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Sales versus Marketing:Which one leads?

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Picture this: Toronto, 2021. We're sunken in a velvet sofa surrounded by fresh flowers. Over coffee and 70% cocoa dark chocolate, we're chatting all things copy and marketing. Enjoy!

I'm Laura
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When it comes to sales versus marketing in your business, which one leads?

I’ve noticed that, in many of the companies I’ve worked with, marketing and sales teams operate in silos. 

The marketing team focuses on the ‘fun’ stuff: events, social media, influencer partnerships, advertising and brand image. 

The sales team focuses on converting leads into customers. 

Here’s where this siloed approach goes horribly wrong. 

While sales and marketing have different roles, they share a common goal: 

to attract and nurture prospects and convert them to customers, so they can generate revenue.

And it’s not that companies don’t have sales and marketing plans. Many companies do, but a whopping 4 in 5 companies report being unsatisfied with their conversion rates!

So what’s going on? 

Why are companies reporting disappointing results when they have both essential plans in place?

Simply put, when companies don’t create a marketing plan in alignment with sales goals, they sell less. They fail to attract more customers and build a community of brand evangelists due to inconsistent messaging.

So what is the key to creating a strategic marketing plan driven by sales? 

How do you get two distinct functions with their own focusses to align with one common goal?

In this post, I’ll break down why your marketing plan needs to be driven by your sales strategy. That way, you can maximize your revenue and create a seamless customer experience – for the benefit of the whole company.

Let’s get into it. 

The Difference Between a Sales and Marketing Plan

Before we get into why your marketing plan needs to be informed by sales, let’s look at the differences between each plan. 

A sales plan is a document with specific goals for the business. It includes clearly defined targets for offering over a specific timeframe.

A marketing plan outlines the intended marketing activities you’ll undertake to support the overall strategy. It describes how you’ll attract and nurture customers to buy your products or services, with clear goals, actions and accountabilities. (source: BDC).

Did you notice the common denominator for both functions? Customers.

This is important because both plans should keep customers at the center of the action and take into account how each plan is nurturing the client at every step of the journey.

Because when the two work together to provide a product and experience driven by the customer?

Companies see more sales, increased customer loyalty, and a growing community of brand evangelists over time.

Need proof? Read on.

The Truth is Hard Campaign by the New York Times

Back in 2017, the New York Times faced declining sales and a lack of confidence in the news. Reeling from the election, they needed to increase sales, and build customer evangelists. 

They came up with the “The Truth Is Hard” video campaign, meeting their desired customer where they were in questioning what to believe and why they should believe it.

Global viewers were engaged and challenged to consider what truth meant to them.

The campaign was one of the most successful initiatives in the paper’s history.

As a result, the New York Times increased subscribers by 100%, improving the public’s perception of the well-known newspaper.

The campaign proved so effective, the paper sticks to this messaging today. 

New York Times ad, 2022

Now that we’ve clarified the difference between a sales plan and a marketing plan, let’s explore how to create each before we get into the importance of aligning these plans across your sales and marketing departments.

How to Write an Effective Sales Plan

As defined above, writing an effective sales plan requires you to set specific sales goals for your business and determine the actions you’ll need to take to reach them.

Here’s the good news.

Your sales plan doesn’t need to be complicated but you need one, whether you sell one product or 100.

It needs to be forward-thinking and specific to the needs and goals of your business.

Typically, a sales plan includes:

Sales Goals – Specific revenue and performance targets for a given period, considering new offerings, additional markets, new customer segments, etc.

Strategies – What are the big picture strategies you’re going to take to achieve your sales goals.

Tactics – What tactics will you employ to support the overall strategy of, for example, increasing sales for “x” product.

Measurement – What Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will you set to measure the effectiveness of your tactics?

The numbers tell a story, so monitoring the data throughout the campaign is crucial to ensure your strategy is working. If the tactics are ineffective, you have the opportunity to adjust along the way.

Above, you’ll notice there are separate categories for strategy and tactics — let’s clear up some common confusion when it comes to strategies versus tactics. 

Strategy vs. Tactics: A brief explanation 

Do you ever hear people refer to strategies as tactics and vice versa?

Strategy and tactics are very different but they’re often mistakenly used interchangeably — by people at the highest levels!

