When a brand’s marketing story gets out of whack, marketers tend to blame their front-line teams. “Why can’t they just get it straight” is a common complaint from marketers. Marketers spend a lot of money to understand their customers and use research to craft their story. If sales, customer service – whomever represents their brand – could just get “on message” the brand would perform even better.
For their part, the front-line teams will say “marketing doesn’t understand what the customer REALLY wants.” In their defense, they are in the trenches every day and listening to what customers have to say. They believe they have the most critical view of the customer and want the marketing strategy to match that viewpoint.
Who is Right and Who is to Blame?
Both sides are right. Because marketing teams and their representatives are so far removed from one another – both in terms of physical location and in the scope of their roles – this conflict seems to always exist. However, both sides bring unique and extremely valuable views of the customer. Neither side is “right” or “wrong”, but in most cases it is easier to just deflect the responsibility to someone else.
Companies should stop looking at this situation as a problem, but rather as a huge opportunity. From our perspective, it is marketing who needs to take the lead on bringing these two groups together. Why? Because marketing owns the customer narrative. Marketing is shaping the story and setting the standard for how the company will communicate with customers.
Use ALL of the Data Available
Rather than treating front-line teams as a misbehaving problem child, marketers need to look at them as another source of data in their evolution of the brand. Reps are seeing day-to-day, minute-to-minute what customers are responding to, both positively and negatively. Marketing needs to recognize that the messaging that got customers interested in the first place might not be the messaging that leads to the final purchase decision.
The key to using this data is to collect it in a consistent, scalable way. Have you ever talked to a marketer that just spent a few days in the field? They always come back with 50 ideas on how to improve the customer conversation by sitting with two reps. While valuable, this is not a big enough sample size and it is not efficient. Companies need to collect data from their front-line teams on a regular basis, tracking specific things each time. It is a missing piece in the 360-degree view of the customer that most companies neglect.
Create a New Reality
Collecting front-line feedback isn’t just about understanding the customer better. It is about understanding the attitudes and perceptions the representatives have about their own company and brand. These perceptions make up their reality. Rather than complaining that the reps don’t “get it”, marketers need to take responsibility for reaching this audience and shifting perceptions. If there is misalignment, the marketing team needs to shape a new reality for these critical team members. The alternative is letting them project their own interpretation of the story onto the customer. That thought should be unsettling to most marketing, brand and product executives.
Looking for a party to blame for misalignment between marketing and sales is a waste of time and energy. However, marketers need to take responsibility for improving this problem. It is marketing’s responsibility to ensure the “story” is right and that everyone involved can tell it accurately. To start, marketing needs to realize that their customer-facing teams are not a problem to be fixed, but allies that contain valuable information. Reaching out and involving these partners in a process of better understanding the customer – and better understanding the front-line teams in the process – can lead to a better experience for all involved.