Will we ever get closure on the battle between the business functions of sales vs marketing?
It’s an age-old battle that shows no sign of letting up and in this article, I am going to give you my view, which starts with the point that these two business-critical functions simply operate at different points of the sales funnel.
And in today’s economy, there are no longer any hard and fast rules…you just have to find out what works, which may mean not having a sales function at all, at least in the traditional sense and the same is true of marketing.
You can build a business from a single salesperson, who is brave and informed enough to go out and get customers…it’s exactly how I started, but this was in the traditional sense and way before the Internet.
Today, if you are a purely online business you will be using a combination of sales and marketing techniques to get and keep your customers, but you still have to have to sell…albeit in the form of the written or spoken word!
Sales and marketing have always struggled to work in harmony with each other, for reasons I will go on to discuss…but in today’s volatile and uncertain economy and one where costs need to be constantly streamlined, they must learn to get along!
Customers have changed the dynamics between two business functions, simply through the way they buy and companies need to be far more agile in their approach and tailor their organizations specifically to customer behavior and demand.
Many companies spend fortunes on technology — implementing the latest CRM product and setting up elaborate marketing funnels rather than getting to the heart of the matter and drastically overhauling systems, processes, and procedures at grassroots levels.
It’s time to bite the bullet and learn how to integrate these functions so that they work seamlessly together and for the common goal…efficient and consistent revenue generation.
Take a look at this old, but relevant article from the Harvard Business Review, to give you some idea of the historical and in many cases, still valid reasons as to why these functions are at loggerheads with each other.
Sales vs Marketing: Start-Ups
Let’s take a look at it from a start-up CEO’s perspective:
You’ve raised a bunch of cash and have assembled your leadership team — the role of chief marketing officer (CMO) and a chief sales officer (or whatever title you wish to call the head of revenue generation).
Both are highly qualified and with outstanding track records, so now you have the basic formula for a winning team, as far as revenue generation is concerned.
And you would certainly think so because that’s exactly what I thought many times in my business career when I made similar hiring decisions.
I think you know what’s coming next…it didn’t work out anywhere near as I had imagined and I spent many an hour, week, and on some occasions, months trying to mediate between two parties who were obviously talented in their own right, but simply could not work effectively together for the common goal.
It was an internal, energy-consuming battle that should have been turned inside out and channeled at making the entire customer experience better.
Hindsight is a wonderful and exact science!
And it’s not just related to start-ups — large corporations suffer the same and in the Harvard article, I have linked to above, you can see how IBM merged the two divisions to create a new division called channel enablement, which ended the independence between the divisions.
I love to end complexity in any situation and strip things down to the bare bones; to rebuild them better… and I will give you my views on how the two functions of sales and marketing should work together in harmony…and for greater profits!
The Simple Differences
Let’s take a simplistic view for the moment and look at marketing as the function of creating awareness of the product and services of the business, and sales being the function of making the buying transaction happen.
Both functions, however, share the same common goal of attracting revenue to the organization…just that they operate different points of the overall sales funnel as I have previously said, with marketing generating inquiries or leads, and then those leads are handed over to salespeople who convert them into revenue.
It sounds simple enough and in some companies, that’s exactly how the two functions operate.
But, like all things in business, there is a lot of potential crossovers and those crossovers have to be managed carefully to ensure harmony, best practices, and of course, profits.
if you take a look at the 4 P’s of marketing, — product, price, place, and promotion, for example, you can get a feel for the key elements of a marketing plan, which will eventually work their way into sales.
If you take pricing as one example, then you will have a marketing opinion on how to structure and set prices that is largely research-based and data-driven…but you will also have a sales team that is eager to put their views forward because they will argue that operating at the sharp end of the business, gives them a far more real-time and dynamic view of where prices should really be.
This is just one area of crossover and one example that could lead to friction between the two functions.
The End of Sales?
Now I’m going to throw another statement into the mix and that is the job of marketing is to make sales redundant!
