Should Marketers Make Joint Calls With Sales People?


imagesSales personnel, along with management, are the prime bearers of the burden of contributing to profit by producing revenue.”

Bearden, Ingram, LaForge (2001)

Recently a distribution company in my native Caribbean Nations engaged me to educate (we prefer to educate people and let them train themselves) their sales people in contemporary selling strategies. They were not meeting numbers and thought the answer was in getting a really sharp sales force.

During the opening exercises I noticed the absence of people from their marketing department. At the break I asked why, and the short answer was they don’t need to attend sales training because they don’t sell anything. They create advertisements, plan events and so on, but they don’t sell. That’s not their job.

While they were not exactly at war, you would not be surprised to learn that their Marketing and Sales were two silos. They had never been on a sales call together. Of course they had the benefit of much market research etc., but Marketing never sat in front of a large prospect who was either indifferent or hostile to their company and its product or service offerings.

Having heard that, I couldn’t help wondering about the effectiveness of their marketing and what value they really created for the sales team and the organisation as a whole. Did they really know to, “mix the marketing mix?” And how could they estimate the importance and quality of relationships and other soft factors in the buying process for their company? Did they really know which way to go?

In that brief interlude I had few answers. But there was one question that lingered: “Should it be mandatory for marketing people to have at least basic sales training and make period sales calls with front-line sales people?” What is your experience?

Written by: Herman D. Alvaranga, founder of the Caribbean School of Sales Management where we solve the toughest marketing and sales problems.


So What is Marketing Strategy?

strategy-clipart-meeting-clipart1-1“At its simplest, strategy means knowing where you want to go and deciding upon how best to get there.”

Wilson and Gilligan (2008)

Recently I was having a conversation in a social setting with the Marketing Communications Manager for a large firm by Jamaican standards. As our discussion progressed it became clear that this charming young lady needed help; for whereas she has a history of facilitating promotional events such as the one where we met, and creating newspaper advertisements and so on, she has no coherent strategy.

A little probing revealed that she was not working from a strategic marketing plan, and her objective as the firm’s chief marketer is achieving a high level brand awareness. Needless to say her firm was already a household name in Jamaica but, lacking in customer-based brand equity, was a distant second in the market.

Not wanting to monopolise her time I moved on, but couldn’t help remembering the first hour of my Marketing Strategy and Product Policy course where the discussion always focuses on, “What is Marketing Strategy?”

So What is Marketing Strategy?

As my favourite marketing strategists, Richard M. S. Wilson and Colin Gilligan (will someone please second that motion?) put it, “At its simplest, strategy means knowing where you want to go and deciding upon how best to get there. Strategic marketing can therefore be distilled down to the marketing planner deciding – with complete clarity – in which markets does the company want, or is able to compete, and exactly how it will do this.” They go on to speak of four key dimensions of marketing strategy as follows:

Four Key Dimensions of Marketing Strategy

  1. Being close to the market
  2. Developing valid assumptions about environmental trends and market behaviour
  3. Exploiting the competencies of the organisation
  4. Developing a realistic basis for gaining and sustaining a competitive

Good luck my new friend. You’ve got a mountain to climb and will need both a map and a guide, for marketing communications alone cannot solve your problem. Should I call her for an appointment?

Herman D. Alvaranga solves the toughest marketing and sales problems for Caribbean businesses.

Six Pillars of Services Branding

Brands are even more important for services than for goods since consumers have no tangible attributes to assess the brand. A service brand therefore has to be based on a clear competitive position which must be communicated and understood by staff who are capable of delivering the brand promise.

Brand managers in the services sector in particular would do well to
consider Conrad Free (1996) who suggested that their brand strategy
must reflect a true competitive advantage, encompassing the following

  1. High quality top management: The commitment of top management is
    fundamental to guarantee excellent service brand delivery
  2. Vision: Everyone needs to understand and be committed to the
    brand vision.
  3. Results driven: Vision should be translated into clearly defined
    goals for all staff
  4. Competitiveness: The company should benchmark its performance
    against best practices both inside and outside the sector
  5. Use of technology: This is a fundamental source of sustainable
    competitive advantage
  6. Consumer focus: The customer needs to be regarded as central to everything the organisation does.

Not a bad list. My only disagreement is that in the 20 years since Free’s comments technology has become less and less of a competitive advantage because of falling costs. Otherwise I think he was spot on. Do you?

Herman D. Alvaranga is president of the Caribbean School of Sales Management

3 Steps to Choosing Good Competitors

“A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up with and outpace.”
Ovid, The Art of Love, AD8

Recently someone who wanted to start a consultancy in a particular discipline and came to me for advise on competitive strategy. I reminded her that when a company chooses to enter a market it also chooses its competitors. She wasn’t sure who her competitors were. In fact she knew very little about them, but she wanted to be a market leader in short order.

“When a company chooses to enter a market it also chooses its competitors.”
Hooley, Piercy, Nicouland (2012)

It is axiomatic that you choose your competitors wisely. Here are three of the steps to choosing good competitors that we discussed. And I’m sure you will allow me to state that in framing my discussion I was influenced by some of my favourite marketers who are cited below.

  1. Identify whom to benchmark against
  • How long it take you to become an overnight success?
  • Why are your competitors successful? What are their strengths? What practices can you copy and improve?
  • If marketing resources such as brand reputation, relationships with customers and competitive positioning are really the foundation of differentiation, where do you stand?
  • Why are some competitors not successful? What are their weaknesses? How can you avoid and overcome the pitfalls?

