I have this view of the world: marketing is focused on pixels and print and sales is focused on people. It’s a bit of a simplification but the point I am trying to make is sales is about people:people interaction and marketing is mainly people:non-people interaction.

So, when it comes to integrating social media into your business what strategy do you adopt? Over the last few years we’ve seen a significant increase in social media uptake by businesses – and for the most part they are failing. To me it seems that a lot of these businesses hand over social media to the marketing department, who then start to think in terms of ‘messages’ and  ‘channels’ and see social media as just another channel to pump their messages down. But here’s the problem – most marketing departments aren’t used to the customer answering back – which is the whole point of social media. And they panic.

On the other hand sales folks are very happy to engage and converse with customers, prospect, well just about anyone in fact. So doesn’t it make more sense if the sales people are on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or whatever? But marketing get concerned about how this type of interaction may ‘dilute the brand’ or ‘not be consistent with our core values’. So in the end, the customer speaks and few are listening. And those that do listen are often worried about engaging.

Ideally get your sales team involved in social media – but not to push your product – but to grow your contacts, your influence and help people on-line with your knowledge. This will create far more of a buzz and help the business define its area of expertise and value to the market place.

Social media is best when it is used across the entire company to communicate. From stores, to dispatch, from finance to HR – social media is just another communication tool that can be used across the business.

Would you consider limiting the use of the phone, or email to just one department?

Then why limit the use of social media?

On his blog “Stories that Sell” Jim O’Conner asked the question ‘How to sell when you have no USP?” I commented on Jim’s posting at the time, but thought the ideas below might help you think about how to develop differentiation (your USP) within your business. So here are seven ways to build and develop some differentiation:

1. Product Differentiation
How is what you are offering (product or service) different from or better than your competitors’? If you don’t have (or can’t invent) some valued and unique components, you are in danger of being perceived as just another commodity.

2. Price Differentiation
In my opinion, this is the worst approach in trying to build a viable long-term business. But, if your business is more ‘one-shot’ than ‘repeat’ and you get the volume required, it can work.

3. Relationship Differentiation
If there is a solid relationship between you and your clients based on trust, you have an inside track of tremendous value. This environment will make you the envy of your competitors, and your client may not even give your competitor a chance if the relationship is strong enough.

4. Process Differentiation
Many companies don’t attach enough significance to the processes that dictate the image of their business model. Get your best minds together and brainstorm better, more customer-friendly ways to do business. Remember every complaint or concern raised by a customer is an opportunity to review how things might be done better.

5. Technological Differentiation
This age of technology affords many opportunities to advance our ways of communicating. These new modes of communication encompass a wide variety of options, such as podcasts to update customers or to a blog (like this one) that provides a “voice” for your business and a way to “listen” to your customers. Cardinal rule: Make it easy for the customer to communicate with you – wherever they are.

6. Experiential Differentiation
Many people believe that we are in an “experience economy.” Can we provide customers with knock-your-socks-off service and experiences that are so memorable that they start telling their friends and colleagues? Customer service miracles are anything you can do to make a customer say “Wow!” Ask yourself, “How can I make doing business with me an irresistible experience?”

7. Advocate Differentiation
This level of differentiation builds on all of the above. It is the most powerful form of differentiation. This is where you develop customers into advocates for what you do. They tell their friends about you, they broadcast their experiences of dealing with you on social networks they even defend you if someone is critical. They are unpaid sales people who promote you and your products to their networks because the love what you do and how you do it.

So Jim, what do you think?

You wouldn’t want an army fighting for you if their approach was to throw bullets? Nor, I guess if their guns fired blanks. But this is exactly how many companies let their sales & marketing departments work. Let me explain…

The marketing department are responsible for ammunition and defining the targets. For ammunition read sales collateral: the web site, brochure, direct mail item, case studies etc. For targets read market or sector: that is the customer profile or segment definition.

Surely, the better defined the target and the ammunition the more effective you would think the organisation should be? Wrong!

The sales department (and by this I pretty much anyone who has client contact) are responsible for using the ammunition generated by marketing at the appropriate targets. They need to understand at what point in the sales process a particular item is used and how. Does the full brochure go out after an initial email enquiry or is it better to use the “thank you” email with some additional qualification questions? During the first client meeting is it better to focus on the case studies leaflets or show the company presentation?

I’ve witnessed a poorly trained sales team stuff every piece of quality marketing collateral (product brochures, company profile, case studies, samples, technical literature, CD presentation and price list) into a single (bulging) envelope and send it off in response to a general enquiry. And this in a market where the sales cycle is 12-18 months long! I’ve also seen a pretty knowledgeable and competent sales organisation having to rely on a black and white A4 photocopy of a 2 page brochure to break into a £10K product into new market.

Clearly both sales and marketing need to have an understanding of each others role and how they best integrate to increase each other’s effectiveness. Sales need to be trained in the why, how and when of the sales collateral and marketing need to understand the sales process and customer journey to provide relevant material for sales to use at each key stage. If the marketing department are doing a great job, but not handing over their ammunition to sales in an informed way – sales may end up just “throwing the bullets” at the target. Sales need to be trained in how to properly use the ammunition.

Likewise if the sales department are great weapons experts, can aim at the target whilst doing a dozen other things, but marketing have provided poor collateral – sales end up “firing blanks” at the target. Marketing need to understand how to create effective ammunition.

Worst case of all is when both sales and marketing are doing a bad job. The end result is that blanks are thrown at the customer. Not very effective eh?

So, please ensure that sales and marketing are integrated within your organisation in order to get the biggest bang for your bullet.