How to Get Sales and Marketing on the Same Page

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This is a guest post by Brad Shorr.

Internal struggles between sales and marketing are commonplace in organizations of all sizes. Having worked on both sides, I’ve come to appreciate how difficult it can be to remedy the situation, and also how rewarding it is to get both departments singing the same tune. Sales and marketing can make beautiful music together in the form of more leads and sales! Here are a few thoughts on how to make it happen.

Problem 1: Political Infighting

Might as well start with the toughest and touchiest problem. Tensions abound when sales and marketing leadership are locked in a battle of wills. Everything each department says or does is seen by the other in the worst possible light, cooperation is virtually nonexistent, and the entire situation becomes a long and depressing tailspin into mediocrity.

One possible fix is to create a VP of Sales and Marketing role. The potential for infighting is high when two departments are battling for favored treatment from a neutral shared boss, such as a CEO or branch manager. Bringing the departments together may not obliterate turf battles, but at least they will be contained within a single department, and resolved there.

Another way to short circuit political issues is for executive leadership to clearly articulate the roles and priorities of sales and marketing. Some firms are sales-driven; others are marketing-driven. If a department doesn’t know where it stands, it will naturally push as hard as it can for as much as it can.

Articulating roles and priorities is not a one-time exercise, either. Priorities can change rapidly, depending on what’s going on internally and industry-wide. For example, consider a sales-driven company ready to introduce a new line of products into a new market segment. Marketing will now take precedence, but marketing will be tentative and sales will be frustrated if the new priorities aren’t understood.

Problem 2: Unfamiliarity Breeds Contempt

You often hear sales types complain that marketing doesn’t understand sales. And just as often, you hear marketers complain that sales doesn’t understand marketing. Unfortunately, these statements usually contain more than a grain of truth, and nothing fosters ill will and ineffectiveness so much as ignorance.

Fortunately, the fix for this problem is simple: cross-training.

When marketers understand sales, their work becomes more relevant to customers, and more persuasive. When sales people understand marketing, they become more systematic and efficient. I don’t think it’s an accident that many successful marketers have had freelance experience, where they were forced to be sales people by necessity. And, throughout my career I have seen many sales reps become tremendously successful by incorporating solid marketing techniques into their work.

Cross-training also alleviates political infighting and internal communication issues. Having a better sense of where a person is coming from, and having some idea of the method behind his apparent madness makes for constructive dialog.

Problem 3: Poor Processes and Shaky Structures

 Sometimes, firms just don’t know what they’re missing by allowing sales and marketing teams to plow ahead without having an organized system behind them. When internal systems are ill-defined and chaotic, sales and marketing tend to clash not only on issues that matter, but also on ones that shouldn’t.

For instance, every marketing department should have a clear process for producing a sales brochure, a process that defines responsibilities and timelines. But for many firms, creating a brochure turns into a fire drill, and it’s never done the same way twice. As a result, steps get skipped, input is overlooked, reviews are haphazard, expectations run the gamut, and everyone generally walks away underwhelmed.

Even worse than poor processes is the problem of shaky structures. Many of us have seen the firm that delegates marketing to a customer service rep who took a few creative writing classes and uses Facebook a lot. And perhaps we’ve also run into the sales manager who checks in with his reps once a month and spends the rest of his time playing customer golf.

If a firm doesn’t appreciate the complexity and difficulty of sales and marketing, it is really setting its staff up for failure. Political infighting is at least organized fighting; when staffers are at each other’s throats because there’s no other way to get things done, you’ve now set the stage for a gang war.

These issues arise frequently in entrepreneurial firms that have enjoyed rapid growth; adding a little management talent is often all it takes to completely transform the situation.

Work On It

For executive leadership, I suppose all of these three sales-marketing problems come back to that same issue of working on the business instead of in the business. Sales and marketing are completely different disciplines with completely different mindsets. And just because both groups have the same goal of increasing sales, it’s by no means a given that they will get along. It’s a tough problem to be sure, but that’s why execs get the big bucks.

Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, an agency that does web marketing in Chicago. They specialize in B2B with clients in industrial niches from credit card mobile processing to machine knit fingerless gloves.


4 Responses to How to Get Sales and Marketing on the Same Page

  1. In my experience, the other cause of misalignment is the compensation structure.

    Salespeople are paid for short-term individual performance, that is, grabbing the quick buck.

    Marketers are paid as teams for the company’s long-term success.

    They don’t have once single reason to work together. Salespeople are chasing their own personal agendas of higher commissions and the next promotion as much and as soon as possible.

    My idea is to pull sales and marketing together into a business development department. Pay everyone a base salary, so salespeople don’t show desperation in front of buyers. And pay everyone a bonus based on company-wide performance.

    Now we have a team.

    And what if someone doesn’t pull his weight? His colleagues take care of him. Just remember the scene from the movie Dirty Dozen, when Franko tried to escape. Major Reisman didn’t have to interfere. Two “colleagues” or peers, Posey and Wladislaw “convinced” him to behave… or else.

    Talented people don’t tolerate losers among them. And laziness is loser’s behaviour. They gang upon the loser and give him a little peer pressure. And peer pressure is always more effective than “boss pressure”.

    When people win or lose together, then they will work together to make sure win or die trying.

    So, why don’t companies do it? Because good teamwork takes a bit of thinking to design and a bit of time to implement. It’s a sort of herding cats. It takes brains in a world where management is still mainly brawn-based: Threats and intimidation.

    And besides military folks, not many people understand teamwork anyway.

    • Hi Tom, You are so right about commission pay structures – they not only encourage short-term thinking, they tend to make reps feel that they, not the company, own the accounts. I’ve seen lots of compensation models that mix commissions with salary and various types of incentives, but still, as you say, it boils down to deft management. Without that, I think you’re better off with a commission system, because that system is at least self-managing to a large degree. Thank you for sharing your ideas!

    • You make a great point about short-term vs long-term success/goals. If we can’t get our employees even working towards the game goal then how can we expect them to be a real team?

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