Round Table Debate: Sales & Marketing

Posted on the 17 December 2015

Round Table Debate: Sales & Marketing

Sales and marketing are critical areas for all businesses, regardless of their size and how long they have been established.

While the rise of e-commerce heralded a fundamental change in the way we sell and buy, good digital marketing has not replaced traditional sales pipelines, but added to them.

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s fifth round table of 2015 focussed on the subject, and included a diverse group of companies from across the North East who shared their experiences and advice.

The event was hosted by the Reece Group at its site in the former Armstrong Works in Newcastle upon Tyne, and the sessions were chaired by Gillian Marshall and Michael Dixon of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

Gillian Marshall, Chief Executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum said “Sales and Marketing can be the toughest nut to crack for many businesses, it is often the difference between stagnation and success, so it comes as no shock that this roundtable event was so popular with our members.”

Delegates outlined some of their issues and experiences, including the relative benefits and drawbacks of keeping sales and marketing in-house and outsourcing them.

Jeff Jamison of All said: “We’ve taken on sales people to drive our business forward and it hasn’t always worked. People often take the easy way and just send an email. Some people think that marketing is just keeping in touch by sending an email and from a sales point of view it’s the same.”

Nick Salloway of Status Marketing said: “Tension often arises when marketing teams generate leads that don’t close. It’s important for marketing and sales teams to work collaboratively to understand how the business will generate a sufficient volume of qualified leads, and how it will nurture leads until they are ready to buy. Simply passing large numbers of unqualified leads to sales is likely to result in poor close rates, particularly if the leads don’t fit the criteria of prospects you want to do business with.” 

He added: “Search is a significant factor when it comes to creating qualified leads for your sales teams, and creating targeted content that speaks to specific buyer needs and which is optimised around relevant long-tail key phrases, should be your focus. You're always going to be the expert on your product or service so ideally your marketing team should own the content creation process, rather than outsourcing it.”

He added: “Search is a significant factor when it comes to creating qualified leads for your sales teams, and creating targeted content, optimised around relevant long-tail key phrases, that speaks to specific buyer needs should be your focus. You're always going to be the expert on your product or service so ideally your marketing team should own the content creation process, rather than outsourcing it.”

Kieron Goldsborough of Narrative Integrated Communications said: “Your sales and marketing strategy has to be right for your business, your clients, and your target clients. It has to be joined up. Tangible things need to be noted in a service level agreement. Including what the agency needs from the client.”

Martin Shutt of Parker Stag said: “I think a good salesperson should generate lots of leads themselves, just by being a good salesperson. At the other end of the spectrum sometimes salespeople seem to look for excuses not to sell.”

Gillian Marshall: said: “In terms of data, we’ve all collected a lot of valuable data over the years, but we often neglect what is in front of us. Potential clients can be right there in the rich data you already have.”

One issue a number of the businesses have faced is making the decision to start outsourcing to sales and marketing agencies.

John Burns of Diamond Group said: “You need to make commitment to a marketing structure and put it in place. If I had a proper structure in place years ago I would be in a much better position than I am now. When you get to a certain size you have to bring in people to do it for you.”

Craig Matthews of Eemits Communications said: “In all businesses that grow organically we end up doing the selling ourselves. It just happens that way. One of the issues I’ve had with marketing companies is that our products are quite technical and they don’t understand them. You always end up writing the specification for them yourself.”

Esme Flounders of Narrative Integrated Communications: “It’s having the confidence to take the leap. We see this all the time, even with global companies, there is a fundamental disconnect between their marketing and sales funnels.”

The topic of staff in what are traditionally non-sales roles selling was discussed. 

Stephen Irish, of Hyperdrive Innovation, said: “We have got people doing active sales, people looking after projects and people doing the work, and they all have the opportunity to offer new projects or products. Especially with technical people, they often withdraw from the idea of sales. You almost have to take the ‘sales’ word out of it to make it palatable to them.”

Jamie Robertson-McIsaac, of Robertson-McIsaac Ltd, said: “If I said to my handlers that they had a sales role, they would throw their hands up in horror. Just to get them to communicate in a more sales-like manner would be quite nice.”

Graham Sleep, of Improvement Architecture, said: “Some people think, ‘well, I’m not interested in sales’, but if there is a chance to make some pennies, then it can be different.”

Andrew Pickersgill, of Sanders Training North East, said: “There are different attributes of a sales person. There are the people who want to go and do the client acquisitions, people who want to manage the accounts, and it’s all about how your business model works. You might need more money from the clients you have got and it’s down to the account manager, or you might need more clients.”

James Mishreki, of Competitor Monitor, said: “Existing customers often want to upgrade and expand and they have historically dealt with an account manager, who isn’t a sales person. This is essentially a sales function, but the person they know, like and trust, and have dealt with for a year and a half is the account manager.”

Ben McKechnie, of Epicurium, said: “Rather than being pure sales, we want the relationship to develop so the clients will trust what is being recommended to them. “

Some Forum members discussed their sales pipelines and delays in them.

Stephen Irish said: “My record is three and a bit years with one customer not spending anything. People were saying to give up and then all of a sudden there we were, building a vehicle for them. With varying and uncertain sales cycles, it’s about making sure there is enough going on.”

James Mishreki said: “I had a guy called me up yesterday and just said ‘we are ready to go ahead’. I couldn’t remember anything about it and, when I pulled up the CRM, the last time I had talked to him was 2013. People are busy. Sometimes the decision maker has a million other things on and, if it’s new for them, it’s sometimes harder to get our foot in the door.”

A popular area of discussion was how sales and marketing challenges differ across different industries.

Gillian Rice, of Tyne Valley Plastics Ltd, said: “Our industry is very price sensitive. We do stay away from things like automotive and try to keep in the niches. We have been going over 22 years now and a lot of the work in our sector went out to China, because it’s very cheap out there, but we are finding a lot of it is coming back. We have very long waits and then all of a sudden a client will come back and want to go ahead, and all of a sudden it is very urgent.”

Graham Sleep said: “Still number one for us is referrals. We actually have a model in place to generate referrals with clients. If we are in doing a piece of work with a client, at the start we say we will be back looking for referrals. It’s all done in a fun way, which it has to be, sometimes. We didn’t set up a website for one of our businesses, because we had so much work coming in from referrals that the capacity wasn’t there to take on any work generated by a website, so why bother?”

Andrew Pickersgill said: “We specifically talk about the investment required to buy products, services, or whatever you are selling, long before you get to demonstrating or showcasing any of the good stuff that you have got. When I was trained in the corporate world, it was ‘show up, throw up, give them the good stuff for free’. You might get a deal, but it’s probably the case that you won’t. Realistically, you want to go in and give them an idea of what it’s going to cost and if that qualifies them, then show them. It gets away from doing a demo and then telling them it’s going cost ten grand and they say they thought it was going to be £100.”

Steve Guest said: “Listening to everything that’s been said here, everyone is having the similar problems. It’s reassuring to see it’s not just happening to me.

As the session came to a close, Forum Chief Executive Gillian Marshall said: “With sales being the lifeblood of business, our sales and marketing roundtables are always a lively and highly interactive session. We’ve discussed everything from keeping up with new trends in social media marketing to finding great sales people…. many actions taken away to think about!