The old saw is that sales is a numbers game. That’s kind of true — but less so every passing year. In reality, it’s becoming a productivity game: How can we make the sales people in our businesses as productive as possible?
The key is to make marketing people as productive as possible, too — which they’re becoming, thanks to the advent of better software and smarter ways of using it.
The Proximity Fuze
The analogy I like to use is that of the proximity fuze. For those of you who are not aficionados of World War II-era ordnance development, a proximity (or VT, for the misleading term “variable time”) fuze is essentially a tiny radar set screwed to the nose of an artillery shell. The fuze transmits a signal, and a receiver computes the distance to the target based on the time it takes for the signal to return to the fuze. The instant the distance to the target starts to increase rather than decrease, the fuze detonates the shell — usually, within 75 feet of the target.
Prior to this, to bring down an aircraft, the projectile had to hit the target — a very difficult task — or it could be detonated by a timer or an altimeter, spraying deadly shrapnel near the plane. The latter two required gunners to guess where the target was in altitude.
This became impossible late in World War II when the Japanese started using kamikaze attacks — those diving targets changed altitude rapidly, and it was impossible to change the fuze timing to adjust to their dives. With the VT fuze, however, if you fired reasonably close to the target, you stood a good chance of damaging it.
The numbers bear that out. Although it’s virtually impossible to quantify which gun hit which plane, the U.S. Navy’s studies found that when gunners fired at Japanese planes with 5-inch proximity-fuzed shells, one plane was destroyed for every 340 rounds fired.
That sounds bad — but the average number of rounds per plane destroyed for all other weapons above 20mm in caliber was 1,159. And don’t forget — those fuzes used primitive tube technology, with an accepted failure rate of 50 percent. (After all, those electronics experienced nearly 20,000 Gs and were spinning at 25,000 RPM upon leaving the gun barrel. Could your iPhone 6 survive that?)
So, like sales, anti-aircraft artillery was a numbers game, but it could be described more accurately a productivity game. Like sales, it was one in which you were more likely to win if you employed technology to make your efforts more successful.
The question today is not whether the technology exists, but which technology you should employ. Anything that marketing can use to get sales closer to the target — that is, a customer who’s ready to buy — is useful. However, choosing the right technology can make a big difference in the degree of productivity increased technology provides.
Having observed some marketing automation purchasing processes in action, a few criteria stand out:
- Complexity vs. Sophistication of the Intended Users
I sat in on a series of demos from several major vendors in front of an engineering-centric company, and the results were what you might expect: enthusiasm for the most configurable products in spite of clunky interfaces and nonintuitive commands. That was great for that company — its marketers had a leader who was an engineer himself and had a couple of members of the team who would be the “data gurus” who made the application work.
In another company, the demos revealed that the target users were front-line marketers, and they wanted ease of use such that anyone on the marketing team could use the application.
Before you start looking at products, decide who will use the application and evaluate their level of technical sophistication. This should guide your selection process — it doesn’t matter what features an application has or how configurable it is if the people who are supposed to use it are intimidated by it and don’t use it.
- Time to Results
How long is it going to take for an application to start delivering results? That sounds like an easy question, but the answer can be difficult to discern. The ease with which the application integrates with CRM and other systems is one factor, but so is the quality of your data.
This is a great question to ask other marketers — and not just the reference customers your vendors will provide. Use social media to share the real stories of marketers implementing a marketing automation application — LinkedIn groups are useful for this.
- Scalability and Versatility
How big are you going to go with your marketing automation application? Are there data limitations (or pricing implications of scaling)? Do you need it to be capable of dealing with multiple channels, including off-line channels? Know this ahead of time. Often, the systems with the most attractive price tags are the ones that are limited in how far they can grow. It’s cheaper to invest up front in systems that are ready to accommodate growth than it is to rip out something that had an attractive price tag and start over with a more capable application.
- Ability to Bust Through Silos
Does the application you’re looking at integrate — not just with technologies but with other people in the sales and marketing food chain? One problem with marketing automation (and with standalone sales enablement software) is that it can inadvertently rebuild the silos we worked so hard to tear down.
Marketing automation, operated exclusively by the marketing department, can result in sales having little idea of how leads were generated. Just as marketers rue a lack of visibility once leads are handed to sales — Why didn’t they close? Were they bad? Were the salespeople inept? Did the leads even get worked? — salespeople need to know how leads get into their hands.
It builds trust and encourages alignment. So, if an automation marketing application looks like it’ll reinforce the wall between marketing and sales instead of breaking it down, re-examine it as a choice before pulling the trigger.
Keeping these ideas in mind as you weigh features and functions is vital to getting the best application for the context of your business and your sales and marketing teams.
If you choose right and arm your team the right way, their marketing accuracy will increase and your sales team will hit the target more often.