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Why Marketing Should Rarely Be Held Accountable for Offline Sales

Published: February 11, 2010

Author: David Rodnitzky

I was thinking about writing a post outlining how National Public Radio (specifically, San Francisco’s KQED) uses the “four basic human emotions” to get listeners to donate to their radio station, but my initial concept has now morphed into a diatribe against bad sales techniques. Bear with me on this one, I’ll explain.
KQED has someone named Cynthia Marcucci who mysteriously only comes on air when it is time to raise money from listeners. For all I know, she may be a full-time NPR fundraiser, a modern-day music man going from town to town and station to station to fleece the listening public out of a few hard-earned dollars. I give her credit, though, she’s really good. In the course of a five minute spiel, she hits on all the human emotions. First and foremost there’s fear and guilt – if you don’t give, we can’t bring you great programs, and then you’ll be left listening to Bon Jovi on a commercial channel. Then there’s greed and exclusivity – we only have a few “speed gifts” left so you’d better call now or you’ll miss out on your subscription to Cooks Illustrated. And finally, vanity – you must be smart because you listen to NPR and by pledging you’ll further solidify your status as one of America’s cultural elites.
KQED has got some other crafty marketing techniques that they also throw into the mix: the “dollar for dollar challenge” which makes you think that your money will be doubled by a sponsor (which I am pretty sure is actually not true); the promise to end the pledge drive early (translation: we get to listen to actual NPR again) if you donate; and the clearly heard phones ringing in the background – to let you know that others are donating – a herd mentality approach.
So with all these various pressures – I succumbed to the pressure today and called in my pledge. Initially, the experience was great – I could actually hear my pledge call ringing in the background on air (for all of you listening to KQED at around 3:56 PM – THAT WAS MY PHONE CALL YOU HEARD!). From that point forward, however, things went downhill fast. First off, I got routed to the “your call is important to us, please hold” system for a few minutes. I had a call at 4pm so I thought about hanging up right there and calling back. Then I got a volunteer on the line and the call went like this:

Volunteer: Thank you for calling KQED, may I take your pledge?

David: Yeah, but can you tell what I get for different pledge amounts.

(Five Second Pause).

Volunteer: OK, let me look it up.

(Thirty Second Pause).

Volunteer: It looks like for $125 you can get some DVDs about San Francisco.

David: What about other donation levels.

Volunteer: OK, let me see if I can find that.

(One Minute Pause)

Volunteer: If you go to our Web site, you can get a list of all the different pledge options.

David: OK, thanks I’ll do that.

Volunteer: Good bye.

I’m not a sales guy, but I count at least three cardinal selling errors that transpired during this call:

  1. Don’t keep a potential customer on hold;
  2. Don’t speak to a customer unless you are familiar with all the product options. At a minimum, have a cheat sheet available.
  3. NEVER, EVER, encourage a customer who you are talking to live to get off the phone and go to your Web site for more information.

It’s likely that I will end up donating via the KQED Web site (though I have to admit, that site isn’t the most user-friendly either). But this whole experience is a good example of why marketing should only be held accountable for part of the conversion funnel. Cynthia Marcucci and the on-air pledge drive leaders broke down my resistance and got me to call in a pledge – the marketing worked. At that point, however, they’ve done everything they can. The rest is up to the sales team, and in this case, the sales team failed miserably.
In virtually every B2B sales process, there are between four and five different points along the path to a successful sale:

  1. Lead (e.g. complete a request for a white paper)
  2. Opportunity (the lead is qualified as legitimate)
  3. Contact (the sales person actually talks to the lead)
  4. Proposal (a proposal is submitted)
  5. Sale (a contract is signed)

From a marketing perspective, once the lead is declared “qualified” and is an opportunity, there’s nothing more that the marketing team can do – their job is done. That’s not to say that the marketing team shouldn’t be informed about their results of their leads. For example, if there is clear data to indicate that opportunities for specific keywords drive higher-value sales (or tend to convert more frequently) than other leads, then that sort of information needs to be factored into marketing decisions. But my advice is to use this data as supplemental and not actually judge marketing on these metrics, because a good or bad sales team can significantly impact the outcome. Marketing drives people to the front door, sales people have to let them in and sign them up!

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