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Sales and Marketing Alignment: An Oxymoron?
By Dave Stein, CEO, ES Research Group

Sales and marketing alignment is more than a good thing.  It's absolutely requied for competitive advantage.

For many years sales performance improvement providers have recognized that a misalignment between the sales and marketing functions of organizations limited or even prevented consistent and effective selling. Scores of white papers, seminars, training programs and consulting engagements have focused on this real challenge. So why, after all these years is sales and marketing alignment still an elusive goal for many companies?

During the years when executives had the title of VP of Sales and Marketing, alignment between the two organizations was less of an issue. Of course having one person sit above those two functions was the root of inherent challenge. Few executives in that position had an equal balance of experience and competency in both areas, so either sales or marketing suffered, and often both.

Over the years, marketing and selling became tougher due to supply outpacing demand among other reasons. Separate and focused strategies, skill sets and talent were required to gain mind and market share. Business leaders began to separate the two functions within their own organizations.

A dozen years ago, one of the leading sales training companies was facilitating a workshop entitled, Sales and Marketing Alignment, for one of their clients, which they gave us permission to audit. During the workshop the facilitator attempted to identify the key obstacles preventing an effective working relationship between the sales and marketing organization and went on to offer insights, tools, processes and unambiguous recommendations on how to align the two departments.

Although the program content appeared solid, a turf war was in progress at the client's company. During the two-day workshop, the VP of Marketing was combative and didn't exhibit any real interest. That was far better than the VP of Sales, who didn't show at all on the second day. The workshop turned out to be a disaster - a metaphor for the relationship between the two executives running marketing and sales. The global VP of Operations, to whom these two executives reported, had arranged this workshop hoping to mend some fences. It clearly wasn't the answer.

What Sales and Marketing Alignment is Really About

What is going on is that many CEOs, COOs, GMs, and other executives have not figured out that sales and marketing alignment is more about culture, philosophy and business orientation at the department leadership level than it is about marketing providing sales with leads, marketing messages and sexy product brochures and sales managing to sell enough so everyone, especially those in marketing, gets to keep their jobs.

Sales and marketing are very different functions that serve very different masters. In companies where there is alignment, marketing leaders understand that their team serves sales (and serve other masters as well.)  We've seen laminated cards pinned inside cubicles of marketing staff people that said, "My job is to help our sales people sell more of our products." They have the right idea.

Marketing leaders that have no respect for the sales function or for the people in their company that sell, will not align with them, no matter how many workshops they attend or white papers they read. There may be a job like that for marketing executives, but providing critical support to a sales function within their company isn't one of them.

Sales understands that their job is to help people buy. They serve the customer. To do that, they need ongoing support from marketing. However, sales is accountable to marketing as well. Among many other things, sales has the responsibility:
  • to follow marketing's direction regarding product positioning and the pursuit of target markets;
  • to be vigilant in providing feedback on what they observe in the field - industry trends, what the competition is doing and, from their perspective, how customers are doing;
  • to be responsive to marketing in following up on leads as well as taking the time and effort to provide useful feedback about the quality of those leads that flow to them;
  • to be focused and diligent in the manning of trade show booths. We listen to many marketing executives express frustration at the lack of seriousness with which salespeople at their companies take trade shows - often a very large and underleveraged percentage of an annual marketing budget.
Sales leaders who believe that "people who can't sell take jobs in marketing" will not likely ever find themselves in the enviable position of working for an industry leading company.

The foundation for sales and marketing alignment begins at the CEO or COO level. There is a mission-critical interdependence that is not easily retrofitted into a dysfunctional organization.

Numbers of sales and marketing alignment programs and approaches we have seen make a lot of sense - at the team and staff level. But if the leaders of those two teams do not have a common view of the goals, obstacles, enablers, strategies and tactics required for success, little of value will happen within the ranks.

Here are key recommendations based upon our work with and research covering both highly aligned and misaligned sales and marketing functions:
  • CEOs should strongly consider hiring VPs of Marketing that have had successful quota-carrying sales experience.

  • VP of Marketing candidates must have an unambiguous record of delivering comprehensive and high quality support to the sales teams in companies for which they worked.

  • VP of Sales candidates should be able to explain precisely what their expectations are of marketing as well as what their responsibilities and accountabilities to marketing are.

  • VPs of Sales and VPs of Marketing compensation plans must be aligned on the achievement of common goals and objectives, including achievement of revenue-related targets, building or ongoing improvement of key processes such as demand and lead generation, product training, competitive positioning and market communication campaigns.

  • If you are a VP of Sales and find your success is being limited by ineffectual marketing leadership, arrange for an independent assessment of your sales and marketing operations within your company. If your assumptions are validated, develop a business case and present it to your CEO. Emotion has no place in a situation like this. Facts, figures and an unbiased assessment speak most effectively.

  • If you are a VP of Marketing and find yourself attempting to support a sales leader that is, for example, undisciplined, dependent on personal heroics, and not willing to share the responsibility and credit for sales success, consider taking the same approach. Warning: if that sales leader is consistently delivering against their targets your business case will be much harder to make. A bit of introspection might be the first order of business.
Once it is clear to the sales and marketing leaders and the person(s) to whom they report that there is a common understanding and alignment of philosophy at that level, then, if the situation warrants, a requirements definition can be drawn up and a consulting firm brought in to help with building the processes that will get and keep the two departments aligned going forward.

Summary

Sales and marketing alignment is more than a good thing. It's absolutely required for competitive advantage. The alignment begins not with strategies, tasks and activities, but rather with the philosophies and values of the sales and marketing leaders.


Dave Stein, after 25 years in sales leadership positions and delivering his own sales training and consulting worldwide, founded ES Research Inc. ESR offers independent, authoritative advice on Sales Training and Consulting and the Companies that provide it through weekly briefs, in-depth reports, online seminars and advisory services. For more information go to www.ESResearch.com or call 508.313.9585

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