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Sales Is a Function of Marketing Pure and Simple

Over the years one of the great breakdowns in many of the small businesses that I’ve worked with lies in area of sales.

Now it might be tempting to conclude that what I referring to is a lack of sales, but what I’m really getting at is a misunderstanding there’s actually a distinction between sales and marketing.

Some of this might simply be semantics because the terms are widely fumbled around in various places, but here’s what I find to be true.

Business owners either fail to address the functions as separate or choose to view selling as marketing. Either way, they end up limiting the effectiveness of both.

The trouble with this mindset is that social media and inbound marketing has actually made the distinction even harder to appreciate. There was a time when marketing created brochures and sales people delivered them. Now prospects can create their own brochure of sorts using reviews, search engines and social connections and they certainly don’t need a salesperson for an information dump.

sales

In the most traditional view marketing is charged with lead generation, lead conversion and customer experience. Lead conversion, or what one might think of simply as sales, is a central and separate function that must be wholly integrated into the entire marketing framework.

The tricky part is holding the view of separate and integrated simultaneously.

So often lead generation dominates the marketing mindset and sales is either not addressed in any systematic manner or simply left to “the sales guys” to do what they do. (And let’s not even bring up how little thought is given to the customer experience part of marketing.)

Ever wonder why the greatest challenge most organizations face is getting sales and marketing on the same page?

Here’s my recipe for treating sales as function of marketing while giving it the appropriate separation.

Bring sales into the marketing planning phase

Field sales people often understand the needs, wants, stories and personas of your best customers better than anyone else in the organization and yet they are rarely included in ideal client and value proposition discussions. Everyone involved in the marketing function, yes this includes sales and customer service people, should play a role in digging up research, crafting the message, outlining objectives and determining how the marketing game is played from quarter to quarter.

Create an integrated sales process

If you follow step one then it makes logical sense that the entire marketing department play a role in crafting an integrated sales process and not just the sales manager. Everyone involved in the selling function should have a clear process for discovery, presentation, nurturing and converting. The process must be fully understood and supported by marketing and everyone must be taught how to conduct the process. Here’s a tip, look to the most successful salespeople in the organization and odds are they have your process ready to be mimicked.

Hire more educators and engineers

The common belief is that good sales people are good relationship builders. While relationship building is crucial, it’s often viewed in the light of outward social skills. In sales today relationships are often judged not on the merits of likability, but on the merits of value. What prospects need from a sales person is someone who can get them to think differently about a problem or teach them how to do something they don’t yet understand. Your tech people might actually be the best people for this type of selling.

View sales as an extension of lead generation

Today’s sales people need to write and speak as well as network and follow-up. Smart salespeople understand that they are also in the brand building, reputation monitoring, community managing business and marketing departments and sales managers need to enable sales people to produce content, participate in social networks, contribute expert articles and get to podiums as often as possible.

Blur the lines between lead conversion and customer experience

I’ve always contended that a sale isn’t a sale until the customer receives the result they are expecting. This mindset suggests that the sales staff should be intimately involved is measuring results, introducing new ways to use old products, solving problems and digging up referrals at significant moments of truth.

Largely what I’m suggesting is that you make sales a separate function by creating a separate process but you integrate it by overlapping the function into lead generation and customer experience.

People Who Search Convert

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Terry Costa – Enjoy!

People who conduct searches on a website convert at a higher rate than people who don’t.

So it makes sense to find ways to improve the search on your e-commerce site. There are several ideas for doing this. And the good news is that these ideas – taken from our “Big Book of Site Search Tips,” available at http://getsliebooks.com – don’t demand too much from your IT experts when you’re working with a full-service site search vendor.

Keep all eyes on the search box: The search box should be designed so that it’s different from other forms or boxes on your website’s home page, such as a newsletter subscribe box. Given that site visitors expect to easily find the search box – and given that they may abandon your site if they can’t find it – you should highlight the search box prominently on every webpage. To avoid confusion, in a newsletter-subscribe box, you can add text that reads “Your email,” which tells people that this box is expecting an email address, not a search term. Also, avoid using images that look like a search box, such as text inside a small rectangular box.

Another good way to get people to pay more attention to the search box is to name the button that begins the search process something like “Search,” “Find,” or “Go” – or use an icon such as a magnifying glass, which is clearly recognizable to visitors. Another alternative is to use a triangle that looks like an arrow. Some website owners use a combination of text and an icon – a good strategy, as both clues are clear and recognizable. In fact, the search box for Duct Tape Marketing, seen at the top of this blog, adds both features. Also, you can see here how the shoe retailer Footwear etc. adds text to its search box.

