How to Turn Non-traditional Sales Teams into Sales Machines
Most associations don’t have a traditional sales department, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a sales team. Throughout your organization, there are people who work hard on recruitment, engagement, and event attendance.
Association sales teams may be diverse and diffuse, but they still work like a team in a for-profit business. Unfortunately, this means associations will often run into one of the most common issues for all organizations: lack of alignment between sales and marketing.
Bringing marketing and sales teams together takes effort and communication, but it can be done. First, let’s talk about why it matters.
And yet, these teams often disagree. A vicious circle begins to emerge, which we see in survey data:
- 50% of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting
- 65% of sales reps complain to marketing that they don’t have content to help with conversions
- 68% of marketers don’t think the sales team are making proper use of content
- 95% of buyers will gravitate towards a company that offers valuable content during the buying stage
Sales blame marketing, marketing blames sales, and the customer goes elsewhere.
With associations, the “sales team” is more likely to just disengage from selling activities. Sales rep is just one of many hats they wear, so they’ll focus their time where it adds more value. This can frustrate marketing efforts and eventually impact growth.
When sales and marketing start to gel, we call it smarketing. Smarketing is all about collaboration and mutual accountability. The teams have shared goals that they agree to reach together. They keep the lines of communication open so that they can share their progress.
All of this requires a sturdy framework that will keep everyone heading in the same direction. Here’s what you need to do to build that framework.
- What is our mutual vision of success?
- What are the expectations on both sides?
- When is a lead ready to pass from marketing to sales?
- What content do we need for each stage of the journey?
- How and when are we going to check in and discuss our progress?
This must be a conversation between equals, rather than one department dictating to the other. Ultimately, you’re all depending on each other to achieve your shared goals.
From there, you can begin to break things down. For example, If your revenue goal is $10,000, you might break that goal down like so:
- Revenue goal: $10,000
- Average sales value: $1,000
- Conversions needed: 10
- Sales-qualified leads required: 50
- Marketing-qualified required: 100
- Leads required: 200
This kind of detail will help you agree on realistic goals. It’ll also indicate the strategy required to meet those objectives.
Items in an SLA might include things like:
- “Marketing promise to deliver 50 qualified leads per month.”
- “Leads will be scored at over 51%.”
- “Sales will respond to all leads within 24 hours.”
- “Sales will leverage the agreed bottom-of-funnel content for conversions.”
- “Sales and marketing will meet every two weeks to review.”
When you have clear targets, there’s no ambiguity about what’s expected of each team. You can just look at metrics and see who’s delivering what they promised.
You can prevent this by agreeing on lead-scoring metrics in advance. The exact nature of this agreement will vary between associations, but you want to look at measuring three things:
- Personas: Is the lead a good fit for the association?
- Interactions: Has the lead displayed a willingness to communicate with the association?
- Engagement: Does the lead count on association programming?
Talk through the available lead-scoring data and agree on an objective scoring system that works for your needs.
- Are our leads a fit?
- Are our leads actionable?
- Does our content support the journey?
- Are our metrics effective?
- Which of our campaigns gets more traction?
- What barriers are we hitting with prospects?
The final point is one of the most important. Ultimately, the goal of smarketing is to convert leads. Every time you hit an obstacle, that’s an opportunity to learn and improve your chances of future conversions.
Sales and marketing both have pieces of the puzzle. When you put them together, you’ll start to see exactly how to reach maximum conversions.
First, you need to understand exactly who’s involved in sales activities. Let’s look at some common for-profit sales teams and their association equivalents:
- Business development: Association growth is about acquiring net new members, so the equivalent team here is member recruitment or signups.
- Account management: Client retention and upselling are analogous to association functions like event sponsorship and publication ad sales.
- Partners and affiliate: Chapters work on a local level to help support association sales goals.
Associations also have a resource that for-profits don’t: volunteers. Individual members want to do what’s best for the association, and they will help support your growth goals. In practical terms, that makes them salespeople.
When you’ve set up a collaboration framework with any of these parties, you’ll follow these steps:
- Sign off on SLA: Establish clear goals about what all parties intend to deliver. If you’re working with a sponsor or exhibitor, you’ll need to draft a formal agreement.
- Provide qualified leads: Marketing will pass on sales-qualified leads, as per the agreed schedule. Make sure you think about data privacy if you’re sharing personally identifiable information with someone outside your immediate organization. If possible, everyone should work on an integrated sales and marketing stack.
- Salespeople act on leads: Sales will follow an agreed course of action based on buyer personas. It’s important to make sure that everyone in sales feels empowered, and that they understand the benefits of the available content. If there’s any confusion, sales and marketing should discuss things immediately.
- Data analytics continues in the background: If you’re using an integrated stack, you can track the buyer journey throughout this process. This will make it easier to track conversions and identify weak points in the process.
- Monthly meeting to discuss outcomes: Once a month or thereabouts, all parties should get together and talk about what you’ve learned. There is always a way to improve the process and shoot for higher conversion rates. When sales and marketing work together, it’s much easier to identify these improvements.
- Technology: If you're not leveraging a marketing automation platform, consider investing in one. While you can certainly align sales and marketing in any scenario, having the right technology to drive and nurture leads to conversion will serve as the backbone for your efforts.
- Team: Perform an audit of your org structure and assess available resources. Start building your team.
- Goals: Identify the most pressing needs for the association, such as retention or engagement. Based on this, start defining achievable, measurable goals for your smarketing team.
- Content: Review the available content and make sure that it’s a great sales enablement tool. Remember, 95% of people go with the organization that offers the best content during the buying journey.
- KPIs: Set clear definitions for lead scoring, so you know where to focus your energy.
Remember, you have one big advantage over for-profits. They may have professional sales reps, but you’ve got passionate advocates who understand what makes your association great. With the right tools and organization, they can become a powerful, goal-driven sales team.
About Aimee Pagano
Aimee joins HighRoad Solution with 15+ years of integrated marketing and communications experience, primarily in client-facing roles within the association and SaaS space. Her specialties include persona development, content strategy/management, lead gen and awareness campaign development, and website development/optimization.