I’m seeing more small and medium-sized business-to-business (B2B) companies begin to use marketing to boost revenues. It’s a smart investment because it helps raise awareness, makes your company look good to potential customers, and creates a lead-generation machine that fills up your pipeline with opportunities.
But generating revenues from marketing doesn’t just happen automatically. It takes work, know-how, and integration with the other facets of your business—especially your sales function.
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Sadly, one of the most common ways that I see companies waste their marketing is by not having an effective sales function. Without a sales function set up to capture and process leads, solid opportunities go stale or get missed completely.
Based on my experience working with B2B companies, here are three things you need to do to get the most out of your marketing:
Have a defined sales process
Your sales process is the tool that turns opportunities into deals. It should align with the ways in which your buyers make their purchasing decisions. For example, at The Mezzanine Group, the B2B Marketing Company in Toronto that I run, the sales process that looks like this:
- Inquiry and initial screening. This is usually a phone call to determine whether the opportunity is a qualified lead. We use a few criteria to determine if a lead has potential or if it’s simply not a fit and shouldn’t be pursued —industry, size of business, and marketing budget, for example.
- Initial consultation. A face-to-face meeting where we determine if our onsite, outsourced marketing service will deliver value for the client, and if there’s a good cultural fit.
- Proposal. We present a document that confirms the specifics of costs, timing and process so that everyone is clear on what is being offered and at what cost.
- Decision Making. Often companies need to communicate with internal stakeholders before proceeding, and sometimes we need to provide answers to additional questions they may have.
- Go or no-go decision
Mezzanine’s process is relatively simple because we provide a standardized outsourced marketing service. Anyone who is in our pipeline is somewhere in this process, so we don’t lose track of opportunities and are able to identify what’s next in our communications with prospects.
Whether your company sells products or services, it takes multiple steps to get from an inquiry to a contract. Every company should have a structured way to get customers from one stage to the next, otherwise they end up with leads getting lost or going stale.
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Spend time every month on pipeline management
Sales is a function that must be managed. Having a defined process doesn’t help if your employees never actually talk to each other about what’s in the pipeline. You could have 100 deals at the initial screening stage, but if individual sales people don’t know to move on them they’ll just sit there.
At successful companies we work with, a sales manager meets with each member of the sales team weekly or bi-weekly to discuss what’s in their pipeline. If deals are stalled, the sales manager and rep brainstorms ways to get the deal unstuck.
A good sales manager can provide an experienced assessment or simply act as a second set of eyes to look at the situation and provide fresh ideas. And when a deal has gone stale despite consistent efforts from the sales rep, a sales manager can put a timeline on the potential deals so that the pipeline is cleaned out on a regular basis.
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Train your sales managers
Most small and medium-sized B2B firms don’t have a sales management system, because they often haven’t needed one in the past. Often the company’s founder is the chief salesperson and is able keep all of their deals straight in their heads, or in their email system.
As companies grow, they will hire other salespeople but often neglect to recruit sales managers. When they get to a point of absolutely needing a sales manager, a good salesperson will be given the mantle of manager but no sales management training to accompany it.
Good salespeople with no training make for very poor sales managers. So I highly recommend training your sales managers in pipeline management—it’s an investment you won’t regret.
MORE MANAGEMENT: The 3 Elements of Great Marketing Managers »
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Investing in marketing is an incredibly powerful way to increase revenue, but it’s vitally important to strengthen your sales function before or alongside your marketing. If you don’t have a sales process to convert leads into revenue, you’re just wasting your money.
Lisa Shepherd is author of Market Smart: How to Gain Customers and Increase Profits with B2B Marketing and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She was the youngest female CEO of a company on PROFIT’s ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies in 2007 and 2008 and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.