Since we’ve already concluded that people who search convert at a higher rate than people who don’t search, it makes sense to find ways to get people back to your search box again and again. To ensure your search box is always visible to visitors, float it so that it always appears at the top of the page as visitors scroll down. If you go to the website for wedding retailer American Bridal, you can see how this works: as you scroll down the page, the search box and coupon codes are always visible.

Learn to “searchandise” results: You should be able to manually control the order of search results, which is useful when you want to showcase something that’s different from what your search is showing. For instance, you can place sale or promotional items at the top of search results to attract attention.

Highlight different content types: It’s becoming more common for websites to add content such as blog posts, community forum posts, and videos to their search results. If you’ve spent time creating this content on your own website, it’s good practice to make this content easily searchable. The health and fitness website for 24 Hour Fitness uses tabs to draw attention to social media content.

 

Show a “breadcrumb” trail: Breadcrumb trails help visitors keep track of where they’ve come from when they are navigating through your site.  A search-oriented breadcrumb trail will show the search term the person used, and any refinements that they have applied to narrow down their search, like color or price options. It makes it easy for visitors to remove refinements and go back to a broader range of results – say, for example, if they think they narrowed down the search too much.

Make the most of search results “cells”: To help people more easily scan search results, organize information into what are called “cells.” Place each result in a thinly outlined box, or in a box with a colored background. If you want to create a more open look and feel, add enough white space between each cell so that people can easily tell the difference between products. If your product images have a colored background, spacing them just a few pixels apart should be enough to provide a natural separation. Search results cells typically contain a product title, product image, price, and a short description.

If your website is product-focused, think about showing larger product images when people mouse over a thumbnail image in search results cells. The reason is that search results pages usually show smaller thumbnail images that make it hard to see the full detail of the product. By adding a large image pop-up when people mouse over results, they can easily examine the close-up details without having to click to the product page.

You can also use “quick view” windows in cells – they help people view more product information without leaving the search page. Add a button that opens a product detail window, which eliminates the need to load the whole product page and saves people time.

Also, think about adding inventory status to search results cells. People like to know if a product is available before they begin checkout (and it annoys them if they find out they can’t buy something once they’ve set their minds on the purchase). One way to provide current stock or inventory information is to add it to your search results – for instance, including a message such as “In Stock” or “Out of Stock” in the search results cells next to each item, as Harry & David does here with a sold-out item:

If you include inventory status in search results, people can quickly find alternate items if their first choice is out of stock, and they’ll be less frustrated and less likely to leave your site.

Search results pages present great opportunities to promote sales and discounts, since people are usually sensitive to price and interested in chances to save money. Add a special “on sale” logo or banner to the relevant search result cells, place sale items at the top of results, or let people refine results to see what’s on sale.

Another good idea is to show both the full price and the sale price in search results for items that are on sale. If you show shoppers the savings they’re receiving by contrasting regular and sale prices, you give them even more motivation to make a purchase.

Include social sharing buttons: By helping your website visitors share your products and information on their social networks, you broaden the reach of your marketing. Consider including social sharing buttons such as Facebook “Like,” Pinterest “Pin it” and Google+ “+1” in search results. These social endorsements are even more useful for shoppers when they’re shown among a collection of similar products in your search results.

Add infinite scrolling: You may have noticed this feature on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter – when you get near the end of the page, more posts are loaded automatically, creating an endless scroll. In site search, when users reach the bottom of visible search results, more results are loaded without them having to click on “next” or a page number.

Use synonyms to offer more results: For instance, if a site visitor searches for iPods, and your site offers other MP3 players, connect these and other similar items so that they appear together in search results. This provides shoppers with more alternatives, encouraging them to browse similar products.

Allow people to refine by price: For product searches, as opposed to searches for content like news articles or blog posts, it’s helpful if people can refine results by price, since that’s an important part of many buying decisions. One option to consider is a price slider, which allows people to easily set a bottom price and a top price. It takes up less screen real estate than a list of price ranges, and it offers more flexibility than fixed price ranges.

Monitor keywords that are gaining popularity: Watch the keywords that your visitors are using more often so you’re able to meet increasing product demand. Trends around popular terms may shift with the seasons, or with popular songs and movies. As people use the same search terms with growing frequency, you get advance word, so to speak, that the products that go along with those terms will likely also gain in popularity.

As you make improvements to your website’s search function, keep a close eye on changes in visitor behavior – for instance, more people using search, more people making purchases after conducting searches, or a lower abandon rate. This will tell you that the features you’re adding to your site are actually working.

