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Insight Selling: The Next Frontier of Sales and Marketing Alignment

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If you think back five or ten years, the focus of sales and marketing alignment at that time was on the sales process. The emergence of usable CRM systems like and marketing automation platforms like Eloqua and Marketo enabled tracking across the customer lifecycle from lead to close and beyond.

As companies made investments in these sales and marketing platforms, it made sense to agree on a single integrated process enabled by the integrated systems and operationalised through concepts like the “lead waterfall,” marketing qualified leads, sales accepted leads, service level agreements, and the sales funnel. Many organisations are making great progress in this area, and others no doubt have a ways to go. However, from an operational standpoint, there’s been tremendous progress.

The next phase for sales and marketing alignment should focus on content. “Content Marketing” and “Insight Selling” are all the rage — just as CRM and marketing automation were five years ago. But in most organisations we talk to, marketing and sales are not even close to alignment on content. Marketing departments generate heaps of keyword-optimised content to support their SEO and search engine marketing efforts, but they create content without any involvement from sales. It’s ironic, but marketing automation has moved marketers even further from the customer and their true needs.

The result of this disconnected process is that sales isn’t aware of the content or doesn’t buy into the point of view the content is promoting. At best, content goes ignored by sales, and at worst, content puts sales on its heels because the customer has consumed the content and may be more knowledgeable than the sales rep responsible for follow-up.  It is only after the customer informs the salesperson that they’ve read their latest piece of content that the salesperson truly appreciates the fact that “marketing is sending stuff out.”

Aligning Sales and Marketing Content

So, how should sales and marketing better align on content? Consider how we accomplish this through our Selling with Insights programme, facilitating alignment through the Insight Blueprints we create for our clients. Start by identifying the challenges you help your customers solve and opportunities you help them unlock. If you don’t know these, then don’t guess. Get on the phone with your existing customers and ask them about the challenges or opportunities they faced that led them to look to the market for a partner. While you’re at it, ask them what about your company led them to choose you and what they believe are your capabilities and differentiators. Now that you have this information, you can infer the “Aha Moment” that will help a prospect make the connection between their challenges or opportunities and your capabilities and differentiators to help. These “Aha Moments” can then become topics to help drive your content marketing and insight sales  programmes. Best of all, when the content is based on actual input from your customers, there should be very little debate about who’s right or who’s wrong. The customer is always right!

We often get asked how we operationalise this process — what are the roles, responsibilities, and expectations. For example, we get asked if salespeople should be writing their own insights. Typically, our answer to that question is “no.” Most sales leaders want their salespeople spending time using the insights with customers, not researching and creating insights from scratch. Additionally, you don’t want a salesperson (unintentionally) misrepresenting functional specifications of a product or service if you work in a highly technical field or violating a law if you work in a regulated industry. In most situations, the insight creation and management process should be owned by marketing, and marketing should tap subject matter experts throughout the organisation and then validate the insight with some representation from sales before they distribute insights to the sales team.

We also believe that marketers should take the same Selling with Insights program with their sales counterparts so that they can appreciate how their work will be applied by a salesperson face-to-face with a customer. Interestingly, marketers are some of the most active and engaged participants despite a bit of trepidation about sending them through because some fear that you’re mixing oil and water.

As buyers get smarter and savvier, there’s a real need for marketing and sales to work as a single unified team in both process and message.

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