Where does sales and marketing alignment start?

Guest blogger Carole Mahoney is the founder of Mahoney Internet Marketing and is passionate about sales and marketing alignment (Smarketing). Currently she is writing a book called "Ingagements" which mashes together inbound and customer engagement.

Inbound has changed the way that people buy, and if you are reading Frank Beltzer's book Sales Shift, you know that the way companies sell needs to change with their customers. Becoming customer centric in your business is the only key to growth that matters. Engagement is the new customer experience.

Sales and marketing alignment is becoming more popular these days and many talk about the need to implement smarketing strategies and tactics for increased revenue. Companies ignore smarketing at the risk of their own extinction. Relevance and innovation gets lost in silos. But what role does the inbound agency play in the smarketing game?

How and where to start smarketing are the questions that many inbound agency owners and freelancers are asking me. I can tell you it starts with the first conversation you have with your agency prospects.

In short, Smarketing starts with the customer, the buyer. Hybrid inbound agencies that can act as the customer advocate for their clients' business have a distinct advantage in the marketplace. But there are a few challenges to overcome first.

Steps to Developing a Smarketing Process for Your Agency

You became a Hubspot partner by drinking the orange kool-aid yourself first. My advice to start a Smarketing process is no different. Here are the steps (in order of importance) of where you should start your own sales and marketing alignment in order to start helping your clients with the same.

  1. Get sales assessments (and coaching if needed) for you and your customer-facing team.
  2. Learn how to develop and apply buyer persona profiles.
  3. Align your sales and account management process to your buyer persona's buying process.

Why Sales Assessments Are Not Just For Sales People

Smervice Account Managers Are Needed For Smarketing

First understand that the clients you initially won and serviced to start and grow your agency will never be completely happy with an account manager that you pass them off to. They will eventually go away unless they have access to you, the one they know and trust and who won them over initially. I'm not saying it can't happen, but I have yet to witness or experience an employee who has the same passion for a founder's clients.

So how do you scale? You need to make sure your account managers can SELL, MARKET AND SERVICE so that your clients become THEIR clients. Hubspot is calling it Smervices. (And you thought Smarketing was silly?!)

You also need to stop thinking that hiring account managers is your way of creating mini-me's, or cloning yourself. You can't be cloned, the entrepreneurial passion that got you here can not be learned, no matter how many months of job shadowing you do. Instead think of your agency as a franchise, or entrepreneurial incubator. Your account managers are the franchisees. Your tools, systems, processes are available to them to help them build their own books of business that they have sold and continue to service. They are your agency to the client.

Client management requires a strong set of sales, marketing and customer services skills. Project or account managers need to be the sales people that both hunt and farm, for your agency and for your clients. I would even be so bold as to say they are the most important sales person you have in your agency. But they also need to know marketing to manage the freelancers and vendors that execute the inbound strategy they created with the client. They need to be able to to service the client as if they were their own and advise them as a consultant.

This is why the consultative selling approach so important for account managers. If they are having trouble getting sales to talk to them, they are blind to the buying process that is happening and eventually they go off course to what is happening with the client. The rift between your client's sales team and your marketing agency gets wider and wider until they eventually churn.

inbound churn countdownCreating 'ingagements' with clients means that during the initial sale the expectation needs to be that the client is giving full access to your agency. Sales assessments and training is not just for sales people. You can show your account managers how to work a process with your clients, but that doesn't mean they can execute it. If they have your team in the 'marketing box' and tell you that sales and customers are not your problem, you just need to create blog posts and offers to get leads, you have missed the trusted adviser status and the churn clock starts ticking.

Building Buyer Persona Profiles Are Not A Marketing Only Activity

What I have learned is that beginning of sales and marketing alignment happens during the buyer persona development.  While the account managers are going through the buyer persona development process with their client's customer facing team, they are building on that trusted adviser status that was established during the initial sales process. They are also learning how the company sells to their customer and should be helping their sales people to be consultative (not spamming) online. Your account manager needs to be able to coach your client. Now do you see why trusted adviser status is required?

Creating the buyer persona profiles is the first step taken together to aligning sales and marketing, the next is developing and executing the strategy together.  The buyer persona is the tool to center the strategy around. Aligning sales and marketing together starts with the customer first.

Helping clients to successfully align sales and marketing enables them to get the ROI they need in the short term. Most clients can't invest into inbound for more than 6 months without seeing sales. The problem is that many agencies think their job stops at lead generation. The bigger problem is that when the leads they are generating aren't closing no one knows why. Some even see initial traffic spikes go down, even though they are using all the inbound tactics. then 6-12 months later their clients start getting that look in their eye and tone in their voice that asks ,"Why isn't this working for us the way it seems to work for everyone else?"

While the account managers are going through the buyer persona development process with their client's customer facing team, they are building that trusted adviser status (if they have the sales skills).

The  beginning of sales and marketing alignment happens during the buyer persona development and application to content. I've also realized that it is a lot easier to get sales bought into alignment for content creation and interaction on social media when there is a co-created buyer persona profile. They will help with the effort when they know they can direct it and when they understand that you are showing them how to do it for themselves.

Because this is not just about inbound marketing and includes how your client is getting their business now (what got them there), the buyer persona becomes the filter for information. How should you integrate offline and online? What networking events and LinkedIn groups should you be coaching clients to use? What tradeshows and people on Twitter should they be following and sharing with? How should the TV ad grab attention and drive it to the web?

Creating the buyer persona is the first step to aligning the teams together, the next is developing and executing the strategy together. Once you start managing leads and establishing the closed loop feedback, you should be celebrating growth. The buyer persona becomes the means to an end and how you to center and align your teams together. But if your account managers are not able to move fluidly from sales, marketing and service, be a customer advocate for their client's business, and act consultatively, they will never be anything more than an order taker and to-do list manager.

The million dollar question is how to align sales and marketing, not whether you should.

A lot of agencies are asking me that question of how. Some think that we all have the same buyer persona and offering, and perhaps that is one reason why there isn't more collaboration between Hubspot partners. The reality is that we don't all have the same buyer persona, and therefore don't all have the same process. There is a unique niche that every agency has in their approach and how they work with clients.

The trick is to use a process that can be repeated and continuously improved and that is delightful to your client. Assessing your agency's sales strengths and weaknesses and developing a validated learning process for your buyer persona profiles will enable you to create your own unique 'how to'.

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