Achieving Proper Alignment Between Sales and Marketing

I’d like to preface this article by being perfectly clear…sales people are absolutely vital and, without them, any business might as well turn off the lights and lock the doors.  To paraphrase wise words from a hard working sales manager I know, “ There are million$ of reasons to trust in how our wholesalers do their job.”  With that, let’s look at where sales and marketing can get in each other’s way.

Small companies have to be scrappy in the beginning, everyone playing multiple roles and doing whatever it takes to build a profitable client base.  Sales people often find themselves out on the road during those early days without marketing materials.  Their sales pitch evolves from a yellow pad to some content-bloated Powerpoint slides.  Somewhere along the way a glossy flyer is commissioned to leave behind with prospects.  Sales activity gains traction, appointments start booking weeks out and soon a marketing position is added to pick up requests from the sales team.

At this stage, the marketing coordinator is more reactive than proactive and may even report to the sales manager.  Let’s move five years into the future — or wherever you are today — with sales and marketing teams both growing in numbers and the sales associates still heavily involved in creating materials.  This may continue running smoothly… until sales activity hits a slump.

The close alignment of sales and marketing now starts to expose its weaknesses, often manifesting with the creative group suddenly in the crosshairs.  The reality is this:

  • Sales people start lobbing requests at marketing in response to their last bad appointment. Multiply this activity times the number of wholesalers in your company.
  • Marketing starts working on this “miracle brochure”, but every time they present a draft to the group, they’re getting additional feedback based on the bad appointments from this week.
  • The days and weeks roll by and marketing comes under heavy fire because the miracle brochure fails to progress.
  • Revenue is dropping and the sales people are finding it easier to tinker with marketing pieces than pick up the phone and face another difficult call with a prospect.

Your company may push through this lull. It may, however, require a change in the role of marketing to bounce back, but change is necessary.  Marketing needs to be a proactive part of the organization, and the incoming lines of communication have to be streamlined, structured and filtered.

Sales people are a critical source of feedback from the ever changing marketplace.  At the same time, company leadership is making strategic decisions on the direction of the company to develop new products or services.  While marketing is performing their own research, the sales manager, service manager, product manager and company president should be filtering what’s coming in from their own listening posts.

Together, this group determines where to focus the sales message and how to sell your company’s product or service.  Use this direction to build your marketing catalog and then work with the sales manager to train the sales people on using them.

Did I just over-simplify this whole transition and jump to the fairytale ending?  You caught me.  The reality is that this can be a painful process for most companies.  It often requires the addition of a Marketing Manager or CMO to help shift gears and break marketing off into a separate, proactive department.  I will also warn you that marketing is an addiction the sales manager will not give up easily.

I’ve never promised this transition would be easy.  What I do maintain is that it’s vital to the success of the creative group and the growth of the company.  This effort will pay dividends, so don’t give up.

Justin Phipps
President at Phippstastic Consulting