The Push-Pull Relationship Of Sales And Marketing: How To Foster Collaboration
Traditionally, sales and marketing — both important in their own right — have operated as separate silos. Sales is a direct process, requiring one-to-one interaction with customers, whether it’s using email, the phone, in-person meetings or social media. Marketing, on the other hand, drives leads through brand or product awareness with potential customers as a group and is a more holistic process.
Something as simple as developing a capabilities presentation demonstrates how sales (direct) and marketing (holistic) can be at odds. Marketers may create a presentation that ensures the message is on target and consistent across customers, but the sales team may deliver it directly to specific customers. Here comes the push-pull relationship.
This may seem like a simple example, but it is indicative of the dynamics behind the sales and marketing relationship. Both entities, while seemingly at odds, have much to gain by learning to work together in a cooperative way. After all, both want to increase quality leads, reduce sales cycles to close more leads, and generate more revenue.
While the sales process has not changed significantly over time, marketing methods and channels have evolved dramatically over the last decade. Today’s marketer relies on content marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) ads, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), organic traffic and influencer marketing.
Another significant shift is in the buying process, which has undergone a major transformation. Customers often spend more time educating themselves before purchasing and are looking for more information. Indeed, according to Forrester, “Today’s business buyers are increasingly self-directed: 60% prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of information; 68% prefer to research on their own, online; and 62% say they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list — based solely on digital content.”
This change in the purchase process puts more power in the hands of the buyer, and more weight on marketers to guide the buyer through the buying journey.
Sales and marketing have also historically had different processes, different software — customer relationship managers (CRMs) versus marketing automation platforms (MAPs) — and different goals, resulting in a competitive, rather than collaborative, relationship. Even further, marketing has been responsible at the beginning of the customer life cycle, with sales involved later.
But customers don’t care about where marketing and sales begin and end — they expect one seamless experience. This means that the two departments need to foster a parallel relationship where both co-own the lead and the ongoing process to qualify that lead. There is one customer pipeline and it belongs to both marketing and sales.
How do sales and marketing make this push-pull relationship work successfully?
Learning how to communicate is a critical step. What often happens is that marketing will talk to sales, but sales won’t listen, and vice versa. You need to establish a regime for communicating, and the best way to do that is to find common ground and acknowledge what you are both trying to accomplish. Sometimes there are multiple issues at stake, and you have to untangle them one at a time. That may mean putting the other issues on hold until you reach an agreement on one. Then you’ve proven you can work things out, which sets you up to succeed at resolving the next topic.
It should be noted that working in tandem is ultimately best for the customer. If marketing and sales are synched up on messaging, it facilitates the customer’s understanding of the value you provide today and where you’re headed. It makes it easier for the customer to work with you.
It’s also important to understand how sales and marketing are going to work together — akin to establishing a sales and marketing service level agreement to state each department’s role and clear definitions on things like buyer personas and ideal leads. This starts with determining who they are going to target together and creating a coverage map. If marketing sends leads to follow up on and sales doesn’t act on them, then money has been wasted on leads. You have to create a model together that defines how to cross-sell and up-sell opportunities together, how to acquire new customers together and how to retain your current customers together.
Adding to these complexities is the fact that each department has its own budget. Sales has to meet one key performance indicator (KPI) while marketing has a different KPI, and conflict can arise as a result. Instead of fighting a marketing and sales war, cooler heads are needed to prevail, and that means coming together and establishing an agreement. Reaching an agreement requires a give and take by both parties.
In the end, it comes down to honest communication and arriving at a set of agreements that define how to work together.
Working more in collaboration can have immediate benefits, but I still find that most organizations have separate sales and marketing teams with their own leadership and targets. Changing the structure and mindset of those teams requires strong leadership at the top of the organization. Leaders need to set the vision and ensure that the reasons for change are understood by all.
In my next article, I’ll continue to address the “push-pull” aspect of the sales and marketing relationship and how leaders can bring about this much-needed alignment from the top down.