How Marketing Can Get Along With Sales

Sales and Marketing SIlos
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The other day I was browsing the internet looking doing some research and I ran across this article on “9 Reasons Why Sales Hates Marketing” by Geoffrey James . I have worked on both sides of this divide and am well aware of the deep held assumptions, misgivings, and plain and simple lies that are fueling this debate. I also know that this debate rages inside companies of all sizes, ages, and industries. When I found this article by Geoffrey James I thought, finally someone bold enough to put their feelings down on paper in an article. All too often after tense meetings both sides grumble out of the conference rooms and then vent to their department coworkers over lunch. It took guts for him to share what he thinks without fear or holding back with an audience as big as Inc. Magazine. I am going to take issue (in green) with Geoffrey James on his 9 points and in the process help you to mend fences with the sales team in your company.

1. Marketing Acts Superior

Many marketers have business degrees, so they think they’re better than sales reps who don’t. However, business degrees are of limited use in sales situations–because very few business schools offer courses in sales, let alone majors or degrees.

Since what’s taught in b-school is (frankly) a mix of accounting and biz-blab, the superior air of the MBA’d is neither appropriate nor helpful.

The Fix: Make certain that every marketer you hire has at least six months of experience selling something.

This is an easy trap to fall into. I can admit to feeling a bit out done when I see a sales person who has does not have the degrees (or loans) that I have rising threw the company and becoming senior to me. Gotta admit. That kinda burns. But I am taking issue with James in that “business degrees are of limited use in sales situations”.  If all you learned in business school is how to analyze a balance statement or profit and loss statement then that was a waste of a degree. And I think that modern MBA programs are adjusting to this fact and including more applicable portions into their programs. It will help marketing people to have experience in sales. That is true. But marketers need to raise their value and provide tangible, factual information to sales and other departments that makes it easier for them to win at their jobs. And digital marketers CAN do this. 

2. Marketing Doesn’t Believe in Sales

Marketers are often taught in b-school that good marketing makes a sales force unnecessary. As Peter Drucker put it: “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous” and “the right motto for business management should increasingly be ‘from selling to marketing.'”

However, unless a product is a plug-and-play commodity, your only differentiator is how you sell it.

The Fix: Make it clear in the charter of the marketing team that they are there to support the sales team, not to replace it.

I have never felt like my goal as a marketer was to replace marketing. Even though I have quoted this famous Drucker phrase on many occasions. I don’t doubt that there are marketers that feel this way but that was never my experience. I always understood that marketing and sales had to work together to accomplish company objectives. But to me “support the sales team” sounds kinda subordinate. Kinda like the marketing department is the water boys for the varsity football team. I would prefer to say that the marketing teams job is to give the sales team the best possible shot at closing a deal. I prefer to think of marketing and sales working together like a great quarterback and running back duo. One without the other is pointless. They have to be in sync in order for the team to win the game. 

3. Marketing Thinks Selling Is Easy

Marketers think that they can create so much demand that selling consists of taking orders. However, many “demand creation” activities don’t create all that much demand–especially in B2B, where customers generally ignore ads, brochures, and such.

And, of course, anyone who’s ever sold knows exactly how difficult it can be.

The Fix: Have the marketers make sales calls–or field inside sales calls–so they can see how hard it is.

Maybe because I am one of those few marketers that has had sales experience, but I know sales is not easy. Marketing ain’t easy either. I actually like this suggestion but not the way it is phrased. It sounds punitive, or a misery loves company kind of statement. Marketing needs to see and occasionally participate in sales calls not so they can see how hard it is, but so they can create better marketing. If they are witnessing or even conducting sales calls they will hear first hand where the sticking points are for the customers, what areas of the marketing are much harder to explain as a sales person than it is to write as a marketer. Sales would also benefit from spending some time in marketing. Their on the ground experience would lend relevancy to marketing and help sales to tell a better story as a result of the sales team understanding what was the intended purpose or tone behind a marketing message and improve the delivery in sales pitches. 

4. Marketing Avoids Being Measured

Marketers generally get paid when they produce leads, brochures, white papers, and so forth–even if none of that activity results in a single sale. They successfully get themselves measured on the deliverables, rather than whether the deliverables have a measurable financial impact.

The Fix: Compensate marketers on the ability of the current sales team to generate revenue and profit from the sales leads that marketing produces.

I had to laugh a quietly to myself about this one. Marketing is tougher to evaluate than sales. It has more illusive concepts than quotas and closes. And I will admit, we marketers are good at “spinning” our reports to appear as though everything is fine when the ship is actually on fire. I have to whole heartedly disagree with the notion of compensating marketers on the sales of the sales team. Every marketer knows of a sales person who frankly stinks as a sales person and couldn’t sell air to a drowning man. Instead, marketing and sales need to agree on mutually agreed to analytical benchmarks that can accurately evaluate the effectiveness of the marketing AND sales team. These goals can and should be related to profitability but could be things like, improving the close rate of the sales team or improving website traffic sales conversion. These are things that both departments can be involved in and have equal roles in seeing them thru to fruition.

