Why Marketing Departments are WAY More Valuable than Sales Departments in the Digital Age

by Marcus Sheridan

sales v marketing

Before I really get going here, let me say that I really don’t like the title of this blog post (even though I wrote it), mainly because I wish we were at the point where marketing and sales were completely combined—without silos—in every organization across the world.

If this were the case—businesses, brands, and bottom lines would be dramatically affected for good across the board.

But because this is not the case,  I’m going to save that argument for another day, and let’s just stick with the question at hand:

If you had to choose between hiring someone in marketing or hiring someone in sales, which would you choose?

(You’re not allowed to say “It depends” and must make a choice here)

Although I’m not sure of *your* answer, I can tell you that over 90% of the time most CEOs and management teams today would say “sales.”

Sadly, this has been the same answer for almost 100 years.

But it makes no sense whatsoever in the digital age, and here is why.

The Power of Assignment Selling

As pretty much everyone knows, I used to be a pool guy. And for roughly 7 years of my life, I would go on about 220 in-home sales appointments a year in an attempt to earn someone’s business.

With an appointment time of roughly 2-3 hours, you can do the math and quickly see how I had no life and was easily working over 60 hours a week on most occasions.

Luckily for me, though, in 2009 our company discovered Inbound Marketing through HubSpot and we embraced a very different philosophy of generating company leads—a simple process of taking every question we’d ever received from a prospect or customer and answering it on our company website.

Although this act of digital marketing proved incredibly effective in generating more traffic and leads through the website, it took me until 2012 to fully grasp the magnitude of what was going on with our customers as they interacted with the content.

In January of that year, as I was busy looking at our web analytics and seeing if I could pick up on any patterns, I found a unique anomaly that changed my life and dramatically altered the way I see “selling” today.

What I saw was very simple: If a prospect (lead) read 30 or more pages of our website before we went on a sales appointment, they would buy 80% of the time.

Considering the industry average was about 15%, this was a profound discovery, and it led us to a new way of selling, something I’ve since written about many times— “Assignment Selling.”

assignment_selling

Assignment selling, in a nutshell, works like this:

Let’s assume you call my swimming pool company and say you’d like to have us out to give you a price for a swimming pool. Instead of saying, “Sure, we’ll be right there”, which is what we used to say, it now sounds something like this:

River Pools Employee: “Mr. Jones, we’d love to come out to your house, but you’re getting ready to spend a lot of money. And because you’re getting ready to spend a lot of money, we know you want to be educated. In order for you to be educated, we’ve produced two items that are going to make all the difference. The first is a video I’m going to email you that will show you the entire process of having a pool installed in your backyard. By watching this video, you won’t need to ask us when we come to your home what the installation is going to look like because you’ll now see it for yourself, in great detail. The second item I’m sending you is a guide that answers all the common questions you have about swimming pools right now. Now this guide is a little long—about 30 pages—but I promise it will be worth your time. Mr. Jones, will you take the time to review each of these before our appointment on Friday?”

Mr. Jones: Sure (This is the answer we received 90% of the time)

River Pools Employee: Great. We’ll give you a call as well Friday morning just to confirm you took the time to do those things.

Hopefully you noticed what happened within that conversation. Mr. Jones is now committed to watch an extensive video and read an eBook. And because he’s going to do this (if he doesn’t, we simply don’t go out to his house), there is an 80% chance he’s going to buy the pool.

At River Pools we used to have to go on over 250 sales appointments a year just to sell about 70 swimming pools a season.

Last year we went on about 115 sales appointments and sold 85 swimming pools.

See the profound difference?

And because we’re so close to the industry (we teach at the major conferences) we also know that our company closing rate is the highest in the country—and it’s not even close.

I’m not saying these things to brag, but rather to make a point.

In 2009, when my business was floundering and on the brink of ruin, “hiring another sales person” wasn’t the answer to success.

Instead, embracing the way consumers shop today is what led to our discovery of assignment selling, a system of selling that I’ve since implemented with multiple clients (B2B and B2C) with tremendous success.

The Zero Moment of Truth: It’s All About Better Marketing

This example of swimming pools is simply a microcosm of a major trend impacting every single business around the world, which is what Google calls “The Zero Moment of Truth” (The moment when a prospect first interacts with your business, be it through email, phone call, walking into your shop, etc.)