So before we go any further, let’s break it down.

A strategy defines long-term goals and the action plan that takes the company where you want to go.

The tactics are the individual steps that will get you there. They are concrete, actionable tasks executed to support the overall strategy, over a shorter timeframe and are often referred to as initiatives.

Here’s an example from the education industry, courtesy of ClearPoint Strategy:

Goal: Improve learning outcomes as demonstrated through standardized test scores.

Strategy: Incorporate more technology into the classroom to improve student engagement, and impact learning positively.

Tactics

  • Purchase and implement SMART systems in your classrooms for the upcoming school year.
  • Create educational materials for the SMART systems.
  • Provide teachers with professional development to support the best use of SMART systems and how they can use them to improve their teaching.

Now that we’ve defined the difference between a strategy and a tactic, let’s move on to creating an effective marketing plan that supports your sales goals. 

How to Write an Effective Marketing Plan

After 18 years in marketing, I most often see businesses meet and exceed their stated goals based on one factor: they develop their marketing plan based on sales goals.

It may sound simple, but many organizations start with their marketing vision, and fail consider what the sales department is doing at all.

Ad campaigns are planned, shoots are styled and at the end of the day, there’s no consistent message being communicated to the customer.

And this isn’t just true for bigger companies. In fact, starting with your sales goals is that much more important for brands in need of revenue so they can reinvest in building more brand awareness. 

So, while the focus is often on the glitz & glam of advertising, influencers, events, and viral campaigns, a solid marketing plan has two jobs:

  1. support sales

2. make customers feel they belong to the brand and the brand belongs to them.

Sounds simple, right? If only!

Let’s move on to what a marketing plan includes and how to ensure you’re integrating your efforts across the company.

Start with a marketing plan that includes:

  1. Brand Key – Remind your teams of what your brand stands for.
  2. A SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. 

2. Competitive Analysis: where do you stand compared to your competitors, and why.

3. Promotional tactics: what are the promotional tactics that resonate most with your clients. Where do you see the most conversion? Where does your client spend their time?

4. Alignment: Does your marketing plan align with your overall business plan? Does it consider the long-run direction of the business, vision, brand positioning, and promotion.

Narrow Your Focus to Big Pushes

Once you have these elements of your plan in place, it’s time to flush out specific tactics for each product or service your sales team has identified as a priority.

You’ll see an example of this in action below in the case study on Michael Kors, but a solid plan accounts for marketing tactics at every stage of the customer journey and every touchpoint.

Let’s take a look at one of the most successful marketing campaigns executed by Coke that focussed on their signature offering – a Coca-Cola!

Enter Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” Campaign (2011) 

Created by Ogilvy & Mather Sydney, the “Share a Coke” was built upon Coca-Cola’s long cultivated brand image rooted in friendship and bringing people together.

The campaign kicked off with the simple activation of placing the most popular Australian names on Coke bottles to drive sales and lead to social conversation around the soft drink.

The campaign became a focus at every customer touchpoint (commercials, billboards, experiential marketing, store displays, digital advertising). 

Each bottle also carried the hashtag #shareacoke to encourage users to buy and share bottles with their names, as well as those of friends and family, using social media.

Share a Coke campaign. Photo credit: Coca-Cola

The results showed that there was an uplift in brand perception for those aged 18-24. Those who were exposed to the #shareacoke campaign had a substantially better view of Coca-Cola than those who were not. 

So, not only did Coca-Cola raise awareness and sales, the campaign brought people around to the company (Diet Coke, Coke Zero) even though there’s a heightened awareness of risks associated with sugar consumption.

At this point, we’ve touched on two examples (NY Times and Coca-Cola) that show the overall benefits of an integrated marketing plan.

In the next few sections, we’re going to get into an even more detailed explanation, with a case study from Michael Kors.

Why Your Marketing Campaign Needs to Start with Sales

Let’s say that you’ve done your research, and you’re putting a proven product out that a specific customer wants or needs. Then, your next step is to feature that product and relate to the customer with marketing.

Many brands do the opposite. They start out with their marking campaign regardless of the sales plan, and then at the end of the season, everyone wonders why they didn’t meet expectations.

In other words, it makes absolutely no sense to be engaging customers on different channels without a coordinated focus that drives back to sales.

