by Terena Chetty. From a marketing point of view, having an effective integrated communication strategy makes sense on several levels – including ensuring consistency of messaging on all channels, leveraging activities off each other, maximising impact through strategic content and driving bottom line business goals. However, what value does a well planned and executed integrated communication strategy offer to on-the-ground direct sales executives?
Many companies view sales and marketing as two completely different departments, with two different performance strategies and managed by different leaders. Both teams conduct their own planning meetings and are seldom aware of or influence the activities of the other. In fact, there may even be frustration as each feels the other department’s activities are not in line with company goals, based on their own understanding.
It’s clear that a “silo” approach to business operations (where each department operates in isolation of each other) does not best serve companies. This is especially relevant when it comes to communication content – brand marketers need to fully understand the priority goals and key activities of a business at any given time to ensure that communication content is relevant and purposeful. Conversely, marketing teams can also provide insight into customer and market behaviour that can assist sales teams, and even business operations, with developing customer-centric approaches that boost success results.
So, how can integrated communication strategies benefit customer-facing sales teams? Consider the current market landscape – trust, credibility and information are key drivers to decision-making. For sales teams, such ‘decision-making’ by a prospective client could mean anything from choosing to accept an initial meeting, to choosing to purchase from or partner with a company. Let’s face it, no one makes decisions these days without first ‘googling’ a company – perhaps even researching a specific company representative. And even if a company is well known in the market, perceptions of the brand strongly influence the willingness of clients to work with them.
In fact, this research into a company is the ‘first impression’ of the brand before meeting (or choosing not to meet) a salesperson, and therefore is a crucial component of the sales process. Effective strategic communication activities can give great sales executives the best chance of success from first contact until the deal is closed by creating a positive image in several ways, including:
- Brand Awareness: For a decision-maker, the last thing they need in a midst of a busy day is a company they have never heard of asking for a meeting. Brand awareness created through communication activities (from social media to public relations, and everything between) places a brand ‘top of mind’ creating a sense of recognition and familiarity that can help company sales executives get a foot in the door with a prospective client.
- Reputational Brand Building: Communication activities can help build positive brand equity for companies; for example, by showcasing their expertise, experience, and client network. Brand reputation is invaluable when it comes to creating and maintaining client relationships, helping immensely with business development objectives.
- Credibility: Communication content can highlight certain factors that can earn even a relatively new or unknown brand credibility in the market. For instance, accreditations, awards, and industry memberships will result in people having more peace of mind when it comes to doing business with a company.
- Employee Amplification: Employee amplification is a form of brand advocacy generated by staff towards the company. This takes place when employees show their support for their company by sharing or engaging with their company’s (online) content. However, this is a two-way street. Businesses can also shine the spotlight on staff – for example, by posting the top performing salesperson, or mentioning an award received by an employee. Such content gives both the brand and their employees more credibility, particularly as customers want to know more about the people (not just the company) they are doing business with.
- Thought Leadership: Thought leadership positioning (through content such as opinion articles, interviews and speaking engagements) helps establish a brand, its leadership team, and its key employees as experts within a field or subject matter. It overlaps with the above points in that it creates heighted awareness and credibility; and reveals a ‘human’ side to a business. Again, such reputational content can assist a salesperson with getting the conversation started with a potential client.
For larger companies with a separate business development teams, the business development function should serve as a bridge between marketing and sales, as explained by APO Group’s business development director (Africa), Jean Mboulé: “Marketing efforts should be led in conjunction with the business development team in line with the market penetration and segmentation strategies set by the organisation. A bridge is formed upon lead qualification conducted by the business development team, and sales teams are briefed accordingly based on the needs of potential clients.”
While it’s evident that marketing activities can support direct sales activities, its important to take a strategic approach to the content that it developed. Communication teams need to fully research and understand the company’s sales process, including: the challenges encountered by customer-facing sales executives, the strength’s / competitive advantages held by the brand, target demographic groups, the market landscape and how decision-makers think.
Thereafter, both sales and marketing teams should liaise with each other to develop a communication solution that drives sales, communication, and overall business goals. It may sound daunting, but the value of integrated communication (in fact, integrated operations) is most certainly worth implementing – both in the short and long term.
Main image credit: Pixabay.com.
Terena Chetty is a brand and content strategist with experience in corporate, consumer and PR communication. She holds a BA Degree in Communication Science (cum laude) and is currently part of the 1Africa Consulting team based in Johannesburg.
– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Wednesday • Subscribe here.