SALES DRIVERS

It's never been so important for PR and sales teams to work together. But that can be just as difficult as it sounds.

It's never been so important for PR and sales teams to work together. But that can be just as difficult as it sounds.

There is a strong argument that a decade of focusing on brand versus customer sales created an economic house of cards. While few would suggest throwing out the brand baby with Wall Street's dirty bath water, a market condition characterized by diminished confidence seems to suggest that investment in PR is needed now more than ever. But the 39% drop in corporate PR budgets last year - reported in the PRWeek/Biz360 Corporate Survey (see prweek.com) - indicates that PR has failed to show its ability to impact corporate America's top priority: sales. PR may be the budget whipping boy, but this is due more to a preexisting condition in which sales and marketing are siloed than a failure of PR to achieve results. "Sales sees itself as a line function, contributing directly to the bottom line, and it sees marketing as a staff function - a necessary evil," explains Steve Cody, MD of Peppercom. The Aberdeen Group highlighted this church-and-state division in What Works: Best Practices in Marketing Technologies, a report released last month. "Marketing's efforts to build consistent brand messaging are often foiled by salespeople pressing for the next deal," it says, "whereas salespeople view marketing's lead-generation efforts as ineffective, and sales collateral and training as unhelpful." The report examines new automation solutions that enable corporate marketers to anchor their functions to company operations. It suggests a move closer to PR's holy grail of measurement, and it seems to indicate that, despite budget cuts, the relationship between sales and PR is changing if only by degrees. In many respects, it is a chicken-and-egg scenario. A company cannot exist if it is not bringing in sales, but marketing is necessary to claim thought leadership and set the stage for sales. The good news is that the pressure to produce revenue is so great that sales executives are now actively seeking intelligence, and they are beginning to look to their communications colleagues for help. "Salespeople seem to be a little bit more aware of what PR is," says Maria Murnane, account director of Bite Communications. "We've had clients tell us that their customers want validation that going with them is a good choice, so case studies and articles add credibility to the sales pitch." In his forthcoming book What's Keeping Your Clients Up at Night, Cody calls this validation process "pain-based selling." "We've learned there is a gap between what sales thinks the customer wants, and what are the customer's real pain points," says Cody. The book instructs sales teams on the virtues of learning how a prospect is positioned in its own industry, and linking that knowledge to the sales message. Cody says this is a path the communications staff can help the sales team walk. Selling success stories Some corporate PR and agency groups are demonstrating success in this arena. Empirix VP of marketing Walter Vahey says case studies are a gold mine for lead generation. "They're image builders, and they're great prospect builders," he says, adding that his team works with the sales force to determine success stories, and develops these into collateral to fulfill information requests and as links in electronic newsletters. When appropriate, the case studies are also used as content for bylined articles in vertical publications read by key purchasing decision-makers. "We've really focused on the quality of our PR rather than the quantity," says Vahey. There are two barriers to building a successful sales-PR relationship: salespeoples' fear of anyone coming between them and their prospects, and information management. Dr. Harry Watkins, cowriter of the aforementioned Aberdeen Group report, says, "This requires not only internal communication, but interfunctional communication and information warehousing." He says case studies must not only be pulled from the sales force, but placed in an easily accessed digital medium. "One of the chief complaints I hear is that salespeople don't know the materials exist, or if they do exist, they can't get at them." Watkins explains that the nature of sales is the need to react immediately to a customer's request, and without something at their fingertips, salespeople will make it up. But the self-made material lacks the consistent brand messages cultivated by the marketing team. Mark Hausman, CEO of Strategic Communications, points to a general lack of understanding between the two groups. "The marketing folks don't talk to the sales force in developing the strategy, and the salespeople say the marketing folks are not listening to what they're learning day to day in the field." At UPS, PR manager Susan Rosenberg solves these issues by having her team spend almost as much time attending meetings with the sales team as they do working with the media. "The sales team learns that we respect their relationship, and we're able to cull media and other PR opportunities from what we learn." She says the key is getting the salesperson to open the door to the customer's PR team. "When you're dealing with the PR counterparts on the customer side, they understand what you're looking for." Rosenberg cites an enterprise story opportunity that was uncovered in discussions with Amazon. She found out that Amazon was using the new UPS Returns product, and she successfully pitched a holiday retail story to the industry trades. "We found out what was new and different in our relationship with Amazon, and leveraged that in a way that not only helped our cause, but helped the customer as well." She says these materials are often repurposed as content for white papers and speeches that salespeople can download or copy for presentations. UPS manages a proprietary database that is available at the click of a mouse, and that is consistent in messaging. Measuring PR's impact Like UPS, Abovo Group of Atlanta posts case studies, articles, and other materials in a web-based forum. Abovo partners with technology provider Aelera to provide not only a digital asset-management tool, but a means of monitoring and measuring how these tools are being used by salespeople and customers. Aelera allows them to see what is being pushed to their customers, identifies who is viewing or downloading materials, and correlates this to actions recorded by the sales staff. The tool also facilitates customer enrollment in web-based seminars presented by the clients. Tools like Aelera are the first steps to measuring PR's ability to generate leads and actions that assist sales. When used in combination with media analysis tools, an in-house team or PR agency will have reasonable metrics to substantiate how their brand strategies drive sales. "Sales is certainly measured consistently and all the time," says You Mon Tsang, CEO of Biz360. "Now you can say, 'We're measuring too, and can overlay what we're doing as communicators with the sales effort.'" Tsang says the best internal marketing strategy the PR team can undertake is to create a culture of accountability and measurement. "This gives the sales team and executive management a reason to focus on the things you've accomplished, like mind share against the competition," he says. He also suggests publishing reports that correlate media hits to sales spikes, organized by region. Abovo president Rick Nichols believes the CMO of the future is going to look more like a CFO. "It will be someone who is very numbers savvy, and can directly correlate communications to revenue generation." Few, however, believe that this focus on revenue spells the death of branding as we know it. "When it's difficult to calculate ROI, PR has to be done in the context of how it drives specific sales opportunities, yet that action has to be brand-centric," says Hausman. ----- How Integral got on the government's radar Integral Systems developed a commercial satellite-based technology to deliver real-time weather information for wartime troop logistics and deployment. As a small vendor, the company did not have the relationships with military procurement officers enjoyed by companies like Raytheon. Furthermore, new technologies presented to the US can take years to review. However, Integral knew that precedent existed for thwarting this process in the case of "wartime emergency." Integral asked Strategic Communications to devise a PR campaign that would leverage the impending Iraqi conflict to generate sales leads, establish a leadership profile for the company, and create an incentive for those leads to move quickly into the sales cycle. "It's not only important to understand your client's business process, but that of their customers as well," says Strategic CEO Mark Hausman. Strategic created a high-profile reception and technology introduction featuring former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger as the keynote. He was the key to securing the attendance of military decision-makers. Weinberger's speech placed Integral's technology in the center of a real and immediate military problem: battle-systems management. He further spoke on the importance of Integral's technology. Integral's CEO and key salespeople were featured in such media outlets as AP, MSNBC, regional NBC and Fox news affiliates, and Defense Week. And the company now has four or five proposals in front of military procurement professionals.

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