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How to Approach the Sales and Marketing Divide

Posted by Stacy Bouchard

Aug 26, 2015 1:00:00 PM

how-to-approach-the-sales-and-marketing-divideLast week, I was meeting with some marketing colleagues who recently joined a new company. When sharing their experiences, there was a common denominator. They loved everything about their new roles and the new company…except for the salespeople.

Each of my friends shared examples of why and how they were struggling with the salespeople in their organization. I was not surprised. Instead I was experiencing déjà vu, as I’ve found myself in their shoes many times in the past.

Unfortunately, friction between sales and marketing is common. In today’s world, it is imperative for any organization looking to achieve predictable, sustainable growth that the sales and marketing teams truly understand each other’s roles and work together toward the same goals.

I’ve learned it’s often up to marketers to take the first step in creating a meaningful relationship with the sales team. While I’ve always known that it was up to marketing, it wasn’t until recently that I truly understood why.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this. The great divide between sales and marketing has been very frustrating to me throughout my career. I’ve spent many hours trying to remedy the situation…at every company. There was nothing unique about any of my experiences. It didn’t matter the industry – consulting engineering, tax preparation software, manufacturing – sales and marketing did not coexist in a productive way anywhere. Instead of working together, it seemed like we were always working against each other.

I always went in with a positive can-do attitude. I planned to help sales better understand how marketing could help them achieve their goals. I wanted to understand why they didn’t trust marketing. I hosted meetings – and brought treats – just to open the door.

In some cases, I was able to make progress and improve the relationship but I was never able to achieve what I really wanted. I wanted a cohesive team where everyone respected each other’s roles and leadership saw how effective we could be working together. My goal going into every marketing job I’ve had was to be a hero to the sales team.

In my mind, it didn’t seem like it should be so hard. After all, we were all adults. Everyone should be able to see why they should work better with marketing, right?

Wrong. My approach was very marketing-centric. I thought everyone should know and have a deep understanding and appreciation for what marketing does. In reality, it was only me and my other marketing team members who understood that. I thought I was teaching people but I wasn’t teaching it in a way that matters to them.

I wasn’t looking at my sales team as a buyer persona for the marketing department. I did not take the time to understand them, the issues they face or what motivates them. I should have been approaching them like I would an external customer.

Since my recent conversation with my colleagues has solidified that the sales and marketing divide does still exist, I thought I should share what I have learned and how I would approach things if faced with them again.

1. Treat the sales team like external customers

Before meeting with sales to sell them on marketing, take the time to figure them out. As a marketer, I wouldn’t design a campaign without understanding who the target audience is. Treat this internal relationship the same way.

Until joining Imagine, I didn’t really understand how sales teams see the world. For them, the imperative is for them to hit their number every month or quarter. While they are certainly interested in longer-term initiatives, it’s not what drives them. They are focused on closing sales that contribute to that number this week. That’s what keeps them up at night.

Marketing, on the other hand, is accustomed to planning and preparing. We tend to be rule followers – sales reps are not – and we can work on things that will (or at least we think they can) bring success in the future. Marketing types can be almost the opposite of our friends in sales.

Plan your internal education campaign with this in mind. There may be things that are unique to your organization or industry that also define the persona that represents your sales reps. The point is that you need to educate them about marketing with their persona in mind.

2. There is historically a distrust between sales and marketing

Everyone has their own reason or experience that has created the distrust. It could have been a failed marketing initiative or it could have been a lack of follow-up by sales. Whatever the reason, there is mutual distrust.

Building trust is key to gaining alignment. It needs to happen but set realistic expectations. Trust will not be gained by flipping a switch or rolling out an inbound marketing plan. It will take time and many successful campaigns. Be patient.

3. Don’t ask them to change too fast

While new approaches may yield better results, salespeople who are meeting their numbers will not be motivated to change. After all, why fix something that isn’t broken? Even marginally successful salespeople will be reluctant to change.

Take changes slowly. Implement things piece-by-piece. Keep the salespeople focused on what they do best which is closing sales. The worst thing to do is to distract them with new marketing programs.

4. Lead the way

Attempting to conquer the divide between sales and marketing will always be a marketing led initiative. Take the time to teach your point-of-view in a way that sales will understand. Reach out to the sales team to share information. Try to create a transparent relationship where numbers are concerned. Treat them the way you want to be treated. Continue to challenge their thinking in a positive way.

The relationship between sales and marketing can be frustrating. Don’t let your frustrations get the best of you. Make it your personal mission to bring the two together. If you can make that happen, everyone will be happy with the results.

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