Sounds like something that, according to popular opinion, doesn’t exist, but – as one of my professors, who sadly passed away way before their time, once said – what a stupid question. What exactly is sales support?
Keyword: Definition of support – the Onpulson Business Dictionary defines sales support as “support within marketing, for example, with promotional materials or prize competitions, as well as in the form of financial facilitation that the manufacturer provides to the distributors of its products, in order to increase their performance”.
That is certainly true, but very often, unfortunately, it is exactly what the sales department doesn’t perceive as support. Our understanding of sales support starts way before that. The approach we take is known as MOST – Marketing Optimized Sales Tools.
Yes, you’re probably thinking now: Uh-oh, the author must have had one pint too many. The home office has its pitfalls. Yes, acronyms are often not just tricky, they’re sometimes ambiguous. But whether you understand MOST to mean fermented fruit juice or the English adverb – the more you associate it with, the easier it will be to remember and associate something with it.
And ultimately, that’s what sales support is all about: connecting, linking, networking – yes, and selling. Of course, as much of it as possible, just the MOST.
The first connection that needs to be clarified, intensified and strengthened – if not established – is that between the marketing department and sales itself. What might sound trivial is anything but. For us as an agency, it’s always surprising how alien the two departments sometimes are against each other, with the emphasis on against.
This starts with the perception of both departments in the company. The larger the company, the more it has in terms of a corporate structure, meaning the higher the marketing department sits, and then not so seldom on the same level – and sometimes even in union – with management. Or assigned to it.
Or just below. It defines the brand presence, the brand strategy and the associated measures, while also assigning tasks for sales support that must be strictly adhered to. Because: The image of the group and its subsidiaries hinges on this, and it defines the brand or the brands that each sales representative has to sell “out there”.
The opinion of the sales team, its employees, as to whether the measures are appropriate or suitable to support its work, play a subordinate role in this model. Often, sales staff are scattered all over the world and far away from the centres of power that determine where, in which markets, and which customers should be approached and how.
This clearly regulates how data is to be used, how information is to be prepared, how communication is to look – right down to correspondence and individual emails.
It’s quite different in small and medium-size industrial companies that, at some point, got started with a good idea, invested in development, in production – and then had to bring the products to market. In other words: Find customers, secure the future. Sell. Achieve sales targets. Suitable employees then become part of the sales team.
And, at some point, this sales team realises that it would be good to have a brochure, a data sheet, a film. Another employee is then assigned to collect and process the information. Sometimes, this is no more than a part-time job. Sometimes, an entire department is created, but it’s not attached to management; rather, it becomes an appendage to the sales department.
Between these two poles – marketing situated far above sales or vice versa – there’s almost every variation and size ratio in between. Sometimes, one department is superior to the other, sometimes it is the other way round, and often the two wage a fierce war against each other, sometimes, it’s not even clear as to what extent management even encourages it, because it believes that competition stimulates business.
It rarely doesn’t. Instead, it only takes energy away instead of creating synergies. That’s why we see it as our first task: Create links between the marketing department and the sales team where they otherwise don’t exist. Improve these where they do exist. And to create and optimise a sense of understanding if it doesn’t yet exist or isn’t sufficiently developed.
The connection stems from bringing the crucial people to the table. For example, in workshops. The aim is for everyone to pull together. This sounds easier than it is in reality. This is because often the sales force already understands precisely this request as an encroachment on its very own territory. For example, it may still be appropriate to send a newsletter to “its” customers. But even with a new website, it can become a problem that it should, of all entities, be the team that has to process the incoming leads. This may sound surprising, but it isn’t.
The team should be grateful to receive new contacts, new customers, more information and thus achieve more sales. But how does it see itself? The threat comes from an SE-optimised site that collects contacts and data of potential new customers who then want to be saved. Each of these leads requires at least one email.
Every single email means more work for the man or woman in the field. This is because often the sales team is not as big as it needs to be to adequately process all the data and information and write all the reports concerning customer visits.
Too many customers per salesperson. Too few salespeople per region. The goal of gaining more customers with the new website sometimes backfires. B2B sales support, in particular, requires a certain tact and clarification of tasks. Joint workshops often work wonders. That doesn’t always work, but it’s getting ever better.
Sometimes also by creating positions, in order to process these leads. Or even through PIM and MAM and other systems, thanks to which the sales team is relieved and actually supported. Or through presentation tools that are standardised and can be accessed centrally.
As is so often the case, this too – the use of central sales tools – is a bone of contention. “How’s that again? I’m no longer be able to compile my own documents?” Or: “What? You want me to store my contacts centrally? My valued sources?”. This is also about information: The topic is insight, recognition. After all, the aim is not to rob individuals of their regional power, but to strengthen the team as a whole.
It’s no longer about producing a flyer and launching a competition, but about integrated communication. This is then real sales support with tools, techniques and procedures that make everyday life easier, reduce effort and increase the rate of sales success. Does any advertising agency offer you that? For your company? Isn’t that sales support?
Yes, it is. That’s sales support exactly. If you’d like more information on this – we offer MOST.
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