This article is adapted from the book Next Era Selling: 5 Strategies to Make Your Business Unstoppable (Now + Next, 2016) by Britton Manasco and Anneke Seley.
As management guru Michael Hammer wrote nearly 20 years ago, "A company that does not focus resolutely on its customers and the processes that produce value for its customers is not long for this world." Well, fast forward to the present. It seems that the tendency toward functional silos and separation has reasserted itself in many established corporations. That is particularly true in the front office. It's a phenomenon that manifests itself in misalignment.
Marketing, sales, and service organizations fragment into many disconnected specialties. Huge investments in customer engagement and sales enablement, as a result, produce little return. You have marketing people creating messages and materials that sales people in the field rarely use. According to the American Marketing Association, 90% of the materials that marketing creates for selling teams do not get used.
Just as toxic and typical is the finger-pointing that occurs when pipelines dry up and quotas aren't met. You have demand generation specialists complaining about the incompetence or laziness of sales. And you have sales complaining about the inadequacy or insufficiency of the leads they are given.
But even when functional specialists are not thwarting each other's interests, there's a growing need to unify and align the work of different groups. This challenge is particularly pronounced in the front office. Customers increasingly expect their experience with your company to be seamlessly managed across channels and touch-points. This is what gives them confidence in your solutions and emboldens them to invest.
This is a strategy we refer to as “Front Office Fusion.” It's an increasingly significant part of any well-balanced sales investment portfolio – one that cannot be ignored.
Three Ways to Unify Your Front Office
While the challenge of front office fragmentation is often tremendous, there are a number of key actions you can take to overcome this issue. When you embrace and invest in a Front Office Fusion strategy, though, you have to recognize that you must span boundaries. You may even need to pool budget dollars with other functional organizations to get things done. Sales leaders, most assuredly, must collaborate with leaders in marketing, service, and other areas. Sales ops teams must actively engage marketing ops teams and so on.
If you’re successful, you can close the Guidance Gap that your prospective buyers need you to help them close. You can provide the insight and support they need – when they need it – to clarify the case for change and justify a buying decision.
But you have to determine where to start or, more precisely, where to make your most significant investments. You aren't likely to be starting from zero. Rather, you are likely making greater commitments to a cause that may have been previously (if vaguely) identified.
So here are three ways to execute a Front Office Fusion strategy:
Unify marketing and sales messaging. Whether you're a marketing professional focused on campaigns or a sales professional who gets results in conversations, much is riding on the message you convey. Your message will either attract and engage prospective buyers or it won't. But one thing's for sure: multiple, discordant messages will only confuse and repel them. You have to unify your messaging across the organization – and make it relevant and compelling – if you are to engage buyers.
There are many reasons this doesn't happen. Too often, the message simply doesn't hit the mark. It isn't on point. It isn't provocative or interesting or relevant to your buyer. Insufficient effort may have gone into creating it. Perhaps it's all about you and your products. Perhaps it doesn't lock onto the searing pain points your prospects might be experiencing in the absence of your solution.
But even when interesting content is created, it's not at all clear that messages created and disseminated by marketing teams in their content marketing efforts will be reflected in sales interactions and conversations. In fact, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that misalignment is common in messaging. This undermines customer engagement.
To overcome this challenge, it's critical for experts in sales, marketing, product to come together around messaging development efforts. By producing messaging based on consensus and commitment across boundaries, you ensure that messages are delivered with conviction by sales people. They bring insights, perspectives, and a point of view based on the collective understanding of your front office brain trust. That's how you get from campaigns that attract and entice to conversations that clarify and motivate.
Unify demand creation. Remarkable strides have been made in recent years when it comes to lead and demand generation. Companies have made significant investments in efforts to establish processes, train teams, and roll out technologies that enhance the lead generation and nurturing process. These efforts have, in many cases, contributed mightily to sales pipeline volume and velocity.
But performance variances are everywhere and commitment is uneven across the business landscape. Success stories associated with investments in marketing automation technology are proliferating. Yet, there is still much to be done in terms of realizing the promise.
This is an opportunity for front office teams to come together. Sales and marketing organizations, for instance, have relied on SiriusDecisions to create an entirely new vocabulary and introduce new practices. The firm's "Demand Waterfall" methodology, for instance, has enabled groups to track the transference of a "marketing qualified lead" (MQL) to sales as a "Sales Accepted Lead" (SAL).
By creating accepted definitions for leads at different stages of maturity, such methodologies have proven a powerful way to unite organizational functions that once had no objective means of managing lead flow and ensuring accountability. Reliance on marketing automation and customer relationship management technology, meanwhile, has provided increasing visibility to all parties and enables organizations to report on (and improve) performance. Expect more advances as these practices become more prevalent.
Unify your customer touch-points. Just as consumer-oriented enterprises have struggled with a proliferation of channels, business-oriented companies now must consider the opportunities and liabilities associated with their own channel choices. Buyers are now likely to experience your brand through an array of media and channels (web, email, social media, mobile apps, chat, phone, physical and virtual events, on-site/in-person, etc.).
The question to consider is whether the buyer's experience is coherent, consistent, and compelling or somehow disjointed and disorienting. Much rides on ensuring that sales interactions – be they in person or virtual – are consistent with marketing interactions that may have preceded them or service interactions that may follow.
Unifying these touch-point interactions is an essential challenge going forward, particularly as buyers increasingly expect a "consumer-grade" experience when engaged in business-to-business buying decisions. Not only must these interactions across media and touch-points be consistent, but consistently compelling.
This explains why companies are increasingly anxious to ensure the hand-offs between functional organizations are seamless and streamlined. The buyer's journey is where companies may want to begin their customer interaction design efforts. They can map out the journey from the customer's point of view and work backward to organizational and touch-point design. While these concerns once might have been relegated to the B2C world, it's apparent that B2B leaders are now taking them just as seriously.