The Keys to a Better Marriage: How to Create Effective Sales and Marketing Collaboration

By David Fisher

“He doesn’t understand how hard I work on this!”

“Her expectations are impossible to meet!”

Have you noticed that the complaints that sales and marketing teams have about each other sound just like two partners in a dysfunctional marriage (or at least a pretty strained one)?

Disputes between sales and marketing

When Sales and Marketing Argue, the Customer Loses

This contentious relationship between sales and marketing is not a new thing. It’s common for sales teams to complain that marketing doesn’t provide good leads, or that they aren’t held accountable for results.  The marketing crew snipes right back that sales people don’t understand the challenge of getting noticed in an extremely noisy world, and that they don’t take advantage of the strategic foundation that good marketing creates.

They are both in the right, and they are both in the wrong.  But they can’t keep up the arguing.  The world is changing under their feet, and it’s imperative that sales and marketing learn to get past their differences.

This change is being driven by the explosion of digital communication and online, on-demand access to content.  It’s allowing prospects and customers more access to information than ever before.  This is flipping the traditional selling relationship.  Now the buyer is controlling the sales process, not the sellers and vendors of the world.

Sales and Marketing Need to Collaborate, Not Bicker

A study by CEB Challenger found that 57% of an organization’s buying process is completed before ever engaging with a salesperson.  That is a lot of decision-making that they are doing on their own.

To be successful, companies have to influence those buyers during their pre-research: that’s the marketing team’s job.  And once the prospect does engage, someone has to guide them through the last stages of the buying process (all within the context of that initial information). That’s the sales team’s job.

So the hard line between the areas of responsibility for sales and marketing is blurring quickly.  It’s more and more difficult to say where marketing ends and sales begins.  And because of that, we need to break down the silos that separate the two and find ways to work together, in service to our customers’ buying journeys.

Customers expect and need a seamless experience.  They have a lot of information coming at them during their buying journey, but not all of it is created equal.  The organization that can provide actionable insights they need will win their trust.  At each touchpoint, sales and marketing has to get work in tandem to deliver the right information that prospects need.

Start Talking with Each Other, Not At Each Other

In marriage counseling, there’s an exercise called “hugging ’til relaxed” that was developed by an expert in the field, David Schnarch.  Designed for couples who have drifted apart, the whole point is to just hug your partner for a while and to get used to having that partner there.

Sales and Marketing, Collaborating

Though we’re talking about business, partner is the right word.  Both sides have to see each other as one half of the customer interaction. When I asked leaders from sales and marketing about how to bridge this divide, the theme that came through in the responses from both sides was that they had to work together to find and create more opportunities.  They had to make the relationship work because they couldn’t go it alone anymore.

Now I’m not suggesting that you go into your next meeting with your sales and marketing counterparts and start hugging.  That might be a little creepy and inspire a call to the HR department.  But there is an opportunity to get more closely aligned, and it’s going to happen through exposure and contact, not through magic.

Make the Sales/Marketing Partnership Work

When sales and marketing leaders were “put on the therapist’s couch”, there were some important ideas that came out.

Share Consistent Conversation

A common recommendation for married couples is “date night”.  When life gets busy with kids, careers, and the minutiae of life, they should still have a regular time where they can reconnect and talk to each other.  In the same way, it’s important that sales and marketing set aside time when they can talk with each other.

To ensure effective collaboration you must establish trust. Like any relationship trust comes from consistency in words and action. Build an authentic relationship by making the time to cultivate that relationship. Get to know the individuals, set a schedule around regular meetings, ask questions, just like you would in any relationship you are building.” –Stacie Brown, Managing Director, Carver Peterson Consulting

Ask About Each Other’s Day

When you do meet with each other, it’s important to learn what each other is experiencing when dealing with prospects and clients.  It’s like a married couple talking about the kids; this is time to strategize and get feedback from each other.

