Ask, Then Act


By Joe Meadows, President,
Think Patients LLC


I have written before about the schism that sometimes exists between sales and marketing, and how I find this both perplexing and wasteful. Fortunately, I have had just as many opportunities to highlight the success that can occur when these two key arms of the commercial organization cooperate and collaborate. Today, I have a tale of contrast about how an organization both succeeded and failed in its efforts to use the talents and tools of its sales and marketing organizations, as told to me by a manager who had spent time in each. I have changed the specifics here to ensure that the organization remains anonymous, but I think you’ll easily get the lesson.

Let’s start with success. This organization needed to better understand the degree to which a particular technology was being adopted by its customers, and the specific brands and products they were purchasing and installing. They could have relied on secondary reports and studies, but the rate at which this technology was being adopted meant that these reports were sometimes dated and never specific to the company’s actual customers. Someone in marketing said “Why don’t we have the sales force ask our customers about the brand and products they’re installing?” Genius! The company gave the reps the ability to record this in their sales call software. Sales ops then collected the information from the sales system database to produce a report, and within a few weeks the marketers had a better view of how this technology had been adopted, and by whom, than the rest of their industry. Thus, it was a brilliant example of a sales-marketing collaboration that gave the company a competitive edge.

And that’s where the failure comes in. It seems the sales force realized that this technology was having a significant effect on the way their customers ran their businesses, and having just engaged their customers about the subject, asked marketing what it planned to do about it.

Using the sales force to gather intelligence is brilliant. But have a contingency plan if that information dictates a change.

Marketing responded with a blank stare. “That technology is not part of our strategic roadmap,” they screamed. “Go talk to our customers about the things important to us, and that we’ve already planned for!” You can see where this is headed. Marketing wanted to know about how customers viewed this new technology, but when surprised by the information the sales team discovered, and the natural demands of the sales team for a response to the issue, they turned into ostriches and stuck their heads in the sand. Using the sales force to gather market intelligence is a brilliant move, and can give a marketing team a competitive edge. But once learned, that information can’t be ignored. The sales team can be a company’s best source of information, but they’re going to demand that the information they gather be acted upon. It’s marketing’s responsibility to realize that when it asks for sales to gather information, there better be a contingency plan in place if that information dictates a change in marketing’s preconceived notions about customer needs. The smart marketer will consult their sales team when they need real-world information, but they won’t be so wedded to their earlier plan that they fail to act on that knowledge. And the smart sales leader, when asked by their marketing counterpart to collect information, will ask, “What do you plan to do with it”? Each has a responsibility, and when the two groups work together, to outcome can propel an organization ahead of its competitors. But when either party fails in their responsibility, only frustration and failure is likely to occur.

JOE MEADOWS is president at Think Patients. He took his extensive experience in pharmaceuticals, vaccines, marketing and market research and formed Think Patients in 2010. Think Patients consults in brand and corporate strategy (differentiation, life cycle management and competitive threats), product development, and team alignment along with their market research and insight mining services. The company has also developed a sub-specialty in helping life science companies engage patients and providers through EMR, EHR and Point of Care communications channels. Prior to Think Patients Joe led marketing and commercial teams at Wyeth, AstraZeneca, Merck and Auxilium as well as marketing, creative and product development efforts at Catalina Health. When not working with clients, writing or speaking he can be found in a kayak, a yoga studio, or working on his never-ending list of remodeling or home automation projects.


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