During the inaugural network dinner for a B2B buyer-centric community in the Netherlands that I’ve been involved in, I was reminded of the gap in understanding that exists between sales and marketing. As the guest speaker was describing his company’s journey toward audience-centricity, a participant posed a question on how he got sales to be excited and willing to learn about audiences and the buyer’s journey. The speaker replied that in marketing, we often underappreciate our sales colleagues – and someone quickly added that the reverse is true as well. The speaker continued to explain that in his case, sales reps were quite eager to embrace this new approach. Because they had experienced firsthand that the product-centric way of selling wasn’t that successful anymore, they hailed marketing for this shift and jumped on board immediately.

angry people looking at each other during conflict

In my professional life, I have played on both sides of the fence – and depending on my role, I have engaged in my share of criticizing the other side. After having the opportunity to walk a mile in both pairs of shoes, I now realize that the “us vs. them” thinking is the result of preconceived beliefs about each function’s behavior, stemming from our siloed and product-centric ways of working. As we move from our inward focus to the more outward focus of audience-centricity, we must beware of bringing our preconceptions into this new approach. It’s on us as portfolio marketers to bridge the gap.

When we talk about audience-centricity at SiriusDecisions, we don’t mean just prospects and customers. Though these two audiences should be at the center of all we do, we must not forget to adjust our way of thinking and speaking when we collaborate with other internal and external audiences like sales, product, channel partners and influencers. Best-in-class companies adjust their messaging when working with each of these audiences – that’s what true audience-centricity is. The SiriusDecisions Sales Persona Framework addresses this very issue by helping marketers consider the sales audience. It’s structured to capture the sales persona attributes you must understand to successfully enable reps. When I started running our sales knowledge transfer program, I incorporated three key considerations for optimizing these programs: 

  • We must consider the valid objections that some members of the sales audience may have to active participation in yet another sales knowledge transfer program. Capture objections to the program early on as part of your sales persona development. By tailoring the program to consider these objections and find innovative ways of overcoming them, we can ensure sales reps are engaged and walk away with something practical that increases their success. Realize that the link between the information you want to enable them with and how it translates into better (and easier) sales success is not always apparent, so work with the sales enablement function to deliver and frame your program in a way that resonates with sales. 
  • As marketers, we may overlook the compensation structure that drives sales behavior. The primary purpose of a sales knowledge transfer program is to a buyer-aligned process for sales to adopt. If the current compensation structure does not support this new behavior, all is for naught. Sales reps are highly motivated by their compensation model, and rightfully so. It almost seems absurd to mention, but I’ve seen organizations conduct training sessions on selling products for which reps would not, or would only partially, be compensated. Portfolio marketers must work with sales operations to understand how sales roles are compensated and should engage with sales enablement to ensure the knowledge transfer program is being addressed to the right sales audiences. 
  • We must accept that no matter how good we are, we’ll never have a 100% success ratio. Don’t make the mistake of expecting your sales knowledge transfer program to work for all sales reps. Accept failure and aim for the small group of early adopters who are always looking to try something new. Adapt the program to their needs so that they embrace it and achieve success. As these early adopters become successful, they will pull in more and more sales reps – because success breeds success. Examine best practices around how to encourage adoption of knowledge transfer in a rep’s day-to-day sales activities, after the sales persona has been fully defined, models like the SiriusDecisions Activity-Based Learning Framework can be leveraged to make it easier for sales audiences to consume information. Again, start with the early adopters and those who are excited about trying something new.

Just because some sales reps are unwilling to change, don’t assume that they are the mold from which all other sales audiences are cast. In each group, you will find individuals and sales managers with a growth mindset who are looking for ways to improve in their role, like the sales team at our guest speaker’s company that was eager to embrace the shift from product- to audience-centricity. Marketing and sales share the same key goal: to help our customers and grow our business.