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Why Asking Sales What They Want Is NOT Sales Enablement

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Why Sales can't tell you what marketing materials they need
  • How to avoid the marketing wild goose chase

If you are part of a B2B marketing department that has a dedicated salesforce, you probably feel the pain and frustration of trying to do your best to give Sales what materials it needs. In return, you probably hear that they are creating their own materials anyway. Sometimes you even directly ask what they want and follow their direction to the letter—and they still don't use what you create.


They Don't Know What They Need

In theory it seems simple: You ask Sales what it wants, you do it, and the salespeople use what you create. However, in practice, this approach can actually have the opposite effect. What research experts have discovered is that people in general just don't know what they need and certainly can't articulate it. The part of the brain that has the most impact on decision-making and the drive for what is "needed"—the old brain—has no language center. So... it's not that they don't want to tell you, they physically can't due to the way the brain processes information.

1. Frame of Reference

People in general are bound by their own frame of reference; they can explain things only in terms of what they're familiar with. Which is why Henry Ford famously said, "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse."

2. They Don't Know What You Can Create

Sales reps are not marketing experts. They have no idea of the scope of creativity that you can produce. And since they are bound by their own frame of reference, they will never be able to tell you anything more than to make a change to something they already know. This leads marketing on a wild goose chase to make every conceivable version of a material, only to find it still not hitting the mark or not being used.

3. Want vs. Need

A "need" is something that is extremely necessary for a person to survive (or in this case to make a sale). A "want" is something that a person desires, either immediately or in the future. Unlike needs, wants differ from one person to another. People in general can't express their needs clearly because they reside in their old brain, which has no language center (so people have no way to vocalize the thought).

What people can vocalize, however, is "wants." Most people have a lot of those and they can change—frequently. They are also different depending on the person, the situation, or the time. "Needs," on the other hand, are true to the problem that needs to be solved or the activity that needs to be accomplished. Needs stay relatively consistent among different people at different times.

So What Can Marketers Do?

The way to resolve this problem is to get Sales to give you the data so you can find their unexpressed needs—or those things they need to get their job done but can't articulate. And you need to do it without falling into the trap of asking them what they want.

1. Define Sales Activities

The first thing to do is to interview Sales associates and compile a list of their activities. The easiest way to do that is to start within a salesperson's frame of reference (such as a sales cycle) and have them describe what activities they have to do to get to the next stage of their process.

A good question to use: "What five activities do you have to do to get a buyer from stage A to stage B?" You may need to use some probing questions to get a clear list of essential activities they are performing throughout the selling cycle.

2. Identify the Coordinating Goals

Delve into the "why" of each activity that is on your list. Try to get a clear goal for each activity. You can help move the conversation forward by asking, "What are you trying to accomplish with the buyer during this activity?"

3. Create and Activity Map

Now that you have your list of activities and goals, put your code breaker hat on and translate this data into a tool that Marketing can use to help map its initiatives. The first step is to take the data around each activity and determine whether it is relevant to Marketing. Is a tool or material needed to accomplish this task? Once that is established, then you can pinpoint where that activity would fall within the customer buying cycle.

The buying cycle is preferred for the mapping exercise over the sales cycle because as Marketing we need to connect to our customer. Customers, as we all know, work on their own terms and do not follow a sales cycle (as much as we would like them to). You may need to roll some activities together or decipher Sales lingo into common terms that everyone will understand.

Once you have all of your activities mapped to the customer buying cycle, the fun can begin!

4. Perform a Materials Analysis

By this time, you should have a list of activities nicely mapped against your customer buying cycle, and you should know the "why" behind each one. Now you can go through each of the materials you have for your focus project and see whether you can match them to one of the activities on your map. Be honest! If it doesn't fit, just set it aside.

That matching process will give you a good idea of how many of your current materials align with a task that Sales is trying to carry out. You will also find the holes—things that you have never produced that would assist Sales in getting a customer from point A to point B. Don't be surprised if some of these items don't fall into the category of things you would typically consider "marketing materials" (such as talk tracks or how-to documents). You will have to expand your definition of Marketing to truly connect with your sales teams.

* * *

Once you complete this process, you should have a good idea of what Sales actually needs—those things that help it complete an activity it needs to move the buyer toward a sale. Now you are on the road to creating marketing materials that Sales will use and which will make a difference in the field. You will also have a clear road map for moving forward that you can use to direct new initiatives to make sure you are hitting all the important touchpoints.

Sometimes running a Sales-enablement project, trying to get two seemingly alien groups to coordinate, can be frustrating. Treating it as a research project and systematically gathering the information to create an activity map can be your first baby step on the way to full Sales and Marketing alignment.

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Jennifer Robinson is writer and marketer specializing in sales enablement, complex selling situations, and out-of-the-box ideas. She publishes her own blog at

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  • by Sarah Thu Jun 27, 2013 via web

    Jennifer --- this is RIGHT on the money. After three years of creating materials sales folks (and I'm one of them!) HAD to have to convert/generate business and then finding huge disappointment in their lack of using the materials, I'm spending this month interviewing each rep to determine what their specific needs are. It's been a mind-blowing experience. When we have sales meetings, everyone is always clamoring to brag on what they're doing right but sales folks never want to admit what they're actual challenge is. I now have a mini-strategic plan for each rep and will work through the summer to get each one of them what will help them convert in some cases or generate in other cases. Nice article!

  • by Gracious store Thu Jun 27, 2013 via web

    If the sales department have no idea what the marketing department does and can do, how then can the two department work simultaneously for the progress of their company?

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