What is the key to Sales and Marketing alignment?

While writing this post I’m trying to process another fine example of how difficult it is (or seems to be) for many companies to get their sales and marketing teams properly aligned. I always used to joke in a cynical way “the beauty about marketing is that everyone has an opinion”. And then I also write about sales not being an art, as a hardcore marketer by origin.

Will sales and marketing ever align? Just for the record; I don’t hate sales and I’m not anti-sales… quite the opposite actually…

To align or not to align – that is the question

And maybe that is the first question we need to ask ourselves as Lean Business Leaders. And maybe the answer is ‘no’.

Will these two breeds of commercial people ever be friends, or will they always be like water and fire? The way I think about it, and as I have seen in various companies there are two options

  1. Accept but ignore
  2. Accept, respect and collaborate

Accept but ignore

Let sales worry about the quarter, we will secure the rest of the year.

A joke I once made as marketing leader when sales asked for a promo while the team and I were working on the biggest launch of the decade.

In some companies this works, sales and marketing basically ignoring each other, not aligning but also not bothering each other. It tends to work on the short term, but in the long term this will start to hurt.

As the needs of sales for support increase, they will gradually build their own marketing team. They will ‘go rogue’ in the eyes of the brand-purists and create stuff counter to the positioning. They will engage in stupid things like webinars and creating flyers. Marketing will withdraw in their cave of branding and value messaging, losing touch with all of reality, dream about apple-like status, Netflix-like disruption or Coke-like brand engagement…. all the while forgetting about actual customers and their jobs-to-be-done

Accept, respect and collaborate

The holy grail, an illusion right? I’ve seen many cases where this was indeed nothing but a dream, but I’ve also seen companies on the right path. But how, what does it take? How to bring these archenemies together? Some of my thoughts.

Accept the job descriptions

First, we have to accept who we are and what we’re here to do. Sales people should do a sales job, marketing folks should worry about marketing. That’s the first thing. Where this gets complicated of course, are the areas where marketing and sales overlap or the teams are dependent on each other. The trick is to simply accept that fact, don’t fight it or don’t try to chase sole ownership. Accept that when it comes to finding new customers, both sales and marketing have a role to play and that yes, they sometimes overlap. That’s how it is. Suck it up!

The way to build this mutual acceptance between the teams is to realise that in many cases, you both work on the same process. Finding a new customer, building a brand, launching a new product. These are processes in which both teams play a crucial role, sometimes simultaneously, other times consecutively. Sometimes there’s a clear hand off (passing of the batton) sometimes you work alongside each other. But realise your in it together, going after the same goal, serving the same customers… that helps accepting the other person’s role. A Lean Business Leader knows this and will make sure both are in the kaizen event looking for further acceleration or streamlining.

Respect all individuals

Once we’ve accepted each other, we should also intrinsically respect each other. If anything, the Lean Business philosophy is about respect for humans. Its quest for muda is about not bothering people (customers or employees) with stuff that isn’t relevant, doesn’t drive value. Respect is very foundational for any Lean Business. And it should be for Lean Business Leaders.

Respect is something all humans crave and all are able to give. But it doesn’t always happen automagically. That’s why culture and leadership are two important factors here. How a sales leader and a marketing leader work together, talk to each other and also how they talk about each other sends a very important signal to an organization.

I do not care a lot about org charts, but I know many people do. A marketing leader not sitting in the leadership teamer or, even worse, reporting to a sales leader sends a wrong signal. Many people see president-proximity as an indicator of corporate importance and how much respect should be given. Putting both teams at the same level and giving both a seat at the table matters.

Leadership doesn’t own culture but I believe leadership drives a culture. So the leadership behavior is important here. A CEO should be able to understand how sales and marketing work, how they should interact and the value they both add. How they differ but also how they can strengthen each other. With rapidly changing market dynamics and customer behavior becoming less predictable than the weather, CEOs should and must ensure these two teams get the place the deserve and need in the organization, but are also supported by the culture.

Collaborate as one team

So by now, we realise there are two teams, each with a role to play, each with a reason of existence. Now, forget all about that and do what needs to be done. Understand and accept that sales and marketing are two sides of the same coin. A good CEO will make sure we all have a seat at the table, we all respect each other and we all go after the same KPIs. All of us.

Good luck!

Sales and Marketing stuck in a blaming game?