When B2B Sales and Marketing Collide

Whether you label it as healthy tension, territorial friction or a downright conflict of personalities, anyone who’s spent time working in B2B marketing will be familiar with the terse, often challenging and almost always character-building relationship with Sales. It would be naïve to assume that this friction can ever entirely be eliminated. Even in organizations where there’s a strong ‘one-team’ mentality, being acknowledged as a success partner isn’t always a foregone conclusion.  The irony of course is that the individual success of each of these two groups is entirely co-dependent on their ability to work together as peers.

The reality is, no Marketer wants a free meal ticket. The marketing discipline itself has certainly come leaps and bounds to harness a much more precise and scientific approach to measuring marketing’s impact on the sales cycle. Digital and martech are our new best friends, and they enable us to talk in a data-orientated language that Sales should understand. Surely the numbers don’t lie? Yet despite the metrics-driven dialogue, it’s been my experience that to get an equal voice at the table, what’s required is a much more fundamental shift in the relationship dynamics. I’m talking about re-establishing the rules of engagement.

A complete change of perception is no easy feat, particularly when there seems to be this perpetual stigma of treating Marketing as nothing but a cost center. And to be fair, the bias isn’t just on the Sales side of the house. Ask most Marketers their feedback on sales, and the words ‘lazy’, along with ‘needing to be spoon-fed’ are bound to come up. So to combat these stereotypes effectively, my recommendation is to create a 5-step framework where the sales and marketing organizations can together re-define the working relationship:

  1. Agree Mutual Goals
    The expectation is that both groups have a clear understanding of divisional objectives, and therefore have a firm commitment to attaining the same business outcomes. There shouldn’t be any barriers to understanding the macro-level aspirations of the company, and the sales and marketing plan should exist as a practical blueprint of how to attain these organizational goals. Whether this requires territorial expansion, product market share growth or improved customer relationship management, taking a joint planning approach to creating the strategy of where you’re going and how you’re planning to get there, brings clarity of focus and alignment in ownership. These should be explicit enough to be the cornerstone of all sales and marketing effort, and when in doubt, act as the rudder that allows you to course-correct in the event of any digression.
  2. Define Roles + Responsibilities
    One of the biggest barriers to success I’ve found is when the expectations from each side aren’t well defined. It’s all well and good for Marketing to complain about the fact that customer data in salesforce isn’t being kept up-to-date, when Sales have assumed Marketing is responsible for this. Who does what may be  assumptive based on functional role, but discussing responsibilities upfront and revisiting these at regular intervals should be part of the conversation to ensure everyone’s on the same page. Agreeing where in the cycle the baton is proverbially passed from marketing to sales is critical – especially when it comes to handling time-sensitive activities such as lead allocation. Who owns voice of the customer feedback? What is the expectation for first-touch lead turnaround? Who are the go-to people when escalating disputes? are the types of questions you’ll need to agree answers on, in order to work cohesively.
  3. Create Common Language
    There’s nothing more disjointed than when the Sales and Marketing teams don’t use the same vocabulary. The qualities that constitute a qualified lead in Marketing’s view may not always align to the degree of sales-readiness expected by your Sales organization. Here, speaking the same language is key. Companies like Sirius Decisions have been great for our industry, creating lead workflow and nomenclature standards that are universally accepted by B2B Sales and Marketing teams. One of the very first dialogues that need to take place is around defining the stages and metrics associated with the lead funnel. Not only does this document the handover points I briefly touched upon above, but it’s also indicative of whether your back-end infrastructure or campaign management methodology requires fine tuning so it can align with the consented workflow.
  4. Establish Regular Dialogue
    The ability to have grown-up conversations is often part of how you attain success as a collective entity. Tempers will fray, fingers will get pointed, and egos will be bruised, but without a regular cadence where all parties involved create dialogue, it’ll be difficult to gauge true progress. This doesn’t have to involve creating yet another set of meetings, but by its very nature, should take on a more inclusive quality that facilitates cooperation. Annual and quarterly planning cycles where everyone sits down at the table collectively, creates ownership and alignment. Weekly team meetings should involve report-backs from Marketing on ‘top of the funnel’ performance, while the same sessions should also be a check-point for Sales to cover lead progress and closed-loop reporting. Sales should be invited to marketing meetings where it makes sense to have that feedback interface, and Marketing should maintain relative transparency on what’s being worked on, so it feels informative without over-communicating.
  5. Have Success Metrics
    As I said earlier, the numbers don’t lie. To maintain credibility all around, both sides should commit to a joint scorecard that involves having a transparent, inclusive and accessible (preferably online in real-time) single source of truth that governs behavior. The metrics exist as a benchmark for how each side is performing, and should be a daily reminder of what actions need to take place. Depending on the level of disclosure, you may decide to report on roll-up figures to maintain sales-person anonymity, or go the whole gung-ho approach of naming and shaming to solicit behavioral improvements. Agreeing on the metrics package up front means that the figures reported are relevant for both parties, and no one side bogs-down the other with the minutiae. There are bound to be divisional reports already in place that are comprehensive and detailed, so think of the joint scorecard as leveraging these numbers in an audience-specific format. The frequency and recipients of distributed reports is something that will need agreement, along with ownership of any feedback loop for those weekly or monthly review meetings.

Even in the most aggressive sales-driven organizations, voicing a genuine interest in wanting to create a tighter working relationship, and being seen as that agent of change is a worthwhile endeavor. Once you can start to demonstrate real value through Marketing contribution, in a language that sales understands (i.e. revenue), you’ll realize that having skin in the game not only creates that desired shift in perception, but you may also find yourself developing a greater level of respect for what each side brings to the party.