Terry Costa is vice president of marketing at SLI Systems (www.sli-systems.com/). 

The Selling System Technology Toolkit

selling toolbox

Image credit: chuckoutrearseats via Flickr

In response to yesterday’s post Installing a Selling System, a reader asked me what tools I favored for each of the steps in the system I described.

There’s no question that the act of selling, building trust, and educating prospects has been dramatically impacted by the onslaught of online tools available today, but I think the perfect blend lies in fusing the online with the offline. Selling is still about building relationships and few things compare to hugs and handshakes in the relationship arena.

Smart marketers and salespeople are using technology to help provide additional points of contact, training, and research in ways that enhance, rather than replace, the overall process of moving people to making a purchasing decision.

With that in mind, here are my tech toolbox suggestions for amplifying the selling system. This is not meant to be the complete list of every option, but more of a starter list of tools I like to help get you thinking about fusion. (Details on each step)

Discovery – Move a lead to the next planned step

  • Wufoo – a brilliant form building tool that can be used to present a series of qualifying questions that feed your CRM pipeline
  • Flowtown – a tool that appends an email lead with a full suite of social media and online activity giving you a much richer picture of a prospect. (Integrates with Wufoo and email service providers)

Presentation – the planned act of presenting your unique approach, case statement and story

  • iPad - the small, yet brilliant display of the iPad running Keynote or even a PDF viewer makes the perfect intimate presentation tool. Don’t create the 50 slide info dump, but use a handful of slides to create impact and reinforce your primary point of view and story.
  • SlideRocket – an online slide presentation tool that can be used live or as an on demand show. The power of this tool is the ability to create presentations that contain multimedia and forms tied to your CRM system

Nurturing – Keeping a prospect interested and engaged as they move through their buying cycle

  • Office AutoPilot – a little known tool that has the power to run your entire marketing automation process. The full suite includes form based email marketing, direct mail integration, lead scoring and tracking, and pURL technology, but best of all, it’s built with the small business in mind.
  • InfusionSoft – another small business oriented tool that includes CRM features, autoresponders, branching and personalized follow-up based on click tracking
  • Constant Contact, Vertical Response, MailChimp, AWeber – all great, reputable email marketing services that allow you to create multifaceted email follow-up campaigns

Transaction – a process that focuses on delivering a remarkable experience once a prospect decides to buy

  • MavenLink – one of the many online project management suites, but focused on simplicity for the service provider. Using a tool like this allows you to create an online portal for every client and give them access to orientation materials as well as an online collaboration space for project work.
  • Central Desktop – another project management tool, but with a nice wiki feature for building lots of easily searchable content for your customers.
  • Jott – this tool does a lot of things, but primarily it’s a way to speak a message and have it sent via email. Try this right after you meet with a new client and send the action steps from your just completed meeting via email as you drive back to the office.

Review – one of the most overlooked points in selling is measuring results, both your’s and the client’s

  • MyNextCustomer – a simple way to measure phone calls, web leads and sales from social media, seo, paid search and offline marketing campaigns to determine where your highest conversion payoff is.
  • GetSatisfaction – a very nice tool that facilitates the act of bringing customers and companies together to create a better shared experience.
  • SurveyGizmo – my favorite online survey, poll and questionnaire tool

I Didn’t Know You Did That

So, honestly now, have you ever heard the words in the title to this post from a long-time customer? We all have, I’m afraid, and shame on us.

When a customer becomes a customer, it’s usually to purchase a specific product or solve a specific problem. When we solve that problem or ship that product the job is done, right? To build true marketing momentum the job has just begun.

I often talk about part of the lead conversion or selling process containing what I call a “new customer kit.” This is simply a set of orientation materials that provides your new customer with all the information they need to successfully work with your organization.

One of the elements of this kit should be an introduction to all the products and services your company has to offer. That’s a good start of course, but you must do much more than that to drive this information home. When a customer is new to your organization they may only have one simple need so your must commit to a long-term process of education as well.

My advice is to create a monthly process of introduction to some aspect of your business and offer this information in several forms. For example, a monthly mailing to your entire customer base, a lunch and learn with your referral sources, a telesession open to the public, an autoresponder series for newsletter subscribers, and post on the company blog.

Keeping all of your products and services featured and top of mind is one of the best ways to do more business with your existing customers and partners. Build this education system and put it on auto-pilot and you may start hearing, I’m glad you offer that!

I don’t say this enough, but the images I use on this blog and in my workshop presentations are from my favorite stock photo site iStockphoto. It rocks, just go check it out.

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