Teaching Sales and Web Strategies to Sing in Harmony

Consider the left hand of sales methodology (the steps an organization takes to earn a customer) and the right hand of digital strategy (the steps an organization takes to successfully use the Web). It’s 2010 and the two hands still do not know what the other is up to.

Even with the most advanced of our clients, the digital strategy is focused on lead generation, awareness and a bevy of other activities aimed at the top portion of the sales funnel, traditionally owned by marketing.

Sales is frequently the missing voice in the digital strategy discussion, despite marketing automation solutions such as Eloqua, Content, ExactTarget, Marketo and Unica playing a central role in the customer relationship management (CRM) solution. [*Correction – Sept. 7, 2010]

Too Much Information

In their book Selling to the C-Suite, authors A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz blame marketing for flooding the marketplace with free information which has relegated salespeople to mere commodity suppliers rather than trusted advisers.

Should marketing turn off this information flow? Alternatively, is it the responsibility of sales to become a trusted advisor in the digital age by curating this flood of information to serve the prospect and build the case for becoming the solution of choice? Is the information flow an opportunity or a problem statement? Should the category reposition from “Marketing Automation” to “Sales Enablement”?

Portland, Ore.-based Prolifiq Software Sales Content Management Solution embraces this information flood, turning their clients’ sellers into information concierges.

“By going digital our clients are able to produce 70 percent more content while often saving 30 percent compared to their original print production costs,” said Jeff Gaus, Prolifiq Software CEO.

In 2006, Peter Kim of Dachis Group, who was then at Forrester, authored the report “Reinventing the Marketing Organization,” citing that 80 percent of marketers do not influence a critical customer interaction and 85 percent do not own the four Ps of Marketing (product, price, place, promotion).

To successfully own the Four Ps of Marketing, it requires a close partnership between sales and marketing with a digital strategy that is embedded in the sales methodology and training. Is it time to “Reinvent the Sales Organization,” to embrace the role of digital strategy in prospect decision making?


The intersection of sales, marketing and digital strategy adds a fifth P: opportunity-specific perception aimed at driving preference over the competition. Actively managing perception is a critical skill separating genuine sellers from warm order taking bodies.

“In the very near future, the best sales groups won’t even look like sales groups, they’ll look like customer advocates and their capital will be their engaged and passionate customers,” said Dion Hinchcliffe, senior vice president at Dachis Group. “Thought leadership will be the most potent weapon when it comes to sales messages that transmit and work best in a digital and deeply socially networked world.”

The Problem

In 2010, I continue to watch sales methodologies launch without a thought toward digital strategy, and digital strategies launch without alignment to how the sales team actually works.

Those responsible for your sales approach must be aligned with the people in charge of your digital strategy. Recently, a multinational client of ours implemented a new sales methodology from the ground up seemingly with no thought towards how the digital strategy and online presence could help win the complex sale.

None of their interactive partners were consulted on the customization of the methodology or invited to the training. Concurrently the marketing and sales groups were independently evaluating competing marketing automation systems without a thought toward the reality of the sales methodology. As a result, a significant investment in the online channel failed to provide value beyond the role of a digital billboard and repository for offline marketing campaigns. Lost was the opportunity to arm sellers with a competitive advantage in the selling process.

I am convinced that today the above scenario is not an exception but more frequently the rule.

Popular sales methodologies such as Spin Selling, Solution Selling and Sandler have all failed to address the role of the digital channel in their latest versions of the methodology. When it comes to digital strategy, the task of nurturing a prospect is frequently left to the marketers who are often out of touch with what actually moves a prospect from awareness to purchase.

“Marketing is still far and away the strongest user and early adopter of digital, but as tools and solutions that are more accessible to sales become more common, we’re seeing a move from straight-up e-commerce and CRM to real digital engagement that drives more complex relationships,” Dion Hinchcliffe added. “These systems require more effective sales strategies and processes.”

While marketing automation solutions such as Eloqua and Marketo are frequently integrated with a CRM, the usage is not just controlled but executed by marketing. The all-too-common explanation is that the sales representatives do not have time to interact with the platform.

If the perceived ROI for the tool does not justify the necessary attention from sales to digitally enhance key touch points such as meeting preparation, follow-up and proposal delivery, then perhaps the organization is not ready to adopt the technology.

One Solution

Once the sales methodology has been upgraded to the digital age, requirements will become clear and investments will be more likely to deliver on the original promise of the technology.

Most often, sales has the relationship with the prospect including situational awareness as to the evaluation criteria (price, competition, solution, experience, perception etc.). While marketing automation can produce vast numbers of leads, prospect attrition at the earliest stages of the funnel will be severe if sales is not leveraging modern ways to control the conversation and become the Trusted Advisor.

Following an initial meeting with a prospective vendor, where do you believe the prospect most typically goes to research and validate the points covered in the meeting? Print publications? Your references? Prospective clients are increasingly doing their own research online, often seeking out candid customer feedback through past forum posts, scanning social media or reading online reviews.

Therein lies the opportunity to control the conversation after the initial qualification call or meeting.

According to Gaus, one high-technology client shaved 45 days off a six-month sales cycle and grew their funnel $20 million by turning their sales team into information concierges.

How do we begin to craft a digital strategy that is well aligned to both sales and marketing ?

  • Step 1: Map the customer journey for several accounts you won and lost, from initial awareness to
  • closure.

  • Step 2: Identify where along the journey your digital strategy impacted the opportunity, for better or worse.
  • Step 3: Select a few contacts from those accounts you both won and lost who participated at key points of the evaluation process and identify how they used the online channel to impact their decision making.
  • Step 4: Create a content strategy for your digital efforts that maps to both the sales funnel the way you segment your customers/prospects .
  • Step 5: Modify your sales methodology for your salespeople so as to influence the decision making process from a digital perspective.
  • Step 6: Align your CRM implementation and connected applications to the sales methodology.
  • Step 7: Integrate your content management system (CMS) with your CRM to allow for salespeople to shape the evaluation process and craft a compelling closing argument through sales curated tactics such as personalized landing pages, digital proposal delivery and surface the third party online content that seals the deal. Let your best customers and most favorable analysts accompany each representative to battle.

*ECT News Network editor’s note – Sept. 7, 2010: The original published version of this article referenced the software companyUniqa, when the authors actually meant to refer to CRM companyUnica.

Paul Williams is president and cofounder, and Jeff Cram is chief strategy officer and cofounder of Isite Design.

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