This is the time of year when sales and marketing teams meet to discuss annual goals, and it can seem their planning was done in completely separate caves. Predictably, when things go wrong they are ready to destroy one another like the cave people in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Without a doubt, the majority of these relationships are mired in conflict because the sales leader wants to pigeonhole the marketing organization into lead generation, and marketing considers that a menial role. But beating each other into oblivion—while it might be satisfying on some level—doesn’t help the business or the individual departments.
Changing the nature of that relationship is a must, and it takes time and commitment. But statistics show it’s well worth the effort. According to MarketingProfs, when sales and marketing are tightly aligned, organizations experience 36% higher customer retention rates and 38% higher sales win rates.
Recently, I sat down with my colleague Scott Miller, formerly Chief Marketing Officer at FranklinCovey and now Executive Vice President for Thought Leadership, to collaborate on some suggestions about how to turn an adversarial relationship into a collaborative one.
Begin with trust
The turnaround process begins with open and honest conversation between the two leaders, with the goal to identify what each needs from the other. For this to work, both leaders must have solid listening skills, so they can absorb the information without becoming defensive or combative—not easy when even the jargon can be department-specific, noted Scott. For instance, while sales leaders talk about gross margins, marketing leaders discuss brand impressions. Yet both are related to overall revenue growth and profitability.
Questions such as “What do you need to build a successful career and organization? What are your pressures? What do you need from our team?” can start the communication ball rolling. Follow those with more probing ones: “What am I doing that you like? What do you think I’m dismissing or undervaluing? What are my blind spots?”
The goal of these discussions is to gain a deeper understanding of what is working and what isn’t, and how together they can resolve problems, regardless of which department the issues are affecting.
Align your goals
Too often the symbiotic nature of the sales-marketing relationship isn’t recognized by either leader. Then, when company goals aren’t met, the tension becomes toxic, setting off a vicious cycle of blame and confusion.
Sales accuses marketing of focusing too much on branding, positioning and too little on lead production, while marketing reproaches sales for poor selling capabilities, resulting in a lose-lose spiral.
To prevent this non-productive state of affairs, both parties should hold joint planning sessions—working together in a common “cave”—so they can find common ground and understand the unique pressures the other person is experiencing.
Equally important is having objective measurements for how they will define success—the only way of evaluating if one department is delivering what the other needs.
Even with the best strategies and planning, setbacks will occur and campaigns will fail, Scott said. Having regular ongoing meetings between the two department leaders can help identify and address problems before they get out of control. Scott believes marketing should take the initiative, supporting the execution phase with any additional information or assistance that sales needs. This collaborative approach also keeps the blame game from happening.
And while it’s inevitable that disagreements will arise, especially in a results-focused culture, these should be handled behind closed doors, Scott emphasized, to present a united front to both teams and the CEO.
For the connection between marketing and sales to be positive and productive, both have to recognize each other’s independence yet acknowledge they need each other to succeed. Operating as separate business tribes is a losing strategy all the way around.
Challenge for leaders: If your sales and marketing teams spend more time fighting than collaborating, it may be time for a relationship reset. Encourage them to focus on finding common ground, developing mutual trust and recognizing their mutual dependence on each other for success.
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