Marketing actually plays several roles within most companies:

  1. It builds awareness for the company, the products and/or the services.
  2. It conveys critical information and positions the company/products/services.
  3. It lays the foundation for sales receptiveness.
  4. It actually is a part of the sales process in terms of identifying specific prospects and creating strategic outreach to them.

Let’s talk about the last one.  Sometimes marketing professionals shy away from wanting to fully participate in and take responsibility for the roles they can and should play in the generation of revenue for their companies.  The reality is that for-profit organizations can only exist and be sustainable over time if they are good at identifying customers who want to “buy their wares,” and then successfully sell those products or services to them.
Therefore, it is absolutely the role of marketing to help identify those most-likely prospects (through careful research and discovery) and to develop and implement strategic outreach programs whose primary purpose is to lay a strong foundation for sales.  It continues to amaze me that some companies don’t recognize how crucial it is to fully integrate these two functions.  One of marketing’s primary roles is to help organizations sell things.
And it starts with the kind of market research that not only identifies the most likely and potentially receptive customers to sell to, but also pinpoints the specific people within those organizations who are part of the decision-making team.
While these people can obviously be very different from one company to the next, here are some likely scenarios to be aware of and consider when trying to determine the key influencers in the sales process:

  1. The ultimate decision-maker is usually the person who holds the purse strings, and the smaller the company, the more likely it is that this person is at the top of the organization (CEO, CFO, etc.).

However, his/her decision criteria is not simply price as a stand-alone factor, but rather, price performance.  In other words, does your product or service match the company’s specific needs, and does it deliver good value for the money?  Will buying your product enhance the company’s own over-arching goals of revenue generation and profitability?  If the answer to these questions is not a solid “yes,” then you’ve got a tough, uphill battle in order to make that sale!  This person’s role is to determine (and protect) the organization’s bottom line.

  1. Another key decision-maker is the person who will actually be using the product. This person’s role is to make decisions about the impact of your product or service on the job to be accomplished.

Typically, this person is concerned with how a particular purchase is likely to affect actual operations in their department, and they will therefore evaluate the potential sale based on such factors as product reliability, service delivery, ease of operations, whether or not any additional training is required, etc.  Sometimes their personal success hinges on the success of your product or service, so there can be a much more personalized viewpoint at stake.

  1. Then (in a larger organization especially) there can be others who weigh in on the sales decision. These can include people down in the ranks who will actually use the product in a hands-on way, and their concerns are usually around how it will make their day-to-day lives better and potentially easier (or not).

The more complicated the product is, or the more sophisticated the service is, the more likely you are to encounter layers of decision-makers, so one of the jobs of marketing and market research is to identify whatever complexities exist as part of the sales decision cycle . . . and then to create specific outreach strategies that address those decision criteria head-on.

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