Should Sales and Marketing Work Together?

We’re shifting topics this week from one seemingly self-evident topic to another.  In last week’s SMB marketing post, we looked at the question of whether it’s good for a business to be “sales-driven,” and why the strategy of selling harder and better to sell more really doesn’t work so well any more.  Using a somewhat belabored battlefield analogy, the conclusion was that super-salesmen really can’t penetrate the hardened concrete bunkers that house many purchase decision makers these days. The decision makers seek objective information from other sources and mistrust the conventional sales messages that are typical of sales-dominant strategies.  Smart businesses now rely on marketers to provide the information that buyers seek.  The whole concept of inbound marketing is simply that information will create an incentive for the purchasers to enable conversation into and out of the bunker, and eventually they may open the door and allow a human being in for a face-to-face meeting.

Marketing in a Vacuum

marketing vacuum cleaner imageThe specific experience that generated all of this discussion was a somewhat frustrating conversation with a business owner a couple of weeks ago. He has been very successful with the sales-driven model in the past, but is experiencing some real difficulty in the current selling environment. The effectiveness of his sales team has declined significantly. It is difficult for them to generate new leads or even to set appointments.  Prospects aren’t receptive to cold calls and the direct mail program that he’s used for so many years to push his sales message into the market has stopped producing much of a response. The owner is bright enough to understand that a new marketing approach is needed, but very concerned with the potential for marketing to interfere with his sales processes.  His solution is to hire a consultant to do “more marketing,” but must occur independently of the sales force and the customers. In other words, he’d like the consultant he hires to work in a vacuum.

This marketing model is a natural corollary of the “sell harder, sell more” strategy we discussed in the last post.  “More is better” is the primary idea, but the marketers must be kept isolated in their own silo.  From the business owner’s perspective, this is necessary to make sure that the marketers can produce their work without interfering with the relationships between sales and their customers.  He’d make sure to provide filtered information from the customers, but the marketers should innately know how to produce sales messages that work.  You get the picture (and hopefully see that there are a few things wrong with it).

Marketing and Sales Roles Redux

Let’s look again this week at the question of how leads are generated and converted into prospects, then customers.  Hard-driving, old-school sales methods aren’t really working any more – the salespeople can’t get an audience.  Likewise, the old 4P’s (product, place, price, promotion) description of the marketing process really doesn’t apply well to business growth in the current environment, especially in a B2B-oriented company.  The ideas of product mix and positioning are still relevant, but the associated strategy of pushing the sales message into the market is decreasingly effective.  Sales messages don’t get noticed because of the background noise. If they are noticed,  they may be received with skepticism.

In comparison, the inbound marketing model is warm and fuzzy. It assumes that there is an interested audience, rather than trying  to create one by blasting a sales message into the ether.  The emphasis is on information combined with processes to make the information findable, trade it for data from individual members of the audience, and the permission to followup gently and unobtrusively.  This framework puts marketing in charge of lead generation and lead nurturing (I really dislike this term) at the beginning of the process and hypothetically removes this responsibility from the sales force.

You’ve seen illustrations like the one below hundreds of times before.  Our warm, fuzzy theoretical model would make the marketing folks responsible for the first three segments of the pipeline and leave the sales folks in charge of the last three.  Marketing would identify the target community and provide content in return for information.  From there, they collect, quality and nurture leads.  Leads are scored, using quantitative criteria, until a point is reached where they are determined to be prospects. Then, they’re handed over to sales to be converted into customers and managed as clients.


Sales Funnel Graphic

The Sales and Marketing Pipeline


It’s Theory

There’s only one problem.  It’s theory. In large companies, this notion really  has played to the advantage of the marketers. They’re developing some pretty grandiose titles – customer evangelists, pipeline specialists, inbound marketing strategists. The model is nice, clean, warm and fuzzy, but it has an inherent flaw. It still keeps sales and marketing in separate silos. Information is shared only at the hand-off point where leads are delivered from the marketing department to sales. The real world doesn’t work this way and the model shouldn’t really even be considered for a small B2B business. Here a more realistic picture:

  1. Marketing can certainly generate leads, but salespeople shouldn’t be absolved from all responsibiity. They canstill generate leads that should be included in marketing’s lead development process (better than nurturing – yecch).
  2. Leads are human beings, too important to be “scored,” especially in a B2B-oriented company.  Even if CRM capability for this kind of process exists, the relationship and the tone of communications should be more personal.
  3. Marketing needs feedback from the sales force throughout the process, and needs to have some contact with prospects and customers at the sales end of the funnel. Market intelligence is especially important for small businesses and the self-evident conclusion does apply . . . intelligence comes directly from the market.
  4. Sales needs marketing support all the way through (and after) the end of the funnel.  Some of this support is basic brand-building.  Other examples are collateral (sometimes customized to the particular prospect), involvement in after-sale evaluation and relationship management, and creation and administration of referral programs to generate more leads.

Warmer Leads/Shorter Cycles

In this case, the conclusion is self-evident. The optimum relationship between sales and marketing should be a close one.  Marketing and sales should work in tandem towards complementary goals.  The biggest advantage of this relationship is simple efficiency that plays out in the form of warmer leads and shorter cycles for closing new accounts. Because marketing is involved in generating and developing qualified leads, some of the pressure is off the salespeople.  Cold calling is an inefficient use of time that should disappear from the sales job description, to be replaced by more efficient lead generation activities (networking is still good). More time can be spent productively, negotiating with interested buyers and maintaining account relationships.

Marketers are still involved with message, but it’s not the sales message of bygone days.  Marketing can’t occur in a silo or in a vacuum. With input from sales and from the customers, marketers tell the company story and provide the background for developing customer relationships. They also provide the specific information that buyers need to make decisions.

One Last Question (or two)

Our insular business owner really had one question in his mind, “How do I handle the marketing and sales relationships?” For small business owners, this question is frequently translates “do I hire a marketing person or a sales person or one person to do both jobs?”  Hopefully, this discussion has made it obvious that marketing and sales activities are very different, even if they are closely related.  It would be very difficult for one person to be effective in both jobs, but at the same time it’s critical that sales and marketing work together in a very close relationship. Market better, sell more.

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