In today’s business world, it is essential for marketing professionals to really understand sales. After all, marketing is not only what opens the door for sales, but it also often helps them close the deal. Which is why, from early on in my career, I always sought opportunities to work in a company’s retail outlet or shadow one of their sales people calling on customers.
For example, one of the most valuable experiences I had was spending a week on the road with one of my client’s most veteran salespeople, calling on textile manufacturers throughout the Southeast. I learned what life was like for a salesperson, including how they prepare and present themselves, along with the tools and techniques they use. In this case, we were selling a commodity: paper and plastic cones used for spiraling fiber, thread, yarns, etc. And while I could talk about the features and benefits of these relatively simple products, it was another thing to sit across from an actual customer and explain why they should buy ours instead of the competition’s.
This experience, along with others like it over the years, improved my abilities as a marketing professional. But it also helped prepare me to sell my marketing services to prospective clients as I rose up through the ranks. And this skillset became critical when I was asked to relocate to California and open my agency’s first West Coast office. I started with one client and one employee and had to build it all from there. I learned how to identify and vet prospects as well as cold call, pitch, present, and close the deal. And, naturally, I also learned how to upsell and grow existing business.
Since 1996, sales has been part of my job description. And I have had enjoyed tremendous success at it, helping land a number of major clients for the agencies I have worked for – as well as some good business as a freelancer.
When Marketing Became Sales
The one exception to this was when I worked as the Marketing Director at Asphalt Green, a fee-for-service nonprofit that had an inside sales force. It was led by a revolving door of sales directors, literally a different one each year during my tenure, and they rarely ever left the building. They would answer calls and emails that my department generated for them, and process the e-commerce requests also driven by our department, with help from IT. But, as talented as these sales people were, they remained relatively passive, never venturing off campus to participate in brand activations or attend community events – all opportunities we in marketing used to drive interest, traffic, and ultimately sales from new customers.
As a result, I can say with great confidence that marketing was responsible for increasing sales by an average of more than 20 percent annually during my tenure at Asphalt Green, despite facing the worst economy since the Great Depression. And the majority of that growth came from new customers, meaning targets we actively sought out, engaged, educated, and drove to make a purchase online or close the deal either on-site or over the phone with an inside salesperson. I take great pride in the impressive results we achieved, knowing that far less of it would have happened without the proactive, aggressive, and creative efforts of my marketing team.
I also had an opportunity to nurture customer communities while at Asphalt Green. We were responsible for communicating directly with members and the other affinity groups that comprised our customer base. Although we did not always have the freedom we would have liked, we were able to regularly conduct customer surveys and often engaged in impromptu focus groups with customers on-site. And being somewhat data-obsessive, we closely tracked web traffic and lead generation from ads and mailings, and provided analysis to help sales and other departments as well as measure our own ROI to maintain an environment of accountability and continuous improvement.