FEBRUARY 19, 2004

By Christopher Kenton

When Sales Meets Marketing: Part I

Too many businesses view sales and marketing as oil and water. It's a separation that hampers efficiency and undermines the bottom line

Competitive success is often determined by one company's ability to overcome problems where others fail. So it's interesting to consider why some problems motivate businesses to rise above the crowd, while other problems settle into the fabric of a company's organization and culture. Some problems are so universal and so persistent that entire industries learn to accept them as the natural order of things when, in fact, solutions are readily available.

The breakdown between sales and marketing is one such problem. So many businesses and employees accept the Silo Effect between sales and marketing as operational reality, they no longer invest any confidence in efforts to correct it. But when the tension between sales and marketing becomes an accepted way of life, it is poisonous to business performance. Show me a company where one team rolls its eyes at the other, and I'll show you a company saddled with dead leads, grinding sales cycles, and endless channel conflicts -- a trail of ruin that leads right to the bottom line.

So how do you solve such a seemingly intractable problem? I called about a dozen current and former clients, talking to every sales and marketing employee I could reach to ask them about their complaints and suggestions for Sales and Marketing integration. The answers might surprise you.

WHAT PROBLEM? So many outfits operate every day with dysfunctional relations between sales and marketing that they just don't see the disconnect anymore. The sales department is immersed in its latest training cycle, sales calls, and post-sale projects, while the marketing department carries on with its trade-show plans, data sheets and Web sites. On any given day, it may seem as if everything is functioning perfectly. Until you start asking questions, that is.

What is your Customer Lifetime Value? How are you tracking leads through the sales cycle? Which marketing programs are leading to closed deals? Suddenly the barriers go up and the arrows fly. To hear Marketing tell it, Sales doesn't follow up on leads and refuses to track them through the sales cycle. To hear Sales tell it, Marketing doesn't provide any leads worth a dime, since they don't know anything about the customer -- or the product -- anyway.

No matter how you assign the blame, the result is the same. Critical business metrics are useless in an organization where something so valuable as a customer can't be tracked on the trajectory from prospect to loyal customer. But is it just a matter of tracking customers? Look at the wasteland of companies that have dropped 1% of revenue on a customer-relations-management (CRM) initiative only to see performance stagnate.

SHOPPING FOR SOLUTIONS. CRM is a phenomenal business tool. But no matter how good the technology, it won't make up for lack of a business process. Of course, you've probably heard that line by now. It's the sage (and safe) advice of nearly every consultant working in a market where more projects fail than succeed. The truth, for most companies, is that it isn't even the business process that's the problem -- though that's certainly a cheaper place to shop for solutions than CRM. The real problem is one of culture and personalities and attitudes. Poke around the beliefs of the Sales and Marketing teams in an underperforming company, and you'll get the picture quickly.

Marketers routinely dismiss sales people as greedy and egotistical. And sales people, well, they're a little more blunt. They think marketers are fluffy and dumb. When you start with a playing field like that, business processes descend into political gamesmanship. But if you dig a little deeper to get to the roots of these attitudes, a picture emerges that offers hope-as long as you don't choke on the remedy.

After talking with a wide range of sales and marketing people, I came to one inescapable conclusion -- the same conclusion many companies come to when the chips are down, and one I say this as a career marketer: It's marketing's fault. Really. But if you're a marketer, that's good news. It means the solution is completely in your hands, and you have a lot more control over your destiny than you think.

KNOWING THE CUSTOMER. Have you ever pondered the thankless job of a professional sports coach? Every year they get fired, while flashy players get fame and multimillion dollar contracts. Marketers are coaches and sales people are players. If you want a daily challenge that promises money and attention, pick up a helmet. If you thrive on solving problems and seeing strategies come to fruition, get used to a thankless life out of the spotlight. Whichever role you choose, you need to understand that it's meaningless without your partner. If you fail to recognize you're joined at the hip, your team will lose.

In business terms, marketers need to learn that their customer is not The Customer. For marketers, the customer is the sales team. If you're a marketer, don't finish gagging yet, it gets worse. The customer is your best source of market intelligence, and, well, the customer is always right. Just like the coach, your reason for being is to make that prima donna shine. That's the only way to win games. And winning is the only way to earn the respect you deserve in the boardroom.

In organizations where marketing truly serves sales, both organizations succeed together and recognize each other's contributions. But beyond that horizon of mutual admiration is a much loftier plane, and that's what marketers need to keep their eyes on when serving with a smile. It's only when sales and marketing are collaborating on the tactical level that the brass ring of strategic marketing-marketing based on performance tuning metrics like Customer Lifetime Value-is possible.

Do you have your own impressions about sales and marketing integration? Take my online survey. It's short, to the point, and we'll share with you the results.

In the upcoming second installment of this three-part series, you'll hear directly from a surprisingly sincere group of sales professionals about why they think marketing and sales integration usually fails. Their insights will provide a different perspective on sales operations, and will help you close the gaps in your own marketing programs.