YouTube Preview Image

Studies have shown that consumers make roughly 70% of the buying decision before they actually *contact* a company for the first time, an amazing stat and one that frankly puts significant pressure on all businesses around the world to earn the trust of the consumer well before first contact.

This is exactly why our traditional belief of having a “sales staff” is going to change in the future. It used to be that a sales person was *everything* in the sales process. Now they are less than 30% of the process. And for businesses that really understand the Zero Moment of Truth like River Pools, that number is even less.

This trend is not going to change. It won’t reverse itself. And because of this, businesses need to wake up to the reality of what’s going on.

Frankly, it saddens me to see that despite what is happening with all of us as consumers, most marketing departments are under-manned. Just to give you an example, last year I spoke to a national brand in the manufacturing industry that had over 350 sales people and a staff of 5 in the marketing department.

Are you kidding me?

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many examples like this over the past few years as I’ve traveled the country, which is also why so many marketers feel overworked, understaffed, and under-appreciated.

It’s time for this to change. Businesses need to see the obvious happening around them. Great marketing is the future of the buying process—listening, communication, teaching, and being extraordinarily helpful—that’s what consumers want on the front in of the buying cycle, certainly long before they ever talk with a “sales person.”

Those businesses willing to address this need will lead their industries in the years ahead.

Those that do not will fall by the wayside.

Your Turn:

I’m curious to get your opinions on my points here. Are you finding that most marketing departments are still way undervalued in comparison to their sales counterparts? If so, what do you feel is the best solution to solve the problem?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Marr February 12, 2014 at

Hi Marcus, a very well timed article for me to read. I just had a conversation with a business owner yesterday and we were discussing complete transparency on his new website.

The worry or anxiety was expressed when we discussed the competition ‘stealing’ information and getting information on pricing, services and products, etc.

My argument was exactly what you’ve written here.

People are comparing products and information anyway, and if you haven’t got the information they need readily available…then they’re off!

It’s not something that you can control, and if you restrict the amount of information you give, then you are restricting the number of sales you can make, and thus the amount of money your company will make.

It’s trying to break these industry ‘norms’ and change people’s thinking that’s the hard part.

I’ll be sharing this for sure!

Chris.

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Marcus Sheridan February 15, 2014 at

Chris, you’re a good man. I mean that. I love your vision and I hope it rubs off on all those folks you’re trying to help!!

Keep going,

Marcus

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Chris Mar February 17, 2014 at

Hi Marcus,

Thanks for inspiring me to keep going!

Have a great day.

Chris.

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joe February 13, 2014 at

I was reminded when you “pioneer” not really a brand new concept now with content marketing. But execs sure want to put arrows in your back if sales fall off at all.

Instead of doing more content they screamed for more cold calls…Insanity.

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Marcus Sheridan February 15, 2014 at

Indeed Joe. We still have a ways to go my friend.

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David Zadareky February 13, 2014 at

When people don’t know WHAT to do, they do what they know HOW to do. Marketers tend to over emphasize marketing and Sales tends to over emphasize selling. The reality is that no one wants to be marketed to or sold. They want to solve their problem and/or pain. Period. The real message of your article, to me, is that you have to tear down the walls in your organization and align the business assets around solving the client’s problem/pain as quickly and as efficiently as possible in a manner that leads them to use your service/product again while recommend it to others.

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Marcus Sheridan February 15, 2014 at

David, so glad you got this message, because you’re very right– that is the message. They need to be torn down…completely.

Thanks for dropping by David and continued success,

Marcus

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Chuck Gilmore February 13, 2014 at

Hi Marcus. Many years ago I worked for Ethicon, Inc, one of the Johnson and Johnson companies which was, and remains today, the industry leader in its market. I believe one of the main reasons they were so successful as a company is that all of their marketing people…in fact everyone who progressed to any kind of leadership within the company…started out “carrying the bag”. As a result, our marketing people were so tuned-in to the needs of our customers and the sales people, that it enabled us to dominate the market. In other companies I’ve worked with, the very best in marketing had also come from sales.

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Marcus Sheridan February 15, 2014 at

Love, love, LOVE this example Chuck! Spot on my friend!!

Best,

Marcus

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Dave Rosenthal February 13, 2014 at

Marcus, Another brilliant post! Love how you make your prospects invest their TIME…you really ask them if they watched and read? Do you know how if you can trust them? I make new clients answer a survey and read about working with me prior to quoting a trip.

