Don't Confuse Sales Support with Marketing: A Case for Buyer Persona Profiling

By Adele Revella
February 12, 2008

As technology marketers, do you measure time spent on marketing vs. sales support?


According to Pragmatic Marketing’s product management survey, technology marketers spend nearly half of their time on sales support, a statistic that reflects an alarming state of confusion about the role of marketing in our industry. Yet the functions of Sales and Marketing are easily distinguished; Marketing focuses on a market full of opportunities, while Sales focuses on individual opportunities.

So why are marketers so focused on sales?

There are many answers to this question, but they all net out to the fact that marketing has not been a well-respected function in our industry. This excerpt from a June 2005 CMO Magazine article (“The Ultimate Bug Fix”) describes the historical perspective on marketing at Microsoft®:

During Microsoft’s climb to the top of the software industry, rapid-fire product cycles often happened without much front-end input from the folks in marketing. Engineers would develop new software, pack it with bells and whistles, decide on an acceptable number of bugs and toss it over to marketing for a press release and a launch event.

This problem isn’t unique to Microsoft, they have identified a problem that is epidemic in an industry built with an emphasis on engineering and sales— marketing is an afterthought, just a tactical cog in a production process that results in various events, data sheets and press releases. Marketing is simply there to announce that Engineering has developed this wonderful product (great news!) and the customers are supposed to line up to buy whatever we have built.

If the marketing role is so narrowly defined, who could argue with the logic of using these resources to help close sales?

There is strong evidence that this is all about to change, and now Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has gone public with a commitment to “be excellent in marketing execution.” My sense is that the technology industry is finally growing up and that we are beginning to realize what other mature industries have long understood—marketing superiority delivers a sustainable, defensible competitive advantage to those who master it.

It won’t be easy to develop the skills and cultural changes that will enable this new role. Microsoft estimates that they are currently “halfway through what may ultimately be a 10-year journey” to reinvent their marketing organization. Where are you in the process? What area of focus would produce the most benefits in the shortest amount of time? Here’s one worth considering—how could Marketing support Sales without doing individual sales support?

Measure the time spent on marketing vs. sales support

The first step toward any change is to realize that your current actions, however well intended, aren’t getting you where you want to go. It should be easy to see that the time you devote to a single prospect opportunity (clearly a sales role) steals time that could have been used to influence an entire market about the value of your solutions (a reasonable description of the Marketing job). This is not to say that sales support is not important; if sales aren’t closed your company will not survive. We are only asking you to recognize that sales support is not marketing, and to clearly identify which role you are truly fulfilling.

Think about the last time you spent days on a presentation, demo or reference story that helped one sales person work on one deal. Now contrast that to the function of Marketing, which should be developing programs that influence all buyers in a specific role in one of your targeted markets.

Which job is really yours: influencing the attitudes that drive a single customer to choose your solution (sales support), or influencing the attitudes that drive a market to choose your solution (marketing)? Keep track of your time in each of these categories, for just a week or two, and see where you are investing your time.

Consider what keeps you stuck in sales support

There are many reasons that Marketing spends its time on sales support, but these are the three I hear most often:

  • Sales people won’t look for the answers in the tools we’ve provided, they just pick up the phone and call me (“code” for “sales people are lazy”).
  • The sales people don’t understand our products (they don’t take the time to learn, see reason #1).
  • Or (one of my favorites): Sales can’t close the business without me (sales people get all the respect, hopefully some of it will accrue to my benefit if I help with the deal).

I’m not denying that sales people want to find the quickest way to get the deal closed, and that most of them would be happy to have you do the work for them. But one of the reasons that Sales is so dependent on marketing people for help with individual deals is that the standard marketing collateral are of little or no help during the sales cycle. Your materials simply do not communicate answers to the questions the buyers are asking.

If you have accompanied a salesperson on a few calls, you know something about the questions that a buyer brings up during those meetings. Pretend to be one of those buyers and take a fresh look at your collateral or one of your “standard” presentations. Now consider:

  • Would you read (or listen) to this?
  • Is it easy to find the answers to the questions that will help you make a decision?
  • Is there something about this solution that is compelling and distinct from the competitors’ offerings?
  • Finally, do you believe the vendor statements are proof-points well presented and convincing?

The fact is that very few marketing tools respond to the real questions that a buyer wants answered as they move through the various stages of the decision process. Is it any wonder that Sales asks you to customize something for each prospect situation?

Identify the need for buyer persona profiles

If you don’t know the people you want to influence, you are not communicating. That’s why the best sales people know that the first meeting with the prospect is not the time to talk about their solution or show a presentation. This first meeting is their best—perhaps only—chance to really understand that prospect’s most urgent problems. An experienced sales rep is skilled at asking questions, learning about the prospect’s concerns and uncovering the metrics that your buyer’s management or stakeholders use to measure success.

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About the Authors

  • Adele Revella

    Adele Revella has served in executive roles at three technology companies, guiding product management, marketing and sales teams to achieve leadership positions in untapped markets. Her market-driven approach was also heavily influenced by her tenure at Regis McKenna, Inc., the PR firm that defined technology marketing during the 80s, plus five years running her own market research and consulting firm at the end of that decade.Adele has a particular focus on buyer personas and writes the Buyer Persona blog.

Categories:  Go-to-Market Personas

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