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7 Common Mistakes in Sales and Marketing Collaboration

Tags: marketing

Have you ever heard the story about sales and Marketing team collaboration, where a sales guy and a marketing guy agree to go to a party together? It goes like this.

Two guys from sales and marketing teams decide to attend the same party. They both enter a room full of beautiful women. Naturally, the sales guy turns on his charm and starts to work the room. Being a real go-getter, he tries to seduce every attractive woman in his way to get as many phone numbers as possible. Meanwhile, the marketing guy stays behind and silently observes the room. In his head, he scans for prospects and suspects, segments them into blondes and brunettes until finally, he distinguishes his target – the most attractive woman in the room. He then approaches her with a glass of the red wine which she was drinking the entire evening and breaks the ice with “Hi, you look lovely, I would like to get to know you better”. Finally, his wingman duty is over, as he sets the scene and introduces her to the sales guy, who closes the deal and goes home a happy man.

Although this is not a real story, you can notice how closely marketing and sales activities are intertwined. There is a sales function in marketing and a marketing function in sales. When sales and marketing teams work shoulder to shoulder, they synergize with one another and act like a well-oiled machine. Yet, more often than not such framework sounds good in theory, but does not work in practice and growing organizations often struggle to acknowledge that.

Sales and marketing dream team

Changing role of marketing

Some may oppose this idea with, “Well, we do not have that problem over here”. It might be true. As it turns out, the relationship between sales and marketing teams depends on the role of marketing in your company.

In the majority of small businesses and young companies, the distinction between sales and marketing is not clear. In fact, there is no formal marketing team at all, since most of the commercial ideas come from managers, advertising agency or sales force.

As small businesses continue to grow, sales force and managers need to shift focus to their primary tasks. As a result, first marketing personnel is hired. The new staff member(s) carry out market research, collaborate with external agencies on promotional activities and assist the sales staff in attracting prospects, finding and qualifying leads and closing the deals. Both groups have a positive relationship and marketing operates to supplement the sales.

Businesses expand to the point where marketing becomes more than just four P’s: product, place, price, and promotion. The department extends and firm starts to call for people skilled in STP – segmentation, targeting, and positioning. At this point, critical changes happen, as marketing mission evolves and organization grasps the importance of branding and STP. In the meantime, sales function remains the same – selling and fulfilling quotas. Due to the increase of strategic tasks, marketing starts to develop closer ties with strategic planning, product development, and finance departments. It is a key change which starts to build tension between the sales force and the marketers. Both parties may blame each other for not completing the tasks in a grey area between them and disagreements arise. They become out of sync and even start to compete for funding.

No matter what is the case with your business, it is necessary to acknowledge that marketing function differs across the organizations and different product life-cycle stages. In contrast, sales function remains stable. It is a fundamental aspect that defines the collaboration between the sales and marketing teams.

sales and marketing handoff
Source: HBR

What do the studies say?

According to the study by Harvard Business Review authors Philip Kotler, Neil Rackham and Suj Krishnaswamy, the war between sales and marketing is fueled by internal economic and cultural affairs. Also, it is not difficult to assess the quality of sales and marketing relationship. However, a more serious challenge is applying practical disciplines to cultivate it.

So there you have it: two departments that are at the vanguard of every successful organization at feud with one another. And if you think that some internal friction and rivalry is healthy, think again. LinkedIn research has found that inability to align sales and marketing units around the right processes and technologies cuts away 10% or more of the annual revenue.

Here are some more notable sales and marketing alignment stats:

  1.      According to Forrester Research, only 8% of businesses claim to have well-aligned marketing and salesforce.
  2.      Sales and marketing alignment leads to 38% spike in sales win rates (MarketingProfs).
  3.     MarketingProfs also found that companies that managed to align sales and marketing functions have 36% higher customer retention rates.
  4.     Marketo claims that sales and marketing alignment improves deal closing by 67%.
  5.     Aberdeen Research Group has found that tightly aligned sales and marketing departments augment company’s annual growth rate by 20%.
  6.     Kapost reports 65% of sales reps cannot find the suitable content to send to prospects.
  7.      According to The Annuitas Group, 47% of massive conversions result from nurtured leads.
  8.      Up to 70% of B2B content is never put to use because the topic is suitable for the target audience (Content Marketing Institute).
  9.      As reported by ReachForce, 50% of marketing leads are ignored by sales reps.
  10.   Unproductive prospecting accounts for 50% of salesforce time (ReachForce).

It is important to remember an old, but timeless rule: collaborating teams solve problems and lack of collaboration only spawns more of them. Great marketing content and expertise back the most persuasive salespeople and the most effective marketing teams are boosted by the in-field feedback collected by the sales force. It drives the creation of fresh and engaging content for prospects and customers and leads to more deals.

Does your sales and marketing teams follow the similar process? Or do they have certain communication barriers that interfere with their course of action?

7 reasons why sales and marketing collaboration fail

According to Australian collaboration expert and author Peter Strohkorb, there are 7 reasons why sales and marketing teams struggle to align with each other and do not reach their peak performance.