It’s also imperative that sales and marketing efforts are supporting the brand promise and meeting the customer where they are.

Otherwise, you also risk losing the customer due to confusion or mixed messaging across their experience.

Here are some of the measurable benefits of a sales-driven, strategic marketing plan:

1. Increased Revenue

HubSpot has reported that misalignment between sales and marketing teams costs a staggering $1 trillion a year.

At the same time, HubSpot found that organisations with excellent sales and marketing alignment close 38% more deals. And, achieve 27% faster three-year profit growth.

They also achieve 208% higher revenue than organisations with disconnected marketing and sales teams.

When you coordinate efforts across all divisions, there’s a focus on the products and services that bring in the most revenue. Customers are exposed to the product often (a core selling rule) and engage with the product differently. 

On the other hand, when you don’t have a focus for the products or services you want to push, you risk spreading your budget on many products that likely won’t meet your sales targets.

But, that doesn’t mean you only promote one product.

It means, a handful of products get the lion’s share of the marketing budget based on monetary investment and forecasted sales. 

It turns out your customers benefit, too.

2. Seamless Customer Journey

Imagine seeing an advertisement or receiving an email about a product or service, clicking over to it, and it’s nowhere to be found. 

Or walking into a store where the sales team is clueless about the new product drop you just saw on the company’s IG page.

According to Forbes, 69% of U.S. consumers shop more with brands that offer consistent experiences in store and online. And, companies that lead in customer experience outperform laggards by nearly 80%.

When your marketing plan aligns with your sales plan, the margin for miscommunication and lost sales is reduced.

You can anticipate needs, inspire desire and facilitate engagement. Your entire company can nurture the customer through the buying cycle, from awareness to closing the sale. 

But in order to really meet your customer where they are, at any point in their journey?

You have to listen.

3. Customer Intelligence (Voice of Customer)

Your marketing team should be spending a lot of time researching and executing on tactics that engage with your customers.

And, your sales team spends most of their time interacting with the customer.

All in all, both teams are at their most productive when they’re putting the customer first. 

So, by actively listening to…

  • what they want
  • how they spend their days
  • what solutions they’ve tried
  • what their friends said about their last purchase, etc., 

…sales reps and the marketing team are sitting on a gold mine of what copywriters call Voice of Customer.

And here’s why that’s important.

This exceptional picture into the minds and hearts of your customers will help develop messaging, copy and creative tailored to their needs and desires. 

As consulting firm Seventh Sense notes, “In order for marketing to be as effective as it can be, it has to be customized and highly relevant. Unless you know your customers inside and out, you can’t really get to that level of customization and personalization.”

When your sales and marketing team share this information, and integrate it into the various communication channels, they are more likely to capture and hold the attention of their audience.

They’re also better able to anticipate and meet their needs. 

4. Measurement 

Measuring your marketing efforts is the only way to decipher how to best use your resources. 

Whether you’re interested in cost-to-return ratio or less tangible metrics like customer loyalty or word of mouth evangelism, measurement will allow you to justify where your marketing dollars should be spent in the future. 

5. Competitive Edge

In my experience working with start-ups, mid-size companies and established brands, I’ve seen many marketing plans fail to consider their sales goals.

Run a brief competitive analysis of your peers and it will become evident that, in many cases, there’s an obvious disconnect between a company’s marketing focus and their sales focus. 

When you can get your ducks in a row, your marketing will stand out from the crowd of brands that continue to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

And when you can get your ducks in a row, your marketing will stand out from the crowd of brands that continue to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

When you start by identifying the products and services you expect will generate the most revenue, you’ll see how this integrated approach helps you stand out from the pack.

Let’s take a look at an example of this in detail.

A Strategic Marketing Plan Based on Sales: A case study from Michael Kors

Courtesy: Purseblog.com

In my most recent corporate role, I was the PR Director for Michael Kors Canada.

As part of a team of 50+ global marketers, I was responsible for developing regional plans in support of international campaigns.

Every season, sales would share the ‘Big Pushes’ with us. The Big Pushes were products based on Michael’s vision, sales forecasting, and new offerings.

While we always had an assortment of core products, every season we focussed on a handful of styles in each category (apparel, shoes, watches, etc.).

In 2013, the handbag was the Selma, and we were interested in maintaining and, ideally, gaining market share competitors in the same category. 

