As a marketing leader operating on the business frontlines to deliver profitable sales and growth, I know firsthand how important it is to achieve a cohesive, integrated commercial operation built on marketing and sales connectedness.
Unfortunately, while the relationship between marketing and sales is well chronicled, it’s still too often poorly practiced. Marketers need to be practical operators who understand that marketing’s role is to help generate profitable sales. A key enabler is the desire and ability to effectively work together with the sales team. At the same time, the sales organization should recognize that not all marketers are out of touch with the reality of selling and making money.
Marketing-sales relationship building requires a sincere willingness from both sides to make it happen. The process never ends and probably won’t be easy. But keep pushing. When you get it right, you get a powerful go-to-market advantage.
The good news is that there are practical action steps both sides can implement to become an effective cross-functional customer-facing team that gets the desired results. Let’s start from the sales perspective. For that, I asked a former sales team leader colleague what makes a good marketing-sales relationship tick.
What Sales Wants from Marketing
Be Consistent – Strategies may fluctuate, but we are looking to stay consistent against the approach/strategy for the relevant cycle (fiscal year, buying season, etc.). This helps with messaging to the customer base and keeps the sales team focused.
Engage Early – Sales wants to have its say in the direction of the business. I prefer to be brought in early on strategy or key objectives, so I have a chance to think through the approaches and how I would tailor to my accounts/customer base.
Have Direct Transparency – When the business has challenges, lay out the true picture. If the news is negative, teams can work together to problem-solve. It’s a reality that we do not always have positive business conditions. That’s the time to partner and build long-term internal working relationships. When positive times return, the relationship will be stronger, battle-tested and everyone can share in the stories of “I remember when.”
Identify Shared Goals or KPIs – At a high level, there should be some shared goals, which requires collaboration and planning up front, and follow-up sessions to adjust approaches and strategies to meet the shared goals.
Marketing Action Steps
Expect to Earn Respect – Of course, both sides should meet each other at least part of the way. But instead of waiting for that to happen, make something happen yourself. If sales won’t meet you part way, you cross the road first. Ask questions, listen, learn and demonstrate sincerity.
Think from the Perspective of the Customer – When I led global marketing at food and beverage ingredients manufacturer Tate & Lyle, we had a conceptual selling challenge to convince consumer marketing teams to use our new dietary fiber ingredient in their products. We decided to engage those critical customer influencers with something we knew would be of interest: proprietary research supporting the consumer-perceived benefits of products containing added fiber, in the customers’ respective product category segments. To begin, we asked our customer-facing teams (sales, technical service, product management, R&D) for their input on what consumer information we needed to persuade customers. Those suggestions were incorporated into the research study design and questionnaire.
Focus on User Experience and Relevance – Sometimes, there is concern about the level of absorption that occurs with content that marketing teams create; or conversely, sales teams assess the material as not relevant or particularly useful.
Marketing teams can “market” selling materials to sales teams as if they were marketing to a customer. Make sure the information is relevant, easy to use, and helps the salesperson achieve their objectives. To do this, you need to think from the salesperson’s perspective and understand their challenges and pressures. Ask sales team colleagues at all levels what they need. Sometimes, what may seem like basic content will be used the most.
There’s a related point. If you can’t successfully present your product/service messaging to a customer, don’t expect a salesperson to do it either. A great way to find out how well the material works is to present it yourself, learn from direct customer interaction, and then optimize as needed based on that actual customer experience.
Understand the History. Focus on the Future. – When I became brand manager of the Lipton Iced Tea powdered mix business, the largest segment had lost five share points the year before. My mandate was simple: regain that market share.
Notwithstanding what I had heard and been told, my initial objective was to obtain an understanding of what happened directly from the people who would be integral to the turnaround solution. My team made a personal visit to the sales headquarters office in our number one market. I asked the sales leader and his team to share their thoughts in a problem-solving mode, to get everything on the table so that we could move forward in the right way. The first part was just listening to their perspective of prior events. It may sound simplistic but providing our sales colleagues with an opportunity to “vent” was the first step on the turnaround.
We repeated that fact-finding and action plan development process with the other top markets. The result was a plan, built from the ground up with sales, focusing on the 10 markets responsible for 67% of the business. In two years, we regained the five share points.
Two Signs the Marketing-Sales Relationship is Humming
More from my former colleague: Sales provides marketing with honest and timely customer engagement feedback: what is working, what is not working and what do we do with the information to improve/adjust content that is being created. Marketing takes this sales feedback and balances it into the wider category insights/trends.
Both teams work together to align core competencies with the customer. There are times when the customer marketer wants to hear directly from a marketing counterpart at your organization. Connecting customer marketing to your organization’s marketing counterpart can lead to better customer engagement and deeper/long-lasting customer relationships. Sales should be the lead, but not the only point of contact with key customers. This is also an opportunity for sales and marketing to develop account strategies jointly.
This article is excerpted from Harvey Chimoff’s new book, “Strategy First, Then Tactics. How Practical Marketing Discipline Provides the Winning Edge.”