No matter the department, every single person in your company should understand sales because, at the end of the day, it's everyone's job to sell the brand.
Marketing and customer support are specific departments that benefit the most from understanding the sales process. Both act as the “face” of your company and are important touch points for the customer.
Unfortunately, sales, marketing, and support are not always aligned in their goals. They often operate in silos, performing their own functions and acting as separate entities. Thus, vital customer communication falls through the cracks and creates a disconnect in the customer journey.
To align marketing and support departments with sales, sales managers can construct an ongoing, interdepartmental job-shadowing program. Put marketing and support staff in a sales-shadowing rotation once a month to sync knowledge and skills. Call it “sales rep for a day.”
Before starting an interdepartmental job-shadowing program at your company, get buy-in from all departments involved. Only then can you begin to implement the remaining steps outlined below to establish a marketing/support “sales rep for a day” program.
Mutual benefits of shadowing
Rather than simply giving a lunch-and-learn or presentation, job shadowing offers a hands-on way to learn how the sales reps represent the company and its products/services to potential customers, as well as the pains and shortcomings of the sales department. It allows the marketers and customer service reps to hear prospects' questions and concerns. Shadowees can also help the sales team sharpen their sales pitches, perhaps by filling in gaps or sharing customer and marketing success stories.
For shadowing to work, though, all parties need to mutually benefit from it. For example, if you suggest taking a marketing rep from his or her job for a couple of hours a month, the marketing manager needs to understand why this activity will benefit the team. You'll have to answer the question: What's in it for me?
Department alignment alone is beneficial to the company as a whole. According to MarketingProfs, companies who align sales and marketing have 36% higher customer retention rates. Concerning customer experience and support, 89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives. Aligning sales and support can help eliminate part of this problem.
In addition, job shadowing can have positive results for employees involved:
- Team building. Working together and interacting on a regular basis builds rapport and trust on an internal level. As communication is strengthened internally and team members are aware of what customers are saying across departments, the customer experience is improved. Collaborating and openly sharing ideas between teams also supports productivity.
- New skill development. Participants acquire the skills that the other departments use to successfully complete their jobs and learns how those skills relate to overall business processes. Developing new skills also helps team members interact with the customer more confidently and offer better advice.
- Stronger understanding of the customer. Shadowing sales can help marketers and customer service reps understand the customer better (their initial needs and wants and what they value), which makes identifying and solving customer pain points easier. It also highlights what types of leads work best and what types of buyer personas to focus on.
Departmental benefits include the following:
- Identifying content opportunities. By sitting in on sales calls, the marketing team might realize that important sales-enablement content (i.e., case studies, blogs, white papers) needs to be created or that some materials are not even being used. They might also find that customers are wanting more information on a certain feature or pain point. Thus they can produce better, more knowledgeable content.
- Aligning language. Sales, support, and marketing can benefit from learning the language used by the other departments. How does each department talk with customers? How do they explain the product/service? Marketing can incorporate sales terms in content and campaigns while customer support can use sales language in everyday conversations. Sales can use customer success stories from marketing and support in their pitches and presentations. In addition, marketing and support may be aware of certain sales terms (e.g., LTV or SQL) but may not understand how it maps to the overall business process. Shadowing provides valuable context for this type of information.
- Syncing overall brand image. What kind of image is being projected by sales? Does it align with the image projected by marketing and support? For example, are they offering the same advice to customers? What does the handoff look like between sales and marketing/support? This goes back to creating a consistent customer journey. The same message needs to be presented across departments.
Below are steps for creating a sales-shadowing program. Try it first with marketing and support. If successful, you'll have a model to use with other departments, such as product development or IT.
Steps for setting up a sales-shadowing program
1. Pitch the idea / Schedule a team meeting
Before announcing your shadowing program, you'll need to get marketing and customer support leaders on board with the idea. Schedule a meeting with managers, and outline the mutual benefits (touch on benefits listed above) and how the exercise aligns with overall company goals.
- Get your salespeople on board. Present the plan to your sales team. Encourage questions and suggestions about activities that would be best to shadow. It shouldn't be difficult to achieve buy-in—your sales reps will likely welcome the opportunity to highlight issues for marketing/support. There's also a certain pride involved with sharing knowledge.
- Get marketing and support on board. Give the pitch to these departments about shadowing sales. Again, first outline the benefits mentioned above to achieve buy-in (emphasize that the overall customer experience will be improved). Then, share how the process will work. Provide a schedule via email and hard copy, as well as a list of which employees will be matched with which sales rep. This can be a static list or change once a month. Also, depending on the size of your company, 1:1 shadowing may not be efficient, so determine whether two or more employees should be assigned to one sales rep.
