Many business-to-business (B2B) companies see sales and marketing as the same thing, or as two teams that do the same or similar things. This is a healthy view for making sure that sales and marketing are aligned (they both have the same goal: revenue generation) - but it ignores the fact that sales and marketing have different roles to play in accomplishing the goal.
So, what are the differences between the two functions? For every executive who can name and categorize the various sales and marketing tactics at use in their business, there are another dozen executives who aren’t quite sure what the difference between sales and marketing really is.
This is mainly an issue because marketing is a ‘newer’ function in B2B. Historically, the sales team was an important and well-understood function for B2B companies, including manufacturers. Sales were the team that did all the heavy-lifting for revenue generation, while marketing was a ‘support’ function. That’s changing, and marketing is becoming the competitive advantage and growth-engine for smart B2B companies. But there’s still some confusion about what marketing really is. To help, we’ve created a shortlist to explain what marketing does for B2B companies of all sizes and specialties, including manufacturers.
5 Ways That Marketing Works For B2B Companies
Good marketing starts with strategy. Good strategy helps companies know who they’re selling to – and how they can best reach potential customers. A solid marketing strategy is a vital framework for companies to make informed, high-level decisions on which customers to target and how they should position their business (e.g. are you a low-cost or premium solution).
Without a strategy, companies employ random tactics and make uninformed guesses about customers, their preferences and needs. As a result, these efforts are often not successful.
In our experience, strategy is often the least obvious, but most important opportunity for marketing as a function. Strategic planning can make a major contribution to overall business success.
2. Market Awareness
Marketing is the activity that raises awareness about products, services and a company’s expertise.
One of the most common things we are asked by clients is, “We’re great at what we do, so why does nobody know we exist?”
Often, it’s because you haven’t told the right people, or met them in the places they are looking for your information.
B2B marketing is focused and to get noticed in this market, you need to speak to the people looking for products like yours, in the places they are looking for this information.
Promoting your product to the masses can be expensive and a wasted effort if your company offers a very specific solution that only a small portion of the population needs or wants. Instead, target the specific people who need and are looking for your offering.
As an example, if you sell shoelaces, you may target specific people in the companies that make shoes that fit your laces, not the stores that sell the shoes or the consumers who buy and use the shoes.
If your company’s marketing efforts are done well, by the time your customers reach out to your salespeople to make a purchase - the heavy lifting has already been accomplished. Potential customers will have heard of your company and be aware of your expertise because of the marketing your company did to inform them.
3. Lead Generation
This is one of the most immediately understood roles of marketing. It makes the phone ring, sends inquiries to your inbox, and opens the door so the sales team can go in and close the deal.
Lead generation is the process of identifying and connecting with potential customers who may need your products or services. It involves raising awareness of your company to potential customers and prompting them to connect with your company through digital or in-person channels.
Read more: How B2B companies can master lead generation
4. Lead Conversion and Sales Support
Marketers produce the collateral that helps progress sales calls and ensures that salespeople have the materials they need to maximize their results. The collateral also ensures that sales teams of more than three people have consistent information to share with the same facts, figures and images.
We’ve worked with companies where salespeople produced their own materials like PowerPoint decks and sell sheets. This is often a recipe for disaster. For one thing, it’s not a good use of a salesperson’s time; they should be out selling, not designing brochures. And, if each salesperson has their own messages and materials, it means your company isn’t being consistently represented to the market.
Marketing also plays a crucial role in helping convert prospects from ‘top of funnel’ to actual paying customers. The marketing and sales teams need to work together to understand the kinds of leads that come in, what the process for qualifying them is, and how to nurture them over time - because B2B buying is a long journey, and getting longer and more complex every year. This is a vital part of success in B2B marketing and sales.
5. Retain and Grow the Customer Base
Marketing helps B2B companies retain and grow customers. Doing more business with people who already know you is one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways to drive revenue.
By sharing news with current and past customers, you stay on their radar and top of mind when they have a need in the future. And marketing is a far more cost-effective way to accomplish that goal than deploying a sales team into uncharted territory.
Ultimately, B2B companies need to start with a good strategy and then layer in the other four marketing components.
Not sure what to tackle first? It depends on your needs. For some B2B companies, updated and current sales collateral like a website, brochures or opening (and using) social media accounts may be the best place to begin. Others might need to grow market awareness and will invest in thought leadership content. Either way, B2B companies today are finding success by recognizing and taking advantage of the opportunities good marketing can bring.
We repeat. Sales and marketing are not the same. But, when they work closely together to identify opportunities, anticipate customer needs and organize themselves around sales cycles or other opportunities, they can better promote a company and its offerings. Doing so not only helps both teams work more effectively together but also helps build a company’s reputation and helps build trust with current and potential customers.
If it takes two to tango, B2B companies, can view sales and marketing as the duo that smoothly moves customers in the right direction, and further along the sales funnel. When they work together toward common goals, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. When they don’t work well together, they risk missteps in opportunities, messaging and timing.
Looking for insights to better align sales and marketing? Join us on June 2 for a free webinar to learn why it's more important than ever to align these functions - and how to do it. REGISTER HERE!
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Originally published in August 2015, this post has been updated to add new guidance and more information that was not included in the original post.