If you have a great marketing campaign that compels customers to buy, then you don’t need salespeople.
Not so long ago a company called Atlassian sold $320m of business software without having a single salesperson!
I won’t go into the story, but you can read more about it in this article in Bloomberg.
Apple has a great marketing strategy, website, and products that literally compel you to buy them and to a degree, you could call their in-store customer-facing staff salespeople, but they are far from the traditional salesperson that has to go out and generate business from scratch and hit a quota.
There Has Been A Change In Buying Dynamics
One thing is for certain, the way we buy goods and services has changed dramatically over the years and all thanks to the Internet revolution.
The Internet has rebounded massively from the burst of the dot.com bubble, back in the late ’90s and is now an established and trusted platform…which is only going to grow in leaps and bounds.
In pre-Internet days, salespeople were the means to getting information out directly to the buyers and that is where the skills of the salespeople were paramount.
Unfortunately, some salespeople operating in certain industries took advantage of their customers by using sleazy sales tactics and manipulating prices to their advantage — this is why certain people view salespeople in very unfavorable ways!
Marketing activities were far more concentrated in their own area of the overall sales funnel and they could be in the form of media advertising, promotional events, public relations, etc.
The Internet has in some ways, opened a huge can of worms — customers are now far savvier and are able to research, review and buy from the comfort of their smartphone…and at their demand and leisure.
This has led to a much closer relationship between marketing and sales…but from the customer perspective, which is forcing companies to look far more closely at how the two business functions operate and interact.
Why All The Friction In The First Place?
I’ve touched on some of the friction points when I talk about how the two functions crossover, but let me now get into the friction within these functions and you can see where there are even more problems.
I hear all the time about the “new ways vs the old ways,” in pretty much everything, so it comes as no surprise that we have the same problem with sales and marketing.
Within both functions, there are huge debates about this and you have some of the older and younger generations of sales and marketing people, battling against each other in terms of strategy and execution…but both are missing the point.
There is no new or old way — if you look at the essence of sales and marketing and go along with the simple definitions I have talked about, you will need to make customers aware of your products and/or services, then you will need to convince them to buy.
What has changed is the means of reaching out, touching, and engaging with the customer, but not the essence that sits behind it.
One of the greatest marketing and advertising geniuses was a gentleman called David Ogilvy.
Ogilvy was a pioneer in his day — he produced key information that you could term as a “soft sell” to his audience and he didn’t insult them!
This was way back in time (circa the 1950s) and those techniques are still being touted and taught today — I was never a fan of hard-selling for example, which was why I was fired from a couple of the sales jobs I had in my early career.
Preferring to help educate my audience about how the products and services I was selling as to how they could benefit them, rather than trying to put them into a proverbial sales “headlock” to get an order signed, was a much better and softer way to get the sale.
What has changed, and beyond all recognition is technology.
Unlike the Ogilvy era, we have a technology platform called the Internet that has dramatically changed the way we live work, and play — the business applications are enormous and by 2030, around ninety-per-cent of the population will be online!
There are many colleges and universities that have degree courses for marketing, business, and communications and if you wanted to take things further, you could go on and complete an MBA.
This would give you a great understanding of the language of business and many large corporations would pick the cream of the crop as far as talent goes, which I believe created a sense of superiority when it came down to the importance of marketing roles over pure sales positions.
But knowing the language is one thing…being able to speak it fluently is another.
Salespeople often work at the sharp end and if you cannot speak the language fluently, then you will be in serious trouble, but here is where another problem arises — salespeople can get away with learning a few key elements of sales and earn themselves a great living!
Back in my day, there were no formal education programs that catered specifically for sales and selling, so the only route in would be through a marketing or business degree.
The degree would touch on sales, but for me, there was not nearly enough focus on what was and still is a critical business function.
Thankfully today, there are far more options and a ton of sales training courses — in the UK, you can study for a degree in sales and marketing management, which is a step in the right direction to see these business functions integrated.
