The Late Great Planet Sales?

The premise of this blog/post is to point out that if one reads all the current trends in marketing/demand generation, one might assume that marketing can answer all the age old sales challenges – finding the right prospects; targeting them; even predicting who they are; and selling them…..

Why am I writing this? Because like every VP of Sales; Regional Director; District Sales Manager; Sales rep knows……it’s a people game. Certainly a deficient product that is missing key features vs. the competition is a more difficult sale. But if the best product doesn’t have great sales people to sell it, then it will in many cases finish second place or worse.

At this point in time, given all the rage around the digital dimensions of marketing and sales, something deep inside is forgotten – the value of the art of selling. Many are uncomfortable with this idea because try as we might it is near impossible to assign a variable to sales people. We can try, but can you really compare a seasoned major account rep farmer type with a seasoned down the street net new sales closer? Too many times I’ve seen both on the same spreadsheet with the rankings based on the percentage of goal. We all know that the percentage to goal is dependent on what the goal is; whether it is realistic; and that taking down net new accounts is orders of magnitude more difficult than defending the base – although you have to have great reps with different skill sets to defend the base – but the two types of reps are different and in terms of degree of difficulty, net new sales is always tougher. I’ve done both many times at the Million Dollar Club Level and I can assure you that the net new sales role was always a tougher number for me to hit.

Predicting what accounts one should target is not new. Back in the 1990’s I attended quarterly meetings about who should be our best targets. As we all know, information can give you clues, but does not guarantee access or even an audience. Back then, it was daring, but not unusual to not only get people on the phone, but to ambush them in the parking lot of their company or the entrance in order to gain access/appointments. Today you might be arrested for doing that. Times have changed. Today we use email, social media, cookies, banner ads, and analytics – other forms of digital targeting to get the attention of prospects. No more showing up with pizza or donuts as an “offering”. (Yes, we did show up with great pizza to get a meeting with tough prospects…who doesn’t love great pizza?)

My point is actually very simple. The battle in marketing and sales is no different than the ELINT (electronic intelligence) vs. HUMINT (human intelligence) battle that has raged in the intelligence and defense communities for decades. ELINT can intercept messages, phone calls, emails and more. HUMINT means that you have spies in the field, hopefully in high places, that can tell you exactly what is going to happen i.e. intentions.

Fast forward to today – marketing is providing ELINT, sales can provide HUMINT. Predictive Analytics and Big Data analysis can tell us all about a company and its purchasing history, service history and probable direction…..but only HUMINT can tell us intentions.

What does that mean? Two examples from the both history and business might serve as ample comparison.

December 6, 1941. The United States President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that at some point we would be at war with Japan and Germany. There was intelligence indicating a Japanese attack was forthcoming in the near future, but we didn’t know where. We had broken the Japanese Naval and Diplomatic code, and a warning went out to all US bases via Western Union warning of an imminent attack, but they didn’t know where. In this case we knew the intention but not the place. HUMINT would have told us the “where” had we had a highly placed spy somewhere near the top of Japan’s Military or Navy.

May 12, 1995 – At a meeting at their HQ in Mountain View, CA, a team of SUN Microsystems storage marketing executives, engineers and product specialists rejected a proposed OEM deal with EMC Corporation a manufacturer of mainframe storage arrays that was moving into Open Systems Storage. SUN Microsystems was the de facto leader in Open Systems (UNIX) Servers and Storage. An historic opportunity missed. That evening the EMC team met with members of HP’s Storage Team. HP and EMC signed an agreement less than 6 months later and changed the adoption of high end UNIX systems in the Data Center. From every data point received, SUN was the better candidate for many reasons. HP was not a good candidate for as many reasons as SUN was the perfect candidate. However the team from HP understood the implications of a deal with EMC, the SUN team simply didn’t get it. The HUMINT trumped the ELINT. All the data pointed to a SUN deal and not to an HP deal. The ELINT gave us clues but not intentions.

Many times all the data suggests that a prospect is ideal for our product/service/partnering, but just one human factor (bad past experience with new technology; prior relationship with a vendor; prior relationship with a sales rep or systems engineer) can be the reason that a sale will not occur.

Sales reps are told to “control the sales process”. That is a very apropos and correct statement. In my past lives I always knew that I was winning a sales opportunity based on what the prospect was saying. If I was setting the agenda I was winning. If someone else was setting the agenda then I knew I had to make them react. Many times, based on research, I knew which vendor was setting the agenda based on the prospect’s objections. We used to call those sales calls, “Chop Sessions” because we had to be ready, much like a debating team, to “chop” the objections with our rebuttals.

So does this mean that one shouldn’t consider getting the best “ELINT” or information in advance? No. Does this mean that only the “HUMINT” or sales teams matter? No. It means that both are important. The marketing team and their ability to provide air cover via digital marketing are as critical as getting the right sales teams in place. With both operating at their best capacity the chance of replicable and repeatable success is much higher. Despite this, there is no one way or perfect solution to solving the sales and marketing challenges. However, making the assumption that marketing can always trump sales efficacy, is a mistake. Neither will succeed without the support and help of the other.

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