Integrate Sales, Communications For Better Business Results

A VP of sales I once worked with frequently opened meetings with the comment, "There are two types of employees - those in sales and those who help support sales." While many didn't like the comment, it's hard to deny the fact that a company not making its sales targets most likely won't be around for long, no matter how well the other functions operate. The comment is also in sync with an initiative introduced by GE's CEO Jeff Immelt called "Front Room, Back Room," in which more of the company will be touching the customer, as opposed to focused on internal administrative functions. We hear a lot about "integrated communications," but we seldom see corporations that are truly integrating all their promotional efforts. Corporate communications plans and programs typically align with overall business objectives, but PR staffs seldom work closely enough with the sales force. Product marketing teams usually serve as the link to sales, because by necessity they need to understand what is and isn't selling, and why. But corporate communications and marcom staffs must become better attuned to competitive forces and marketplace dynamics. They need to have a detailed understanding of their own company's quarterly pipeline. They need to know which customers or sectors represent key targets for their sales force, and they need to know which products are selling better than others and why. In order to meet these needs, communications staffs should work to: Align PR goals and sales objectives: To ensure the good press coverage you secure is actually making a difference in terms of revenue, your team should focus on projects that will help the sales force close deals. In the technology sector we serve, the marketplace shifts frequently, making it difficult to maintain real-time understanding of the sales focus if our efforts are not well coordinated. Most sales teams have monthly and quarterly operating reviews that examine in detail current opportunities and pending challenges. These meetings can provide you with valuable information to help fine-tune your PR campaigns. While sales execs won't want too many extra people at the meeting, they are usually thankful for the interest and help if you request to attend. Make the tools you have easily accessible to the sales force: Press releases, case studies and other materials that you create can be very valuable to your sales team. However, I've found that even if you email this output to the entire sales team, they rarely keep the information at hand. Sales are paid to focus on customer sales, not archiving information, so when they want the information, they spend too much time hunting for it, thereby losing valuable selling time. We developed a tool to house all the collateral developed by the corporate communications department centrally and make it available to the sales force and others. We call it the Customer Resource Center, and it's simply a matrix. Along the upper quadrant are the material categories - case study, press release, quote, image and product/service. Down the vertical axis are the customers. The matrix can be sorted by customer or by product, allowing our sales team easy access to material that can help them when pitching a new customer. Help sales help you: Customer references are an important part of the selling process, as well as the communications process. A company's story is best told (or validated) by actual customers. Without customer data, reporters are much less likely to cover your story. They want proof that it works, and that it's not just another hyped beta. To make it easier for sales to enlist customers into our communications program, we developed a simple presentation they can use with customers. It highlights the benefits of working with us and maps out the typical process. Many companies waste time working with the wrong contact on the customer side, only to find after weeks of work that they don't approve this type of work, or they want to reword everything. Reward and Recognize: To show the importance of sales reps' involvement in the communications process, we regularly award four or more reps per quarter with a PR Star. The email, which is distributed to the sales and leadership teams, explains the valuable role the sales rep played and the results. In addition to the notice, they each receive a $100 gift certificate redeemable online. Reid Walker is director of global marketing communications for GE Global eXchange Services. He can be reached at Timing Is Everything You always ask journalists when is the best time to contact them. Extend the same courtesy to your colleagues in the sales department. A few quick tips on interacting with the sales force: It's never a good idea to contact sales reps near the end of a quarter, unless absolutely necessary. That is when the most intense selling goes on, and they need to remain focused on that. Also, when scheduling conference calls with sales, it's always best to hold them early in the morning, before they begin calling customers.

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