I met a lady a couple of years ago at one of those business networking events that I loathe but attended due to helping out a friend.
It didn’t take me long to get into a deep discussion with a couple of people and we were talking about the lack of global sales talent. We moved on to marketing and I was immediately shut down by an older lady, who has been running her consultancy business for over twenty years with the statement:
“I know all about marketing — I have a degree in it.”
It was said with the air of superiority that immediately made me shut down and decide not to waste a minute more of my time.
Unfortunately, I have met many similar people over the years.
You will never know all there is to know about anything, so keep learning and keep acquiring knowledge.
Instead of worrying about the old and the new, ways of doing anything, why not focus on knowledge and learning?
When email burst into the tech scene years ago, it was revolutionary and the CEO of the General Electric Company (GE) at the time…the late and legendary Jack Welch, encouraged his senior executives to embrace the technology by finding a younger mentor within the company.
He found a young employee in the Paris office, I think, and from reading one of his books — explaining that you have so much knowledge and experience within the company at senior levels that need to be connected through the younger generation who simply have a greater aptitude for learning it.
This is exactly where we are today and I predict a huge surge in the need for the knowledge that the over 50’s have acquired, to help the younger generation with the success of their businesses.
The successful over-50’s learned to survive in a vastly different business world and they have embraced the technology of the Internet revolution — it’s being able to apply time-tested methodologies and put them into an executable strategy.
It’s where David Ogilvy meets artificial intelligence…but still retaining the human touch.
A sales and marketing dream!
Sales vs Marketing: My Personal Story
I have always had an urge to disrupt the normal and simplify things — it’s in my nature.
I have also focussed intently on the needs of the customer in all my business ventures and adapted my strategy accordingly.
When I had the budget to hire a marketing department, I went at it with my (then) usual excitement and passion, hiring the best people I could afford to hire…but that was when after I fell into the world of marketing and by complete accident.
All startups are cash-strapped and I don’t care if you’ve raised millions because if you have, it is not going to be all of your money and if you are self-funded, you should always operate on a tight budget.
Starting from a living room in London, UK, and selling staffing services to the world’s largest tech companies was a tall order in the first place, let alone with an extremely limited budget which was effectively my living expenses for the first few months.
The only route to my customers was through the telephone and in those days, there were no “all you can eat” plans with unlimited calls, and text messaging hadn’t even begun!
There is a sense of total satisfaction when you create something (a sale) out of nothing (zero billing) and then rinsing and repeating that action until you reach a sizeable turnover…with good profits, which is something I did without any help from marketing or having any form of marketing strategy.
I had no concept of marketing and no desire to get one!
But I did need to expand my reach in the industry and that meant placing some expensive adverts in the trade magazines, which was the usual practice, so now I had my foot in the water!
Enter The Creative Genius
I had a chance to meet with a former creative director of the world-famous advertising agency Saatchi& Saatchi.
I simply needed a new logo for my company and one that had some creative thought to it, rather than the existing one that I hastily accepted from the local print shop.
After the meeting and a few days later, I was presented with one logo that looked clean, fresh, and almost perfect, so I asked for some others to which he explained that he gave me the logo I needed, rather than the one I would necessarily want!
He said there was no point in him going away and producing more designs as he believed that what I had was perfect for what I needed and after all, it’s what I was paying him for.
The master salesperson was taken aback…I was not only “sold to,” but put firmly in my place and even more annoyingly…with a smile.
It reminded me of when I attended a Thai-Boxing camp in Thailand and the instructor, who was tiny compared to me, was kicking, punching, elbowing, and kneeing lumps out of me…with a beaming smile on his face.
And what’s more, the instructor barely broke sweat…it was effortless.
Geniuses Make Complicated Things Simple
“Now let’s talk about what you really need,” came next after deciding on my perfect logo…and it was a strapline that read:
#1 For People In Telecommunications.
