Marketing executives invest a great deal of time and money building the brand, only to see it diluted at the most critical point—in front of the customer.

Depending on how your sales force executes—the process they follow, the questions they ask, the messaging they use—the brand equity you work so hard to create will be either reinforced or undermined by their actions.

This issue goes much deeper than renegade salespeople customizing presentations, proposals and collateral, rendering them inconsistent, inaccurate or outdated. Let's be honest, however. The level of sophistication with which your sales force engages customers plays a much bigger role in determining the outcome of a sale than the materials salespeople put in front of them.

I can already hear the protests from marketing executives:

  • “Marketing can't influence what salespeople say and do in front of the customer!”

  • “There is already tension between Sales and Marketing. Do we really want to get into the game of guiding how salespeople engage customers?”

  • “Isn't this the role of training, sales operations, and sales management?”

Before you commit marketing hara-kiri, there is some good news. Marketing can retain control of brand positioning throughout the sales process.

By building a formal business case for your product and equipping Sales to apply business-case building blocks when engaging customers, Marketing not only enforces brand equity, it elevates it.

I'm not talking about a couple of spreadsheets that use your numbers or a few data points from a generic analyst study of your industry. I'm talking about a disciplined effort, led by marketing, in which you have…

  • Engaged existing customers to identify the business problems and priorities they face and the success metrics they use to track their performance

  • Determined the specific processes and activities—the value drivers—that your product optimizes within your customer's business

  • Linked the product value drivers to customer success metrics and determined the appropriate data that you can track and manipulate to quantify the impact of your product

  • Documented the analysis and results and packaged it in an automated tool or a repeatable process that salespeople can readily implement when engaging customers

Isn't this what we've been training salespeople to do for years, using terms like “consultative” or “solution” selling? Absolutely.

The problem is that we haven't equipped the poor sales reps with any useful data or analysis with which to implement these techniques, and they simply don't have the time or expertise to do the “sales math” necessary to create custom business cases for each customer.

By arming salespeople with a complete customer-focused business case, Marketing provides a framework for asking the right questions, uncovering clear prospect needs and gathering data on strategic priorities, metrics and current performance. Salespeople can plug this data into the business case to pinpoint the links between their product's value drivers and customer business problems—educating customers on the extent of their pain and the impact their product can have to alleviate that pain.

A customized business case—developed using customer data and metrics—can be packaged for the internal champion to use to defend the project and obtain funding and support. Finally, a baseline is established, so truly progressive companies can measure actual customer success versus what was originally forecast—a powerful step for companies that care about retaining customers and embracing value selling

Marketing organizations that are bold enough to build and maintain a truly robust business case can expect to achieve results in a variety of areas:

  1. Closing more deals. Finally, the folks in Sales can quantify the impact of your product on each customer's bottom line, using their data and the metrics that are meaningful to them. More value shown = more deals. (Free tip: if you are struggling to quantify the ROI of your marketing efforts, start here and you'll be the most popular person in the company!)

  2. Decreasing sales cycles time. Salespeople can provide decision-makers with the metrics necessary to make an informed purchasing decision once the proposal has been presented. No more losing to “no decision” or “we need to do more due diligence.” Customers who won't let your salespeople quantify their pain and forecast the impact of your product can be pruned early in the sales process—they're likely not serious buyers if they won't engage in this exercise.

  3. Maintaining the integrity of your brand. You provide salespeople with the framework for understanding how customer business problems and initiatives link to the value that your product provides. The business case influences the questions they ask, the data they gather and the messages they take to the customer. The more robust the analysis that Marketing does up front to develop the business case, the more influence you will have over the sales process. The more compelling and credible the business case, the more salespeople will embrace it.

The end result is that the brand positioning and equity that you worked so hard to create is reinforced all the way to where its biggest impact is felt: the close of the deal.

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Jonathan Sharp is COO of Talant (, based in Washington, DC. He can be reached at