The greatest value sales teams have to offer marketing: meaningful stories from customers or clients. Those stories are priceless for making the customer experience consistently remarkable. After all, how can marketing possibly validate the customer experience without genuine stories about real buying experiences?” –Jeff Korhan, Digital Marketing Consultant, True Nature Inc

Sales and marketing should be the yin to each other’s yang. It’s mutually beneficial for the two of them to communicate – a “help me help you” mentality. Sales can share the questions people want answers to, what they care about, what they don’t care about, etc. Marketing can use that information to fuel insights and generate content that both answers the questions your target audience is looking for and support the sales team in a competitive way.” –Kiley Peters, Owner & CEO, Brainchild Studios

Do the Dishes Together (Spend Quality Time with Each Other)

Outside of regular update meetings, it’s also important to spend time with each other while engaged in the actual work.  It’s one thing to explain the activities you are doing.  It’s another thing when your counterpart can join you in an initial prospect demo or while parsing out the latest results of a social media marketing campaign.

The one thing marketing can do to partner with the sales professional…get shoulder to shoulder in the field and experience the end user experience. And bonus action: get the sales professional’s feedback on the front and back end of the marketing.” –Tony Jalan, Division Sales Manager, Heartland

Understand where prospects and leads are coming from and where they are in the customer journey. It’s important for sales to understand this because it enables a tight feedback loop back to marketing to optimize audience targeting and improve the handoff from marketing to sales.”    -Mike Ryan, Head of Marketing, Hologram

Give the Other Side What They Need

It’s easy for us to speak from our perspective, because it’s our perspective.  But one of the most powerful human skills is empathy, the ability to see things from another’s point of view.  So instead of giving the other side what you think they should want, listen to them and give them what they need.

It’s important that sales and marketing pros not to be intimidated by the other’s skill set. They need to have an open mind as to what the other can bring to the table and remember the tremendous value each one brings. You can make a customer’s experience 10x better when you don’t let egos, ownership of ideas, and sales numbers get in the way.” –Danny Schuman, President, Twist

It helps when marketing can move away from canned pitches and instead showcase opportunities for customers. I’ve sat through too many marketing presentations where they showed us new commercials, ads, or radio spots. When marketing can connect their stories and messages with stories on HOW the products are used, it gives salespeople tools they can really use.” -Joe Girard, Coach and Speaker, Change Grow Achieve

Develop a Common Language

Have you ever had an argument with your romantic partner and realized halfway through that you are arguing about different things?  It can be really hard (or impossible) to make headway when a room full of marketers and salespeople are talking past instead of to each other.  Put the time in up front to make sure you are on the same page.

It’s important to always debate and then agree to a common language. For example, what is a lead? This is not about one “side” deciding, there has to be a back-and-forth and then a shared agreement. And you have to be careful to not drift back to old behaviors – it’s a habit that has to be cultivated.” -Tim Hughes, Co-Founder, Digital Leadership Associates

In a lot of companies, incentive structures between sales and marketing don’t necessarily align. Unless there is some explicit conversation about success metrics, up front, even the folks with the best intentions can be at working cross-purposes. Make sure everyone involved in forwarding that journey, sales or marketing, understands every touch point that may occur and how sales and/or marketing is affecting the success of those touch points.” -Justin Daab, President, Magnani Continuum Marketing

Create a Common Vision

In the end the goal is to move forward, but can everyone agree on what moving forward looks like?  Do you know what you are looking to create together?  It’s easy to assume that everyone is moving to the same goal.  But if you aren’t on the same page, there is a lot of wasted effort.  You can work towards cross-purposes.

Even with agreement on marketing topics, messaging and targeting, you’re going to fall short if marketing and sales disagree on your baseline for lead quality. What’s your ideal lead profile, and what trigger point(s) makes a marketing-driven lead ready for sales engagement? Get on the same page regarding your lead scoring and handoff process, have feedback loops in place to gauge effectiveness, and adjust until you get it right.” -Laurel Miltner, Digital Content Strategist, JLL

The first step, and often the most challenging, is to decide on the direction you are going. And more importantly, the direction you want to take your prospects and clients. It’s critical for leadership to create a shared vision and communicate that to both sales and marketing. Only when the strategy is in place can you drill down to the most effective tactics.” -David Fisher, Author, Hyper-Connected Selling

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