- Offer something in return. Depending on what you determined with marketing and support leaders, share that your reps can also shadow the marketing/support teams (i.e., participate in a content creation brainstorm or have them take care of a customer ticket). Cross-team training can apply to all departments and ensures that no team feels less important than the others.
Also, discuss what days and times work best across departments to implement the job-shadowing program, and set up a tactical plan based on this discussion.
The main goal for this first step is to generate buy-in from managers and employees. Shadowing won't be a successful exercise if you can't communicate its value to everyone involved.
2. Hold a short training session for participants
Before throwing marketing/support into the sales room, provide information on common terminology and how the sales process works. Context is essential for effective future shadowing.
Run department members through a quick training session. This should be a watered-down version of your general sales onboarding. Don't overwhelm your audience with information. Hit the highlights, and focus on key sales strategies and activities. Provide visuals where appropriate. If you have a video used for onboarding, show it. Also include a few of your sales reps in this session, and have them interact and answer questions.
- Training material. Give a summary of what most sales reps learn their first week on the job. What tools does your team use? Do you have a CRM? An email automation system? How does communication work peer to peer and rep to customer?
- Your sales pipeline. Answer questions such as what does your sales pipeline look like? How do you determine ideal pipeline size? Give a visual of the funnel. How do you build it? What are the stages of your sales cycle? What are the key metrics?
- Your sales playbook. Outline your sales strategy, and explain things like ideal prospects, selling approach, customer personas, how opportunities are qualified, lead generation, etc. What does the customer journey look like?
Another important element to the training session is to set expectations for both shadowers and shadowees. What does success look like both for the teams as a whole and for the shadowing program? What do you want employees to gain from this experience?
3. Begin the shadowing rotation
Take the schedule you created in Step 1, and set as a monthly recurring event in Google Calendar. Maybe you set shadowing for the third Wednesday of the month for an hour or two (whatever makes the most sense for your teams). Send invites to participants and automated reminder emails closer to the actual event (include who is matched with whom).
Each salesperson being shadowed should carefully consider the activities already scheduled during that time. What are the best sales activities for marketing and support to shadow? What can these departments take and apply in their own roles?
Here are a few ideas of activities that would be beneficial across departments:
- Cold calls. Even if the calls are just qualifying new leads, hearing the initial questions potential customers have AND the questions the sales reps have for prospects helps shadowees to understand what clients are really looking for. Let shadowees listen in, and encourage them to take notes on the call/ask questions afterward.
- Product demos. Demos to potential customers shows the product/service in action and let prospects voice concerns. These demonstrations might also highlight features that marketing or support may not have completely understood. This activity provides a look at the product from the customer perspective.
- Follow-up calls. Listening to these types of calls helps shadowees understand the key selling points for customers and what might be holding them back from the purchase (this can be especially helpful for marketing). Support reps might discover that sales reps are offering discounts or incentives that might come up later in customer service calls.
Weekly sales meetings would also be helpful to shadow. The shadow date/time does not have to be set in stone. The point is to make sure an event is in place so participants remember to do it before the month's end.
4. Debrief the team
During the exercise, send monthly questionnaires via email for updates on what activity was shadowed for the month, and provide a brief observation.
At the end of the cycle, send a more in-depth survey to participants (or even an email with questions to think about). Next, pull everyone together for a debriefing. Ask specific questions to determine whether the exercise was successful:
- What did you learn?
- What was a surprise?
- How does this change what you do in your role?
- What will you consider changing because of your shadowing experience?
- What have you already changed?
- Is there anything you wished you would have learned?
- What suggestions do you have to better align sales with your department?
- Was this exercise helpful? In what way?
- In what ways was the customer experience improved?
Compile results into a short report to share with marketing and support leaders, highlighting specific benefits and challenges or areas that were or will be improved. Maybe marketing was able to create a bottom-of-the-funnel e-book about a feature based on several sales-customer conversations. Or perhaps customer support was made aware that a specific customer had misaligned expectations. Knowing that the customer was at risk and acting accordingly saved the relationship.
Make improvements to the program where needed (maybe shadowing should happen more than once a month), and continue the shadowing exercise in the next cycle. Consider involving other departments, such as IT or product development, in future cycles.
Align departments to add customer value
Keep in mind that the overall goal of being a “sales rep for a day” is to improve the customer experience and create a consistent customer journey. Universal knowledge of processes between sales, marketing, and support helps streamline key customer touch points.
These types of exercises also help employees learn what areas need improving within the company. And even just getting to know each other on a personal level can break silos and encourage better communication across teams.
Remember that as you ramp up your sales, enablement and integration shouldn't stop. It should be an active process done throughout the year—shadowing is just one way to do it.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles that will help you align sales with other company departments!