5. Marketing Claims to be ‘Driving Sales’

Ugh. I’ve heard this phrase dozens of time from marketers who are trying to take credit for sales, even when they had absolutely no impact on making those sales take place. It’s a perfect example of the “law of inverse relevancy,” which is “the more you don’t plan on doing something, the more you must talk about it.”

The Fix: Make Marketing subservient to Sales on the organization chart.

No. Not gonna fly. I don’t think its accurate for marketing to be “driving sales”. But in many cases marketing does fuel sales at least in part. The lead generation that sales needs comes from marketing activities. Marketing creates the brand that people want to connect with and buy from. Personally, I think deeply hierarchical corporate structure to be ineffective in lots of ways, but if two departments need to work together symbiotically, share a common goal, and have a shared fate if these goals are note met why should one be subservient to the other? Why not put them equal on the chart with a common boss, say a VP of Sales and Marketing?

6. Marketing Pretends It’s Strategic

Give me a break. Brand is a reflection of product and service. If those are good, the brand is good; if not, the brand is bad. Yeah, branding activities help–but the idea that marketers are “brand managers” who should be directing all activities throughout the company is, frankly, ridiculous.

The Fix: Reward marketers for behavior that directly results in a measurable increase in revenue and profit.

Ouch! I gotta say a brand is not this simple. If it were, anyone could make one and we all know that is not the case. But this perception has to fall back on marketers if the sales people think this is all we do. I don’t think that  marketing people should be “directing all activities throughout the company”, and any company that would allow this is not running a very smart company. Marketing does have the unique opportunity to learn about the customers in deep and profound ways. When analytics and metrics are applied and combined with the skills of a marketing analyst or business analyst then the direction of the company may be redirected but not because “marketing says so” but because the customers say so. Marketing just translated the message.

7. Marketing Wastes Money

Needless to say, Sales is perfectly capable of wasting money (big time). However, there’s also no question that marketers often expend cash on fancy brochures, advertisements, and trade show junkets that have little or no business value. And, let’s face it, the more that’s spent on marketing boondoggles, the less money there is for commissions.

The Fix: Give the sales team veto power over all pricey marketing activities.

WOW, NO! I think the sales team should have influence on “pricey marketing activities” but should not solely have veto power. That’s a bit of a stretch. Marketing should be held accountable for its expenses and should make attempts to stay within approved budgets. But I know several times where sales wanted to take advantage of the greatest trade show/networking event/or client dinner and requested materials for that. Suddenly, collateral materials need to be revised and be even more flashy. More materials have to be printed and the printing costs may be outside of budgets or the print agreement if it is limited to number of pages for example. Sales people should not be so quick to assume that it’s only marketing that likes doo-dads and shiny things and disregards the budget. 

8. Marketing Pretends It’s Engineering

Once again, give me a break. While marketers often attempt to set a firm’s technical direction, most of the time, the marketers have never even spoken to a customer–and have no idea what’s technically feasible.

The Fix: Let your engineers do the engineering. That’s what you pay them for.

Marketing should not pretend to be engineers. But marketing should be meeting regularly with engineers to share with them what they have learned about the product preferences of the customers. Engineers should be on a first name basis with marketers and vice versa. Removing the silo between marketing and engineers is just as important as removing the one separating sales and marketing. 

9. Marketing Argues About Lead Quality

Marketing frequently provides Sales with lists of unqualified or underqualified leads, and then accuses Sales of being clueless because it can’t close the deals.

What the marketers fail to realize that a lead is only good if it’s possible (or even easy) for the sales team to close. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

The Fix: Reassign (or fire) marketers who can’t provide leads that the sales team can close.

*Smack* This is the sound of me slapping my forehead in exhaustion. This is the age old debate of do you want more leads or better leads. It may not be possible to always overload the sales inbox with topnotch leads. Especially in a highly competitive, mature market. There will be times when lead quality will wane, and then marketing adjusts. Working together sales and marketing can develop proactive processes that can help predict these changes or at least give an identifiable warning signal that will warn sales and marketing of this customer change. I wouldn’t fire marketing but force them to work together with sales. 


The takeaway message may be a bit “hippy-ish” but I think the solution to end the war between sales and marketing is some love, man! This author has clearly had a few run ins with marketing folks that have left him burned on marketing. I hope that recent changes to business, and the influx of data and analytics we can come to a place where sales and marketing can actually work together rather than against one and other.

Need some help unifying your sales and marketing team? Carmen can do that!

Carmen Rojas - SEO &CRO Expert

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