Death of a Salesman and the future of sales and marketing

Max Eaglen, founder and director of Platform Group Ltd, looks into the future of the relationship between sales and marketing

It used to seem so easy. You had a product, you had a sales and marketing team. The marketers created the brand appeal and the salesmen courted customers. Sales increased, profits soared.

The customer journey, and the purchasing touchpoints in between have become far more complex. With the Internet giving everyone a voice and an opinion, there is more reason to ensure your product lives up to its expectations. However, although products will need to perform, your customers’ relationship with your brand - their customer experience - will be what will drive brand loyalty and generate advocacy.

Recent research confirms this with not product, not price but customer service becoming the point of differentiation for many purchasing decisions.

“60% of consumers have higher expectations for customer service now than they did just one year ago.” (Parature).

“By 2017, 89% of businesses will compete mainly on customer experience.” (Gartner).

By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator for B2B." (Walker)

Mega trends of globalisation, urbanisation, connected living, economic power shifts and regulatory restrictions coupled with a growing demand for openness and transparency mean that businesses have to be smarter, faster, flexible, leaner and more digitally enabled in all ways than ever before.

The advent of the Internet of Things in the B2C world might enable fridges to order milk, but what will it mean in the B2B world?  Customer care teams will no longer be the point of contact for replacement parts as machine-to-machine technology will allow those very machines to order their own replacements, schedule updates and deal with the general day-to-day maintenance once the role of the customer service team.

And what does this mean for the sales and marketing function?

It’s no longer a world of transactional sales with the world of product demos having become a thing of the past. McKinsey comments, “The trend to solution selling and requirement for solution sales capabilities will accelerate further”, and John Tabita from SitePoint supports this view, “Transactional sales teams who are focused only on today's sell meet only the needs of now and miss out on the possibility of the future. Relational customers consider today's transaction to be one in a long series of many future purchases, clearly laid out with a vision driven by insight.”

While customers’ problems are large and complex, service providers will be required to offer total packages to a more savvy audience.  To do this businesses will need to work hand in hand with their customers and their partners and suppliers.

So organisations will need to move out of their traditional areas of expertise by partnering with specialist suppliers to help provide that insight. Business customers will be looking to companies to bring them ideas from their world and beyond to help them see where they should be heading. And companies will be judged on trust and long term relationship status rather than the quick win of a here and now sale. Effectively, companies will have to position themselves as part of their customers’ customer experience programs.

Which means businesses will need to move away from the passive and into the proactive. This means stepping outside of areas of expertise and calling on others to help deliver solutions.  It also means more thinking, workshopping and collaborating - involving customers and in the discovery process.

Marketing becomes collaborative and selling relational

So the solution you are marketing becomes collaborative and the act of selling relational rather than transactional. The shift for marketing and sales teams is fundamental. From financial targets based on the short term, they will need to understand and take the risk of a more complex (albeit potentially larger) protracted sell. For marketing and sales teams, it means looking at the end goal as building strategic partners rather than selling purely products or services.

The challenge for businesses is to get their marketing and sales teams to see things differently and this can only really be done by giving these teams additional different tools and helping them change perspectives to see how in the longer term they will benefit themselves through the broader success of the company. More and more companies are making this shift towards more collaborative methodology by creating bespoke places to engage customers, to co-create with customers, such as Customer Innovation or Experience Centres.

The ultimate aim of the Customer Experience Centre is to help customers build their own ecosystem, starting with the mega trends that are going to influence the future of their business, highlighting their challenges and opportunities and showing the disruptors that could take their business down or push it head and shoulders above its competition.

This interactive journey of exploration is both introspective and looks further afield for best practice and learnings. Together clients can build their brand roadmap, build a relationship with their customer that integrates them in the process, and that puts them as the supplier who better understands their customer’s purpose, their vision, their opportunities. 

The days of marketing and selling per se are almost gone. Those who understand this and restructure their teams from transactional to relationship partners with their clients will be the ones who will lead the way in the customer engagement race.