered it a new normal.

When it comes to borrowing money, however, small business owners appear to be battening down their hatches, with 41 percent saying they were borrowing less, 45 percent the same, and only 14 percent more. Sixty-eight percent said they saw their current approach to borrowing as a new normal.

 

Actual Discretionary Spending Down
Gallup Daily tracking shows average daily discretionary spending by consumers bumping along at the $63 level in January and February this year, compared with a high of $114 per day in early 2008. Average daily discretionary spending has declined significantly between 2008 and 2011 across all income categories tracked by the poll:

  • $90,000+: -17%, from $146 to $121
  • $60,000-$89,999: -25%, from $109 to $82
  • $24,000-$59,000: -31%, from $88 to $61
  • less than $24,000: -38%, from $66 to $41

 

Will Spending Rise With Confidence?
Despite these attitudes and behaviors regarding spending, Gallup found that consumers’ economic confidence was as high in February as it’s been since January 2011, and February marked the six straight month of increase. \

  • Consumer confidence is highest among higher income households, but is increasing across all income levels.
  • People who self-identify as Democrats tend to be considerably more optimistic about the economy than Independents and Republicans, with Republicans by far the least optimistic. In fact, Republicans are the only one of three groups who feel less optimistic about the economy today than they did in January 2011.
  • Consumers saw their employers doing more hiring and less firing, continuing a trend that has been steady since January 2010.

Similarly, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index takes the temperature of small business owners on subjects that include their overall financial situations, revenue, cash flow, capital spending, hiring, and ease of obtaining credit. In January this year:

  • The index found small business owners were as optimistic about the future as they’ve been since the last quarter of 2008.
  • When asked about their intentions to either hire or downsize their workforces, small business owners’ hiring intentions were as high as they’ve been since early 2008.

 

So, What’s a Marketer to Do?
As a closing message to his CCC audience, Jacobe provided this “on the upside, on the downside” observation:

  • Average daily discretionary spending for March 2012 hit $76, the highest it’s been since January 2008, a possible sign consumers are ready to break out of their new normal spending habit.
  • Rising gas prices have the potential to diminish consumer confidence and push discretionary spending back down toward new normal levels, which since January 2009 have been in the low to mid $60s. The closer gas prices get to $5 per gallon or over, he said, more dramatic the impact on consumer lifestyle and spending.

Jacobe’s parting advice for business managers, in light of the prevailing “new normal” that might (or might not) be with us for a while: Strive to balance optimism and realism. Focus on organic growth through greater customer and employee engagement. “There’s nothing wrong with adhering to strong fundamentals,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with sustainable growth.”
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What’s happening in your business? Are you factoring a “new normal” into your marketing and sales forecasts? Or has the recession long ago disappeared in your rear view mirror? Comments welcome.

This post originally appeared on Hanley Wood Marketing’s blog, Content Is Marketing.

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Straight up news: If your organization relies on an inside sales force to keep the pipeline full and leads nurtured, you’ll want to know about a new professional association just launched here in my home state of Minnesota.

The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, born March 27, bills itself as the only organization of its kind “dedicated exclusively to advancing the profession of Inside Sales.”

Larry Reeves, COO of AA-ISP, estimates there are as many as 1 million professionals working in, or managing, inside sales organizations in the United States.  Reeves, along with AA-ISP founder and CEO Bob Perkins, hope to attract members by the thousands from that universe, including sales execs and managers, the inside reps themselves, plus sponsors interested in reaching inside sellers with products and services.

AA-ISP already owns an attractive, business-like Web presence, including a sprinkling of white papers, registration for an e-newsletter, and just-launched functionality for member forums.  Plans call for offering members leadership and career development, a jobs board, a speaker’s bureau, a marketplace for consulting services, plus educational conferences, Webinars and other networking and best-practices sharing opportunities.

AA-ISP also is developing online accreditation courses for inside sales pros. Among its early affiliations, it’s struck an alliance with The College of St. Catherine, a St. Paul liberal arts school which offers two bachelor’s degree programs in sales, one concentrated in business-to-business, the other healthcare.

Perkins, a sales executive at Merrill Corporation, was quoted in a news release announcing AA-ISP’s launch that not long ago “inside sales was perceived as annoying telemarketers or unsophisticated ‘order takers’ who smiled and dialed.

“Today,” he said, “inside sales is an integral part of many organizations’ overall sales strategy… It’s not unheard of for inside sales representatives to build and manage multi-million dollar accounts and close six-figure sales.”

The association’s first annual Leadership Summit is set for June 9-10 in Minneapolis.

For more info on any and all things inside sales and AA-ISP, call 800.604.7085, ext. 130, or e-mail info@aa-isp.org.

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It’s springtime, which means pothole repair season. Midwest road crews have shed plows and salt/sand spreaders and are now gearing staff and equipment for filling those car-crunching cracks and crevasses (at least in Minnesota, spelling and word choice intended).

All of which reminds me of an important way sales and marketing teams can collaborate powerfully. Especially at a time of year when many organizations are mid-plan, still well ahead of next year’s planning and budgeting cycle.

Start by asking yourself this question:

Are we serious about fixing potential potholes in our value proposition
and sales pipeline, or should we continue to patch them over?

My friend, Mike, asked himself this question a few years back. He’d just signed on as a product manager with a company that makes gizmos. Mike’s predecessor had convinced leadership (and they, in turn, convinced themselves) that their gizmo already enjoyed 80 percent market share. Based on that assumption, it was easy to justify why sales had been largely flat for a while.

Not a caretaker by nature, Mike sensed something was amiss. He struck a deal with the sales VP to enlist field reps as on-the-ground market researchers. Knowing the reps were motivated by money, Mike and the sales VP figured out a way to meaningfully reward the sellers for becoming temporary survey takers.

Mike developed a simple questionnaire, then asked the reps to pay a visit or make a call to their wholesaler customers. The survey asked two questions:

  • How many gizmos did you buy last year?
  • Who did you buy them from?

In other words, a fairly painless piece of research for reps and customers alike. But fairly painful, it turned out, for the company’s cozy assumptions. As results were tabulated, that solid 80 percent market share crumbled, pothole like, to about 50.

Then Mike developed a second, more detailed survey. This one asked questions about what distributors liked, and didn’t, about gizmos and the manufacturers that produce, sell and deliver them.

When Sales returned with those results, Mike was awash in customer insight and competitive intelligence. Enough to approach manufacturing and logistics for some suggested product and delivery tweaks. Enough to craft a more aggressive, differentiating message and marketing plan for the coming year.

It wasn’t long into that new year before Mike’s product-line revenues were clipping along at a 33 percent higher rate.

The takeaway: A product marketer and his sales colleagues decided to look more closely at the road they were travelling. They dared to wonder whether they might find potholes. And, upon finding some big ones, they decided to engineer a fix, instead of slapping on another patch.

Specifically, they recognized that:

  • Flat revenue means a plateau — but not necessarily a lofty one.
  • Any time sales and marketing can collaborate on knowing customers and the market better, that’s a great investment of time and effort.
  • It pays for marketers who inherit product lines and distribution channels to question assumptions (trust, but verify).

Got potholes in your pipeline? Cracks in the market position and brand perception you believe you enjoy?

If so, they might not be visible from headquarters. But you could very well spot them, and be able to repair them, by going on the road to talk with customers.

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