I was taken back again because I asked him why we put such a bold statement together and how could we possibly say it?
He explained that he listened intently to my story (at the first meeting) and he could see I was passionate about what I was doing and captured my desire to give the absolute best service to the industry and in a manner that was not traditional.
He further explained that if I genuinely believed I was the #1 company in the industry as far as what we believed in, what we were doing, and would continue to do, then we should say it, be proud and stand by it!
That was all I needed to hear and from that day…we were!
We now had a simple, clean logo, with a very powerful message from which we were able to use as a hub for each and every activity of the company — marketing, sales, hiring people, etc.
With my newfound logo, strapline, and ready to attack the tech world with even more energy than ever before, I needed to train our sales team in the finer points.
This is what needs to happen in companies and I don,t care how large or small they are — if you lead from the top and from the front (as founder and CEO, I saw all clients first), you will pull people into line, you will create synergies between business functions that don’t usually communicate with each other…and you will align sales and marketing.
Because the new sales -drive came from marketing, there was no concern at this point about leads — salespeople just did what they normally did, cold-calling clients to get business. But they had a great message and story to relay.
So right from the start, there were no expectations for leads and that is the key, although leads would come later, they were treated as all leads should be treated…like gold dust.
The first thing I did with my newly appointed head of marketing was to look at generating a stronger advertising presence within the trade publications and what happened next was a little revolutionary for the industry.
Usually, we would just take out a half-page advertisement to advertise the jobs we had on behalf of our clients, which was exactly what each competitor did.
As well as taking out the usual adverts we became the first company of our type to sponsor the front cover.
Now we had our new logo and strapline right on the front page and that would set the scene, so to say, and support the advert in the back pages.
And we booked the entire front cover for twelve months, preventing anyone from copying what we did.
This worked like a dream and soon people were talking about us and inquiries were flooding in, which delighted the sales team — the head of marketing would attend the sales meetings and provide his input by telling his own story as to how he landed some of his major accounts.
This was sales and marketing working in harmony…now I had another idea.
It was time to wheel this guy out to my most senior clients to help us win the biggest deal of our lives and after setting up some key appointments around the globe, we went into action.
The next part of the strategy was to find a PR company as the objective was to show the world a bigger side to the company and start to showcase yours truly!
I can’t say I was too excited by the prospect because if I am being truthful, it absolutely terrified me.
From the first interview, which was a trade publication, I became very comfortable, which was soon shattered when I received a call late one afternoon telling me I would be on live television the next night!
No amount of ‘um’s” or “ah’s” deterred my PR lady, who told me I was going and that was that!
The next night I was in the make-up room in the studio and within what seemed to be seconds, I was now live on a major news station talking about the similarities between successful sportspeople and entrepreneurship.
It was the start of a major run of PR, that landed me in some of the world’s leading publications, television, and radio.
It created a huge amount of awareness of me in the industry and there is no doubt that the overall marketing/advertising and PR strategy worked…and profitably.
Having someone by my side in high-level meetings gave me the confidence and credibility with my most senior clients and it was as if I had a sales guru, marketing genius, and all-around highly intelligent weapon that I could rely on to win over the confidence of senior executives in large global corporations.
I actually learned how real selling was done…from a marketing and creative genius!
By being able to talk about absolutely anything with confidence, including contentious issues within our industry and the world in general, provided that all-important small-talk and the ability to fill effortlessly those conversation gaps that you cannot avoid.
I learned the importance of commercial awareness and the real value of marketing which was to gain trust and confidence from the market — when you tell your client your marketing strategy, they will give you input, and let’s face it, they are the ones who you are trying to win over.
Client meetings, dinners, and other social events were now effortless and I was learning…fast.
More importantly, the information was being delivered to the sales team constantly, which gave them the confidence in our marketing department, which had now grown and during the period leading up to Christmas, the sales team were asked to put forward their most important clients to marketing.