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Marcus Sheridan February 15, 2014 at

I simply follow up with them Dave and ask again if they did their homework before we meet. It makes all the difference, that’s for sure.

Good seeing you bud!

Marcus

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Ian Altman February 13, 2014 at

Marcus,

Great post, my brother. You describe the perfect example of targeting those with whom you are most likely to find a great fit. Many companies waste time tracking activities (e.g., how many calls did you make, proposals did you send). They don’t spend enough time tracking efficiency (length of sales cycle). Those companies that employ assignment selling and pre-sell customers with valuable content will consistently see reduced sales cycles and improved efficiency.

So why doesn’t everyone do it? The answer is simple: Targeting the right market requires intentional behavior and discipline. It is easy to just throw bodies at the problem. But, the companies that take the time to exercise restraint by not chasing everything are rewarded. You still need solid effort, just be sure to measure accomplishments rather than activity.

Great topic!

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Tom Treanor February 13, 2014 at

Marcus,
Great post and I totally agree with you (but I’m slightly biased). Marketing departments that effectively use inbound marketing can scale a business more than any changes to the sales process or sales org (other than just hiring more salespeople).

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Christian Newman February 15, 2014 at

Love this post. It’s going to touch a nerve for many, but I believe it’s necessary. I remember years ago, when the only way to increase sales in a B2B organization was to hire more sales reps to make more cold calls to make more appointments to send out more proposals to close more sales. What a waste! Yet, some companies still believe this today.

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Marcus Sheridan February 15, 2014 at

Christian, good to see you bud. And yes, many are still behind the curve on this. But times are a-changing ;-)

Have a great weekend,

Marcus

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Jenifer Kern February 15, 2014 at

Marcus: Your posts continue to amaze and inspire me. I love this! And I agree, the title is not great. Last thing we need is to make our friends in Sales thing they’re not important :) But, on the other hand, it’s a brilliant title b/c it certainly got my attention. My CEO has read it as well (due to my urging) and wants to know how we can achieve 80% conversions. I am working on my plan now!!! Thanks for all your great visioning and marketing insight extraordinaire.

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Marcus Sheridan February 15, 2014 at

Jenifer, love your passion and appreciate your comment here. It made me smile and I’m really hoping you’re able to achieve those 80% conversions!!!

Cheering you on,

Marcus

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Jordan Owen February 20, 2014 at

I would say you are trying to build the trust in customer’s mind before asking him to buy anything from your Pool company. This is a great approach in the digital marketing world. But do you think it works the same for a micro business? I am referring to a micro business which has a website with only few pages which are not being updated for last many months. I hope you understood my point here. There are many business owners who just have a website for the sake of having a website.

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Andi Schneiter February 20, 2014 at

Marcus…love your article….not so much the title but it got me to read the article…so it worked! I totally agree that the real solution is a fully integrated Sales and Marketing team, not silos where each works independently. Unfortunately, I see that silos are still more often the case. I totally agree that Inbound Marketing is critical to reaching your next prospect and nurturing them thru their research stage in a consultative way. However, what I find all to often is that many of the new inbound marketers, thru no fault of their own, have gotten their experience thru social media and have not developed the skill of a seasoned sales person to know what to write and how to develop that consultative approach in their content. I believe there is a real skill to understanding your prospect and how to manage the information process that takes time to learn and most marketing people are not trained that way. Too much emphasis is placed on having so many blog posts and tweets weekly and not enough on understanding how people buy!

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Marcus Sheridan February 23, 2014 at

Andi, you make a GREAT point, which is exactly why everyone should either be crosstrained or they should be spending a heck of a lot of time w Sales— as it makes ALL the difference.

Thanks so much for the tremendous comment!

Marcus

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Alex Lobosky March 13, 2014 at

I would definitely choose a super star marketing expert over superstar sales expert. The way I see it you can make a lot more money if you drive tons of traffic to your business where you have mediocre sales people. Your business is unlikely to make any money with super sales people but no customers coming through your doors. And unless your super sales people are willing to go door to door or make called calls your business in not going to survive.

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Alex Pavlov May 3, 2014 at

Good point. Marketing comes first. Without public knowing about your product or service, you can have the best sales team but they will not have anyone to sell to as no one is coming through the door.

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