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Overcoming the Marketing-Sales Turf War: Six Strategies to Integration

CMO Survey Results

Marketing needs sales and sales needs marketing. Unfortunately, “need” does not equate to a “successful partnership” between the two groups. Conflict and distrust are more common. Such a dynamic can hurt the bottom line, especially in companies that use sales groups to interface with their customers. The CMO Survey® asked top marketers to describe how their companies structure the marketing-sales relationship. 7% stated that sales is within marketing (marketing has the power), 10.3% noted that marketing is within sales (sales has the power) and 72% indicated that marketing and sales work together on an equal basis. These data from the February 2013 issue of The CMO Survey have not changed much over the last five years. Bottom line: As equal partners, marketing and sales must find a way to work together.

It is easy to blame stereotypes of these two powerhouse functions as the reason for the well-documented sales-marketing turf war. Marketing is analytical and sales is interpersonal. Sales has a short-term focus and marketing has a long-term focus. Marketing is more strategic and sales is more tactical. Marketing is pull and sales is push. However, these stereotypes obscure the truth. In reality, the roles that sales and marketing play and their subsequent relationship depend on how the company chooses to manage and structure these two functions.

Here are six strategies that successful companies use to make the marketing-sales marriage work:

1. Design marketing and sales responsibilities around the customer buying process:
Marketing and sales should be organized around the steps that the customer goes through to become exposed to, build knowledge about, form purchase intentions for, and ultimately purchase the company’s products and/or services. These steps will vary for each company depending on the nature of the product/service, competition, and the industry. Outline these steps and then assign marketing and sales responsibilities at each stage. This way both functions work together to meet the customer needs during each stage and support the customer’s progress to the next.

2. Create a unified focus on the most valuable customers:
One reason marketing and sales do not lock arms in companies is because the company has not focused their joint attention on the most valuable customers. Sales people need to meet their quotas and if those quotas don’t include the company’s most valuable customer, sales will not be prospecting or acquiring the right customers. Marketing can help identify these customers, develop materials to do so, and service sales as it closes these deals. This priority can help facilitate cooperation and create a unifying objective for the two.

3. Organize around the customer, not the function:
Most executives likely agree that there is too much focus on turf and not enough on the customer. There are a number of ways that companies can organize around the customer. One is to create customer groups and not product groups. This puts marketing and sales together into groups to serve segments of customers. Marketing and sales can be split into upstream and downstream customer teams with attention to different aspects of the lead management process. The idea puts the function the employee represents into the background while bringing the activities and purpose of that function into the foreground. This aligns all efforts to better serve the customer and limits finger pointing, power games, and turf wars.

4. Integrate customer information:
When marketers and sales people know different things about the customer, strategy is weakened. Both functions have different customer experiences, so it is inevitable that they develop unique and varying insights. Ideally, these unique sources of insight would be shared across the two groups. However, because this rarely happens organically, effective companies actively manage the sharing of customer data. Salespeople, in particular, have an enormous amount of unfiltered customer exposure. Finding ways to systematically gather this information in a low-cost manner can offer important insights. Sharing databases and co-locating sales and marketing people are two other ways to facilitate this type of interaction.

5. Require job rotations:
Many of my students who enter marketing leadership programs spend 6 to 12 months in a sales role. I think this is a wise investment. If marketing is going to help sales, it is good to understand the salesperson’s experience, first hand. Although less common in most companies, asking salespeople to spend time in marketing could also facilitate cross-fertilization and integration.

6. Establish individual and shared incentives:
Binding marketing and sales together with shared incentives can help pull the organization in one direction. For example, rewarding both functions for converting leads aligns marketing’s efforts with sales’ goals and ensures that sales acts on marketing’s lead-creation activities. However, be careful to not tie all of marketing’s incentives to sales’ performance or vice versa, otherwise a loss of control can create its own stress.

Moving beyond entrenched stereotypes of marketing and sales can be difficult. However, among the companies that rely on a sales force to reach their customers, the strongest actively manage and structure their marketing and sales organizations with one or more of the above strategies. Doing so improves the company’s bottom line and promotes a healthier work culture for both strategic functions of the company.