Those of us who work in sales will be familiar with a simple error: time and again we underestimate the number of components of a sales and marketing machine, and we take one part of the machine and use it to complete a task different from that which it was designed for.
Take the analogy of a Swiss watch: removing just one of the tiny cogs in the mechanism would leave the whole watch inoperable. Try to plug that hole with a different sized cog, or one with more teeth, and it will make no difference—the watch will not work. It has to be the exact cog for that job.
In sales we do this all of the time, and we become surprised and disappointed when we do not get the results we want.
We counted at least 18 different skill sets and functions that need to be filled in a typical B2B sales and marketing operation (an addressable market of more than 2000 companies). Every one of those functions has a specialised skill set (see the list below).
We use the term skill set, because it is just that: a set of skills that is required if somebody is to get a markedly improved result compared to someone else.
Every little error or flaw we introduce combines to create a cumulative impact, and that impact can often make or break a business.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of different examples. Here are a handful we have seen:
- Sales admins asked to do database marketing
- Sales people asked to write direct response outbound emails
- Marketing managers taking incoming sales enquiries
- Engineers trying to create sales and marketing materials
- Account managers made to do new business sales
- Sales people trying to sell without evidence (case studies, ROI proof, expert reports, and so on) because their marketing manager is from a PR background
- Senior execs asked to follow up leads from an event (never going to happen!)
- Receptionists asked to make outbound appointment calls
- Sales teams approaching sets of prospects without any research or depth of understanding of what the issues are for the client (or even the sector) and expecting to be able to have a valuable conversation for the client
- Client Services Managers running the search and pay-per-click campaigns
So what to do about it
The first step is to audit. The second is to improve.
Break every step of your campaigns and sales funnel into their constituent pieces. Then check that each step and process is undertaken at the very least competently, if not adeptly.
Each person might have a number of parts to play, while others will have just one.
Look at the obvious examples of where the skills (and motivation) are clearly mismatched with the person tasked with that job.
And ask lots of questions:
- Why do you do it like that?
- Why does that matter?
- How do you know that this approach is giving you the best outcome?
- What have you done to improve the outcome you are getting?
- So you like doing this particular job?
You will learn quickly where you have gaps and underperformance.
Then you have choices
Those that have skills gaps but nonetheless possess talent and motivation require money for learning and time for improvement. Task and prioritise this.
Reorganise who does what—remove tasks from some and give them to those with the relevant skills.
Dispense with those that are actually costing you money and use the budget more effectively. A client recently got rid of his lowest converting sales rep, gave the extra leads to two of the best performers in the team and used the money saved to improve the nurture programme they were developing. Six months later, they were generating more sales from the same leads and the nurture programme was yielding an extra five leads a month.
There will be occasions on which you have obvious gaps that can’t be filled with internal resources and capabilities. But in such a scenario, you have some options:
- Recruit for the function if it is a big enough role
- Outsource the task or function to a specialist firm or freelancer
- Find another way around the obstacle:
- This may involve changing the process so it no longer needs that task/function for the campaign to work.
- Cut the campaign approach and devote the money to other activities. We see companies trying to do many things at the same time to generate new business—events, sponsorship, social media, email marketing, outbound email, paid and organic search, and so on. We check which activities are yielding profitable returns and the lowest cost of the sale, and find that those are nearly always the areas they are most competent at. We dump the worst performing and spend the money on doubling down on the best performing activity.
Use the right measures
When you start making changes, always measure and evaluate. Think like an engineer, and ensure you use the appropriate measure.
People often put the wrong measures in place for the stage of the funnel they are at. For instance, we see companies looking to improve their discovery stage but to do so, they evaluate the success of that initiative on the basis of an improvement in sales conversion. That should be the final outcome, but that signal is full of other noise. It is not just measuring the effectiveness of the discovery phase; it is a measure of every step after it too, from the quality and fit of the proposal to the pricing and the follow up. The better signal in this scenario would be to measure the improvement in the ratio of leads to qualified opportunities.
Make no mistakes, none of this is easy to do. People don’t like criticism or negative feedback on their performance. Some gaps are difficult to fill, while cultures can be hard to change. If you don’t keep a focus on it and follow the process through it won’t work.
Ultimately, finding solutions to the gaps and errors in your sales funnel will do more for you in terms of long-term profit than adding another 50% to your sales and marketing budget.