Back in 2003 I was sitting in the HR office at Frito Lay listening to the director unveil the amazing career path they had assembled for me; it was a path that included at least 3 years in a sales role—how dare they! “A marketer can never turn to the dark side”, I thought to myself. My narrow opinion at the time was that grinding out sales was beneath me, it was not a role for a creative and analytical marketing strategist like yours truly – or so I thought.
Twelve years later, and with some life experience behind me, I’ve realized they were right… I needed sales experience. Here are three (3) reasons why I believe all marketers should have experience as a seller:
1. Provides Deeper Insights. Marketers are often caught up in the world of data clusters. We see stats such as: 62% of females in Western Canada like whole grain bread, but we often forget the realities of that data. What’s it like for customers to buy bread when their kids are crying and there’s an overstuffed shelf of 24 varieties to choose from? What factors are at work when it comes to the decisions made by a store manager regarding which product to carry or feature? Sales teams have more opportunities to learn about the ‘place’ and distribution channels of their products than most marketers and that kind of insight is gold.
2. Focuses on Revenue Generation. Sales teams are motivated and rewarded based on the revenue they generate. Sales strategies, tools and alignment tactics are all focused on growing revenue with current customers or gaining new customers—it’s all very tangible and practical. Marketers on the other hand can often become lulled into complacency, analyzing long-term measures and other indicators such as impressions, consumer engagement, market share or brand awareness. These measures are fine but unless they are linked to revenue and profitability they do nothing to motivate or equip the organization to fulfill its mission. A seller is driven by financial gain, a successful marketer also has that fire-in-their-belly.
3. Teaches Strategy Execution. I have presented strategies and tactics to a lot of sales teams in order to help them win customers (it’s tough business selling a seller) but it’s all-for-not if one doesn’t practice what is learned. Nothing refines a sellers approach like presenting it yourself and feeling the sting of negative feedback firsthand. There is no insight you can glean secondhand that can help you as much as repeatedly selling. Over time a sales person comes to understand the history and depth of the connections that exist or the realities of all the other priorities that are facing your customers. Sales exemplifies the effectiveness of a marketing strategy—end of story.
There are a ton of other reasons why sales experience is invaluable to a marketer but you don’t have to hold a formal sales role to gain this contextual advantage. Tag along during a sales call, join a sales meeting, and contribute to sales activities as best as you’re able. If you’re a leader, ensure your key people and marketers can gain sales experience because it’s an investment with a high return down the road.