Small businesses – do you want ‘Marketing’ or ‘Sales’?

This topic has arisen recently in my own professional world.

It’s tough for small local businesses to expand – no one is disputing that. It’s likely that the market you’re trying to crack has been cracked a thousand times over by previous experts. You think you have a ‘niche’ – how do you get your potential customers to hear about it? You hire a marketing person of course!

As a freelance marketeer, I am at the ‘beck and call’ of the companies I am employed by. I try to give my professional opinion where possible but, at the end of the day, if a customer asks me to do something in particular, unless it is truly out of my comfort zone, I will do it.

Recently, a client essentially wanted me to become a sales person. There were unsure about the results my marketing efforts were bringing in (I probably could have reduced these insecurities with more reporting, so my fault), so they wanted me to scour the internet and pull lists of email addresses and find specific individuals on social media to send personalised messages to. It made me stop and think about what it is I do.

As a marketeer, it can be really hard to justify our efforts into black and white figures. Sure, I’ve tripled their mailing list and quadrupled their Twitter followers with QUALITY contacts, sure I’ve achieved over 100% increase in new visitors to their website, sure I’ve achieved nearly a 70% increase in search engine traffic and 264% increase in referral traffic and – most impressively if I say so myself – a 736% increase in website traffic from our social media accounts. However, how can I prove any of these statistics have helped with bringing in new business? There has been a significant increase in new business since I joined the company – but is that down to me? Is that down to the fact they’ve employed new people? Or just growth in general?

I’m convinced my marketing efforts are working. And I’m not convinced using me as a cold-emailing sales person (and trust me, I’d be a less-than-mediocre sales person!) would bring in much new business. I tried to think of a good analogy to help explain sales vs marketing.

In my eyes the sales teams are the ones that go TO the customers and try and bring them in. That might be via (though hopefully not) cold calling. It could be from a lead brought to them via the marketing department. It could be someone they’ve met at a trade show or exhibition and obtained their business card. It could be a previous customer who they think could benefit from a new product. If times are tight, they might well be scouring the internet trying to find email addresses or phone numbers of relevant people. It is the responsibility of the sales people to convert these potential customers into actual customers.

Now the marketeer. Rather than scouring the web for contacts or calling potential customers or anything like that, it is their job to try and create a big enough online presence, a good enough company reputation and ensuring the company’s information is where the customer needs it at the right time.

So, my analogy.

A sales department isn’t located on the high street. It’s located just off it, in a tiny dark room on a tiny back alley that no one goes down. They don’t have a shop front or a pretty sign outside. In order to find customers, they need to exit their front door and walk down to the high street and hand out flyers to customers walking past. The customers don’t know them – so they politely take a leaflet but once further down the road they screw it up and throw it in the bin. (Of course this is terribly basic and demeaning to the sales profession – when actually I am in awe of the skills most sales teams have – built up from experience and training – and the advanced methods they use to find relevant customers). 

Now, the marketing department is located on the high street. It’s central and big, it has a gorgeous colourful shopfront designed by experts. It might have games and big screen TVs located outside to encourage customers to come in. Free chocolates and beer are being given out. All the marketing department need to do in the morning is open the front door. And customers find their own way in. (again, this is terribly basic and a lot more effort goes into marketing than just ‘opening the door’ – but the idea is that all of their work is done in the background so it seems as seamless as just opening a door for potential customers to come in). 

Good analogy or terrible? I’m aware I’m probably downplaying the sales team’s skills by using this – if anything I’m just showing how difficult it can be for a sales team to find new customers without any tools – all they’ve got to go by is their powers of persuasion. “Mad skills” as they say.

The sales team’s job is to go and find the customers, and bring them in. The marketing team’s job isn’t to go to potential customers, but to get customers to come to them. Obviously, this is in an ideal world.

And this is how the marketing and sales team can work so well together – marketeers use their skills creating engaging online content, a social media presence that people just want to follow, creating exclusive blog posts that make people want to sign up to the mailing list to hear about them first, providing downloadable educational content alongside marketing automation. These leads can then be provided to the sales team, so sales aren’t cold calling, they’re already ‘warm’.

There is absolutely no right or wrong as to how you bring new customers to your business. You might think it more rewarding to engage in sales tactics yourself – or hire yourself a sales or telesales person to build those long-lasting relationships. But you also might find value in hiring a marketing person to maximise engagement and loyalty. My thoughts? Do both. There is a benefit to having both professions within a business, and usually a sales and marketing team will work (ideally) seamlessly together to generate new leads and then convert those leads to new customers. If you’re a one-man show and cannot afford to bring in each, my suggestion would be to hire freelancers or take a few courses yourself to start utilising the skills required to increase and engage with your customer base effectively and efficiently and also increase your profile within your target demographic.

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