Sales and Marketing: A Love Story

Too often, sales and marketing are treated as distinctly separate and rival functions. They’re not, as 2112’s Larry Walsh and Channel Maven’s Heather K. Margolis explored in their ChannelCon Vendor Summit session.

By Damon Poeter

The American version of “The Office” is built around the day-to-day hijinks, drudgery, secret romances, small victories, and even bigger defeats that play out in the Scranton, Pa., branch of a famously “failing mid-tier paper supply company” called Dunder Mifflin. At first blush, there’s not a lot in common between the fictional firm and a typical IT shop selling technology solutions.

But there is one thing that many IT operations have in common with Dunder Mifflin: a lack of strategic investment in marketing. In the comedic world of “The Office,” marketing is usually limited to some impulsive, harebrained scheme cooked up by Scranton branch manager Michael Scott. Even the corporate office’s online marketing Website, Dunder Mifflin Infinity, is a similarly ill-conceived debacle.

Solution providers rarely stumble as badly on the marketing front, but it isn’t for lack of trying. Well, actually it is for lack of trying. The 2112 Group has consistently found that upwards of 75 percent of solution providers don’t have a meaningful marketing strategy of any kind.

That’s what made it particularly interesting to hear Larry Walsh, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group, and Heather K. Margolis, CEO of Channel Maven Consulting, examine the push and pull between marketing and sales at a lively discussion at CompTIA ChannelCon this week in Austin, Texas.

The talk was billed as a “debate” between Walsh, taking the side of sales, and Margolis, representing marketing. But after a few fun back-and-forth jabs, both Walsh and Margolis, with some generous input from the audience, came together to present a much more integrated picture of how sales and marketing should interact.

In a world where savvy customers can do their own research and rely a lot less on solution providers to provide information about products and solutions, what really drives sales is the experience the solution provider delivers, according to Walsh. Margolis quipped that “9 out of 10 buyers start with Google to research their need, and the 10th goes to Bing.”

“The customer experience is the value proposition, and it’s created by marketing,” Walsh said. “We’re now selling an experience, which means there’s a story that needs to be told, and that’s a marketing movement more than a sales movement.”

The upshot is that sales and marketing are inextricably tied together and people in the two disciplines are assuming less restrictive, less balkanized roles at successful companies. Yes, salespeople still get commissions for closing deals, and marketing folks still take a bigger-picture approach to building brand identity. But each group is more successful when it realizes that, while sales and marketing are different, they’re also interdependent, according to both Walsh and Margolis.

And as new, disruptive technologies like cloud services, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Big Data come to market, technology vendors are relying more on partners “to not just sell but to evangelize,” Walsh said. In terms of the value propositions that are drawing in new customers and retaining existing ones, delivering a top-notch customer experience (i.e., being easy to do business with) is taking precedence over the ability to expound on speeds and feeds, or even to offer highly competitive pricing, he said.

Delivering that experience is a combined marketing and sales task, which Walsh and Margolis agreed was “a motion, a continuous effort and not a one-off.” Successful brand marketing means repetition, using the best-positioned media you can find to drill a simple branding message into the minds of your target audience.

Margolis suggested that social media is currently the most efficient and effective marketing vehicle for most solution providers, but not the only one. “We still have clients doing billboards and print ads,” she said. “The key is to discover which medium your target audience will best respond to.”

Walsh offered a quick and easy way to determine if a marketing message is easy to understand or confusing and ineffective. Simply ask staff to describe your company’s mission and take all the words they use to create a word cloud. If more than just a few words are being used, your brand message probably isn’t very good.

These are the sorts of lessons and strategic commitments to marketing that Dunder Mifflin never figured out in nine seasons of bumbling and stumbling in business on TV. The good news for solution providers is that a roomful of comedy writers isn’t scripting your future, or deciding how you handle marketing to better meet the growing challenges of your business.

Damon Poeter is a Senior Analyst at The 2112 Group. Follow him on social media channels: Twitter | LinkedIn.