Collateral Is No Way to Support the Sales Force
Imagine you're in Sales.
In response to an inquiry from a qualified lead, you sent out your standard collateral package. A gorgeous folder. A corporate brochure, datasheets, annual report, recent press releases, backgrounder, tear sheets, white paper, CD ROM, and a personal cover letter.
Now it's time for that initial sales call.
You join the prospect in the conference room. She has your package in front of her, with some additional pages from the web, from the analysts, from the competition and from her own notepad.
'So,' she begins, 'why don't you give me a little idea about your company, what you do best and your history and so on, and then maybe a general product review. I know you sent me this very impressive package, but I have been so swamped I haven't had time to really study it.'
In fact, about 90% of this first meeting is a rehash of the issues covered somewhere in that package. Products. Customers. History. Stability. Services. Partners.
After the meeting, a thought occurs as you cross the parking lot--one that has occurred often, in similar situations and similar parking lots: 'if only we could have gotten down to business instead of wasting all that time going through the basics. If only she had read that damn information package.'
But she didn't. They rarely do, you remind yourself. Your cell rings. With a quiet curse at the Marketing department that created such useless material, you answer it.
That curse is a righteous one.
As marketers, we do not effectively support the Sales force--and we should.
We create a collateral package, like the one I described above. Some of us even call that package a sales tool. But what we really create is a kind of promotional potpourri. An assemblage of sweet smelling stuff in an attractive folder. Actually, we don't even create most of the content. We build the brochure and some data sheets, and then leave lots of pocket space in the folder for the Sales force to add whatever they can find from white papers to annual reports to ad tear sheets. If it's on the lit shelf it may very well end up in the package.
The primary content-inclusion policy is 'bulk is best.'
The primary organizational structure is 'pretty in front, ugly in back.'
Now, that kind of package has its place. The corporate brochure, the data sheets, yes, even the press releases, tell people that we exist. They are perfect on a trade show booth table; as a general deliverable in response to web requests; as something to get a ball rolling. But once that ball is rolling, once the lead is generated and qualified, once the Sales force is ready to begin its difficult process of winning that competitive battle... that random package is of no use. They need something else to help them do their job better, faster, more effectively. They need tools. And it's our job to define, specify and, in this particular case, even build them.
It is a strategic marketing challenge 'the same strategic challenge we face when we deal with our products. Define a marketplace with an identifiable need. And then specify product that serves that need.
- The marketplace is the sales force.
- The need is for tools to support their effort.
- And the product is a new kind of collateral--a targeted, goal-driven and measurable kind.
Strategies, marketing or otherwise, begin with hypotheses: things to prove or disprove. And that's where we begin. If we think back to our opening scenario, a clear syllogism presents itself for validation.
- Shortening the sales process will have value to the Sales force.
- Sales tools can be created to shorten the sales process.
- Therefore, creating sales tools will have value to the Sales force.
The first of the two premises is easy to prove. There is little controversy among business leaders that the shorter the sales process the lower the cost of sales. Similarly, there is equally strong agreement that the more streamlined your process, the greater your competitive advantage. If two companies start the process at the same time, the one who gets to the CTO first is ahead of the game. There are, of course, as always, exceptions, but they are exceptions that prove the rule.
It's the second premise that is the more complex and difficult to prove. Can tools that we build shorten the process?
Be careful how you test this. The impulse to 'just ask the Sales force' is strong--resist it. Asking them 'will sales tools help shorten the sales process?' is asking them to do our analysis for us--it's not their expertise. In many, if not most, cases the answers will be understandably subjective, and in many cases, purely tactical.
Rather, the correct question is, 'Where can your sales process be shortened?' The answers serve as our initial roadmap. But they're hardly enough. A rep who hates cold calls will focus on that. Another who feels swamped will talk about increased bandwidth. A third might say, 'lower the price.' Each will focus on their own individual needs. Good input. But just a starting point.
We have to find out for ourselves. It's time for a few ride-alongs with the Sales force. Experience the sales process in person, at each identified phase. A few initial calls. A few technical meetings. The financial grillings. A few deal closings. You, as a marketer, have to watch what happens and reach a reasoned conclusion from a careful analysis as to where and how the process you experience can be shortened.
Don't misunderstand. The Sales force, your marketplace, needs to be involved in this, just as the marketplace for your are involved throughout the development. But that product marketplace doesn't write your functional specifications, they just provide guideposts. The same is true here.
In the scenario we started with, the best place to shorten the process is right at the start--to create a situation where the prospect and the rep can get down to business. You may find that your answer is different--that some other element of the process makes more sense for you. Perhaps it's getting the right kind of technical information into the hands of the right technologists early on. Perhaps it's establishing a way to broadly demo product for the influencing end-user community. Perhaps it's something else.
But whatever the results of the analysis, what we end up with is a directed, proven understanding of the process. Its phases. Its players. Its duration. Its dangers.
Now we can begin to develop a product.
Sticking with our initial scenario, we experienced that the majority of time in that first meeting was spent answering four basic questions:
- Are you a good company?
- Do you make good products?
- Will your products do what I want them to do?
- Do your customers get value from your products?
Our mission is clear. Develop a product--some kind of product--that will, in advance of the first sales call, clearly and completely answer those four questions. And by answer, I mean with hard evidence. Claims, promises, hyperbole--the foundation of most collateral--won't cut it. Don't pillage your existing collateral and start extracting phrases like, 'Acme is the leading provider of...--(unless you really are the one company that truly is the leader), or 'we provide the lowest total cost of ownership of any product in the marketplace today' and so on (unless you have an independent analysis that says so--it's a claim when you say it, and it's evidence when Aberdeen Group says it).
The goal of this must be: It Has to Be Used. You have to use every device you can muster--culled from designers, instructional technologists, and other similar sources--to compel readership. Since the goal is simple (four questions answered) you're not going to force them to study 5,000 words of collateral to find 100 words of evidence. Nothing you say will stray from the point.
The shape and form of our product will, of course, vary depending on all sorts of factors: from process phase to budget to media to audience. Maybe it's complex--a glittering multimedia spectacular. Maybe it's just as simple as can be: a document called, 'The Four Things You Need to Know About Acme.' But however it is built, and whatever it addresses, Marketing has, at last, done its job. We have identified a need: create tools that shorten the sales process. We have examined the nature of the need and determined how best to satisfy the need. And we have built product that does the job.
Now let's revisit our scenario. You join the prospect in the conference room. She has your package in front of her, with some additional pages from the web, from the analysts, from the competition and from her own notepad.
'So,' she begins, 'let me ask a couple of questions.' She opens The Four Things and directs you to page 3. 'Here it says that you were awarded 'Best of Breed' at the Annual Software Forum. What other companies were you up against?'
About 90% of the conversation focuses on specifics generated from that simple document.
After the meeting, a thought occurs as you cross the parking lot--one that has occurred often, in similar situations and similar parking lots: 'That was very productive.'
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