FEBRUARY 25, 2004

By Christopher Kenton

When Sales Meets Marketing: Part II

Think of your sales team as the athletes and marketers as their coaches. Put that concept into effect and your outfit will score a lot more touchdowns

In the first part of this series, we looked at the familiar breakdown between sales and marketing programs. The problem is so common and widely accepted that many businesses treat it as an operational fact rather than a threat to the bottom line. Sure, there are integration efforts in the form of customer-relations-management initiatives and business-process improvement. But the real problem is found in the attitudes and misunderstandings that drive sales and marketing teams apart.

The power to influence real integration lies heavily with the marketing team, specifically in its approach to supporting and serving the sales team as the primary customer. If you think of it like a sports team, sales is the high-profile athlete judged ruthlessly for performance on the field, while marketing is the coach who remains mostly out of the spotlight, tasked with the strategy of creating a successful playbook and a competitive edge.

ROOT OF ALL EVIL. In order to truly understand the needs and challenges of the sales team, you need to get beyond the common stereotypes of sales people and try to understand what motivates them. I conducted interviews with some of the best sales professionals I know, and here's what they have to say.

I asked Todd Ewing, the senior vice-president of consumer marketing and insurance sales for InsWeb (INSW), one of the biggest U.S. insurance brokers, to put me inside the head of a top-performing sales executive. Mr. Ewing has built some of the largest and most successful sales organizations in the insurance industry, and he is surprisingly candid about the goals and attitudes of sales teams.

"The biggest misunderstanding marketers have about sales people," Ewing says, "is that sales people only care about money. What they don't understand is that it's not about greed. Money is a sales person's measure of success: It's a very easy way to know whether or not you're getting ahead.

"It's true that many sales people are egotistical. But a lot of times that's a balance against insecurity. So is competitiveness. Winning is a very effective way of proving where you stand. The flip side of that, which you'll never see if you don't respect your sales team, is that they're very eager to please."

PERFORMANCE ANXIETY. Jeff Paladini, a sales rep for the Spartanburg, S.C., textile manufacturer Milliken, says the typical sales mindset has given rise to organizational structures and programs that make a sales job increasingly stressful. "What marketers don't appreciate is that we are force-ranked against our peers," Paladini says. "If I don't sell more than the guy sitting next to me, it can cost me my job."

The pressure to perform, vs. the relative freedom of a marketing position, makes many sales people view marketers as "ivory tower" employees. Ralph Barsi, sales manager for Hayward, Calif., enterprise-software outfit Gaffey + Associates, echoes every sales person I talked to in saying he believes marketers are typically out of touch with real customers. "They rarely bang phones, walk the block knocking on doors, or sit face to face with decision-makers. They just don't understand the sales process: finding a prospect from scratch, discussing and identifying the problems they're facing, proposing fixes to those problems, negotiating terms (a topic in itself) and closing the customer."

That perceived disconnect often leads to more resentful attitudes, as InsWeb's Ewing points out. "Sales people tend to believe that the company is cheap. The company wants to spend the least amount of money to generate leads. When you put marketers into the picture, especially when you have problems with generating good leads, sales people perceive that marketers work for the bean counters, not for the sales force."

FOLLOW THE LEADS. When I asked sales people what they would like to see changed about their sales process, every response focused on sales calls. Not a single sales person mentioned the need for greater incentives. Instead, they said they wanted marketers to go out on sales calls from time to time, and interact directly with prospects. "Marketers should have to listen to sales calls," Ewing says. "They focus so much on 'conversions', but a conversion doesn't tell the story of how many calls or how much pulling of teeth it took to close a sale."

"Marketers go to a tradeshow and collect 200 names," says Paladini, "and that's how they judge the effectiveness of their program. They're usually not judged on the quality of those leads based on how well they close -- that's just expected to be a sales problem."

Lynde Richards, vice-president of business development at Tramco, a Folsom (Calif.) vendor of supply-chain software, has worked both sides of the marketing and sales fence, serving as a vice-president of sales at Computer Associates (CA ), and a vice-president of marketing at Rockville (Ma.)-based NextLinx. Putting on her sales hat, Richards wonders if most marketers are even in a good position to qualify leads. "They create all the datasheets and sales tools, but they really don't know anything about the product firsthand," she says. "They're not out talking to customers and hearing their problems and needs every day, they're listening to product development teams."

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.

BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME. It is the content of what marketers create that seems to frustrate sales people, rather than the intent. Most sales people I spoke with understand the value of brand-building activities and strategic positioning, but don't see such goals translating well into successful sales or realistic expectations.

Gaffey + Associates' Barsi explains: "Marketers are invaluable in helping to brand a company and its products and services. They're eager to make their ideas realities: designing, ordering, cradling, and releasing tons of collateral; encouraging the 'on hold' music to be replaced with product-release announcements; and begging for the PC in the company's lobby to have a rolling banner of products and services. When they spend their efforts building awareness, they want results now. What is often misunderstood is the length of the sales cycle -- which could be 12 months long."

Sometimes, the strategic goals directly undermine the sales forces efforts. One respondent, who for obvious reasons wished to remain anonymous, decries the "flavor of the month" approach to branding and positioning. "Branding and building awareness is important to sales. We get it. But marketers don't understand that we build relationships based on those promises," he said. "We had a recent situation where marketing came up with a strategy to position us as the 'flexible' partner -- which meant we had to take on smaller orders and special orders we had never before accepted. That meant a lot more work for sales, which we griped about, but we got with the program and became 'flexible'.

INSUFFICIENT THOUGHT. "Two months later, corporate suddenly realized the strategy was destroying our margins. Fulfilling each sale was costing more than it was worth, so they came down and told us to stop. Well, we just made promises to partners who made promises to customers, and now we were being told to break our commitment. You can't just walk away from partner commitments. Those relationships take years to build. And of course, we were still expected to make our sales numbers as if nothing happened."

Tramco's Richards sees similar issues in promotion campaigns. "Marketing has its idea of how things need to be launched. They do their research, create pricing models, build collateral. But there's not a lot of thought given to how to support the sales cycles those campaigns bring to the table. Marketing does their blitz, and suddenly sales people are being asked all kinds of questions they can't answer. That doesn't make them look very good.

"We see the same thing with partnerships," she continues. "They're just not thought out well enough to avoid channel conflicts. Every software company needs partnerships to extend their reach, but when channels are running into direct sales and fighting over commissions, we blame marketing for not having a plan."

WORKING TOWARD SOLUTIONS. There are plenty of complaints by marketers about sales: Sales teams don't care about strategies like segmentation or "customer lifetime value," they only care about making a sale and getting a commission. Sales teams are overly territorial and don't understand value or channel partnerships. Sales teams don't track leads, and don't follow up on the valuable leads marketing delivers. Sales teams make ridiculous promises to prospects to close a sale that can't be fulfilled.

In a non-integrated sales-and-marketing program, these complaints are usually delivered as defensive justifications for weak performance. In an integrated sales and marketing program, these issues are embraced as the starting point for building an effective cross-functional relationship, which is the subject of the next article in this series.