There has long been a misconception that sales and marketing should be in separate silos. In fact, when things go well sales and marketing compete for the credit. When things go poorly, sales and marketing often point fingers at each other. Increasingly, this conventional silo behavior is going to have significant negative repercussions for your company. Consider, for starters, your relationship with your customers. Marketing can certainly claim some credit for bringing the lead to the table, and sales can certainly take kudos for nurturing that lead into a paying customer. But what happens when that customer leaves? It would be easy enough for marketing to say that that is a sales problem. However, without an integrated, customer-centric approach, it’s actually possible that marketing is preparing your prospects for a reality that simply is not attainable.
Let’s take a look at 9 reasons your customers may be leaving your company and evaluate whether a more cohesive relationship between your marketing and sales teams could help prevent some of these problems. The first six were inspired by a Harvard Business article by Steve W. Martin, who teaches sales strategy at the USC Marshall School of Business.
1. The comfort zone
Sometimes a company will test out other relationships to see what’s out there, even if they have a long-standing relationship. If you begin a relationship with a new customer who had previously partnered with another company over a long period of time, you are bringing new methodologies, new pricing, and new everything else to the table. It is difficult to win customers away from “locked in” relationships, but it may be even more difficult to keep them on your team.
In this case, your marketing team needs to present enough information to entice companies that may otherwise be viewed as out of reach. Whether those pressure points are convenience of location, efficiency, a better safety record, or something else, your sales team needs to alert your marketing team of what is most attractive to your potential customers.
2. Your product seems risky
Every product, regardless of the industry, has its strong points and its weaker points. Your potential and existing customers will not assume that you are going to highlight the weak spots of your product, but they have likely heard rumors about where your product or service falls short. If you are unaware of what those fears are, you will not be able to address them. Eventually, your customer base may shift to a company that offers products that seem more safe.
Social Media, Reader Studies, and integration between your customer service department, your sales department, and your marketing department can all assist with this problem. Your customer service personnel can report to marketing and sales what kinds of questions and concerns are being verbalized. Reader studies often reveal insight into how your industry views your product (the good and the bad). Your sales force also gets feedback as they meet face-to-face with leads and existing customers. Communication among all of these departments can help your company address concerns and turn a negative into a positive.
3. Relationships with the right people and knowing how to reach them
Martin notes that as a salesperson, you often want to have a face-to-face meeting with someone in the C-Suite. This is certainly true if you are selling capital equipment. In other instances you may need to reach the R&D Department head or the materials manager at a healthcare facility. Knowing who to reach and how to reach them is essential not only for winning a customer but also for keeping them. If you do not stay front-of-mind with your customer, it will be easier for your competitors to distract them.
Cooperation between your sales and marketing department can be a huge asset here. Your marketing department can access research on how your customers like to receive information. What are the most significant problems your customers likely face every day, and how can you address those? Other tools like an e-newsletter program or a social media presence can help your sales force stay in regular contact with the right people at your customers’ companies.
4. You’re too “you-centric”
We’ve touched on this topic quite often on this blog, but it is essential, regardless of what type of marketing in which you engaged, to focus on your customers, not on yourself. The people you are trying to reach are problem solvers, and they are looking to your company as a potential solution provider. If you only focus on self-promotion, you are not answering the one question your customers want the answer to – how can you help them?
Sales can guide marketing in approaching this problem. Your sales force talks to customers and prospects every day and they know what kinds of solutions these people are looking for. Working with your marketing team, these problems can be paired with solutions that your company offers, either on your website, in a print ad, in a news release, or even via a series of blog posts.
5. No proof in the pudding
Martin, in his Harvard Business Review article, quotes a company CFO who says, ““We are a skeptical group, and they lost the deal during their presentation. They said they were different and much better than what we have, but they didn’t provide enough proof. What they said didn’t really apply to us.”
This can be an obstacle across all of your marketing efforts. If your marketing department is creating materials that don’t resonate with your customers or that misrepresent what you actually do, your sales force will be working with one hand tied behind its back. In this case, your product development personnel also need to communicate clearly with your sales and marketing teams to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding your company’s capabilities.
6. Making a poor impression
A lot of the “secret sauce” in sales and relationship maintenance rests on the impression you leave with the customer. From your personnel to the materials you use, you can distinguish yourself in a positive way or in a negative way. If you are in a highly competitive market, this intangible impression can make or break a relationship. This is where investing in professional quality sales collateral, a high-quality booth at your trade shows, and a fully functional, easy-to-use website can help. Your sales team needs to let your marketing department know what resources are needed, and your marketing team needs to have the resources so that they can deliver the quality materials your sales department needs. If your customers see that you are not fully invested in your own company, why would they feel you’d invest in theirs?
7. They found lower pricing
If you won a customer because you underpriced your competition, your marketing team and your sales team established a framework in which your company is now seen as the “low price option.” This is a vulnerable position because as soon as another company undercuts you, you’ve lost your competitive advantage.
If at all possible, do not guide your marketing team and your sales team towards a strategy that focuses primarily on “the lowest price” philosophy. Words like “value” can be much more productive. For more on this, read this excellent post by S. Anthony Iannarino, Chief Sales Officer for SOLUTIONS Staffing.
8. Failure to listen
A few years ago, Second Wind, an association of mid-sized advertising agencies, conducted a survey asking companies what their biggest complaints were about their agency partners. Number one on the list was that companies felt agencies didn’t listen to them. This is not unique to client/agency relationships. Many customers, the great silent mass, simply feel that their views are not heard or respected by the companies from whom they buy. They move on to other companies, lured by promises of better customer service, perhaps, and you are left with no idea about why that relationship ended.
Marketing can offer a lot of support here. Developing channels for two-way communication, especially something like an e-newsletter program, can be extremely helpful in encouraging customers to express themselves. These communications then encourage your company to respond and create a dialogue where there might not have been one before. You might find that you are able to address a lot of complaints and turn potential deal-breakers into relationship-builders.
9. No reason to be loyal
If your company is viewed as a provider of a commodity product, it will be difficult for you to maintain relationships with your customers. In many ways this comes back to the conversation about pricing. If your product is similar to other products but priced higher, your customers will need some good reason to stay with you rather than going elsewhere. Are you giving them a reason to stick with you? Now more than ever, your customers can easily research who your competitors are and what advantages they offer. A few clicks can highlight your disadvantages.
Your marketing and sales personnel can work together to create programs that will show appreciation for your customers. More than simple loyalty programs and give-aways, these efforts need to focus on why you truly appreciate your customers. Your customers need to feel like they really matter to you, and you need to make them feel like they would never get the same kind of service from anyone else.
Losing a customer, especially a long-time customer, is a heart-wrenching experience for a company, no matter what industry you’re in. However, each experience can also be a moment for self-reflection. Do you know why your customer left? If so, what can you do about it? If you do not know why your customer left, you know that you need to do a better job of taking the pulse of your customer base on a regular basis.
If you have any questions or insight of your own to add, just use the comment space below!
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