SI Review: March 2013

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A Perfect Balance

Sales and marketing teams are only effective when they work in harmony

By Jim Lanzalotto

For as long as there have been marketing and sales teams, there have been debates about the roles performed by people who work in them.

There’s the academic perspective. Philip Kotler, the esteemed Northwestern professor, says marketing is the process by which an organization relates creatively, productively and profitably to the marketplace. That’s an interesting perspective, if a little wonky.

A CFO with whom I once worked referred to sales as the people who missed their numbers and marketing as the people who made excuses for them. Cynical, but probably driven by a bad experience.

Defining Roles

Fundamentally, marketers work to create buyer demand. Salespeople fulfill that demand. Depending on the industry, the role that marketing plays is variable while sales functions stay fairly constant. In the freight transportation world, for example, much of marketing focuses on cost analysis and lane pricing. Consumer products firms concentrate on distribution and promotion. For coffee shops, marketing is all about brand recognition.

In staffing, though, it’s a little murkier.

Different Nuances in Staffing

Understanding the unique differences between marketing and sales in the staffing industry starts with comprehending the nuances of a variety of sales channels. Let’s begin with recruiting. In this slice of the staffing world, relationships are with consumers, and regardless of what anyone says, recruiting talent is as much a sales role as anything else.

The sales role in staffing is cut on several prisms:

  • Branch-level sales, in which an account executive works a local territory to build relationships with HR or hiring managers to generate transactional sales.
  • Account managers who work with a number of hiring managers at a large customer or two in a local area.
  • National account sales teams that hunt the big game — large, multi-location staffing or managed services deals — and network with C-level executives as well as HR and procurement leaders.
  • Account managers who are responsible for the implementation and care and feeding of those large programs after the sale is made.

The role of marketing and sales — and the differences between them — changes depending on the prospect’s or customer’s needs and which sales role is in involved.

To understand better the current state of the relationship between sales and marketing in staffing, I spent some time with two senior leaders at Staffmark, a unit of Recruit Ltd. that delivers staffing and managed services to commercial, office and professional customers from more than 300 locations across the country. While Staffmark is certainly a significant player in the industry with major managed services programs, its branch-level operations serve as a proxy for how smaller staffing firms operate as well.

“For us, sales and marketing are a symbiotic and complementary relationship,” says Sally Barrier, vice president of national accounts for Staffmark. “Our job is to find an opportunity in the market. Once we identify a prospect and build a relationship, we communicate the customer’s needs to the marketing team so we can jointly develop a dynamic, visual and engaging proposal or presentation that communicates our unique message and value proposition to the customer.”

That ability to work with marketing is driven by roles and responsibilities that are well defined in the company. “The most effective companies define the distinctions for marketing and sales and how they work within the company,” says Andrea Edwards, vice president of marketing and communication for Staffmark. “Sales teams that work in conjunction with marketing are the most effective; the best salespeople provide feedback and work cooperatively with marketing to create the best message and to distribute that message to the customer.”

In the managed services space, Staffmark’s marketing and sales team work together to bring a creative spin to presentations — in some cases using the prospective customer’s products to deliver the message — to indicate that Staffmark understands the customer and that they can work together to achieve their goals. That not only comes from having an innovative marketing group but also from understanding what works with a prospect.

Standing Out

“It’s hard in this industry to create unique offerings and customize an offering to the customer because there are so many cookie-cutter solutions out there,” Barrier says. “I think our way of working together brings things to life for the customer,” Edwards adds. “When sales and marketing work together collaboratively we all deliver a better product to the customer. I’m fortunate that that’s the way that we work together here.”

The same approach works for Staffmark in branch-level activities, with the marketing team developing tools to help field teams break through the clutter and noise created by a wide range of competition. “Marketing’s job is to get the customer to the door and to come up with specific solutions for problems. It’s up to the people in the field to keep the customer there and to have a conversation based on those solutions,” Edwards says. “We provide the air support to help the field build the relationship.”

Staffmark is a great example of what can happen when sales and marketing teams are well integrated in both branch and managed services operations. When they’re not, writes Michael Cage in his blog, An Entrepreneur’s Life, “very bad things happen. Sales teams that are not integrated and a function of the marketing strategy are doomed to mind-numbing cold calls and other wastes of time and effort.

“Most big, dumb companies fit squarely into this category.”

Raising Your Profile

Regardless of how sales and marketing teams are integrated, marketers need to build brands in local, regional and national markets that are populated by thousands of competitors and overwhelmed by hundreds of messages every day. Which begs the question: what can a staffing marketer do to break through all of that clutter and raise a company’s profile, not to mention their value proposition?

The only way to start is by having a road map in place — one that includes marketing objectives (in synch with business objectives) and strategies and tactics that will help achieve those objectives. Then think small. Because one of the greatest attributes of many marketing programs is that many require a low up-front investment and, other than opportunity cost, are inexpensive to implement and manage. All of them, though, start with someone in the company playing the role of expert on a chosen topic so audiences can associate expertise with a person — not a company.

And with that expertise, a company can then develop content that can resonate with customers throughout their market. For example, let’s say the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., staffing market is ripe with opportunity for leadership. A shrewd marketer could gather pay rates and bill rates for the greater Poughkeepsie metropolitan area and generate quarterly content on trends in talent acquisition as well as the cost of bringing on contract consultants. That information can be distributed in face-to-face meetings with buyers, via press releases to pitch the media, local presentations to chambers of commerce or other local business groups and then further distributed via social media and internet channels. In time, this strategy can be applied to burgeoning markets in Schenectady, Elmira and even Binghamton to help build a company’s presence in the critical upstate New York market. And once that reputation is built, selling becomes easier because the marketing team has softened the marketplace and raised the firm’s profile.

The costs are low. The rewards high. And the long-term value is limitless.

Jim Lanzalotto runs Scanlon.Louis, a strategy and marketing outsourcing firm, and Evalu8, a digital media buying and social networking company. You can follow him at @jimlanzalotto or email him at jim@scanlonlouis.com

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