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What Sales Taught Me About Marketing in 2020
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2020 was an enigma of a year. From one perspective, it was terrible on all accounts. COVID, social unrest, economic downturns—there were incredible amounts of hardship suffered by people from all walks of life this year. At the same time, there were some great things that came out of this year as well. People learned a new level of compassion and empathy as we fought a pandemic together. There is a renewed sense of the challenges many in our country have to endure and, most importantly, a focus on solving these at long last. Even businesses that had to work harder than ever to make it through the toughest economic downturn in ages have learned new ways to serve their customers and, in the end, built stronger, more enduring businesses for years to come.

There are silver linings, even if you have to look hard to find them. The process of evaluating and learning from the year gone by is one of my favorite things about this time of year. As a true holiday season junkie, I of course get a lot of joy from presents and holiday treats, watching my favorite Christmas movies, and (in normal years) seeing my family. But another of my favorite parts is looking back on the year and simply taking stock of what has happened and how I grew. In the toughest year of my professional life, 2020 taught me an incredible amount about marketing, ironically, through selling. Here’s what I learned.

Sales and marketing alignment is more important than ever before

We’ve talked a lot on the Element Three blog about the importance of aligning sales and marketing, and how you can help all the parts of your team work and move in the same direction. This has always been an extremely important goal for your sales and marketing team but 2020 really forced me as a salesperson to take this process even more seriously than ever before.

Why? Because all of my traditional channels for reaching new prospects evaporated overnight. There were no longer in-person events where I could meet new people, network with like-minded professionals, and drum up demand. More importantly, none of the rest of the Element Three team had that opportunity either, so referral business essentially dried up for a period of time. People were really hunkering down, both in business and for real, and some of our normal channels for new business simply hit the pause button. At this point, it became clear that I needed to put my additional time and energy into our marketing efforts. I started writing more blogs than I ever had before, networking through LinkedIn by sharing posts and interacting with old contacts, and generally investing much more of my time in understanding the message we are putting out through our marketing channels.

The results were outstanding. Our pipeline managed to stay full all the way through the quarantine period, and we were extremely fortunate to realize more revenue from new business in 2020 than we did in 2019. In this environment, that’s clearly a huge win. We were certainly fortunate at times, but I’m a big believer in creating your own luck and our marketing and sales alignment had a big impact on creating a successful 2020 for our team.

The better you position your brand, the easier it will be to sell new work

Sorry if I sound like a broken record, but it is legitimately impossible to overstate how important it is to position your brand appropriately in 2020. Consumers want the brands in which they invest their money to state clear values, and as consumer and business spending slowed down this year, your brand’s ability to clearly articulate who you serve best and when you are the clear best option became more and more important. In a lot of cases, it’s the main differentiator.

I don’t imagine that is going to change. It’s a smarter way to buy, and even in more prosperous times no one loves wasting their money on goods and services that don’t fulfill their needs.

Over the course of the last eighteen months, Element Three has undergone a rebrand of our own. We had outgrown our old messaging, and we knew it was time for an update. It took time. There were bumps in the road. And then we rolled it out and immediately felt the payoff in the sales process.

Prospects understood much better where our team plugs in and how we impact businesses. We were even able to come to “no fit” decisions faster and it was clear to both the prospect and our team that the right decision was to pass on the opportunity. At the end of the day, that is all you can ask for in your sales process: getting to the right decision as quickly as possible—with an emphasis on right decision. We started more and better work as soon as our positioning was finished.

Sales and marketing are most effective when you’re brave enough to be honest

One of our core values at Element Three is Look to Truth. This centers on the idea that the right decision is always to be honest—but how often is that also the hardest thing to do in sales? You have a prospect or client asking you a question that you so badly want to answer. But you don’t know the answer, or you do and it isn’t great for business, so you twist some words around to make up an answer and satisfy the question.

But you didn’t serve anyone and you know it. And you probably set your delivery team up for a really tough conversation if you over-promised your capabilities.

It is understandable to get caught up in the moment and chase the dopamine rush of a made sale. Especially in 2020 when things were getting tight for many people and businesses, it was easy to believe that every opportunity could be your last. A mindset of abundance is a great thing to strive for, but not always easy in practice. However, when you’re able to focus on the fact that you have more opportunities down the road, you’re able to freely answer questions with “I don’t know,” or to tell a prospect that you’re not a good fit.

This happens well before a sales conversation, as well. Marketing is most effective when it is producing content and putting out a targeted message toward your business’s best customers. One example of this is the Hiring Guide our marketing team put together for Element Three. To be entirely transparent, publishing that page was a little bit of a nervous moment.

“What if we lose an opportunity?” “What if a good prospect decides not to reach out?” “What if we miss that project because they read this page and decide we’re a bad fit?”

All of those questions went through my mind—and I’m sure the minds of the rest of our team as well—but we published it anyway. Because it’s honest. It tells prospects who should and shouldn’t reach out, which speeds up the sales process and helps us get to the right answer quickly. It’s honest, and it is therefore the right option.

Did these lessons work?

You can learn a lot of lessons from losing, and since losing sucks you very rarely forget them. But I honestly prefer learning from winning. We’ve been investing in our sales and marketing team for many years and it helped us come out of 2020 with 25% more realized revenue from new business than we had in 2019. Perhaps more importantly, if you were to independently poll the members of our sales and marketing team at Element Three, you’d almost certainly find all of us feel more closely aligned and in touch with what we need to execute in 2021 to have another great year.

Joe Mills Team Photo at Element Three

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career–from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”