Introducing… The Selma

One of the most successful marketing campaigns I worked on was for a new handbag: the Selma. 

In this brief case study, we’ll focus on the launch of the MICHAEL Michael Kors Selma handbag to demonstrate how all divisions across the company coordinated their efforts to sell this significant investment for the brand.

Let’s get into it.

Goal: Introduce the Selma bag to the market for customers looking for a new covetable bag.

Strategy:  engage all company departments to actively promote the Selma handbag to meet sales targets and gain market share.

Here’s an overview of what the tactics looked like in action:

Creative: the Selma was the focal point of all creative materials, including catalogs, store signage, photoshoots, digital assets, etc.

E-comm: the Selma featured prominently on the home page, in editorial articles on the site, and featured product categories.

Social Media: dedicated hashtag for the product and a global campaign to generate user content cited with #jetsetselma.

In-store: Visual displays and product assortment focussed on the bag. Events: Launch events in key markets worldwide.

PR: editorial placement of the bag, as well as interviews with influencers about the bag. The bag featured prominently in lookbooks and lent for fashion shoots. 

Partnerships:  influencer and celebrity placements to reach a new audience.

Email Marketing: the Selma was consistently featured in email marketing during the pre-launch, launch and post-launch phases of the Jet Set Selma campaign.

Here’s an example of some of the press garnered from the campaign:

Michael Kors Selma Instagram Campaign. Courtesy: Luxury Daily
Michael Kors Fall 2014 ad campaign.

The results

As a result of the integrated marketing plan, the Selma became one of the brand’s best-selling handbags and was produced for many seasons in different styles.

Global social media campaigns captured a new audience, and sparked demand for the product from new and emerging regions. 

Future product offerings, marketing campaigns, and departmental resources were allocated based on the launch’s success.

As Reuters reported at the time, 

“Fashion company Michael Kors Holdings Ltd raised its full-year forecast after strong sales of its luxury items such as handbags and watches over the holiday period helped to win market share from rival Coach Inc , sending its shares to a record high.”

The launch’s success was due to collaboration and intelligence shared between the buying department, sales teams, customer service staff, and the marketing team. 

In Closing: Sales versus Marketing: Which one leads? Sales.

To sum up, sales don’t happen by accident. They happen by design.

Said another way, creating a marketing plan that doesn’t support or align with sales goals is like shooting at a moving target with a blindfold.

You’ll waste time, money and energy.

When your sales and marketing teams collaborate, share information, and streamline their efforts, you have a measurably better chance of improving your sales.

If done well, you will also expand your customer base and turn them into loyal customers and brand evangelists. 

What’s Your Next Step?

Creating a sales-focussed marketing strategy will require a shift in the way you’ve likely been marketing until now.

Said another way, creating a marketing plan that doesn’t support or align with sales goals is like shooting at a moving target with a blindfold.

You’ll waste time, money and energy.

When your sales and marketing teams collaborate, share information, and streamline their efforts, you have a measurably better chance of improving your sales.

If done well, you will also expand your customer base and turn them into loyal customers and brand evangelists. 

What’s Your Next Step?

Creating a sales-driven marketing strategy will require a shift in the way you’ve likely been marketing until now.

Whether you have three products, or 300, you’ll get a clearer picture on where to allocate your resources and your marketing dollars.

Then, once you understand your overall sales strategy, you can build out a marketing plan that supports your company’s big pushes.

And the best part?

This type of planning will enable you to consistently plan, execute and measure the ROI of your marketing for now and for years to come.

If you would like some help developing a proven sales and marketing process designed to maximize sales by putting your customer first, check out my signature service, Five Star Sales Strategy here. 

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I've worked with entrepreneurs and corporate brands to sell their offers and communicate their value for over 15 years.

When you hire me, you benefit from my experience working with the the best marketing minds in the game (Tom Ford, Christian Louboutin, Michael Kors), because I've learned all I know from working with them.

If you're looking for a seasoned copywriter to capture your voice and the attention of your audience, you've discovered the numbers-obsessed, detail-possessed copywriter you need.

Hi, I'm Laura.
Your new trusted copywriter & marketing strategist.

Former luxury goods pr director, mama, coffee-obsessed lover of the longread

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