It always surprises me how many manufacturing companies have people involved in ‘sales and marketing’. The term seems to suggest that they are synonymous functions, and indeed some companies operate as if they are. However, the differences between the two are far more than merely semantic. Not only that, they are in the wrong order.
Marketing should be first, as it focusses on the customer. Part of its role is to discover who the most likely purchasers will be; seek to explore their preferences and needs; and communicate the values and capabilities of the product/service/company. Another part of a marketer’s role is to establish a good relationship with customers so that their requirements can be met and they, in turn, trust the company’s ability to give them what they need. It is all about establishing genuine, long term confidence in the company and/or the brand. John Lewis is brilliant at this. BHS wasn’t.
Whilst marketing has a long term customer focus, sales is more concerned with the product or service itself - and with income targets and market share. The sales function is essential to sell existing products and services and make customers aware of the relative benefits of your offering compared to those from the competition. In many ways, sales is the sharp end of marketing. It uses the confidence and communication built up by the marketing function to make a specific offer that delivers profits and growth.
For some manufacturing companies, sales is the dominant function. This is unfortunate, as it means those companies are not focussing on innovation and understanding what the customers really want or need. Whilst effective sales is a vital business function, it precludes a longer term of view of what customers want and therefore inhibits development - often resulting in a gradual decline in revenue and profits. We see this quite often as companies continue making the same products long after they should have been pensioned off. By the time the problem is identified it is often too late to rush a new product into the market, particularly if a more customer-focussed competitor has already taken your place.
The solution is to separate these apparently synonymous functions and make sure that your company’s marketing informs which products are developed. In particular, you should:
- Constantly question your product range to check that it is still relevant
- Talk to your customers about their requirements and, in particular, their plans for the future
- Find out what their wish list of improvements or innovations would be
- Explore what other products or services you could provide that would enhance your offering
- Challenge yourself and your colleagues to look at radical new product ideas
Effective marketing strives to make all interactions between you and your customers into positive experiences, so that you become the default choice in your sector.
Get that right and sales should be a doddle.