Toward a More Harmonious and Productive Relationship

It's not an easy task to encourage marketing and sales to communicate better, let alone see eye-to-eye and truly collaborate. But devoting time and attention to achieving this goal is far more than just a nice thing to do. It is imperative, and can be a major competitive advantage for your company, particularly since so few businesses get it right.

Jim Dickie, Managing Partner with CSO Insights, a research and consulting firm that specializes in helping companies improve marketing and sales alignment, sums up the problem this way: “I'm still shocked at the number of companies which do not even have a formally agreed-upon definition of what [makes a lead] sales-ready. The marketing team has its definition of what is marketing-ready. And the sales department has its own point of view on what constitutes a real opportunity. But there is typically a significant disconnect between the differing views, and that carries forward into continuous conflict at the boundary between marketing and sales.”

The chapters ahead will outline a bold strategy for fundamentally transforming the sales-marketing relationship. It is an epic journey. But even the longest march starts with a single step. So to get you started, here are four small steps you can take that will point your marketing and sales teams in the right direction:

Focus on value delivered. Educate marketing and sales team members on each other's contributions to your company's short- and long-term revenue growth. Hold regular, well-defined meetings where key marketing and sales executives identify shared obstacles, develop common revenue objectives, and set strategies for overcoming barriers to growth.

Case in point: Wes Wasson, Senior Vice President and CMO of Citrix Systems, comments that his VP of Demand Generation also serves as part of the sales team staff: “He is as much a part of the sales team as my marketing organization. He attends all the sales meetings and seamlessly integrates his work with that of the sales group. At the same time, he owns allocation of the worldwide demand generation budget, which gives him an important level of control over what ultimately happens on the marketing side.”

Agree on lead quality. Have marketing and sales jointly determine what makes a good lead, and when that good lead is ready for sales. These definitions are crucial, as they're a frequent sore spot in the sales-marketing relationship. You must address them head-on in an atmosphere of shared responsibility and opportunity.

Take each other to work. Try a “Take your colleague to work” initiative. Marketing should go or at least listen in on sales calls, and salespeople should regularly participate in meetings concerning marketing strategy and creative development. This sort of collaboration may sound incredibly self-evident, but it actually occurs way too rarely. My own company has made joint meetings and activities between marketing and sales a standard operating procedure.

Take them out for a beer. You've heard the maxim “people buy from people.” It's true. You must never lose sight of the fact that human relationships matter. While structured initiatives can begin to improve the alignment between your marketing and sales teams, salespeople and marketing people are, in the end, just people. And in many companies, the two don't mix very much. Sometimes it's because they sit in different buildings or states or countries, and sometimes it's just because they have quite different personalities and don't naturally socialize together. Find ways to encourage your marketing and sales teams to get to know each other, both at the management level, and the grass roots level. Sales may be from Mars and marketing from Venus, but every so often, a little bit of magic happens when you mix them together.

The key to building a healthy atmosphere of communication and cross-functional cooperation is to embrace the strengths of both your marketing and sales organizations. You will need to shift your organization's practice away from linear lead hand-offs and focus instead on mutual and shared accountability for lead generation, nurturing, conversion, and customer loyalty.

With a little work, and by following the suggestions outlined above, your marketing and sales teams will begin their journey toward a truly collaborative, symbiotic relationship that will turbo-charge your revenue growth engine.

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