Marketing and sales: from hostile to friendly collaboration

Marketing and sales have been looking for the right division of roles for years. Fortunately, collaboration, openness, and process structuring within organisations are now hot topics for the management team. It's not too late to intervene and put the collaboration between marketing and sales on the agenda.

Why sales can't do without marketing

Google even wonders if I might be looking for 'marketing vs. sales'. Really? I get a flash of a helpless marketer, caught in an ambush laid by sales. Time for a peace treaty. 

Marketing and sales: two camps

Is your company's sales department located at the other end of the building? There's a wall between the two departments – a literal one, sometimes. As a marketer, you keep throwing your leads over your castle wall to sales, without knowing what will happen to them. Sales gets a shower of leads that are of little use to them, but doesn't bother to peek over the wall where these leads are coming from. Sounds familiar?

I've just highlighted – if somewhat exaggerated – one of the most common sources of irritation between marketing and sales. Sales believes that marketing doesn't put enough effort into bringing in good qualified leads. Sales even wonders what marketing contributes at all. At the same time, marketing accuses sales of lacking an understanding of the persona and the purchasing process and even goes so far as to call salespersons lazy. Research by the Corporate Executive Board has found that 87% of the terms marketing and sales use to describe each other are negative. 

Marketing and sales have been looking for the right division of roles for years. Fortunately, collaboration, openness, and process structuring within organisations are now hot topics for the management team. It's not too late to intervene and put the collaboration between marketing and sales on the agenda.

Even if, in your organisation, marketing and sales consist of one and the same person, you may still recognise yourself in this article. 

Marketing and sales alignment, why?

Why is the collaboration between these two indispensable in every organisation? First, the parties share an essential task, which is to ensure the company's income. We've known since 2010 that companies in which marketing and sales work well together retain more leads and achieve more revenue growth (Miller Heiman & Northern Illinois University). Companies with a strong partnership between marketing and sales achieve an annual revenue growth of 20%. Conversely, companies with poor or little collaboration between the two departments see a decrease of 4% (Aberdeen Group). 

What changes have led to the increasing need for structured collaboration and a clear division of roles?

Changes in the B2B environment are forcing marketing and sales closer together. New technologies and new media have made a different approach inevitable. Today’s customer moves freely all over the internet, across different channels. Companies must add value to stand out.

The customer is getting better informed all the time and is making more informed purchasing choices: today, 70% of the purchasing process takes place online. This means the customer doesn't need to contact a salesperson until much later. As a result, the sales department is starting to realise that it needs more insight into the customer's purchasing process. The task of marketing is to be present on relevant channels, using lead nurturing to guide this customer through the sales funnel. Research by MarketingProfs has revealed that organisations with a strong collaboration between marketing and sales have seen 36% more customer retention.

Reasons enough to join forces. The traditional roles of marketing and sales are no longer viable. Putting the customer first is becoming increasingly important, but to do so, we need insight into who the customer is. 

What causes sales and marketing to become enemies?

To know where you're going, you need to know where you're coming from. Several factors may increase the gap between marketing and sales:

  • Marketing and sales work as separate entities, and as a result, they're no longer on the same page. There is little to no information transfer between the two parties.
  • There is no shared customer view, let alone insight into the purchasing process the customer goes through. It is almost impossible for sales to respond to leads if they have no insight into the process leading up to that moment.
  • Sales usually focuses on the short term. They work with hard sales quotas (“we want to close that deal today”) while marketing goals are frequently strategic and focused on the long term, making them harder to measure. This leads to frustration for sales; it's hard or even impossible for them to measure the contribution of marketing.

From hostile to friendly collaboration

The importance of marketing and sales working together constructively has been made crystal clear. Now it's time to start taking practical steps. This 5-step plan will help you achieve marketing and sales alignment that will visibly contribute to attaining your business goals.

Before you start, the importance of collaboration must be clear to everyone. Everyone must be on the same page, working together constructively – whatever you call it. The success of your collaboration depends entirely on having this shared starting point. It might already be on the agenda of senior management, but if it's not, that's where you should start.

1) Speak the same language

Have you ever tried to understand a sign language interpreter on TV with the sound turned off? It's just too hard. Marketing and sales may have a fundamentally different understanding of what a lead is. As a result, marketing doesn't get why sales isn't doing anything with the leads they give them. What is a prospect, a lead, a marketing qualified lead or a sales qualified lead? When is a lead ready to be handed over to sales? Make sure you agree on the definitions.

In this stage, it is also essential to map out the buyer persona and the buyer journey. Gain a further understanding of the lifecycle stages. Develop a common marketing and sales funnel that integrates the KPIs of marketing and sales. Not only will you be getting a good grasp of those figures, you will also have a clear picture of the productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency achieved by both departments' activities.

2) Set up watertight reporting

Are you aware of how much your marketing efforts actually contribute? Do you know what happens to your leads after you hand them over to sales? The problem usually lies with a lack of decent closed-loop reporting. Good reporting:

  • Helps you measure the performance of your marketing efforts. It is measurable by the number of visitors, leads, customers, and even the conversion in every stage of the sales funnel.
  • Allows you to hand over more intelligence to sales and receive feedback on it. 
  • Helps you gain insight into which content contributes to conversion. Next, use lead nurturing to follow up on these insights.
  • Helps you understand the interaction of a potential customer with your company. This in turn will give sales the right information to respond perfectly (follow-up of the lead). 

3) Implement a Service Level Agreement (SLA)

A service level agreement between marketing and sales serves to agree on the division of tasks between both departments. What happens when a marketing qualified lead is handed over to sales? How long does sales have to pick up on this lead? You must create a clear follow-up model. When a lead is not deemed qualified by sales, how do you make sure it returns to marketing so it can potentially lead to a sale later on? 

4) Maintain open communication

Marketing and sales can learn a lot from each other. Make sure there's transparency and good communication between both parties. Organise meetings (preferably weekly) to exchange important information, discuss the campaign's progress, and present new products and services. Visit each other's departments to stay in the loop on what's happening.

We've moved on from push marketing. More and more, sales must become a serious conversation partner to the customer. Marketing, in turn, must create content that provides added value for the customer. No one knows more about that customer than sales, which can serve as inspiration for you, the marketer. 

5) Rely on data

Make sure the results – per day, per month, and per quarter – are available to everyone. Don't just focus on sales, but provide the numbers for marketing targets as well. Together, discuss which report will go to senior management.

Should marketing and sales become one?

A question asked by many. And my answer to that question is: no. In sales, the focus will always be on the short term, and in marketing on the long term. If marketing becomes sales, short-term goals will predominate, which won't benefit the organisation. As separate functions, each will maintain its own added value.

The real victory for the organisation lies in the collaboration between marketing and sales. So break down those enemy camps and move from hostile to friendly collaboration.

Picture of Mark de Heus
Mark de Heus

Business Growth Consultant