1. Admiring the problem

The first step towards almost any managerial solution is situational assessment and accepting that there is a problem. Failing to address the fact that there is room for improvement not only does not solve anything but also can magnify issues to the next level where it can have dangerous consequences. Sticking one’s head in the sand is never a good option. However, the fun fact is that it is the marketing people who tend to ignore the problem more. Typically, members of the sales team dare to admit that they could work more closely with their colleagues in marketing. At the same time are more likely to deny it and say that everything goes according to the plan. Whatever the situation may be at your company, it is important to stop finger-pointing and engage in problem-solving. It does not matter where the initiative stems from, whether it is a sales manager or a marketing executive and the sooner parties admit that things can go better, the faster situation improves.  In a cooperation between marketing and sales, there are no losers – sales team, marketing team, the company and the customers – everyone wins. Therefore, recognize the problem and face it.  

To better understand your sales and marketing team interaction, try to figure out what sort of relationship they have. Philip Kotler defines four types of relationship between marketing and sales:

  •        Undefined relationship. Sales and Marketing groups grow independently, have own tasks and agenda. Until there’s a conflict of interest, both parties are heedless of each other’s actions. Joint meetings are dedicated only to problem-solving and there is little to no emphasis on cooperation.
  •        Defined relationship. In a defined relationship, both teams collaborate and have an established “playbook”. There is a clear distinction between who does what and when. To prevent potential conflicts, marketers and salespeople have regular meetings to reflect and solve common issues.
  •        Aligned relationship. Sales and Marketing spheres have a clear distinction, but the relationship is flexible. Groups engage in each other’s activities and make use of one another’s output. Marketers confer with sales force on big accounts, and salespeople have an understanding of marketing philosophy such as “brand image” or “unique value proposition”.
  •        Integrated relationship. Integrated sales marketing activities share the same systems, structures and rewards, therefore making a shared sales marketing culture. With the help of sales, marketers are actively involved in the key account management, market sensing activities and strategic sales management. The teams develop common metrics, share terminology, there is less friction and budgeting becomes more flexible.
sales and marketing alignment
Source: HBR

2. Relying on shortcuts

In an increasingly faster world, shortcuts sound sexy. With the sales quotas to fill, monthly targets to meet and quarterly reports to write quick solutions become convenient. However, in the long run, most of the immediate fixes are not effective, especially when they revolve around the sales and marketing collaboration.

Some of the popular, but ineffective workarounds include extra sales training, hiring more sales reps and generating more leads.

More sales training

Simply sending your underperforming salesforce for additional training is not a solid solution, because sales reps need ongoing coaching and support from the sales manager. Seminars and courses can only go well if they build on what is already established. Otherwise, they can bring up a number of new issues. First, the salesforce will not be on the field while training, which means more pressure to deliver when they come back. Second, studies show that if the newly acquired skills are not reinforced in 30 days, they are likely to be forgotten. Third, the principles of change management state that things tend to go worse before they get better.

When the sales personnel apply their newly acquired skills, there will be trial and error, which will temporarily drag down their sales volume even lower. The chances are that sales manager will not favor such a decline, and will try to revert changes to the way everything was before. So eventually it can result in more loss than gain. Most importantly, it ignores the core problem – lack of marketing and sales collaboration.

More sales representatives

Another popular workplace myth is that more sales reps will lift the number of sales. While that sounds logical, bringing in more new faces into a flawed sales and marketing workspace does not solve the core problem and will not yield the expected results. Moreover, it costs money to hire staff, it takes time for the sales rep to adapt and there is a risk of hiring a misfit. Essentially, it is the process that needs fixing, so hiring a new person is not going to change much.

Generate more leads

If faced with a challenge to perform better, some organizations also think about generating more leads. Yet, again, it skips the idea of better teamwork between sales and marketing teams. In that case, putting more leads at the top of the funnel will not lead to better results. Spamming people with sales offers that they are not interested can also have an adverse effect. Today, people receive plenty of spam and garbage offers already. Most people do not like receiving random offers and cold calls even when it should interest them. Unless sales and marketing work together and manage to generate, nurture, hand over, close and report on leads with high efficiency, generating more leads is not a sound strategy. More importantly, it will not fix the flawed process. Addressing people in the right context, with the right content at the right time is a much better approach and for it to happen, sales and marketing functions need to cooperate.

3. Having no intermediator for sales and marketing collaboration

Communication can be expensive. It eats up time, prolongs the decision making and can become a real nuisance. However, it is necessary to have a clear and reliable communication channel to make sales and marketing work like a well-oiled machine. There is the sales department and there is a marketing department, and frequently there is no one between them. People from both sides get frustrated by searching for help and understanding in all the wrong places. Therefore, having a neutral go-between person can be a great help for both parties and many companies miss out on this one.

