For years, one of the biggest pain points in the sales process for both companies and their buyers has been the fundamental disconnect that too many organizations have between their sales and marketing departments. Both are usually treated as separate entities, with separate budgets, and often with mis-aligned - or worse, competing - goals. Combined with a general lack of communication, it creates a situation leaving both sides equally dissatisfied.
The internal conflicts that result are hard to resolve. Sales staff often feel that the leads being sent to them by marketing weren't well qualified (often due to conflicting messaging), or that marketing was taking a “quantity over quality” approach to lead-generation. This, of course, can often be counterproductive, making it difficult for sales to prioritize the best leads, or spending too much time chasing poorly-qualified leads.
In an indirect sale channel, these problems are amplified. Mismatches between the marketing initiatives of the vendor, and the ground-level sales activities by partners, can create even more miscues.
That's why it's vital for a flexible, inbound-focused indirect sales organization to begin practicing smarketing. This term, first coined by HubSpot, refers to the smart alignment of sales and marketing to ensure the best possible experience for customers, and the highest possible conversion rates from leads to sales.
Embracing Smart Smarketing In Your Indirect Sales Ecosystem
1 – Begin With Clear Buyer Profiles/Personas
One of the most fundamental questions which shouldn't be in doubt is “Who is our target buyer?” More often than not, you'll have more than one. However, modern inbound marketing relys on the fundamental concept of market segmentation and recognizing how to speak to these specific personas. Your product or services are meant for certain customers, and not for others, so both sales and marketing efforts need to be targeting the right groups.
This is an effort which will likely begin with vendors, although potentially in consultation with sales partners. Determine which market groups are the most likely buyers of your products or services, then create a profile which describes them in detail. This profile would go beyond their basic demographic traits to encompass matters such as lifestyle, common pain points, and even outside interests. Creating the right content to reach these buyers is the next critical step, and is one that ought to require input from the sales team. SiriusDecisions points out that a lack of understanding around these buying personas is one of the top challenges for creating the right content.
Once the persona is clearly defined, it should be distributed throughout the ecosystem to provide a clear target for all sales and marketing efforts.
2 – Create Standardized Definitions
What is a “lead” to your organization? What qualifies them? What are the stages of your sales funnel, based on the sales experiences of your partners?
In our experience, it's extremely common for miscommunications between sales and marketing to occur because these fairly basic questions have never been concretely answered. To marketing, a “lead” might be anyone expressing interest in a product. To sales, they might not be worth considering as a “lead” until they've demonstrated basic qualifications making them fit for the product.
Create definitions for these ideas which are standardized throughout the organization, and you will go a long way towards getting sales and marketing on the same page again.
3 – Establish How Leads Are Handled, And How They're Handed Off
When working with an indirect sales organization, this is a three-sided problem. Leads can be generated by the vendor, by the partner's marketers, or directly by the partner's sales staff. For maximum efficiency, there must be guidelines determining how leads are handled and at what points they are handed off to other departments.
Read More: Lead Management - Striking a Balance
It's important to standardize the handling of leads -such as language used or frequency of contact- to generate a sense of cohesiveness within their brand experience. Standardizing rules for when to hand them off will ensure similar experiences for all contacts, regardless of origin. Plus, it allows sales staff to know what to expect to have happened at the point they receive custody of a lead.
4 – Have Well-Defined Goals
This is one of the keys for getting an under-performing partner back up to speed. Have clear goals for both marketing lead-generation and sales lead-conversion for these departments and make sure they are properly communicated. These goals should not simply be pulled out of thin air – they should be based on an unerstanding of what it will take to achieve revenue expectations. By keeping track of key metrics (see below) like conversion rates and close rates, these goals can be easily fine tuned to improve consistency going forward.
Sales goals will likely vary by partner type, or based on partner capacity. Either way, be certain both sides share an understanding of what is expected.
5 – Keep Track And Measure Performance
With a good software product, such as a Partner Relationship Management platform, it can be easy to track both lead-generation and sales-conversion rates at all levels within the sales channel. Based on those numbers, you can monitor the performance of your marketing-sales alignment efforts, and update your processes to keep the improvements coming. You may combine metrics like deals registered by partners, lead-to-opportunity rates, and won/loss ratios. Whatever KPI you choose, be sure you and your partners have the ability to keep track through reporting to help ensure expectations are being met.