New companies obviously have no brand recognition. While this is a liability in the short-term, it should be embraced as an opportunity for the company to build its own brand identify from the very beginning and style a message that it wants to convey to each of its stakeholder groups including specific customer segments. Since a start-up typically has limited resources to invest in traditional marketing tactics such as advertising and promotion the best way to get started with branding is to make sure that the company’s products meet real and important requirements of customers and that the sales group accurately conveys a credible message to customer regarding the features, benefits and performance of the products. In other words, customers must be trained to trust what the company says about its products so that they company is eventually perceived as a reliable vendor that can deliver on its promises and representations.
The marketing and sales groups are the key players in developing and communication messages about the company’s products to potential customers. It is essential that marketing and sales each understand the roles that they play and how their activities interrelate with each other. If an analogy can be made to a military campaign, the marketing group is akin to the air force in that it is responsible for creating messages about the company’s products that can be disseminated throughout the target market to soften up potential customers so that they are ripe for capture when they are eventually engaged by the company’s army of sales personnel. For established companies with more financial resources the “air campaign” of the marketing group can take the form of advertising campaigns that notify and educate customers in advance about the features of the company’s new products. However, since start-up companies rarely are able to finance this type of promotional push the marketing group has to think and act more strategically and provides its value by becoming experts in customer requirements and making sure that customer needs are meant during product development and the sales group has the tools necessary to demonstrate to customers how their needs can and will be satisfied by the company’s products.
In order to build credibility with customers and create strong brand recognition there must be a high level of coordination and communication between the people working in the marketing and sales areas. The best way to achieve these objectives for a new company is to have one senior executive responsible for both marketing and sales and to make sure that each group is fully versed as to their specific roles and the types of communication that needs to occur across functional boundaries. As for the marketing side, it should take the lead in studying the market and building links with customers in order to truly understand what customers are looking for in the business area in which the company is operating. At the highest strategic levels the marketing group provides significant input into which market segments the company should target initially and should create a blueprint for product design and promotion that can be vetted and endorsed by the entire executive team and then dispatched to each of the functional departments for execution.
While the sales group will certainly have its own views on product features and pricing, there is tendency for sales to argue based on what was heard at the last customer visit in order to close the next deal. It is the responsibility of the marketing group to take a long-term view and impose the discipline necessary to begin building a permanent company message and brand reputation. However, marketing certainly cannot ignore sales and, in fact, should treat the sales group as a key internal customer and provide it with the tools and information necessary for them to be successful when engaging with prospects.
Growing companies should establish procedures to monitor how well the marketing and sales groups are collaborating and how effective each of them are being in fulfilling their specific roles in relation to identifying and satisfying the needs of customers. One way to evaluate the work of the marketing group is to look at whether or not it is perceived by the sales group as contributing value to the customer relationship process. One thing to look at is whether the marketing group invited to sales group meetings that include brainstorming about how to approach new customers. If marketing is included in these sessions that is a sign that the sale group values the information that marketing has collected about customer requirements and the knowledge that marketing has regarding specific product features and the way in which sales can differentiate them in the minds of customers. Another measure of the value of the marketing team is what percentage of its time is spent communicating with customers as opposed to dealing with internal issues. If marketing personnel are not in touch with the market they have little or nothing to contribute to the sales process and the sales team will ultimately come up with its own ideas for describing what the company is and why the company’s products are different. Finally, the value of members on both teams can be assessed by how often they are consulted by their counterparts on the other team regarding customer needs and how well the company’s products are satisfying those needs. For example, a salesperson who is continuously contacted by the marketing group for input on marketing decisions is likely well attuned to customer requirements and thus serves a valuable role in both areas.