Dear CMO:

You and I have seen this movie a thousand times. Someone with little comfort in the marketing discipline says, “we don’t need to do ‘marketing’… this is what my sales people are supposed to do all day long…”

One of several things probably happens to you at a time like this. The twitch comes back. You slowly start to shake your head. At very least, you probably heave a world-weary sigh and think about launching that SCUBA start-up in Fiji you’ve always had as your Plan Z. Conversely, you can treat the subject as “new” and try to bring one… more… non-believer into the light and out of the darkness. Let’s assume this last option for the sake of this post. What do you say to the guy who thinks sales is responsible for getting the word out? Here’s a very, very short version of this water cooler talk.

Conversions happen internally, privately, and without social pressure. We all have egos, we all have too many messages hitting us, and we all have too many people trying to make us do things we don’t want to do. None of us like being the target of a zero-sum game sales call. We have already committed our budgets for the year and know what we’re doing. So adding something out of the blue doesn’t work for us — unless the idea is ours already. Unless we figured something out that we wanted to do, based on the inputs we personally discovered, without getting pushed into a corner. In other words, we like to execute our own ideas. This is why marketing matters, non-marketer. Where we plant ideas and let them germinate in the minds of our prospects, the role of sales is to harvest. If you don’t believe me, ask any sales guy.

You need to be known before you’re found. Some people who should become customers don’t become customers, for a myriad of reasons. Competition, ignorance, apathy, priorities, budgets, you name it. As such, it is the role of marketing to begin the dialog, to introduce strangers to the idea you’re selling, and help begin the internal conversions. There aren’t enough sales people in the world to have this many quality conversations. There are barely enough to close the sales that will happen. So scale is a problem is you’re a sales driven company. Ask any CFO if adding more fixed headcount or more variable marketing spending is more attractive. Look at the number of open headcount you have in sales and then at the sell-through in the vacant territory. Up? Down? Stable? Will adding more sales people really do that much? This will help answer the question.

Stories need context and context is personal. No one is convinced by a poorly delivered story, not everyone wants to hear the same story in the same way, and not everyone is a very good storyteller. All good reasons to let your customers choose how, when, where and with whom they’d like to get to know you. A website, a video, an ad, a white paper, a trade show, an analyst, a peer: you need to have them all working for you, because if you aren’t where your customers expect to find you at this very moment, when their minds and wallets are open, you will miss your opportunity to further the dialog. Most importantly, your story has to resonate. It needs to hit the naturally occurring decision triggers that matter to your audience. These decision triggers need to move your audience further down the path to conversion. Sales people have one tool and one tool only: they are 1:1 storytellers. Ask your CFO how they decided on their ERP solution. Did they get a cold call from a sales guy? Or did they do their own research, talk to other CFO’s, and maybe ask a few questions first? In each case, the decision started with a budget line item in someone’s marketing budget.

We’re all experts now, which is why we all trust peers and distrust “marketers.” Not to mention “sales guys.” We get too much hard sell today. We even market with messages like, “no sales person will call you.” When we need to make a decision, what do we do? Research? Maybe. Ask a peer? Always. Word of mouth is the #1 driver of influence and purchase. This is because we’re too busy to do the work ourselves and are more comfortable doing what others have done. Consensus protects us from scrutiny. “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” So making sure our potential buyers’ peers, family, neighbors, favorite analysts and editors, and lunch room seat mates know us, know why we’re relevant, and know how to position us, is more important than ever before. Marketing needs to drive grass-roots awareness and comfort, even in the most esoteric B2B applications. You don’t need a Super Bowl ad to do this, but you’d better tell your story right so people understand who you are and what you do.

Can you relate to this? Sure, but you’re a marketer. Does a CFO understand this? Yes – they may (or may not) be comfortable with marketing as a discipline, but they all relate to business and results. An IR professional wouldn’t suggest that you don’t talk to analysts any more than a PR professional would avoid the press.

So take on new energy when you’re next faced with the age-old question of “don’t worry, our sales guys can do that.” If you’re selling a story on storytelling, you might want it to relate to the listener’s personal story, too.