Have you ever noticed that the people in sales and the people in marketing often seem to be on the opposite sides of important discussions? It’s almost the default position, regardless of what industry you choose, or what company within that industry you look at. These two teams often find themselves at odds.
We could spend all kinds of time studying why this is the case. But as someone with experience in marketing who has created good relationships with a fair number of sales teams, I’d like to suggest a more pragmatic approach. I want us to look at the steps we can take that will transform this dynamic. Here are five strategies that I’ve personally found effective for improving communication and collaboration between marketing and sales.
Step one: Build trust by reaching out often. Whenever there is a lack of contact, there is the possibility of a lack of trust … and where there is no trust, there is a potential for a downward spiral in the relationship. We all know what this kind of spiral looks like once it has picked up momentum between marketing and sales. The marketing team is in one corner working hard, making major investments of time, attention, and money to bring in leads, and convinced that those leads are not getting the follow-through that they deserve. Meanwhile, the sales team is in the other corner convinced, for whatever reason, that the leads they’re getting are low-quality. Two silos, two self-fulfilling prophecies – and little or no meaningful communication. This a very costly downward cycle, one in which perception plays a huge role in determining the outcome. If someone believes a lead is low-quality, they’re much less likely to follow through on that lead! So as results head in the wrong direction, fingers get pointed, the blame game intensifies, and the people involved decide they don’t have much reason to trust those on the “other side.” What’s the answer? Regular, meaningful communication.
Here is where it gets interesting. I believe it makes the most sense for the people in marketing to start and continue that ongoing dialogue, even if salespeople seem at first to have no interest in it. Why? Because a) we’re the ones who need the information from the front lines in order to do our jobs at the highest possible level, and b) salespeople are, by definition, less interested in tweaking the assets that marketing comes up with, and more interested in moving deals through their pipelines. That’s what they get paid to do. So, we can’t blame them for not scheduling the time. We need to schedule the time.
We in marketing are the ones who can best start the discussion about more effective collaboration. We can best sustain these discussions over time and build up trust as we go along. How? By breaking through the silo. By being absolutely transparent about what we’re doing, why we’re doing, where we need help, what we already know, and just as important, what we don’t know. Which brings me to …
Step two: Listen to the customer. Most people in marketing are aware, in an abstract sense, of the importance of heeding the famous “voice of the customer” … but they may miss out on their very best opportunity to get the latest and most important expression of that voice: discussions with salespeople! Reaching out to salespeople regularly is the best way to uncover important, time-sensitive, market-specific information that we didn’t have before. So, we need to do that.
Salespeople, not marketers, are the ones who are in constant contact with buyers, influencers, and end users. Salespeople are the people who have invaluable first-hand insights about what the latest shifts in the market are, what the buyer’s hot buttons are, what’s working, what isn’t, and what’s needed next in the buyer’s world. Just as important, they know what the cast of characters in the decision-making process looks like: which people with which titles have which problems. They often know about this stuff before the competition does! So why in the world wouldn’t we be in regular contact with the people in sales, so we can find out what they’re hearing? We need to know what their prospects are telling them. Otherwise, we are flying blind.
Step three: Know the sales process. Here’s a syndrome I’ve seen play out too often: the people in marketing believe their job is to provide leads into the top of the funnel … but they have little or no idea about what happens in the middle and lower parts of the funnel. They literally cannot describe the company’s sales process.
That’s a big mistake. We need to be engaging with salespeople at a deep enough level to understand exactly what happens to leads once they enter the sales process … and we need to make good data-driven decisions side by side with the sales team, so that we are sure we are supporting that sales process, every step of the way.
Step four: Grow a thick skin. When we start conversations with salespeople, we are likely to hear something along the lines of “This, that, or the other thing you did didn’t work.” We may even pick up some intensity about what salespeople feel wasn’t working for them. A lot of marketers take that kind of feedback personally. Guess what? We can’t.
It’s not about us. It’s about getting the best data. We have to be willing to say, “That’s great that you’re telling me that. I need to know that. I need to know what didn’t work, and I need your help in figuring out why it didn’t work, so we can come up with something that’s more effective. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to adjust the metrics and optimize the spend, so that we’re targeting the right people at the top of the funnel, and you’re getting higher close ratios at the bottom of the funnel.”
Salespeople learn not to take pushback personally. We can, too.
Step five: Don’t read too much into the failure of one idea. Failure can happen on both sides. Sometimes we will launch an initiative that simply doesn’t deliver. We look critically at what happened, we learn from it, and we try again. By the same token, sometimes the sales team will share a piece of information, or pass along a brainstorm, and we’ll incorporate their feedback into a campaign, and then we’ll see that the idea didn’t pan out. The numbers didn’t justify the change. Does that mean we should tune out all future ideas from the sales team? Of course not … but too many marketers act like it does.
Whenever we tune out the sales team, or replay past failures, or talk about people’s unsuccessful ideas behind their backs, that hurts the relationship. Keep the discussion going – constructively. Debrief together on what didn’t work. Get the sales team’s insights on why things didn’t work out. Share your insights. And keep the ideas coming. Remember: We learn through failure. Make sure both teams are learning at the same time, about the same experiences!
I realize that following these five steps may not be easy at first, because there may be patterns of mistrust that have set in over time. But with senior leadership’s help and support, we really can start better conversations. We can get used to talking to each other instead of about each other, and we can turn around the dynamics between marketing and sales, and make sure our goals are well aligned, Marketing can’t necessarily close the sale … but we can understand the data and we can make adjustments to ensure that the quality of the leads we deliver improves enough to hit the common goal of revenue. When we do that, everybody wins!
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