An intermediator should not be the head of sales or the head of marketing or anyone else related to either department. If the business is serious about aligning marketing and sales, the go-between communicator should be a full-time position. Marketers and salespeople need to know when and with whom they should talk. So the solution is to appoint someone whose job is to make sure that sales and marketing are talking with each other instead of about each other, hold regular meetings and address issues along with opportunities. Ideally, as the time goes on, all parties will develop systematic process and guidelines on how to operate.

4. Neglecting the human effect

Collaboration often boils down to interpersonal relationships. Therefore, having a human-first mindset is beneficial. Besides the economic factors, the root cause of war between sales and marketing is somewhat fundamental: sales and marketing people have vastly different worldviews. Marketing department relies on calculations and structured sales funnel to guide a prospect through. Everything in the process is based on logic and marketers provide all the necessary materials to qualify leads and move closer to the deal.

However, sales are not always rational, and the sales staff are the ones who have handle unpredictable and often chaotic part of the funnel: people. Successful conversions require relying on intuition and deeper engagement with the clients. Most of the time, every account needs an individual strategy and approach.

As you might have guessed, when two different ideologies collide the relative outcome is conflict. Sales team feels superior and somewhat undervalued because they are the ones who translate marketing strategy into actual marketing actions, while marketing team believes that the salesforce causes extra problems by not following their plan.

The first step towards better team collaboration is the realization that working together is a good idea that benefits all stakeholders. When that is clearly established, both teams should also work out how they want to work together and it is important to stress that they should do it themselves. Members of both groups should work on designing their joint processes, metrics, data sources, terminology, define boundaries, roles, and expectations. Only then the two different worlds can become closer.

sales and marketing whos right
Source: Pixabay (CC)

5. Glorifying technology instead of people

The key to successful sales and marketing collaboration is to make sure that people are talking. Technological upgrades will not substitute their communication. No sales force automation or marketing automation package will save the business from the slump if the people and business processes are not fine-tuned.

Also, to provide value, technology must be adopted. If people resist it, then there is not much use for it. Even if you hold the newest state-of-the-art CRM software, bad data inputs will lead to bad data outputs. Make sure that people want to use technology, know how to and do use it in a right way.

Executive managers can get carried away by the promise of the technology and become inclined to buy it, without even considering the mindset of the people, willingness to collaborate or company’s culture. It is true that technology appears to be a more attractive investment for better returns, but investing in your company’s culture and cooperative spirit ensures even higher revenues.

Overall, technology does help, but it is the users who have to deliver. Without people, technology is just a technology.  

6. No executive support

Company’s culture flows down like water, so it is the senior executives who have to lead by example. Even if you have the best intentions, heroic individual efforts to ignite the culture change are doomed to fail, unless top managers support them. Trying to realize reforms by yourself is an uphill battle, but having a top executive on your side can ease the process. More often than not they will buy-in to your idea, especially if it as good as making your sales and marketing teams work hand in hand. Just make sure that they understand where it is going and why it is important.

7. Expecting immediate results

After the first steps towards better collaboration have been set, it is natural to be impatient about the results and if they do not show up, disappointment follows. The reality is that every change needs time to work its way through the system. Marketing and sales alignment is not a one-time thing. It is an ever-changing process that must be repeated until the results finally start to show. It is up to the people to absorb the change, and too often it is not as fast as everyone would like it to be. The involved parties need to feel it, understand it, become a part of the solution and then re-learn it from each other. Therefore, management’s patience is a virtue. According to Peter Strohkorb, it takes at least 3 months before the first team collaboration results show up. They will appear in three different stages:

  1.      Stage one. Managers will find out a lot more about the organization and the people involved. It will become clear who are the main stakeholders, what do they think and what their sentiments are.
  2.      Stage two. Insights and knowledge about how the company should present itself on the market will start to accumulate. Questions like “how do we look at our customers” or “what can we do to address them more successfully will start to arise.
  3.      Stage three. The first financial results will start to come in.

It takes time to align sales and marketing teams, but if the right effort is there, it will happen.

Sales and marketing team’s collaboration as the cornerstone of success

Top executives often complain that sales and marketing are like the men and women – one is from Venus and the other is from Mars. They under-communicate, underperform and overcriticize one another. Of course, the situation often depends on your company’s size, goals, culture, and people. However, every organization should take time to assess, consider and improve the situation.

From this article it should become clear that businesses, whose sales and marketing employees are ready to work with each other experience a total evolution: the overall atmosphere changes, daily tasks become more satisfying, technological implementations get used more, the data becomes cleaner and the people use the available tools to their benefit. Even the sales training will be more effective as long as people in the organization have adopted the changing mindset. Businesses communication will become more consistent and sales marketing strategies will become more efficient. Most importantly, the collaboration will become a part of organizational culture and loads of unexpected benefits will derive from that. Changes involving collaboration are never easy until people learn to trust, appreciate and work with surrounding people.

Finally, carefully aligned internal strategies will gradually bring the best of sales and marketing into firms core and enable it to unleash its true potential.

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7 Common Mistakes in Sales and Marketing Collaboration


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