Sales and Marketing Automation: Explaining the Difference

Is the difference between sales and marketing automation confusing you? There’s a reason why. Sales teams are being pushed to hit prospecting “activities” numbers — to the exclusion of making those activities count.

sales and marketing automation

Is the difference between sales and marketing automation confusing you? There’s a reason why. Sales teams are being pushed to hit prospecting “activities” numbers — to the exclusion of making those activities count.

As one of my students selling enterprise software put it, “I’m glad to send out X number of emails per week and leave Y number of voicemails … so long as most of those touches bring me closer to a meeting. I’m not willing to hit my numbers for the sake of hitting my numbers — and that’s what management is demanding.”

Here’s the rub. “Mass marketing” mentality is creeping into most sales departments — especially SDRs and BDRs (sales and business development reps).

The result is a blurring between sales and marketing, broadly. But also a blurring between sales and marketing automation tools and how they’re being applied. Inside sales teams are behaving like mass marketing agents. Worse, field reps selling into enterprise accounts are being forced to pump out templated emails to C-suite and officer level prospects.

And it ain’t workin’.

Is Sales a Numbers Game?

Remember the old adage, “Sales is a numbers game?” Given LinkedIn, social media, email, postal mail, cold calling, etc., we need a new name; a more scientific name. They call it “Activity Based Selling.”

Followers of Activity Based Selling (ABS) believe, “sales is a numbers game — won primarily by those who knock on more doors.”

But here’s where it gets ugly. Sales is (and always will be) a numbers game. Is business growth purely quantitative? Certainly not. But proponents of ABS are excluding quality of conversation from sellers’ strategies. Many organizations are over-focusing on reps hitting activity quotas — neglecting the qualitative communication skills needed to approach C-level decision-makers.

In theory ABS makes good sense. In practice it turns out to be spammy, dangerous and ineffective.

Marketing Automation Isn’t Sales Automation

It may sound stupid to say marketing automation isn’t sales automation. Truth is, you may agree in theory: Marketing is distinct from sales. But in practice are your sellers behaving like mass marketers when using email, voicemail and social?

This is where things get cloudy.

According to sales automation software provider Outreach.io, marketing automation is not a substitute for a sales engagement platform. Well, duh. But interestingly, this software vendor prefers the word “engagement” over “automation,” with good reason. Folks in charge of purchasing these tools often don’t see the difference — based on how they intend to use marketing and sales automation tools.

When you intend on using both to send “campaigns,” look out!

Both sales and marketing automation tools have the capability to send en mass. I’m convinced this is because sales automation companies would go broke otherwise.

Everyone demands sellers to send mass emailed campaigns. Big mistake.

Outreach.io rightly advises marketing automation:

  • is ideal for generating leads, but not working them;
  • is too technical and feature-heavy to onboard new reps quickly;
  • lacks flexibility needed for personal conversations;
  • doesn’t enable reps to make calls and interact on social media;
  • send emails via third party servers, not a rep’s inbox, which increases chances of getting caught in spam filters

So What’s the Difference?

The difference is simple in theory and what should be practiced: One-to-many (marketing) message management and one-to-one (sales) message management. It’s the difference between trying to earn whitepaper downloads and webinar registrants, and earning the right to converse with a client and qualify their need.

Marketing automation should be generating leads via mass marketing. Sales engagement (automation) tools should be helping sellers to do what they do best — help those leads qualify or dis-qualify themselves as customers.

Can you do this using cut-and-paste templates you found on Google?

Heck no.

Today’s most effective sales reps — on inside or in field — use qualitative, one-on-one conversations. Email plays a vital role in starting and moving conversations toward closure. Problem is, many who invest in sales automation software use it to push static, impersonal templates that scream, “delete me!” to prospects.

Prospecting templates don’t work.

The Problem With Activity Based Selling

Proponents of ABS tend to believe “If we focus on what sellers can control (activities) … and not the outcome we desire (customers buying) … sellers will perform better.” Thus, management focus sellers on “activities” that encourage a conversation via:

  • reach
  • persistence
  • education

Trouble is, those ideas easily morph into pushing information at prospects (low skill). Instead, C-level buyers demand sellers find ways to earn discussions by attracting (pulling) them into a qualitative, early-need-stage dialogue.

Worse, demand generation and sales enablement teams supporting reps instruct them to not focus on the sale. While pushing for the sale is not appropriate, telling a sales rep “don’t focus on selling” forces reps to ask, “what should I do then?”

Too often the answer is found in marketing-speak. Reps resort to pushing email messages at clients about features, benefits, solutions and webinars. Instead, effective reps provoke replies using non-marketing-speak messages based on problem-solving and other sensitive issues they’ve managed to research.

Thus, ABS demands reps to perform many touches (activities). The nature of what ends up being pushed out is purely quantitative marketing noise aimed at educating clients who have not yet asked to be educated!

Stop Sending Templates

At best, even when sellers are not pushing out education-oriented mass messages, they are sending out drivel like this…

Hi Sam,
I wanted to reach out because my company [insert vendor name] helps organizations like [target company name] [top 10 list of pain/value propositions every vendor claims — e.g., increase productivity, reduce sales cycle time, boost engagement, manage leads etc.]

Our solutions have helped customers like [list of generic famous companies designed to impress reader] see an improvement of [insert ROI stat].

Do you have 15 minutes to speak this week? Looking forward to hearing from you!

Templates don’t work nor do premature meeting requests. Effective sellers use templates to customize messages faster, not send faster. They use sales automation and engagement tools to start and qualify one-to-one conversations using qualitative (yes, time consuming) tactics designed to earn them.

Research is a key element of effective cold email messages — proving you’ve done homework on prospects multiplies response rates.

Add in a Qualitative Element

Provoking conversations with C-level executives is possible. It isn’t “cut-and-paste-easy.” Nor is pushing educational or value-added messages at them (before they’ve requested it) going to work. What does work is relatively simple: It mostly involves trimming back all messages to two to four sentences. Literally.

The other key element is sparking curiosity in cold messages.

True: It’s best to focus on what you can control (activities) … and not the outcome you desire (customers buying). But the answer is not a purely quantitative strategy—especially when calling into the C-suite.

Standardized templates do not work. They feel too “mass mailed.” Easy to spot, instant delete.

But a mental-triggers-based approach to message design—that can be very repeatable — does.

Customization is key. Psychology is front-and-center to triggering response.

What is your experience lately?

Author: Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is the authority on making social media sell. He co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc., where he built the sales team. Today, he is the authority on effective prospecting communications techniques as founder of Communications Edge Inc. (formerly Molander & Associates Inc.) He's been in sales for over 2 decades. He is author of the first social selling book, Off the Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You.Jeff is a sales communications coach and creator of the Spark Selling technique—a means to spark more conversations with customers "from cold," speeding them toward qualification.