Them and us: Why don't sales and marketing get along?

11th Aug 2016

In the last decade, the internet, Big Data and social media marketing have rapidly changed the speed of business. Among the most drastically affected by this change are marketers. Not only do they have dozens of channels from which to source leads, they are also expected to produce content that responds to trends in hours or days, rather than weeks. 

You can see an example of this in the recent Pokemon Go trend that swept the world. Within days of the game’s launch, countless brands like KFC, Chobani yogurt, and even Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had jumped on the bandwagon and produced Pokemon related social media content, hoping to capitalise on the fad’s viral value. As a testament to the short life-span of such opportunities, just a week after the game’s release, these gags seemed stale and outdated.

Given the rapid pace of today’s digital markets, it’s no surprise that marketers need to work ever more closely with other departments to identify and seize opportunities within the short windows of opportunity offered. On a daily basis, they need to work with sales teams to exchange feedback on strategies; finance teams to agree upon budgets for campaigns; and art departments to create visual content. It’s a complex role that requires strong relationship building skills to get the job done – and quickly.

The battle with sales

When we recently surveyed 800 marketers to learn about the challenges they face, the number one issue - identified by more than one-fifth of respondents - was a ‘them and us’ attitude that makes it difficult to work with other teams. Given the necessity for marketing to interact with people across various functions, this attitude can be poisonous for culture and, ultimately, to a company’s growth.

‘Them and us’ is indicative of an atmosphere of mistrust and cripples collaboration. This is confirmed by the second biggest gripe marketers expressed in our survey, namely that other departments are slow to deliver the items the marketing team desperately need to do their job. 

Avoiding this rift between marketing and other departments – or worse, having to dismantle it once it’s formed - is a big challenge, but one that can be overcome.

The research shows that the biggest chasm is between marketing and sales, which nearly a fifth of respondents highlighted. Since both are customer-facing functions whose goals should unite rather than divide them, I’d like to share some strategies specifically to help those sparring partners become more aligned by creating a culture of collaboration.

Teams that play together stay together

Most companies already invest in team building activities for specific groups in their company. Sales, for example, may hold monthly events upon hitting their goals, or in some companies, larger annual events like kick-offs or President Club trips. Marketers, conversely will do similar team events and celebrations when warranted.

But what about events together? Giving sales and marketing teams the opportunity to know each other outside of the office, have some fun, and build their relationship as a single unit is a great starting point for improving their communications and turning a new leaf on their collaboration at work. Make sure your company’s schedule of team building events include ones for both sales and marketers to socialise and solve challenges together in a fun setting.

Create visibility for marketing results

In a way, salespeople are among the most scrutinised in a company. The sales results are generally visible within a company - either formally in monthly reports or investor updates, or subtly in spending, hiring, and overall mood of the leadership. This means salespeople get to ride the highs of the good times, but also feel enormous pressure in the bad times.

Marketing results, on the other hand, are a little harder to find. When marketing teams offer visibility into the work they are doing and into the results of that work, other teams in the organisation get a better appreciation for the complexity of the challenges of modern marketing. I believe that it is this lack of visibility which leads to salespeople feel unsupported by marketing, for example when it comes to aspects such as helping with lead generation.

Marketers should consider creating a regular forum to share their updates. Whether it is a digital tool like a dashboard that shows the campaigns (and experiments) they are running and the results of those campaigns in clicks, leads, page views, foot traffic (or whatever metric used for your business), or host a regular live update to review and take questions from sales. This shared visibility will go a long way in illustrating the hard work being done in marketing, and creating constructive conversation points between the teams.

Create channels for feedback and innovation

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Likewise, hostility between teams often develops when they lack channels to give each other feedback and suggest new ideas. If marketing feels that sales is executing poorly on their leads, and sales feels that marketing is providing weak leads, a ‘them and us’ attitude may form that harms the ability of both groups to work effectively and achieve their targets.

Errette Dunn is the founder of Rever, an innovation management platform for businesses. As a potential solution, he suggests designing challenges related to current business challenges affecting sales and marketing, and giving both teams a dedicated time to sit down and hash out solutions. This can help not only help mend relations by pulling together to attain a joint goal, it can also help each team overcome ‘group think’.

“Groups have a tendency to solve their own problems, without looking at the big picture outside of their silo,” says Dunn. “When you put them in the same room and give them a chance to discuss a bigger challenge together, you find that they generate new and original ideas that make an impact beyond the scope of their own role.”

Dunn recommends picking a business challenge each week that can benefit from both marketing and sales experience, and running a joint brainstorming session, for example increasing lead conversion rates or writing compelling prospecting emails.

Growth through unity

In most cases, a ‘them and us’ mentality is a symptom of a problem, and not the problem itself. That problem is the barriers we put in place that stop teams from communicating, getting to know each other on a personal level, and contributing thoughtfully to aiding each other’s work.

By solving these problems institutionally, we can eliminate the ‘them and us’ mentality, and create unified organisations that drive towards solutions with a great culture and minimal friction.

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Peter Strohkorb
By pstrohkorb
23rd Aug 2016 03:55

I agree Andrew,

Our research into 185 B2B organisations also shows that those with close marketing & sales alignment ARE TWICE AS LIKELY to experience financial success, than those that do not. Not just 10% or 15%, no 100% !

If you want to find out what are the 7 Top mistakes that organisations make when trying to align their marketing and sales teams then visit:

Enjoy !

Peter Strohkorb
CEO, Author, Speaker

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