The Little-Known Secret Of The Marketing, Sales And Service Chain

Do your salespeople meet or exceed your customer’s expectations? And what happens after a sale is made? Does your level of service and delivery impress or disappoint your customers?

What creates an unhappy customer?

Let’s consider an example just about anyone can relate to. Have you ever seen (or been) an irate customer in a restaurant?

What are the common complaints that customers have in higher-end restaurants? Things like a steak that is not cooked to order or a server who has no idea what the day’s soups and specials are can really irritate restaurant patrons.

But what happens when the same customers eat at a fast food restaurant? Suddenly the same quality of food and service that was unacceptable at the high-end establishment is totally acceptable in a fast food setting.

The key lies in expectations. The customer doesn’t expect their food to be cooked to order in the fast food restaurant and they don’t expect the cashier to be anything more than an order taker.

The same is true for most any business – unmet expectations create unhappy customers.

So where do customers’ expectations come from?

Most often, customers form their expectations based on the organization’s marketing message.

It’s helpful to think of the customer’s interaction with your organization as a chain. First, they encounter your marketing promise which quickly translates into an expectation for their sales and service experience with your organization.

the promise-expectation chain

If marketing’s role is to attract the right prospects, position a product or organization, promote awareness, and do so in the right places to attract qualified prospects at the right price point, it makes sense that those who are attracted should be treated in a way that is consistent with the marketing promise. That means that the sales and service effort need to be totally in sync with the marketing effort. If not, the results could be disastrous.

For example, a marketing promise could be, “We’re the no hassle, easy-to-deal-with car dealership.” The customer then expects that level of treatment.

What if the customer’s actual experience is one of being hassled throughout the sales process? And, what if they subsequently bring the car back in for service and experience difficulty getting the repairs done right?

In this case, the chain might look like this:

marketing promise misaligns with sales and service experience

There’s clearly a disconnect between the dealership’s marketing promise and the customer’s actual sales and service experiences. The person or people responsible for spreading the dealership’s marketing message may genuinely believe that the marketing promise is true.

The problem?

The customer feels deceived, tricked and ultimately, dissatisfied.

Chances are the salespeople and service personnel at that dealership simply aren’t tuned in to what the dealership’s marketing promise is. And they’ve certainly never been told what the marketing promise means in terms of how they should interact with each customer.

Many organizations encounter this very problem because there’s no integration, or worse yet, no communication between departments.

The marketing department may be consumed with the job of creating an image, positioning, and attracting customers – without ever really interacting with customers at all.

The sales and service departments exist in a very different, “in-the-trenches” kind of environment. These departments are face-to-face with prospects and customers who expect their experience to match up with the marketing promise – a promise that these departments might not even be aware of.

Even if salespeople are fully aware of the marketing promise and the resulting customer expectations, there are many reasons that salespeople might still be unable or unwilling to deliver an experience that matches the expectation.

For example, poor sales management, outdated selling techniques, a flawed pay plan or poor/inadequate training can easily distract your sales team from delivering the right experience to your customers. The same could be true for service or delivery departments.

Perhaps that is why the old tongue-in-cheek definition of marketing is “where the tires hit the clouds” as opposed to sales which is often described as “where the tire hits the road” and service, which is simply, “fix the tire!”

The disconnect isn’t always between marketing and “everything else.” Sometimes the marketing and sales efforts are closely aligned, but the service experience is inconsistent with both.

Consider a scenario where a new product is released and the marketing department promotes it while the sales team aggressively sells it – only to find that there are glitches in the product that can’t be serviced and the company ends up having to recall the product.

In this case, the chain might look like this:

marketing and sales experience connect but service experience misaligns

The marketing promise and sales experience are fairly consistent. However, the sales and marketing efforts are incompatible with the service capabilities – no doubt resulting in unhappy customers.

This figure shows the ultimate fiasco:

total disconnect

Here nothing connects. It would take a pretty desperate prospect to buy from this organization. The marketing department hasn’t communicated to the sales team, the service department hasn’t gotten the sales or marketing message, the marketing department and service department have not connected, and the sales team hasn’t connected with either.

The result is an inconsistent, poorly defined strategy across the entire organization, an organization fraught with finger-pointing, blame, denial, falling revenue and reduced cash flow.

Would you care to bet on the success they’re having with the retention of customers?

As you know, the secret to long-term business survival and success is dependent on the number of customers you can retain, vertically integrate, use as a referral source, and create as unpaid salespeople for your enterprise.

The figure below shows the ideal scenario.

  integration and total connect

The more these three areas overlap, the better off you are. Smart organizations do their best to ensure that the promise-expectation-experience chain is never broken. In fact, they do their best to ensure that the links overlap and are totally integrated.

In this case, marketing, sales and service are all on the same page. Keep in mind that service can relate to delivery, technical support, internal operations, customer service or any other group of people that interface with customers during or after the sale. Overlook incorporating these people into your marketing/sales team and you are destined for failure.

Instead, the entire marketing thrust, philosophy, direction, theme and premise must be totally integrated and ingrained into the fiber of the entire enterprise.

Salespeople need to know precisely how their organization, products and even they themselves should be positioned in the market. They must then be trained to be consistent with that image. For example:

  • The most exclusive
  • The largest
  • The most approachable
  • The low-price leader
  • The street-smart solution provider
  • The technical leader
  • The most customer friendly
  • The most expensive
  • The choice of discriminating buyers
  • The 24-hour service provider

It makes little difference what position you choose to take.

If the product or service is positioned as basic, low priced, transactional and marginal in value, there is nothing wrong with a sales approach that meets that expectation. In fact, it could be argued that it should.

What does make a difference is how well you communicate that position to all the internal constituencies who interface with prospects or customers. What is important is how effectively you are able to monitor, provide feedback, and course-correct those things that happen in the field.

Your sales, marketing and service departments should never operate in isolation. This happens far too often. The relationship among the three is perhaps the most essential thing that organizations and the people in them must build, nurture and sustain.

It’s not that easy, however. It requires that egos be set aside, communications be opened, and everyone work conscientiously and in consort with other departments. The problem is that too many people tend to operate only in their own self-interest. When that happens, the customer loses. And, in the long run, the organization loses, too.