The Critical Role of Marketing in Sales Training and Transformation

In over thirty years of working with global sales organizations, one of the most frequent scenarios we have encountered is the desire for companies to move from a transactional, product focused sales to a higher value solution sale. This trend has shown no sign of abating, as indicated in recent McKinsey article, which conveyed:

“Solutions selling is fast becoming the norm for many B2B players, driven by commoditizing product markets, shrinking margins, and increasingly complex customer demands. Companies in industries from chemicals to medtech are developing individually tailored combinations of products and services to meet customers’ needs more completely and grow sales.”

The authors further elaborate on research that illustrates solutions selling companies lag behind their transactional selling counterparts – from having less developed “commercial capabilities.” One critical aspect of overall commercial capability resides in the marketing function, where the authors note:

“Solution-selling companies seem to have marketing programs that struggle to support sales effectively. Value propositions that sales reps can take to their customers are often difficult to tailor or quantify, nor are they modular.”

This observation closely parallels our experience as well, and was documented extensively in the book The Solution-Centric Organization (McGraw Hill 2006). While more than a decade has elapsed since this work was published, many of the core tenets of institutionalizing a solutions-focused commercial capability remain both a challenge and a significant opportunity for global companies.

The Products Versus Solutions Clash

Many of the defining attributes of companies tend to be aligned with a product orientation. Companies are often organized extensively around products or product lines, which tends to place products and their features at the forefront of the corporate mindset. When efforts to transform the sales organization occur in this environment, it can be extremely challenging to make the necessary handoffs and “translations” between sales and the rest of the company.

Connecting effectively with real customer problems and needs requires a true, ongoing commitment to educate the sales organization on effective consultative selling practices. But the corporate DNA can also contribute greatly to sustainable change that becomes a mindset for the overall organization.

How Can Marketing Be an Effective Driver of Change

Marketing can play a critical and powerful role in driving a solutions focused mindset that makes customers and their business issues the “center of gravity” for the entire organization. There are six key areas in which marketing can align with a solutions selling approach, as briefly described below.

  • Value Framework and Messaging: The extent to which value positioning and messages are defined around accurately perceived customer problems and needs, not around products and services: Does the way the company defines its offerings resonate with customers as addressing their problems versus “product-pushing?” This is the “point of aim,” so to speak – if the purpose of the company isn’t explicitly about solving problems and meeting needs at the highest level then value “dilution” occurs at every point thereafter.
  • Product Marketing: Product marketing communications need to be grounded in real problems that customers value solving – and product marketing and management priorities need to factor customer value heavily into their decision processes. Traditional methods of identifying market potential for offerings are still essential, but it is equally critical to understand how much customer value results from providing a particular set of capabilities – well before investing in product and service development.
  • Aligned Marketing Communications: The degree to which marketing communications and lead generation are aligned properly with field sales conversations. Are marketing communications consistently in parallel with sales conversations? All forms of internal communications also need to convey and instill the concepts and principles of a problem solving organization.
  • Marketing Communications: All aspects of corporate communications to the external world must align with the problems that the organization solves, not aligned with the products that it makes or sells. Web sites, Marcom collateral, advertising, white papers, analyst interactions, and other media relations activities – in fact any decision on how and what will be communicated to the external world in any medium or channel – should be consistent with real customer problems that are solved and actual needs that are addressed.
  • Lead Generation: In many cases marketing campaigns and lead generation efforts are based on the release of a product or service, as opposed to being focused on new abilities to solve significant customer problems. In order to create urgency and expose latent pain, lead generation programs should focus on the problems that salespeople should be exploring with customers as they attempt to uncover the value potential of real customer need.
  • Sales Linkage & Sales Tools: All of the best messaging, marketing and product management ideas should make their way into practical and usable sales tools that the field sales organization and channel organizations can use. If making this translation is not taken seriously, all of the other hard solution-centric work upstream has lessened impact. These templates and tools are also an invaluable asset to the essential training required for sales people, as they make the training experience highly relevant and practical. In addition, the right kinds of technology tools provide a continual learning and reinforcement experience on a daily basis.

By thoughtfully aligning marketing with solution-centric principles, organizations can greatly improve the odds of a successful transition to selling high value solutions that address real customer needs. This approach to alignment helps to ensure that significant sales training investments result in sustainable organizational change, and elevate the experience of your customers.

To learn more about how to align marketing with your training and transformation initiatives, and receive a complementary checklist for marketing alignment visit us at

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