Welcome to Sales. It’s not as easy as it looks, is it?

Welcome to Sales. It’s not as easy as it looks, is it?

By Karl Steiner

By now, I hope we can agree that the lines between marketing and sales have blurred considerably in this age of mobile tech and social media. As put forth in a recent blog, the marketing arm of the operation is increasingly on the hook for the most grueling entry level sales task — discovering suspects out in the wild and delivering them as qualified prospects to the senior sales team.

In tech, our area of specialty, the daunting nature of this challenge seems to be sinking in for the marketing directors with whom we work. It’s no secret that a disproportionate number of the tech concerns still need venture capital (VC) to operate. VC is harder to come by than it was a year ago. Fewer companies are receiving less cash from investors.

There are signs aplenty that the tech industry is on stranger tides now. It doesn’t look or feel quite like a bubble, yet the ecosystem is different in a way we can’t quite put our finger on.

Though publicly traded stalwarts do not appear overvalued, that doesn’t necessarily bode well for smaller, privately held companies still not cash flow positive. Big conglomerates lap up good ideas on the cheap all the time. And for every negative cash flow concern that nets a premium, there are more than just a few Jawbones littering the bottom of the sea.

With the list of failures growing, marketing teams at tech companies of all shapes and sizes find themselves at a crossroads. Drive business. Now. Or….?

“We are doubling your monthly quota.”

The pressure is on to deliver prospects quickly and bigly. Just the other day, a marketing director told us he needed to produce 500 qualified leads in the next 6 months. That’s one an hour, folks. Considering the size of the niche market his company serves, that metric could represent a mathematical impossibility.

Welcome to the Sales Department.

On average, over half of all sales reps follow this pattern at their new job: Start with training wheels and smiles, end with a performance plan and a cardboard box for your shit. That scenario plays out with expensive frequency, echoing the 35 year-old premise of the classic Glengarry Glenn Ross.

If you’re not familiar with the play or film, let’s just say it’s a sales competition where anything worse than 2nd place is bad. Only in today’s tech world, it’s not ten old guys in JC Penney suits huddled around a water cooler. There are a hundred companies in every market niche and your investors are not handing out steak knives for 2nd place.

How did we get here?

For tech startups, everyone is going after the Cadillac. That’s because the VC sustaining them is in it for the big score. It’s a pretty simple premise. Investors both individual and institutional make multiple long-shot bets assuming the clear majority will yield nothing and hope just one of them pays off with Donald Trump Lotto rewards.

So now the biz dev people are all over the marketing departments demanding The Glengarry Leads. You’re partnering with agencies on lead nurture. Social Media Director is in place. Platoon of underpaid interns: Check!

Traction somehow seems much harder to come by now that more sands have passed through to the bottom of the hourglass. The next round of funding keeps getting pushed out. Management tightens budgets. Sales becomes frustrated with the quantity and quality of leads. Discontent simmers just beneath the surface. Departing interns are not replaced when they flee for Nike or Under Armour. The Social Media Director is kicked to the curb in favor of a Buffer account.

What now, Batman?

After years of getting by generating interest and demonstrating potential to drive sales, marketing teams are in the very real-world position of having to deliver something tangible right away.

On a sales team, the survivors usually possess two critical skills. They are persistent and innovative, not necessarily in that order. Sometimes more of the same, working harder, can produce results. I, however, put my money on creativity and innovation.

Show me a paradigm more than a few years old and I’ll show you a pair of old socks that needs to go in the Goodwill bag. It’s time for marketing professionals to think outside the box or carry the pictures of their pets out in one.

Here’s an innovative idea for marketing directors to consider. Focus on the marketing content first, then the metrics that will measure its success. Or, God forbid, make creation of actual content an integrated part of your content strategy development process. Stop thinking of content as a commodity or letting it become an afterthought. After all, if it actually were a commodity, how would you differentiate yourself from the competition and generate clicks on social media? Good content, you know you need it.

Focus on value, not volume.

News flash. Nerds are smart. We have been getting our revenge in perpetuity since the days when Al Gore’s invention offered only 14.4 kbps. That means we can easily spot a philosophy major talking up the ins and outs of NoSQL. If your technical marketing content doesn’t possess credibility, you can plop tons of it all over the interwebs and prove the whole garbage in/garbage out thing can work in reverse as well. Dazzling copy and pretty pictures that don’t help a potential prospect qualify himself means you’re calling to action those who will waste the time of the sales team.

Make credible content created by technically savvy individuals.Even if your internal technical resources are too busy to write an eBook or not artsy fartsy enough to craft an infographic, they probably have a couple hours to help an outsider who does and is.

Did you remember documentation?

A wise man once said, “Documentation equals sales.” You can fill your website with stock photography of hipsters using tablets, fling splashy videos all over Twitter, and pass out fidget spinners at trade shows across the globe. That’ll only get you so far.

Documentation can mean the difference between a new customer and a lost sale. If the CFO is interested in your SaaS, sooner or later, one of her technical experts will scrutinize your documentation — assuming you have any. If the nerd doesn’t like what he sees, the CFO will stop clicking her mouse.

When a technical decision-maker or influencer looks at your documentation and only then responds to a sales or marketing attempt, that is a Glengarry Lead.

Embrace unique and mix it up.

Semi-regular blogs and a few ghost-written op-eds from the company founders does not a content marketing plan make.

If you are different, be different. Make a lot of different content to get your message out and drive interest in your product or service.

Like us, prospects are snowflakes. They come in all demographic shapes and sizes. The only constant — each respond to stimuli differently. Some prefer to learn about your service watching short videos, others like to dive deep into tech right away in an eBook, and many are so busy, a one-page visual explainer is all they have time to consume.

So if you’re just churning out the same type of content each month, you’re whistling past Glengarry Leads.

We recognize that content is but a single component of a sales-focused marketing strategy, albeit an underappreciated one. Content creators can help meet the challenges facing today’s marketing departments, especially creatives with extensive, direct technical and sales experience.

Main image credit: *Floor of the New York Stock Exchange, CC