After a careful review, each chosen client was presented with a personalized gift from us, which ensured they were valued and again, it worked like a dream.
The overall results were amazing and they showed me the true relationship that could exist between sales and marketing.
Marketing: Where Are We Now?
I started this article by talking about the two functions being at different parts of the sales funnel and from there you have to take a look as to how the buying habits of customers have changed since the introduction of the Internet.
Control has been handed to the customer — they can now buy from their smartphones as I have previously said and that gives sellers an immediate increase in competitors, simply because your customers will be able to find them, where they wouldn’t have been able to before.
The Internet has allowed many people to start companies, where they wouldn’t have been able to before — entrepreneurs young and old, can now launch anything from a part-time side-hustle, or a full-blown online concern.
Kids are getting into the action as well — they can set up YouTube channels, connect with other kids around the globe through gaming and start to learn the skills of online marketing, which they may come to depend upon in the future.
Savvy companies are spotting this and sponsoring ads, providing merchandise, and generally investing in the “marketing campaigns of the future.”
Traditional marketing methods are being thrown out of the window thanks to the Internet, and this is giving traditional marketers a headache as they try to get up to speed with what’s going on.
I remember not so long ago, having a discussion in one of my companies about getting started on YouTube — the head of marketing believed the platform was for kids, playing around online and was no place for a serious, professional company like ours.
Unfortunately, the person concerned had no idea that Presidential candidates were on the same platform and many large corporations — if only we had started that channel and maintained it, I say to myself, as we would have generated huge interest, plus a bit of advertising revenue as well.
Marketing today is about finding the next platform of attention…and then getting on it quickly.
I’ve never had a problem challenging the status quo and neither should you — it’s the essence of an entrepreneur and it’s how businesses grow.
However, being truly disruptive is one thing, but being disruptive for the sake of being disruptive has little purpose.
This term is being brandished around today by marketers left, right, and center as if it is a new concept, but it’s been around since the beginning of the world of business, just delivered differently.
I am going to give you a personal example — twenty years ago, my company attended the annual expo for our industry in the South of France.
This was going to be the first event we attended with a marketing presence and we were not going to take the traditional route of having a display stand like everyone else.
My new-found head of marketing had other ideas and we sponsored the cocktail reception at 6:00 pm, which involved hiring an American GI band, all dressed in their wartime dress!
Unfortunately, another well-known telecom manufacturer planned one of the first live video-link demos at the same time, and the presenters who were talking across the Atlantic were drowned out by Glenn Miller!
We had no idea of their plan and there was no turning back once the music began…but the event was a huge success for us and we had captured a key audience for around an hour, that our salespeople were eagerly talking to and with great results.
We even had compliments from other marketing people who admitted they wished they had thought of the idea.
There are many ways to disrupt…so get creative!
Getting The Message
One thing I see with many startup companies and a few large ones for that matter is a marketing message that is vague, over-thought, or totally confusing.
If the message is wrong, then the entire process is at risk.
Salespeople cannot be true salespeople without a clear message…one that they can proudly stand by and one that underpins all selling activity.
It’s vital that your message can resonate with your customers and if you are dealing with a large corporation, you need to make sure it is understood by the CEO and the receptionist.
And, it is the driver of all lead generation activity and will be instrumental in getting the deals done.
Many expensive marketing strategies are not underpinned with the correct message, which leaves salespeople confused and unable to relate marketing efforts effectively enough to high-quality sales.
Today’s marketing efforts need to capture the attention of customers quickly and that means being in their faces (in the nicest possible way of course), as much as possible and without annoying them.
Social media provides a huge platform for interaction, but you need to make sure you are reaching out to the right people.
CEOs and executive leaders have precious little time for interacting on social media, so you need to reach them because this is where the real selling is done.
And this is where you need real salespeople.
It’s one thing engaging the operational leadership, management, and other key employees that buy your products and services, but the real decisions are powered from above and too many salespeople are not engaged at this level, so it’s vital that you address this in your sales strategy.
