MARCH 4, 2004

By Christopher Kenton

When Sales Meets Marketing, Part III

Collaboration and trust are essential if salespeople and marketers are to boost an outfit's bottom line. Here, laid out in simple steps, is a four-point path to achieving it

In two out of the three articles in this series, I've been pretty hard on marketers. In Part I, I introduced the epidemic breakdown between sales and marketing as a problem owed mostly to marketing. In Part II, I devoted an entire article to letting sales vent about the shortcomings of marketing without giving equal time to marketers. Why would I be so unfair to marketers?

The truth is, I think the solution to sales-and-marketing integration can only come from marketing. And I think the reason the solution has not been forthcoming is that marketers have not accepted the challenge and taken the reins to effectively drive change. I know, I know -- marketers have been savaged in the boardroom, their budgets have been plundered, and their ranks decimated. None of that represents a valid excuse.

STRATEGY AND TACTICS. Call it one of the great mysteries of life, but the power to change the status quo often lies with those who appear the weakest. And those who realize the true power of their position are never the ones who complain about their lot or sit idly by and accept what they're given. Instead, they're the ones who perform their jobs with dedication, constantly looking for ways push their profession forward.

That's why you'll never hear me coddling marketers. I'd rather shoot straight and move on to explore the tools that can help dedicated marketers challenge the practice of marketing in order to improve it. So let's get down to brass tacks.

Successful marketing depends on balancing tactical implementation with strategic direction. Most companies fail in connecting strategy with tactics, leading many to disregard strategy as the fantasy domain of overpaid consultants and tactical implementation as the harmless domain of lightweights. Marketing holds the key to an effective balance, by virtue of its focus on the grand unifying structure of all strategically driven businesses: the customer relationship lifecycle (CRL).

CALIBRATING YOUR CUSTOMER BASE. Simply stated, CRL tracks customers from the moment they appear on the radar as the constituent of a target market, into the funnel of lead-generation and sales, through their experience as a customers, and ultimately, hopefully, to their status as loyal customers, even advocates. Your CRL should be clearly documented and tracked, as this is the only way to measure which customers provide the greatest value to your bottom line, and how they were successfully found, closed and serviced as customers.

In the context of launching an initiative to integrate marketing and sales, the CRL can be a dangerous distraction -- one that's often wrapped up in a CRM initiative with lofty goals that can never be reached without taking a smaller step first. Before tackling such long-term goals, companies should focus first on the sales cycle, a smaller tactical slice of the CRL that can be easily mapped and measured. This is not only the best way to prepare for tackling a larger CRL initiative, it also keeps your attention on achieving success where it matters most: generating revenue.

So if the road to boardroom credibility and strategic marketing leads through the sales team, let's build on what we've discussed in my last two columns and establish a plan.

Successful initiatives in sales-and-marketing integration are based in a strong relationship founded on collaboration and trust. Among the few studies I've found that take a critical look at the issue of sales and marketing collaboration, nearly all conclude that cross-functional teams lead any other mechanism, including monetary incentives, for improving cooperative performance.

Step 1: The Sales Call If your business is starting from a position where bridges have been burned between sales and marketing, marketing needs to take the first step by taking a proactive interest in the sales process. Every sales person with whom I spoke while preparing this series said the first change that needs to be made involves having marketing staff participate in sales calls, including both telesales and field visits.

Participating in the sales process gives marketers direct contact with customers, opening a line of communication with the sales staff based on common experience. The frequency of participation depends on the structure of sales-and-marketing programs. Some outfits have an integral process that keeps marketing constantly in the sales loop, and some even reward marketers with commissions. Others have a periodic schedule for including marketing in sales calls, often on a quarterly basis.

Whatever the method, it should be designed to perform less like a training program to introduce the sales concept to marketing than a natural and continuous part of the sales cycle. When a sales rep can call on marketing at any time to assist in a sale, it's the right balance.

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

Step 2: Collaborative Meetings Once marketing is actively supporting the sales process, there should be enough common ground for a meeting aimed at generating value for both the sales and the marketing teams. It's at this point where productive discussions and debates can take place about sourcing leads, qualifying prospects, and tracking sales.

Among companies that have made it to this level of integration, teams report that this is where sales and marketing begin to see eye-to-eye—where, among other things, sales begins to appreciate the value of tracking leads, and marketing begins to appreciate the complexities of the sales process.

It's important to note that if collaborative meetings are launched before seeding a collaborative process -- or if you simply label them "marketing" meetings -- you're likely to face cynicism and an uphill battle to overcome it. Let the marketing team show they're willing to serve a sales support role before devoting a lot of meeting time to talk about collaboration. But once the channels of communication open up, collaborative meetings will become an essential part of a cross-functional framework, leading to more strategic collaboration down the road.

Step 3: Active Intelligence When you've laid the foundation of a cross-functional team -- when marketing is providing active sales support, and both teams collaborate to drive the customer lifecycle through the sales process -- it's time to start extracting some of the latent value in your sales team.

Because the sales team is constantly in front of prospective customers, its members can be valuable sources of market intelligence. They can provide real-time feedback on responses to outbound marketing initiatives, they can monitor competitive forces, and they can keep tabs on buzz in the marketplace.

It's important to note that this type of intelligence is only as valuable as your discipline in gathering it. You shouldn't take anecdotal market feedback from sales at face value if you don't have other sources to back it up. One or two high-performing sales reps may be powerful enough to skew intelligence to support their own agenda and shackle marketing to a static sales process. At minimum you should formalize data gathering from sales by specifying the information you need collected, and by applying some basic research techniques to make sure the data is collected consistently. Start by inserting one or two simple market-research questions into every sales call, and track them over time to filter out the noise of opinion.

Step 4: Keep the Investment Alive There's no final step for marketing and sales integration, it's an ongoing effort just like any relationship. But getting the foundation laid is not difficult -- all it takes is a willingness to invest in an attitude of service in order to build the kind of common ground that underlies true collaboration.

When marketing and sales are working as a team, each understands the value the other brings to the table, and each is able to contribute to identifying, tracking and closing the best customers possible. That's the only point at which marketing will be respected enough to drive more strategic marketing initiatives that focus on maximizing customer lifetime value and improving marketing's return on investment. At that point, an attitude of service can be cashed in for a true leadership role.

Playing a leadership role requires maintaining a solid plan for keeping sales and marketing working on the same front. You need to keep the attitude of service alive, as well as maintain the willingness to collaborate on key initiatives and the discipline to extract intelligence whenever you can. At the end of the day, you need the same kind of balance required of a good coach: you need to serve your players enough to maximize their talents and generate wins, but you also need the vision to convert those wins into a larger strategy for dominating the competitive field.