Aligning sales and marketing in a competitive climate

Can Sales and Marketing Play Nice?

The frequent disconnect between sales and marketing is not an unnatural phenomenon; according to some executives, it's practically sui generis.

"Companies that take a sales-oriented, product-centric approach are hesitant to shift to a consumer-focused, marketing-driven organization," says Peter Muiznieks, marketing manager at Corporate Safe Specialists. "Salesmen are salesmen for a reason-they like to be independent, to be cowboys. But companies really no longer have a choice about being sales centric; they have to be consumer centric.

"It's a very tough turn for companies to make," he adds. "That cultural change is one of the most difficult feats to pull off in business."

And it's an issue that's increasingly getting attention. "We believe that this is one of the most important issues facing CMOs," says Dave Murray, executive manager of the CMO Council, "and as a result we are advocating the issue of sales/marketing alignment in a lot of the work we're doing."

Aligning sales and marketing makes even more sense in the currently ber-competitive climate, Murray adds. "Customer affinity is what's it's all about. That approach measures marketing effectiveness not only through brand metrics, but also by how well we understand the customer, how relevant communications are to customers' needs, and how closely we should align our business processes with customer requirements."

"There's a breakdown between what's happening in the CMO suite and in the field," says Charles Watson, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Blueroads. "Customer referrals seem to be the answer; the lion's share of business is coming from customer referrals. But no one has yet really figured out how to capitalize on referrals."

Going to great lengths

As cited "Relationships at the End of Their Rope," (July/August 2008, 1to1 Magazine), one firm that's gone to great lengths to get the seemingly unnatural pairing of sales and marketing to work together more naturally is electronic test, measurement, and monitoring equipment company Tektronix. Although the results have been admirable, they were hard to come by, according to Martyn Etherington, vice president of marketing, who instigated the change.

"I was stunned when I arrived here from IBM," he says. "Gartner has said that 85 percent of all sales leads go unfollowed and, lo and behold, that's just what I saw when I first started here."

Bad communications, lack of education, poor planning, and a victim mentality were the watchwords, he says. "There was a great deal of energy being expended on trying to blame each other, despite the fact that we're all on the same team with the same goal. For me it was just shocking."

Again, the victim mentality undertaken by many on the marketing side was practically innate, he says. "Traditionally a lot of the problems are derived from marketing people playing the victim instead of trying to become more relevant and reaching out to sales to try to bridge that gap, to work on more of a peer level, away from a service bureau mentality, and toward a more consultative role."

Now that Tektronix has successfully crossed the great sales/marketing divide, Etherington says, "We are absolutely now structurally aligned, and all my regional marketing directors sit on the sales directors' management team business reviews, and my regional marketing managers by channel are absolutely aligned with the sales manager by channel and by region. We're now seen as peers."

Everyone agrees, however, that even if sales and marketing learn to "play nice" together, those instinctual old habits are hard to break and require constant monitoring.

"I've got certain challenges right now in one region, which we'll need to go back and almost reprogram and rework from day one," Etherington says. "This requires huge amounts of nurturing, care, need, and feeding-and it fluctuates on a regional and on a monthly basis."