Miserably Misaligned

Legendary are the disturbances between marketing and sales. Within the narrow geography of Silicon Valley, such interoffice disputes between the two camps have crippled businesses, caused collateral causalities and brought down small third-world governments.

And for no good reason.

I recently saw such a conflict up-close. With all my years in the game, this occurrence was nothing new and I could see the waters boiling long before other people did. The actors and stage setting were different, but the plot was the same as always. Groundhog Day with different dialogue.

To understand sales/marketing skirmishes, one has to understand the attitudes, perspectives and psychoses of either camp. Nobody is without sin, but there ain’t no saints either.

Perspective of importance

Though not unique, the sales director in the latest episode proclaimed in a mass inter-company email “Marketing exists to support sales.” Ignoring the utter arrogance of the individual, we can say that his notion is utter blather.

Both marketing and sales exist to meet the goals of the organization. One of executive management’s jobs is to keep corporate goals visible and to promote collaboration in the building of the company, not the building of empires and fiefdoms. Unilateral proclamations of hierarchical dominance are demented and dangerous.

More to the point, this sales director clearly does not understand marketing’s role. Marketing is responsible for defining products and then making them easy to buy. A great marketing executive will turn sales people into telephone order takers by driving up demand. In doing so the marketing department needs to get feedback from, then collaborate with sales and not just dictate to them. In shops where marketing is self-important and dictates down to the sales team is where you find collateral gathering dust on the shelves and the sales team inventing their own field marketing messages.

For all the naked arrogance shown by this sales director, marketing must admit to some as well. Marketing will always know the market better than sales. They will have keener insights into the intersections of segments, product features, genotype motivations and more. Yet this tells marketing nothing about the intimacy required in high context selling. Marketing strategy is a science. Selling is an art.

Perspective of time

Sales people, God bless their pointed little heads, have a one-fiscal-quarter perspective. Management ensures this by mandating quarterly quotas. Thus, anything involving the product, features and marketing that does not help sales achieve this quarter’s numbers is to salespeople a flaw. I once suffered a salesman screaming in a board room about how an insignificant feature – one that surveys showed was of little importance to customers – was killing all hope of sales success. When I questioned him – an act he took as an adversarial gesture – we discovered the feature in question was delaying one sale, and that if he could have landed that deal it would have made his numbers for that quarter.

Unlike sales, marketing thinks for the long-term. In mapping segment sequences and product feature roadmaps, marketing is not looking at the current quarter at all. Marketing looks one, five, ten years ahead. Marketing is looking at the forest, sales at the trees.

Frankly, marketing needs to look more closely at trees. The key place where marketing and sales needs to collaborate is in field marketing. Smart companies map each sales phase and each influential genotype. They create lead nurturing processes and sets of messages for each phase. Together, sales and marketing devise and perpetually revise a discipline for engaging prospects, be it on a web site or in the client’s office.

This almost ever happens. When marketing wants to look at trees, they do so with precision. Marketing understands the value of structure in how prospects are coaxed from one sales phase to the next, and the value of field testing messages and calls to action in a way that these structured processes are constantly refined.

Sales doesn’t. Structure, especially when imposed, is something the average sales person despises. Structure is the opposite of art, and sales people are artists. The times when structured field sales lead nurturing processes work is when the head of sales understands and endorses the process, then mandates his team to collaborate with marketing. In the absence of that, the odds are effective marketing/sales teamwork is predictably south of zero.

Perspective of intimacy

Sales is almost correct when they accuse marketing of not understanding the customer. Sales has very intimate relationships with customers, adjusting on the fly to the needs and wants of each. I have noted that sales and dating are similar processes – a dance where willing participants slowly move towards greater depth of intimacy, culminating in naked exchanges.

Marketing rarely does. Now marketing does know the customer … as a blob of faceless statistical aggregates. Marketing can tell you the mean demand-priority of feature XYZ for the key influencer genotype in the secondary market segment, and tell you this down to three decimal points with a 95% confidence interval. Yet they cannot name one member of that genotype in a recent sales engagement, or what his nuanced objections to feature XYZ were.

Marketing should be on the road one day each quarter. They should – at gun point if necessary – ride to several sales calls, smiling at the prospect but otherwise keeping their mouths shut. Doing so exposes them to the different buyer genotypes and their attitudes toward the product, the marketing behind the product, the sales process, field marketing messages and more. Naked interaction brings a taste of reality to the otherwise detached and academic predisposition of marketing strategy.

Sales should understand and appreciate something as well. Marketing does a lot of hard work eliminating sales frustration by selecting the right markets, segments, buyer profiles and genotypes for promotions. In other words, marketing keeps sales from wasting their entire work week chasing weak leads. Marketing’s strategy leads sales to the right battlefields and hands sales the right weapons. Marketing would benefit by seeing the battle up-close. You know the object of your conquest best when you can smell them.

Perspective of contribution

Both sales and marketing contribute to top line revenues. Sadly, sales tends to think they do it on their own.

I won’t criticize closers. They do the hard work of moving a lead toward a deal. But they do not do this solo. When marketing works well, the quality of the lead goes up, the ease of buying rises, and the sales person has an easier time of everything. If any sales people do not believe this, then I make them this challenge: do it on your own for a quarter. No marketing support. No lead generation. No lead scoring, filtering or profiling. Nada. Sales soon sees the strategic marketing perspective.

Perspective on pulling it together

The primary role of executive management is communications, with most of that geared toward leadership. Organizations with weak executives who fail to keep mission, objectives and teamwork as constantly communicated priorities hinder their own outfits. People constantly work together for common goals, be it in charities, political parties and even corporations.

This can include sales and marketing. In the absence of constant focus on goals, either or both of sales and marketing will myopically focus too intently on their specialty. It takes a strong CEO to set common objectives and refocus the energy of sales and marketing toward mutually supportive activity. This is the only way to break down barriers and egos.

And if that doesn’t work, 40 lashes for everybody in sales. That’ll teach ‘em.


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