2. Look for competitive maturity

  • The competitively mature company understands the market it is operating in and enhances, rather than destabilises, the environment.
  • The good competitor can help promote the industry’s stability by understanding the rules governing the market and by holding realistic assumptions about the industry and its own relative position.
  • Good competitors are unlikely to engage in aggressive price competition that can be a zero-sum game. Instead they
  • Good competitors are unlikely to engage in aggressive price competition that can be a zero-sum game. Instead they would rather expand the market.

3. Know the goals of your competitors

  • What are the time horizons of your competitors?
  • Are they pursuing normal profits, or are they seeking to make a killing in the short term and exit when things get tough?
  • Are you entering an industry where both entry and exit barriers are low? If so beware!

Good luck my young friend. If you transfer the brilliance you displayed as a student to your business, you’ll be a millionaire soon.

Herman D. Alvaranga is a marketing and sales strategist and founder of the Caribbean School of Sales Management.

References: Marketing Strategy and Competitive Positioning, Hooley, Piercy, Nicoulaud (2012), Marketing Management and Strategy, Doyle and Stern (2006)

False Advertising Leading to Divorce Courts?

divorce.001“Advertising claims are considered to be unethical if they are false, misleading, or deceptive.”

Wells, Moriarty, Burnett (2006)

Favourite Person is going to divorce Courts because she does not put up with deception. No. Wasn’t me. I’m a really good JewMaican these days, and Yom Kippur is just days away. Didn’t no nothing wrong. Not this time. I swear I’m innocent. Ok. Here’s the real truth. Come to think of it, is there an untruth at the heart of the real truth?

Unethical advertising?

It appears that the largest furniture retailer in the Caribbean has a misleading ad on FB. If you click on pictures of some advertised products what you see are not what you get. Not exactly what you would expect from a company established in England in 1850 and who has 400 stores in 18 countries. But Favourite Person says this has happened once too often and this time she is headed to Courts for a divorce. Piece of mind quietly delivered. Connection severed.

Keeping the romance going

Now, every cockroach knows that them don’t business in fowl fight. Similarly this marketer knows how to hold him corner. But, seriously, sometimes advertisers need to be reminded of the Russian proverb, “trust, but verify.” For whereas they would never countenance anything that is unethical, their associates, including staff and service providers, can make errors in judgment that have unintended consequences. The devil is in the details, and keeping the romance going is better than divorce by a long-standing, profitable customer. Who was it that said that it costs up to 20 times as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain an existing one? True, or false? What is your experience?

Finally, somehow I think that quick remedial action by the offending party could prevent divorce by Favourite Person and so many others on FB who, thinking this is unethical advertising, may be heading to divorce Courts.

Herman D. Alvaranga is a marketing and sales strategist and founder of the Caribbean School of Sales Management.

I Wasted My Money With That Trainer

” Clearly they did not know us and what we needed. Mostly old stuff about selling yourself, unique selling points, making a pitch, handling objections, and closing techniques from the age of the dinosaur.”

Recently I sat with the HR director for a major firm (by Caribbean standards) in the distribution sector. He was deeply concerned because the majority of his business development people were not meeting their numbers even though he had “invested” in extensive sales training last year. He knows he has good people so; did he choose the wrong sales trainer?

He had received a well-written proposal from someone who was employed in the sector until recently and who was at one time manager for a small sales team. Naturally Trainer had an MBA in finance from a recognised university, spoke very well, appeared eminently qualified, and, the price point being competitive, they received the nod.

A gap in communication?

As the conversation developed I noted that the majority of the business development officers were graduates of the University of Technology Jamaica (Caribbean’s proud answer to MIT) with a BBA in marketing. To my certain knowledge this is a rigorous programme with a heavy focus on consumer and business buying behaviour. Further, they all took a comprehensive course in sales, had a keen understanding of the Manning and Reece text (Selling Today) on the subject and did not need a conventional sales trainer. To this particular audience the selling era ended a long time ago, and what they needed was a new strategy to be effective in the era of the enlightened buyer and what Kotler and Keller describe as the holistic marketing concept. Not getting that from the sales trainer, many tuned him out and went to their smartphones. One of the sales reps put it bluntly, “Clearly they did not know us and what we needed. Mostly old stuff about selling yourself, unique selling points, making a pitch, handling objections, and closing techniques from the age of the dinosaur.”

What the firm really needed

As the discussion progressed it turned out that they really needed three things:

  1. A strategic marketing plan (which their marketing manager did not know how to construct) which if properly implemented would pull the target customers into the channel to demand their products.
  2. A comprehensive sales plan that, picking up where the macro-marketing left off, would serve as their road map for the revenue generation process.
  3. This being a B2B sales team they needed to be capable of discussing small business management with owners/managers rather than persuading them to stock products that would be too difficult to resell with implications for stock-turns, cash flows etc.

Net result of this sales training? A very disappointed HR Director who paid good money and got what he was persuaded by a sales trainer to buy: not what he really needed.

Watch out sales trainers (and every other service provider for that matter) for where there is little perceived value, there can be serious reputational damage.

Herman D. Alvaranga is founder of the Caribbean School of Sales Management. We improve the competitiveness of Caribbean businesses through world-class, contextual marketing and sales education and consulting services.