The merger between Sales and Marketing for Startups

Remember your biology lessons back at school? Well if you were paying attention, you might have heard of this Darwin guy. He underlined that the species most suited to survive, are those that better adapt themselves to their environment. Today we’ll be looking at a very intriguing species, known for constantly adapting to its circumstances: the start-up. Start-ups have been here for a while now, but they never cease to impress with innovative new trends in the business sector.

From venture capital to growth hacking, start-ups have revolutionized the way small and medium sized businesses work and they just keep on doing it again and again with each passing day. Especially in recent years, a new trend has consolidated itself in the horizon: the merger between marketing and sales activities at start-ups. Blasphemy!! That is what you would probably hear from a hard-core marketing or sales evangelist some years ago. However, the facts are out there at plain sight, as most start-ups are beginning to close the gap between marketing and sales-based activities such as customer acquisition.

Min(S-M) = success for S-M>0

What the hell is Min(S-M)? Don’t worry it’s not a complicated mathematic formula or even a proved equation at all. Nonetheless, there certainly is some truth to it. This equation states that the smaller the gap between the sales (S) and marketing (M) activities of a business, the more successful its results will be. Don’t get me wrong, naturally there must be a differentiation between specific marketing and sales tasks (hence S-M>0).

Nonetheless, the better the coordination between both activities at a start-up, the higher the chances of success. Now coordination might be too smooth of a word in this case, as you can infer from the “merger” noun in this article’s title. This does not mean that marketing is now sales and sales is now marketing. It means that many start-ups have realized the value of mixing both ingredients into the same recipient. One of the best proofs can be found just within most start-ups’ team.  

Introducing the role of the business developer

If you haven’t heard of this term before, try doing a quick LinkedIn search for business development. You will come across many profiles of professionals working at start-ups or SMBs, usually with a sales and marketing background. Although the term business development is not new to the field, the role of the business developer certainly is. What does he or she do? Well, develop a business. As “simple” as that. Which are two of the main tools he uses for this? Sales and marketing.

A business developer possesses a specific skillset that allows him to market a start-up’s products or services through different (usually online) channels and at the same time close deals with the mature inbound leads he receives from such campaigns. I personally worked as a business developer in various German start-ups and spent many mornings switching between monitoring diverse online marketing campaigns and follow-up calls with interesting leads.

The more skeptical might argue that the main reason lies behind the lack of personnel and funds available at start-ups. This might be true up to a certain point. Start-ups usually do have a very limited budget and this might have been the initial cause that gave birth to the business developer, but it is definitively not the reason for this role’s existence.

Online marketing and lead generation:  a powerful hand in hand relationship @ start-ups

Let’s go back to our formula and implement it on our business developer example. Which will be more effective for a start-up: a professional that can cover the whole sales funnel from beginning to end or two professionals, one that acquires the leads and one that closes the deal? One could think that the first option overloads an employee with too much responsibility and work, but it doesn’t. That is exactly what a business developer does and it has produced so much success in start-ups so far, that the position is significantly more sought after with each month that goes by.

As an expert in online marketing, a business developer creates campaigns to acquire leads through SEO, social media, email or content marketing and other similar channels. He then classifies inbound leads and works to convert the high-quality ones into paying customers. A much simpler process than the classic coordination between marketing and sales teams, which results in information asymmetries and a larger resource investment.

Many CRM tools such as SalesForce or Hubspot allow a business development team to coordinate more efficiently prospect information, marketing campaigns and lead management. Other tools help business developers to capture high-quality leads directly in their inbound marketing campaigns and thus convert them more efficiently into buyer’s. A great way to understand this new merger between marketing and sales tasks is to take a look from the perspective of the buyer`s journey. 

The buyer’s journey: a trip that starts with marketing and finishes with sales

A buyer’s journey follows a business’s potential customer along the different steps that he takes between realizing his need and choosing a solution for it. It is divided in three phases: awareness, consideration and decision. In an old-school business, the marketing team would look to focus in capturing a prospect’s awareness and informing him about the company’s products or services so that he considers this possibility.

A sales team would the focus in guiding the potential customer towards that purchase decision. So, different actors would be required to capture a prospect’s interest, transform it into intent and lead them to a final purchase. Well, that was until start-ups came along. Now a single individual can guide prospects through both parts of the journey, which results in better customer relationships and a smoother conduction of leads along the sales funnel.

Let’s look at a more modern, start-up example. The business developer of a start-up decides to publish an informational blog post or white paper as part of the start-up’s content marketing campaign. This focuses on a specific need that can be fulfilled by whatever the start-up offers. The end of the post then includes a specific call-to-action, like subscribing to the newsletter or to a free-trial of the start-ups products. In this sense, the business developer appeals to the reader’s awareness of their need and helps them consider the start-ups product/services through the explanatory article. Through the call-to-actions that he chose, he can then track potential leads and convert them into buyer`s. Voilà! All within a lean, uncomplicated process. This is just the beauty of the internet. 

See original presentation here.

What other advantages does the marketing-sales merger have for SMEs?

The closing gap within both business activities has a great deal of advantages, in addition to the ones already mentioned. Some clear benefits for small and medium enterprises are:

  • Flexibility: Most SMEs are fragile and subject to many risks originated from a dynamic entrepreneurial environment and thus require flexible strategies that can be adapted to the circumstances. Marketing and sales activities that are performed by a single person or group instead of two different teams, are much easier to adapt when reorienting a strategy. 
  • Goal alignment: Coordinated KPIs between marketing and sales activities, which helps saving valuable resources and produces accountable results.

  • Transparent information: No information asymmetries between marketing and sales teams which drive productivity down and might result in a bad image towards customers or external partners.

  • Clear customer picture: Possibility of following each lead clearly along the buyer’s journey and thus acting better upon each given situation.

  • High-quality lead generation: An efficient, well-aligned prospecting process between marketing and sales activities results in high-quality leads and more deals closed. Combining both activities helps to better identify interesting leads and judge them based on common parameters or scoring systems. This automatically results in more conversions.

The list could go on for a while, but I guess you already got the picture. The question lies on whether this is just another passenger trend, or if it came here to stay.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change
— Charles Darwin

A glimpse into the future

For a while now many executives and experts have been playing with the word “smarketing”. As you probably guessed, this refers to the alignment between sales and marketing activities, even for large businesses. Many skeptics will disagree and argue that combining both activities would be like combining beer and wine. Even though studies have proven that an alignment can lead to up to a 20% revenue increase.

A less radical, but still conservative point of view, will judge that a closer collaboration will be beneficial, but that roles should remain separate. Personally, I find that the merger is already there for small and medium sized businesses, the facts are crystal clear. Larger businesses, having a much more rigid structure, will probably still separate both activities. However, they certainly will also assimilate the advantages of narrowing the gap between both and will thus practice a more enhanced collaboration.

The signs are clear and as the former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch once said “change before you have to”. Just as the finches studied by Darwin adapted to occupy new territories and survive, diverse start-ups and SMEs are shifting their strategies in order to profit from this junction and set the pillars for a new era of business.      


Michael Steinberg is the Head of Business Development at Beamium.


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