Depending on how big your company is, you might have a sales team and you might not. Traditionally, the view of the relationship between sales and marketing has been that marketing is responsible for generating leads and sales is responsible for converting those leads into customers. However, with the increased demand for highly personal and high-touch experience in all aspects of business (an over-arching “customer centric” approach) marketing is reaching deeper into sales territory than it has in the past. I can certainly see this happening at my company, partly because we don’t have an official “sales team” and sales are conducted by the CEO, CTO, and myself. There seem to be some hidden benefits to this constraint.
Let’s explore what the funnel looks like, and how it is changing.
Building the Funnel
I am going to refer to “the funnel” a lot in the remainder of this post, so just to be clear – imagine a funnel. At the top is a big round opening, and that is where all the people who come into your brand go. Now imagine that your funnel has tiny holes poked all over it, and the people flow down the funnel they are dispelled out of the holes if they decide not to engage further with your company/product. A typical funnel goes from first visit to the website, to the second, to sign up, to engagement, and hopefully if all goes well… out the bottom to getting paid (the sale).
Funnel building is the most important activity of any business, and something that should be iterative and tinkered with on a regular basis. I’m sure you’re thinking that building the product is the most important business activity, but the reality is that your product is part of a large goal – to make money for the business. A business can have multiple products, but the product isn’t the goal. Everything you do is contributing to the health of the funnel, because the funnel is like the veins and arteries that deliver blood, in the form of cash, to the heart of your business. If you are doing something that doesn’t directly or indirectly impact the health of your funnel in a positive way STOP DOING IT. You don’t have the time/money/manpower to waste, especially if you are a startup racing against time until your money runs out.
Feeding the Funnel
Feeding the funnel with fresh leads in the form of unique visitors to your store (whether online or offline) has traditionally fallen into the hands of marketing. Marketing is tasked with a simple goal: create, capture and defend your market. This isn’t esoteric, it is very real world. Generate new demand from people who didn’t know they wanted your solution before, inform people who already want your solution (and are probably using your competitors) that you exist and are better for them, and once you’ve won over these folks defend your turf and keep them as customers for as long as you possibly can.
One common misconception among those unfamiliar with this aspect of business is that marketing is advertising. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this misconception exists, since advertising has been one of the most expensive marketing tactics employed in the modern business world. More recently, with Google, advertising has become the focus of every marketing professional looking for a way to measure the value of their spend.
Optimizing the Funnel / Lead Nurturing
This is the area where people (I hate to call them leads, they are human beings afterall) are inside the funnel, and the worlds of sales and marketing collide. It is longest and most complex part of the process, and also the place where your decisions as a company can have the most control over the outcome. Because of this, it should be no surprise that organizations with rigid sales and marketing teams find themselves competing for control over various parts of the customer experience while inside the funnel.
Ideally, during this part of the process sales and marketing are communicating with each other about what is working and what isn’t. Marketing is trying to create content and messages that reinforce the person’s decision to enter the funnel, and sales is trying to generate the motivation (through leverage — we’ll get into that later) that will help to push, or preferably to pull, a lead deeper into the funnel without damaging the brand. Together, they are working toward the goal of satisfying the customer both from an emotional (“I love this”) and physical
Lead nurturing is the least sophisticated part of the process from a technical standpoint. Adoption of Salesforce has driven a greater focus on the importance of making a coordinated effort to collaborate when it comes to driving customers deeper into the funnel towards a sale, but even in Fortune 500 companies the technological tools provided to a sales team are generally less advanced than Facebook (unless they’ve made the move to Salesforce). There are also tools like LoopFuse, Marketo, and others but I don’t encounter very many startups who are are using these tools well (if at all).
Closing the Deal
This is very much the traditional sales role, where the “closer” is someone skilled in making the deal come to fruition. Whether its helping the customer redline a contract, finalize a deck for the integration team, or some other deliverable that is needed to make the sales – this person understands the social, technical, and business dynamics and decisions that go into closing a deal.
Another thing I’ve noticed about some of the fantastic closers I worked with at Expeditors (#1 and #3 salespeople in the company) were that they had an implicit grasp of the ROI and opportunity cost on their time spent, which I imagine comes mainly from experience and a lot of pattern recognition. The closer knows when the deal isn’t going to happen, and can make the call to back off when all the effort isn’t going to amount to anything. Time and time again the closer senses this before anyone else, and is right. This is highly valuable, because instead of spending a lot of time and resources to close a deal they can open up new opportunities.