Many salespeople are actually doing the jobs that marketing could perform and much better, in my opinion — the real selling involves building a company-to-company relationship, with the C-Suite, if you are dealing with a large corporation or SME, but this needs a totally different strategy than the prospecting — presenting and closing methods that are employed by many salespeople today.
Related: Sales Training: The ultimate guide to help you become a key influencer.
Sales And Marketing: Getting Them On The Same Page
Depending on what type of business you are running, you will need to address the balance between having dedicated sales and marketing functions or a blend of the two.
Large corporations will have dedicated functions for sure and I hope this article can help bridge the gaps between the two and I would have to write a series of books to go into the real details of how to create profitable harmony!
I will, however, give you a little taste of my thinking and a few years ago, I was working with a company in the medical industry that had dedicated sales and marketing functions as you would expect.
The salespeople were running around the country trying to arrange meetings with key staff in the hospitals, which were their main customers, but in my opinion, they were operating at the wrong level.
The real decisions were made by the C-Suite and this is where the real selling should have been done…and it would involve a higher-level of salesperson who has a good degree of commercial awareness and the ability to solve key financial as well as product issues.
Marketing, on the other hand, was tied to traditional advertising and events, but they could have done so much more.
While the salespeople were engaged at the top, marketing could have put together initiatives to “touch” the customer in a non-sales way and this is how you would have created product awareness and allowed the existing customers (who were in the lower levels of management) to not feel their time is being taken by pushy salespeople.
If executive leaders are short of time, then you can be sure that everyone below is operating accordingly and this is where you need to be careful that your efforts are time-conscious.
Going back to my medical example — the customers were severely time-pressured and much of that time was spent seeing salespeople.
Marketing could have taken over this task by interfacing with the same people, but using technology — there is no reason why product demonstrations could not be conducted online, why target customers could not have been given Ipads to simply look up information and there are a thousand initiatives that could have been performed remotely.
A small hard-core group of highly capable salespeople, dealing at the right level, supported by a team of marketing/customer service people, using technology to engage people and save time would have been a winning formula.
So whatever company you are running, you have to look at focussing your sales efforts intently and at the right level as well as creating the right customer touchpoints to keep them interested and engaged.
Appreciating Each Other
One of the key things you can do if you have dedicated functions is to get them to spend time in each other’s work domain.
Take your marketing people to sales calls and get salespeople to become part of a campaign and you will start to create synergies.
You could take things a little further and get your marketing people to make cold calls — you would have a totally different appreciation of the role of selling!
It’s all about creating a seamless funnel that your customers will progress through and if you find you don’t need a salesforce because your marketing campaigns and copywriting are exceptional, then so be it!
- It is almost a tradition that sales and marketing do get along with one another.
- Customers are now forcing companies to be far more agile because they are in a much stronger position thanks to the Internet.
- The ability for customers to search, review and compare companies before they buy has changed the dynamics of the sales cycle.
- Traditional methods of sales and marketing, saw the marketing department create awareness enabling the sales department to complete the buying transaction.
- Some companies are able to thrive without a sales team and other pure sales companies generate revenue without a single marketing campaign.
- There has been a lack of formal education regarding learning the art of sales, but there are many marketing degree programs.
- I believe that education has been one of the contributing factors to the divide between the two business functions.
- A good marketing campaign goes far deeper than pure lead generation, it inspires people to work for the common good of the company and focuses on overall company awareness and revenue generation.
- It would be great to see marketing executives make cold sales calls and salespeople try to create campaigns from scratch.
- Companies should focus more on real selling — engaging the C-suite and executive leadership team to create and articulate real value, with marketing absorbing the rest of the sales function.
The battle between sales and marketing may never fully be won, but the lines on the battlefield are certainly crossed.
In today’s economy, it is all about functionality and agility — there is no space for friction!
Last modified: August 2, 2021