Most CEOs realize that having a strong company culture means more than happy hours and HR gimmicks. In fact, Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report found that 82 percent of survey respondents believe culture can be a competitive advantage.
What they might not realize, however, is the particular importance of culture in one area of business: sales. Sixty-five percent of B2B organizations consider sales productivity their top challenge, and a strong sales culture facilitates employee alignment, strategic execution, and continuous improvement. When sales thrives, so does the entire company.
HP, one of the two spin-offs from Hewlett-Packard’s recent split, used the opportunity to put its sales culture under the microscope. According to the Deloitte report, it analyzed activities, behaviors, competencies, and compensation across its global salesforce, giving leaders insight into the attributes of top performers. Based on the analysis, the company called on sales leaders to make “culture commitments” designed to transform how the company sells.
HP is hardly the only company working to strengthen its sales culture. So if your sales team is to make good on cultural commitments of its own, it needs clear cultural direction — and, more importantly, a fresh leader to direct it.
Who should that person be? Bright people come from all walks of life, but in this case, you need someone with the mind of a digital marketer.
Go Broad: The Cultural Shifts Sales Needs
Fortunately, you don’t need an opportunity as dramatic as HP’s to redirect your sales culture. Hiring a sales lead with a digital marketer’s skill set can bring the following reforms:
- A focus on lifetime customer value: Optimization is the watchword of digital marketing. Marketers are comfortable using techniques like structured A/B testing and goal programming — a type of multiobjective optimization that uses linear modeling to determine the best outcome from multiple, often conflicting measures — to understand which tactics drive results.
Sales leaders should take a similar approach. One might, for instance, examine flows across the company’s call centers to spot critical upsell or cross-sell points in the customer relationship. While an average head of sales might view a target customer list as a one-and-done initiative, the best sales leaders know that customer acquisition doesn’t drive profits like long-term retention does.
- An understanding that all leads are not created equal: Too many sales teams take a one-size-fits-all approach to lead contacts. Digital marketing, on the other hand, seeks to maximize resources by prioritizing and customizing lead outreach.
In sales, traffic source matters. A lead that originated from an organic search, for instance, is about eight times as likely to convert as a social media lead. If an organic search lead comes in ready to buy, it should be passed directly to a sales specialist. If, however, the lead interacted with the company’s Facebook site, sales might ask the social media team to conduct educational outreach, supporting that lead toward an eventual sale.
- A quantitative approach to improvement: A digital marketer wouldn’t dream of leaving a campaign unanalyzed or a lead unscored. Fortunately, marketing isn’t the only realm that can benefit from quantitative analysis. A savvy sales leader also knows how to leverage data to evaluate sales capabilities.
Much like paid search rankings, an effective sales leader might rank reps who generate long-term, high-value customers ahead of those reps who sell more transactionally. Scoring salespeople based on data removes subjectivity while reinforcing behaviors that drive desired results. In fact, McKinsey & Company found that companies that make sales and marketing decisions based on data improve their marketing ROI by 15 to 20 percent.
Select Your Next Sales Leader
The best sales leaders strike a balance between efficient acquisition and maximizing customer lifetime value — all while engaging and motivating their sales professionals. When vetting your next sales leader, hold out for these hallmarks of digital marketing:
- Agility: Like sales, digital marketing requires the ability to quickly pivot based on what’s working and what’s not. Fortunately, digital marketers are veterans of the fail-your-way-to-success philosophy.
In 2007, I invested untold hours and $250,000 to find the perfect landing page concept. But because it was rooted in data and refined through testing, that landing page still stands today — 10 years later — delivering strong ROI despite the sizable investment.
- End-to-end process knowledge: Ask candidates to describe what happens from the moment a prospect responds to an ad through the post-sale customer experience. This is where a digital marketer’s deep understanding of the sales funnel will stand out.
Even though sales cycles across products and industries vary widely, research shows that 80 percent of sales require at least five follow-ups. Unfortunately, 44 percent of salespeople only follow up once, meaning they lose four-fifths of potential sales due to inadequate cycle knowledge. But with their focus on lead nurturing, applicants with digital marketing backgrounds aren’t likely to give up when a single follow-up doesn’t suffice.
- Critical thinking ability: Digital marketers realize gut instinct isn’t the route to sustained revenue growth. Instead, they think critically: What tools, processes, and platforms can help the team’s efforts scale?
That mindset is exemplified by Mark Roberge, former chief revenue officer of HubSpot’s sales division. While CRO, he designed a scalable process based on consistent hiring, training, and analysis combined with high-quality lead generation. Roberge’s efforts helped the SaaS company grow to more than 10,000 customers and $100 million-plus in annual recurring revenue.
Whomever you eventually choose to lead your sales team, remember this: Sales are the heartbeat of a company. Sales beget more sales. Confidence on the front lines inspires confidence throughout the organization. And well-understood customers turn into long-term, loyal customers. That’s why a strong, data-driven sales culture is a competitive advantage, and that’s why finding someone with these skills will set your company apart.
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