How Marketing Leaders Can Help Sales Get Higher-Level Business Relationships

In my last blog, Why Too Many Sales Reps Have Only Low-Level Business Relationships, I discussed the dilemma a tech company CEO faced when he realized that sales deals were stalling because his reps did not have the business relationships at the right level they needed. The reaction and comments to this blog were inspiring. Many sales leaders around the globe who read the blog asked me what role the marketing leader could or should play in helping sales achieve relationships with higher-level targets in the prospect base.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this important topic because many of the product marketing and go-to-market plans I’ve developed and executed for clients have depended on the sales teams having strong business relationships for the plans to achieve success.

Because of this need, I’ve often told the CEOs I’ve supported that their marketing leader should be counted on to be the sales rep’s first line of advice in building higher relationships. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Relationship-building assistance should be a vital part of the strategic marketing plan if the right relationships have not yet been cultivated. It behooves the marketer to ensure that the firm’s relationships are higher level because it requires them to get the marketing strategy enacted. It’s that simple. The marketer’s reputation is at stake if the plan is not working; since developing higher relationships are often part of the plan, the marketer should have strategies thought out to help the sales team develop these relationships.
  2. Marketers know that customer testimonials are a critical part of any company’s marketing plan and the grander the title, the more valuable the testimonial. A great testimonial is critical for marketing to help get the company’s messages in the market confirmed. A smart marketer can help get a customer who wants to make a name for themselves out in the market via a case study, interviews with press and bloggers, speaking engagements, user group presentations, and videos with limited involvement from the customer. It always benefits the marketer to develop high-level customer relationships to help get the story perpetuated in the market. With social media providing the distribution foundation, more high-level customers want to be seen as thought leaders and the marketer can help make this happen.
  3. Strong marketers strive to understand what’s going on in the market and need access to high-level customers for insights. Analyst reports, blogs, and feedback from Sales are critical to help marketers understand the market, but nothing beats real-world answers from customers–the higher the better–to understand what is really needed from their suppliers.

Can You Expect the Marketing Leader to Help the Sales Team Develop Higher-Level Relationships?

Marketing leaders who are effective have a strong working knowledge of how their prospect organizations are structured in order to actively develop strategies to help accelerate achievement of higher-level relationships which should lead to more sales. If your marketing leader is not supporting sales in this manner, you should look hard about why that is.

Here are two examples of how effective marketing leadership helped make this happen.

a. For one company, a mid-sized Microsoft partner, 90 percent of the marketing strategy we developed was focused on developing key relationships with senior-level referral partners who might be in position to drive business. Ninety percent! We put together a plan to identify who the key partners should be and assigned measureable steps each sales rep should take to move the relationship forward. We also spent time training the reps on how to build the relationship and how to use tools, such as Linked In and salesforce.com, to grow them. Elements of the plan included aggressive lead sharing and introduction-making, speaking opportunities and jointly-sponsored events.

We documented where tangible business occurred. In all cases, the rep had to want the relationships to work. Marketing implemented a tracking system of how the relationships were growing, and we reported success to my CEO client monthly.

b. Another client realized that its relationships were too low at their target organizations, so we took on the challenge of helping accelerate the path to C-level relationships. We looked at the top 20 prospects and developed a list of the CXOs with whom we needed to develop relationships. For a six-month period, each time my marketing team arranged a meeting for sales with someone on the list, or if the target attended an event we held, the company made a donation to its main charity. We initially looked at rewarding the marketing team whenever we achieved a victory here, but we wanted to focus on the firm’s achievement and not just ours.

Three Ways Your Marketing Leader Can Help the Sales Team Develop Higher-Level Relationships

Today, marketing leaders must understand that their number one mission is to grow revenue. In the seminal 2006 Harvard Business Review article, “Ending the War Between Sales and Marketing”, the authors brought to our attention that both entities must work together to create value for the company and its customers. There is no shortage of articles on sales and marketing integration strategies that focus on lead generation and prospect nurturing but few that focus on how marketing can be helping to grow relationships with critical partners or prospects.

If your firm needs its reps to get higher in the organization, but they are struggling to do so, here are three things your marketing leader can do to help.

  1. Ensure that the messages the firm is sending to the market are directed to prospects at the right level and are in line with what the audience must hear. Ensure that the messages are sound, business-driven, and impactful. Remove the fluff, and push yourself and your team to develop more valuable messaging to prospects at higher levels. Test the messaging and continuously refine and improve.
  2. If you are the CEO, force yourself to participate in sales meetings to listen and understand why deals are stalling. Break through the historic barrier of sales and marketing. One of the most valuable tips I ever received was when I was a marketer at Apple in charge of supporting one of the sales teams from a service, support and training perspective. My boss at the time instructed me to attend every single sales meeting. In the beginning, no one knew why I was there, and I must admit, I did a lot of head-nodding to show I was listening. Over time, I became knowledgeable about the sales targets and understood how I needed to help each rep succeed.
  3. Improve the corporate sales database to understand who the major players really are. If the pipeline is frozen at a certain level, your marketing leader should identify who the key players are that the reps might need to target. A little research to help expand the level of where the reps are going will add value to the sales process.

The DIAMOND Challenge to selling professionals is to start building a higher level set of relationships. The DIAMOND Challenge to marketing leaders is to understand the importance of building the right level of relationships and put processes in place to make this effort happen more easily.

If done right, your sales reps will turn to marketing for advice and achieve their sales goals more quickly. That’s a powerful team.

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