B2B Sales & Marketing: Why can’t we just get along?

Barbed wire fenceDid you know that:

Approximately one-half  of the material Marketing generates for Sales never gets used?

Salespeople typically spend about 40% of their time creating customer-facing collateral rather than selling?

Only 10%-15% of the collateral Sales produces is consistent with corporate strategy and messaging?

I am dismayed by the lack of cooperation I often see between sales and marketing within B2B companies. Each frequently blames the other when things aren’t going so well.  Each typically tries to take the credit when things actually do go well.   This post looks at some of the causes of this dysfunctional relationship and how to begin to bridge the gap.  I realize that I’ll be throwing around a lot of generalities and stereotypes here, but I have enough experience on both sides of the fence (sometimes laced with barbed wire) to verify that these issues are more prevalent than we would like to think.

How Marketing Perceives Sales

Sales people are typically viewed as more opportunistic than strategic.  They chase down short-term opportunities,  sometimes to the detriment of their company’s long-term goals.  This is also known as the cowboy or lone ranger mentality, inspired by their sales personalities and how they are compensated: commissions on sales.   These one-off deals make it difficult for the company’s development and customer service teams to deliver what the salesperson has promised.   These teams become distracted from their main mission, which is to cost-effectively support the company’s mainstream customers and applications.  For companies that are tying to develop and support a common business platform, these one-offs can be devastating.

Salespeople are also accused of not following instructions, another aspect of the cowboy mentality.  They might come back from an expensive trade show with a bunch of business cards, with little information as to who these prospects are (other than their titles and company names), and whether they were just interested in picking up one of your logo-clad stress balls or truly represent a qualified lead.  So how can the salespeople prioritize who to call on when they return to the office? And what does this do to the ROI of your trade show investment?

How Sales Perceives Marketing

Marketing folks, on the other hand, are perceived as operating in an ivory tower, without really understanding what’s going on in the field.  They frequently want to focus on relatively glamorous, news worthy messages. I remember leading the sales effort of a Silicon Alley interactive agency in the late 1990s.  While most of our customers were seeking first generation websites for their dial-up consumers, the marketing department was talking about its capabilities to bring rich media (e.g., videos) to the web.   This provided a distinction from all of the other interactive agencies at the time, which impressed some venture capitalists and reporters, but was entirely impractical until broadband internet access became more prevalent many years down the road.   By that time, the agency went bankrupt (in fairness, so did most of the others!).

Marketing collateral is supposed to soften-up customers so that they are predisposed to buy from your salespeople.   When there is a disconnect between customer needs and your company’s selling proposition, marketers are not supporting their salespeople in the field.

How to Restore a Healthy Relationship Between Marketing & Sales

  • Get drunk together (seriously).  This is how many sales get closed.  It will help all parties become less defensive and hopefully more cooperative going forward.  Just one cautionary note for the marketing folks:  the sales guys (and gals) will drink you under the table!
  • Make sure that the development of Marketing Plans is a cross-functional effort that needs to be owned by Marketing, but requires input from–and output to–Sales, Customer Service, Engineering and Operations (as applicable).  The delivery organizations need to be able to deliver what marketing promises and all functions of the company have an impact on the customer’s  perception of the brand.  Marketing needs to lead the way with market research, competitive and business case analysis, but cannot do so without input from the various functional organizations.
  • Agree on who needs to cover the “overlap” between marketing and sales.  Some call it Sales Support, some call it Marketing Support (therein lies part of the problem!).   Regardless,  its important to integrate sales operations with marketing operations.
  • If you don’t already have one,  develop a formal process for  how leads are collected, prioritized and communicated to salespeople and how marketing, in turn, receives feedback on lead outcomes.  This is critical so that marketers can measure the ROI of the marketing campaigns that generated the leads in the first place.   Use of a formal salesforce automation tool, or a full-blown CRM system, is helpful here.
  • Hold regular meetings between marketing and sales, with real agendas, to ensure that communication is an ongoing process. Marketers should ask salespeople directly about what they are experiencing in the field.  What competitors are they meeting in the market?  Which tactics are working and which aren’t’? Salespeople should ask marketers for strategic direction, as well as tactical tools (e.g., scripts, templates, collateral) to execute the strategy in the field.
  • Marketing should continuously update the marketing calendar and make it easily accessible to sales.  This calendar should should list and describe all upcoming advertising campaigns, press releases, events, new product releases, updates to collateral, etc.

These solutions are all about better communication between the people in marketing and sales.  The first step is to recognize that the two disciplines attract people with very different personalities.   The next step is to communicate in more productive ways, both formally and informally.  Finally, you need to instill and codify a culture of cooperation and mutual respect.  Maybe then we will be all be able to sing from the same sheet of music, which should be written by marketing with input from sales!

What do you think?

See Marketing Sherpa’s excellent article on how marketing and sales can collaborate to score and prioritize leads

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