The rivalry between sales and marketing is as iconic as that between legendary boxers Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. For decades, sales and marketing have been pitted against each other, with marketing criticizing sales for not closing enough deals and sales criticizing marketing for not generating enough high-quality leads. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), when sales and marketing executives were asked to come up with a list of terms that best described each other’s personalities, 88% of the terms had negative connotations.
The ingrained friction between sales and marketing is grounded in several fundamental differences between the two adversaries:
Sales and marketing departments comprise two very different types of people. Marketers have typically been exposed to more formal education. They are highly analytical and data-driven. According to HBR, “They judge their projects’ performance with a cold eye, and they’re ruthless with a failed initiative” – a trait that may exemplify why they’re so quick to blame sales when leads don’t convert. Marketing uses such terms as “simple minded”, “cowboys”, and “incompetent” to describe salespeople.
Salespeople, on the other hand, tend to be relationship builders. They are laser-focused on the short term – on closing the next sale. According to HBR, “They want to keep moving” – a trait that may exemplify why they’re quick to scrutinize marketers’ more high-level 30,000 ft. view of the company. Terms used by sales to describe marketing include “paper pushers”, “academic”, and “irrelevant”.
In addition to cultural differences, another source of tension between sales and marketing is compensation structure. By and large, salespeople earn at least a part of their pay in the form of performance-based compensation (such as commissions and bonuses). They are held accountable for sales goals and quotas. Marketers, on the other hand, tend not to be paid based on performance. They earn a salary even if their efforts are ineffective and fail to generate a single sale. These differences in compensation structures fuel inter-departmental misalignment. The disconnect was readily apparent at IBM. Before the company integrated its sales and marketing teams into a function called Channel Enablement, “[m]arketers failed to link advertising dollars spent to actual sales made, so Sales obviously couldn’t see the value of marketing efforts.”
- Roles and responsibilities
Another phenomenon that fuels the tension between sales and marketing is the markedly different roles and responsibilities consigned to each department. Sales is primarily responsible for managing interpersonal interactions. Sales reps know individual prospects well and have a tendency to demand marketing material that targets individual users (adhering to a 1:1 approach). Marketing, on the other hand, is charged with crafting a company’s brand identity and tends to focus on the general population (adhering to a 1: many approach). Another disconnect is tied to pricing responsibilities. Whereas marketing is tasked with setting list and promotional prices for products, sales has the final say and – much to the chagrin of marketers – tends to engage in steep discounting to close deals, claiming that marketing sets prices too high.
The aforementioned friction has caused sales and marketing to largely operate as independent entities – with marketing responsible for generating leads and sales responsible for converting those leads into sales. Morag Latta, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at Thompson Reuters, describes the all-too-common reality: “We would get leads in through the website and throw them over the fence to sales, and whatever happened would happen.”
Companies are quickly realizing that there needs to be better alignment. According to Sirius Decisions, B2B organizations with tightly-aligned sales and marketing operations achieve 24% faster growth and 27% faster profit growth over a three-year period. Although aligning the two teams remains a difficult challenge, several strategies can help maximize the likelihood of success:
- Increase time spent between sales and marketing
A successful ABM strategy entails forging robust relationships between sales and marketing. When both parties are seated at the same table, approaches are far less likely to be at odds with each other. The marketing team should be invited to sales kickoffs, sales calls, and quarterly business reviews. HBR also recommends that the two teams partake in joint strategy sessions: “Jointly, marketers and salespeople should generate a playbook for expanding business with the top ten accounts in each market segment.” These and other related efforts can move waters in terms of helping marketing gain a meaningful perspective on sales pipelines and understanding the importance of generating high-quality leads. Consider Siebel Systems Inc, a software company acquired by Oracle in 2005. To maximize alignment between sales and marketing, the company staffed field-marketing team members in local sales offices, an initiative that resulted in marketing working directly with sales to design and implement demand generation programs (Iacobucci, 2001).
- Integrate tools and technology
When sales and marketing operate in silos, there’s little transparency into the daily affairs and endeavors of each team. CMO describes the common reality in the workplace: “It’s a story still too commonly told: Marketing staff sit in a corner, crafting brochures and sending out the latest product announcements via email when the sales team wants it.” The use of various tools and technology can add transparency. Consider, for example, D.A. Stuart, a producer of lubricants for the metalworking industry. To maximize sales and marketing alignment, the company created a section on the corporate Internet where marketing could post details about its latest activities for the sales team to access. The results were profound: “Salespeople were never surprised by marketing activities and could leverage that work as appropriate” (Iacobucci, 2001). Companies such as Wingify have adopted similar approaches. According to Paras Chopra, Wingify CEO, “At our company, Sales looks at the web-analytics data and gives suggestions for optimizing pricing data, while Marketing has Salesforce access to calculate eventual results of their actions. Both teams talk often to bounce around ideas, find revenue bottlenecks, and fix them at different stages of the customer lifecycle. “
- Assign a task force
In an effort to optimize sales and marketing alignment, many companies have established dedicated roles to serve as the de facto bridge between the two teams, ensuring processes are maintained and communication is constant. An increasingly popular role is Chief Revenue Officer (CRO). Terminus, for example, hired a CRO, who is tasked with overseeing sales and customer success. According to Fast Company, “the best CROs understand and embrace the differences between marketing and sales, while at the same time establishing processes to ensure their coordination across the full revenue cycle.”
While the divide between sales and marketing is deep-rooted, failing to address the disunity is sure to drive organizational dysfunction and friction. It is no longer efficient or effective for sales and marketers to be pitted against each other. Your first step to strengthening relations between sales and marketing is recognizing and acknowledging that action must be taken. Unequivocally, following the steps outlined above is your first step towards forging the bridge that organizations so desperately need to keep above water.