Why Sales Must Be More Important Than Marketing

I know many marketers who complain that marketing is always treated as a second-class part of the business. And while as a marketer I know the importance of providing consistently effective marketing, I also know that if other parts of the business are not effective, then you cannot fix it with any level of marketing.

If you don’t market well then you die slowly, but if you don’t sell then you die fast. And if you don’t build a good product your reason to exist has evaporated.

Marketing cannot replace terrible products that are of little value to the markets you wish to serve, and without a sales process that works it really doesn’t matter how awesome the world thinks you are, if you get the right to in the room to negotiate, but no one is able to make the meeting from your company you will lose.

But if you do have terrible products or you don’t have an effective sales process then that will stop your business, irrespective of what marketing you use to fix it.

I have seen companies replace their executive leadership teams time and again with people who do not have a clear view of the reasons why their company exists, and without the corporate cultural knowledge or customer/market knowledge to effectively learn, and instill a viable plan. These are often very talented leaders with a long track record of success in previous organizations who deeply believe that their knowledge of how it was done before will allow them to do it again. This often leads to a reduction in revenue, which is then countered, by a reduction in expenditure. And these leadership teams reward themselves for being able to reduce costs faster than they are losing revenue. While in the short term this can feel like a winning strategy, no one has ever successfully shrunk his or her way to growth.

I know that the Harvard Business Review journalist that eventually finds a company that has successfully shrunk its way to growth will be looking for either a Pulitzer or a Nobel for economics out of it. The model is one many businesses are striving for, and so far it has failed to work every single time.

And on the way to that heavenly aspired for state of lowering costs leading to increased revenue, every company that tries it, also tries to market their way out of the chasm they create.

The truth is that any business has some things that work and some that are clearly not working. It can be really hard to agree to stop the things that just are not working and focus on the ones that are. But that is the trick to grabbing success from the jaws of failure (as opposed to grabbing failure from the jaws of success, which can feel very similar until the numbers are added up).

Often a company will start many new projects, and some while feeling good, just do not get traction from the markets that they are designed to serve. Stopping these things and redirecting resources towards the ones that really do provide your markets with a product that they really do want to buy, works!

Dave Packard (in a meeting I was honored to be able to have with him in the late 1980’s (when he was really old) and visiting an HP office I was working at) once told me that the (not so) secret to HP’s success was that every year they would try out a number of really big new things, and would invest for success, most would fail, but a few would be really successful. The ones that failed would be wound down, and the people would be reassigned to new and existing successful products. His view was that the people who had failed, had learned lessons that would ensure future successes. The ones that succeeded would pay for all the ones that failed and also provide profit. But the ones that failed still created great knowledge and experience that would drive future successes. It was a powerful and audacious model that led to some of the greatest ideas in technology.

The HP way of working was derived from leaders who were so deeply immersed in their business that they could see the long game. When these leaders were replaced with people with vastly different experiences, these new leaders tried to take the business in very different directions, and that proved to be a really hard thing to do.

A company must know why it exists, what problems it solves, who have these problems and how these people want to solve them. Marketing can help a company understand themselves through the eyes of the market.

Companies must also understand what their product truly is. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but a product really is the entire experience that the customer purchases. If you sell pencils the product includes the place the customer would go to get their pencils. If your pencil isn’t in the shop when someone want’s one they will buy the ones that are available. If you have spent a lot of money promoting the value of your pencil over a pen and you have created a need, but are not there to fulfill it you have done wonderful things for your competitors.

Time and time again companies really do expend huge volumes of marketing effort to try and repair products or replace broken sales processes.

I have seen numerous times software solutions that require very complex implementation services offered for sale without the requisite implementation services. This makes the product materially unsalable. Some very large software houses have invested huge amounts of resources to provide high quality services to implement poorly built software products. Because these companies have worked out how to make the poorly designed software work well, the eventual solution works well (even though the service costs were huge and took many months to complete).

And the competitors of these companies have looked at the software and said to themselves “ours is at least as good, if not better”. But the services they provide can be so weak that even through the core software may have been better the final solution that a customer gets to experience is much worse than the larger companies offering. At the end of the day the measure of a product is the customer experience, and it doesn’t matter if the underlying technology is better or not.

Customers care about the solution to a problem, and not about the disparate elements of how it was achieved.

A business buys a solution to a problem, and that solution will be measured by the sum of it’s parts, and not by the merits of each component.

Marketing can help the business understand what the customer desires the experience to be.

Pricing, placement, product and promotion and all parts of the experience.

  • How you sell (where, when, for how much)?
  • Who you sell to?
  • What problem you solve?
  • How you implement?
  • How you communicate?
  • How you provide service?
  • How you provide support?

They all matter, and if you fail at any of them, that will stop the sale from being a success.

If your product doesn’t meet the need, or you don’t have a way of completing the transaction, then any good-will you generate through marketing and the demand pipeline you create mean nothing.

In fact it means you have helped your competition grow, because if they can do a better job than you, they will take your thought leadership and great marketing and close the deals you progressed.

A great example of this can ben seen by the Duracell vs Eveready bunny marketing campaigns. Who first thought of the bunny is a fact lost in time. But someone created an alkaline battery value proposition and someone capitalized on the market created. Huge investments from one company drove a huge return for another.

Marketing is a scaling function. Marketing helps magnify your business, but if the thing you are magnifying is broken, then you will just end up creating a bigger pile of broken things.

Be honest with yourself and as a marketing leader, ensure that you are providing your business with a true understanding of the markets you serve. How your product(s) (the complete output of your company) meets the needs of the market is critical to the success of your business.

If your product doesn’t meet the need, either fix the product or find a market segment where your offerings provide a better fit. That new segment may be very different, it may be smaller, it may have different competitors. But if your product provides value and the prospects in that new market are more likely to become your customers, then it may be worth refocusing. And that doesn’t just mean changing the message your marketing team delivers, it means helping your whole company understand and align with that new market.

Is marketing a second-class business function. No! But if your company thinks it is, then you have work to do to become strategic.