While there has been plenty of discussion around how marketing and sales teams should play well together, the onus on brand owners to proactively support people in the field seems to have attracted less attention. Customers, of course, make no distinctions between which parts of the organisation they are dealing with at any one time. In that sense, brand is sales: a brand is only as good as its ability to attract, convert and retain fickle buyers.
So, could brand managers be doing more to help sales and frontline teams? Here are four ways that these historically distinct teams can get more done together.
Build a brand that people want to meet. Salespeople are going to struggle to get appointments if they represent a brand no-one wants to know. Likeability is absolutely a brand responsibility. By creating a brand that is insightful, honed, intriguing and trusted, brand teams can directly help open the door for sales. The more inclined buyers are to want to know more, the more likely they are, obviously, to take a call or a meeting, ask for a demo or search a site. The real power of perception lies in what it enables, and brand owners should be judging their effectiveness on that basis. The responsibility for brand people couldn’t be more clear-cut: build an interesting brand that is a pleasure to sell and represent.
Create environments where people come to you. So often, marketers expect sales teams to be the bridgers and closers. They expect them to take what has been prepared out into the world and to bring back new business. That’s a very one-sided view of marketing – because, in reality, brand owners should be intimately involved in the development of communications campaigns and branded environments, online and off-, that invite customers in and make them feel welcome. The role of sales is to drive and close decisions in favour of the brand. The role of brand is to help those decisions feel valuable.
Weave the brand through everything you do. The brand and what it represents should be the benchmark for all customer-facing behaviour, and sales teams are no exception to this. But if the things they are rewarded for are off-skew with the brand’s values and priorities, then brand and sales will continually be at odds. For that reason, be very careful that what you encourage, recognise and incentivise in your sales team is in keeping with who you say you are and what you say you prioritise. Compassionate brands don’t reward greed. Exciting brands don’t accept complacency. Innovative brands want more on their frontline than order takers. Too many companies have sales cultures, marketing cultures and corporate cultures that are conflicted. Each carries an impression of what the brand is and what the brand encourages into their work and out into the world. As a result, brand encounters can be confusing, even contradictory, for buyers making decisions across different channels. No brand should be confusing. It dissipates meaning and energy. Getting everyone to understand the brand and to apply it specifically to what is required of them takes investment, time and clarity. Money well spent.
Make the whole of the frontline the heroes. The sales teams are not servants of the brand, or the marketing team for that matter. So often brands see their frontline people in functional terms, rather than empowering them to be, and positioning them as, the implementers, the solution finders, the people who actually vitalise the brand. In not positioning their frontline teams – from sales to contact centres to technical support – as brand heroes, they open gaps between what the brand promises and what it can deliver and miss significant opportunities to test the alignment and effectiveness of theory and practice.
John Levasseur talks about the need for brands to be both orchestrated and organic: organised; and flexible. Frontline teams, he says, have a critical role to play in keeping brands real and connected with the true market. “When marketers spend time listening to customers or are out on the floor with sales staff, they always walk away with “aha” moments that connect the brand research and data with their experience with customers.” These experiences, he says, help connect the orchestrated brand that marketers oversee and curate with the organic brand that front-line teams work with.
Three thoughts to close:
1. Structures are less important than results – ultimately there is no frontline and back-office in a business. Brands live or die on their abilities to engage, interact and sell.
2. Your brand is only as good as what you deliver – if your frontline teams, including your sales teams, are selling without a clear understanding of why they should be proud, you have effectively reduced motivation and consistency to serendipity.
3. Insights close gaps – unless strategists and deliverers are in alignment and have feedback and insight mechanisms that enable continuous improvement, there is always the risk that the brand on paper and the brand in reality will be at odds.
Photo of “The Help”, taken by Marina del Castell, sourced from Flickr