How to break down barriers between marketing and sales

Version 3
    The division of labor in B2B selling used to be so clear-cut, you know, back in pre-history, maybe 12 months ago.


    In grossly oversimplified terms, marketing understood the needs of the marketplace, which major audiences had the need and what kinds of revenue came from serving that need. Marketing then generated leads, handed things off to sales and the marketing/sales transaction was complete.


    Armed with leads and other information, sales took the leads then went out and called on their key accounts to show how the company's products were a slam-dunk to satisfy the need, navigate the nuances, demonstrate the product, work out the pricing, manage the relationship and make the sale.


    In short, Marketing focused on defining areas of the marketplace where there were opportunities, and the job of sales was initiating dialogs and advancing relationships with individual accounts in order to close sales.


    Any misalignment between marketing and sales could often be attributed to different departmental goals, different organizational cultures, or simply lack of communication. The DMZ was always "leads generated" - a hand-off transaction between Marketing and Sales - usually the end result was Marketing accusing Sales of slack follow-up and Sales accusing Marketing of low-quality leads.


    How quaint all that clarity and angst seems now.


    Current realities make all that discussion seem so trivial. Two thirds of your marketing department was just whacked in this week's downsizing. The underperforming half of your sales force was shown the door two weeks ago.


    Your job now is to make the best of the current economic situation. But the decisions you make now about marketing and sales alignment will greatly impact your company in the coming years.


    Of course you will look at your pipeline again, and you will troll back through your database to identify those leads that were warm in recent memory, to see if there is still a flicker. And you will re-rank prospects against your new reality of what a "good" customer is.

    But whatever your resources today, the fact is that B2B-buyers won't stay in the box any more. They are more connected than ever before. They have more choices. They are interacting with peers who have crafted novel solutions to similar problems. All of this steadily ratchets up the ante for the next sales guy through the door.


    Is it any wonder that marketing, operations and product development more often than not seem less informed than the prospect?


    Producing leads via marketing has itself become much tougher. Traditional marketing tactics have become steadily less effective with new channels, fractured readership and dwindling response rates. And the thing called marcom? Your customers now laugh when you give them a brochure.


    So, is the answer to slashed headcount and questions of marketing/sales alignment one of total "vertical sales integration" from product design all the way through to calling on the prospect-most-likely-to-convert?


    Unlikely. Though some would beg to give it a try, so entrenched are the frustrations.


    But in these times of wrenching change, especially at the scratchy intersection of Marketing & Sales, any "reassessment of essential activities" should begin with as many things-that-don't-change as we can find. These strike us as the basics:


    1) Too many people who wrestle with Marketing and Sales alignment issues are privately still thinking about Marketing and Sales DEPARTMENTS as they last experienced them. The lead hand-off transaction was standard operating procedure. Yet every company culture is different, with some activities on this side of the line here, on the other side somewhere else. For any company aspiring to build effectives processes for uncertain times, step 1 has to be leaving as much baggage as you can by the side of the road.


    2) Growing a company (or surviving) is more than knocking on every possible door one at a time. As tailored as solutions get, most companies are far from every customer being absolutely unique with regard to what they sell them. Natural groupings of need, usage, locale, industry, behavior, or SOMETHING still exist, even if they don't match the historical ones. Organizing market segments based on these actionable commonalities and determining how best to allocate resources against potential revenues is still required for most companies to operate at optimal scale.


    3) Customer content is more than just posting pdf's of the product spec sheets. These and other "facts" are important, but without some compelling narrative that connects these facts to the challenges, resources, and yearnings of a prospect, closing a sale is elusive. Even if the Marketing department's materials were often miscast, and Sales feedback from the front lines ignored, equipping the prospect with a story about the product/service that he can internalize and apply to his challenges is still the essential ingredient in Sales relationship building efforts.


    In short, everything is on the table now, the times we live in have made it so - updating our current core processes to be faster, or leaner, or less expensive, or richer with content isn't a recipe that will save the majority of companies facing tough markets.


    The times have become "post-departmental," and every activity that the departments used to provide to each other is on the table now for review and possible reassignment. The closest roadmap is the behavior of the customers the company most highly values.


    Mapping the activities throughout the lifecycle of the most desired customer, without the departmental labels, seems the place to start this transformation.




    Robert Hamilton is the manager of Macon Raine's interim marketing executive practice and Ben Bradley is the managing partner of Macon Raine, Inc. He can be reached at Macon Raine, Inc., helps clients find new customers with agile sales, marketing and lead-generation campaigns. Unlike advertising agencies, Macon Raine invests in each client's success and even puts skin in the game to reduce cost and risk.