“Marketing can prospect more broadly than sales in key accounts.” I love making that statement in a room full of sales leaders. You can just feel the tension in the room as the hair on the back of the sales VP’s neck starts to go up. But the statement is NOT meant to be a criticism of sales organizations. Nor is it to be a compliment to the skills of marketing professionals. Instead, it is simply a reflection of the state of technology available to marketing professionals today that gives them a scale advantage over the sales team in prospecting.
Let’s take a hypothetical example – the GE account. Every software company, from the “IBMs of the World” to the Venture-Backed Startups, considers GE among its most coveted targeted accounts. But who can prospect better in the GE account – marketing or sales?
GE has over 300,000 employees in more than 170 countries, but let’s suppose that only 5,000 of them are decision makers. How many stakeholders at GE can an Account Executive really engage? 20? 30? Perhaps, 50 if they are backed by a really large account team. I would submit that even a 20-person account team would struggle to cover 5,000 decision makers.
The account team focus is centered upon headquarters. Perhaps, the account executive and solution consultant makes a few trips per year to various regional offices around the US. But most CEOs/CFOs are not going to let the account team globe-trot around Europe and Asia hunting for deals. Of course, with today’s technology you don’t need to travel to communicate. You can phone, email, video conference or reach out via social media. But these one-to-one communication models used by sales representatives do not scale well. How many of the 5,000 employees can an account executive really engage via phone calls? At best, they may meet or talk to 50-100 different people within an account over the course of a year.
Marketing, however, can travel around the world at the speed of light without a single dollar being billed to the Corporate Amex card. Any one of those 300,000 employees doing research on a problem can find your website through a search engine. They might find your home page or an interesting blog post that you wrote. They might find a video you recorded on YouTube or a presentation you posted to SlideShare. And they don’t even have to know your company exists when they start their research. If your Search Engine Optimization strategy is working then you can be found easily by associating yourself with the appropriate keywords. In other words, an inbound marketing strategy can scale to cover the full 300,000 employees in all 170 countries.
Outbound marketing can also scale in ways that the sales team cannot. Why? Because the marketing team can use technologies to communicate in a one-to-many model. Suppose you obtain 2,000 contact names from GE for your marketing database. The marketing team can distribute content like white papers, case studies and research studies much more efficiently than sales can. At best, the sales team might email your white paper out to the 20 contacts they are working with on a specific deal. But marketing can effortlessly send content out to 2,000 contacts then follow up on who opened, clicked through and downloaded it.
Now, I realize that every sales leader reading this is thinking. I could come up with 50 examples of where sales out-performs marketing in the area of prospecting. And they are correct. Marketing could never get a C-Level executive out on the golf course or take three VPs out to dinner. Sales often does. But both approaches are needed for success. While sales can go deep with a handful of key decision makers, marketing can go broad with the various influencers around the world.