Efficient selling requires effective marketing. Salespeople are often more effective than broader marketing tactics, especially in a B2B context, but the cost to sell directly to the customer are much higher. Efficient selling requires an optimal mix of direct-selling and broader marketing initiatives to reduce the cost of selling and increase profitability for a company.
The importance of advertising in reducing selling costs is not a new concept. In “How to Reduce Selling Costs, published in 1920, Paul E. Derrick stated that “selling costs go down in proportion to the increasing reputation of any product, as measured by the suction of demand for it. […] The only way to create this suction of demand, for any article or service is by efficient salesmanship.”
Efficient salesmanship requires that the salesman be supported with marketing tactics that prime prospective clients and ease barriers to the sale. This allows a salesforce to create that suction of demand without relying entirely on costly direct-selling. Marketing initiatives should generate awareness and produce leads or establish credibility and help court interested leads. A company’s marketing must help build inertia for the salesperson and support prospective clients when they are considering multiple solutions.
Marketing also supports the salesforce by developing brand equity and supporting reputation building. Proper branding is not just a pretty, polished image, but a calculated positioning supported by strong messaging that differentiates one’s goods and services. Without branding or a reputation, salespeople are selling the rational benefits of a product. Branding and reputation are a means of creating a desire for a good or service and enhancing public opinion of it above its intrinsic value. It is a means of putting it on a pedestal of distinction above other similar goods beyond what is objectively reasonable.
There are three types of value a customer can derive from a product.
- Functional Value
- Brand Value
- Reputational Value
Functional value is the client’s rational price/quality consideration of the product or service. This entirely rational calculation compares a product or service to other similar ones with no consideration for polish, image, or reputation. It simply weighs whether the good or service provides a solution or performs a function better or worse than other offerings. There is little difference in quality between a Hugo Boss suit and a Banana Republic suit, yet Boss suits sell for two to three times the price of a BR suit and rarely go on sale. Hugo Boss’ brand is mostly responsible for the higher ticket price.
Brand Value and Reputational Value are subjective elements that lead clients to be more likely to select a given company’s good or service, make them willing to pay more for them, and makes them less likely to switch to other offerings. (See our blog A Reputation is Not a Brand, for more insight into how a brand differs from a reputation). These values develop goodwill and acceptance in the market, which builds momentum for a company’s products or services and reduces future selling costs.
B2B sales are more rational than B2C ones, especially when dealing with materials sourcing or procurement personnel, but brand and reputational value is impactful. It is essential that companies support the rational decision making process with professional resources and collateral that adds credibility and eases the decision making process.
So how can a company apply these principles?
Ensure that you have a strong brand, efficient indirect marketing systems, and effective marketing collateral. The intention is not to supersede the direct sales force, as it is essential, but to reduce the burden on it.
Think about how marketing can fit in your process. Marketing lends credibility to an organization, primes prospects for direct interactions with a salesperson, and improve conversion rates by supporting prospective clients to choose you during their selection process.
Never forget about your salesforce though. Marketing can support and automate some elements of the sales process to move prospective clients through it without direct action by the salesforce, but in the end it still comes down to a salesman or saleswoman. There comes a time when the delicacy of the human touch is required. Sales to business are made between people and nearly always come down to a person to person interaction.
The key takeaway is to make your sales function more efficient without making it less effective. That requires a careful coordination of marketing and sales. Support your salespeople with effective marketing so they can accomplish more.