Does the way you reward your sales team undermine your marketing effectiveness?

24th Feb 2016

In businesses where there are distinct and separate sales and marketing functions, there’s often a tension. This is particularly true where buying decisions are taken over extended time periods.

Common mumblings will include the marketing team saying that sales don’t follow-up on the leads they generate, and sales people will moan that marketing ‘leads’ don’t deserve the name and are a waste of their time. So, what’s going on here?

In my experience, they are both right, and behaving exactly as you’d expect within the context their respective job roles. There are two key red flags that tell me I’ll find this sort of tension: 1) time horizons, and 2) definitions.

Typically, the marketing folk are on a salary, with a relatively small end of year bonus, whilst the sales people make up a much larger proportion of their income in sales commission – tracked monthly. It’s these different time horizons that I believe are to blame for much of the discomfort between the two disciplines.

This is exacerbated further in businesses where marketing is defined narrowly – as being responsible for the front end of the sales process (or, running the taps into the metaphorical sales funnel).

Mismatched time horizons

It’s not hard to see that if one team is bonused annually, and the other monthly, their focus is going to be set at a different distance. This is like trying to dance a waltz, where each partner is listening to different tempo music. It’s no wonder they keep treading on each other’s toes.

Considered purchases happen over a series of steps over a period of time. So, if you’ve undertaken an activity that supports step 1 in a 6-step process, you will only know whether it’s really worked when enough time has elapsed for someone to have gone through all six. So, if you run an awareness campaign of some kind, you can’t immediately expect to see a difference on your sales figures.

Typically, marketers are on a salary, whilst the sales people make up a much larger proportion of their income in sales commission – tracked monthly.

You need to work out for your business, or for different offerings within your business, what timeframe is reasonable to measure within. For a fast moving ecommerce business, you may well send an email offer in the morning and be dispatching product that afternoon. For something like a complex consultancy business – a speaker gig to raise awareness – may not turn into paying business for up to six months later (or more!).

You need to make sure that your measurement of marketing into sales is tied to your buyers’ timeframes, not your internal business review points. Measuring these things monthly or quarterly, for example, might completely skew your perception of how successful the activity was.

Let’s imagine that the speaker slot was part of a sponsorship package that cost £10k, from which your salespeople started a number of loose conversations. From this, a real sales opportunity emerges a few months down the line, a proposal a few months after that, and a signed £100k deal a few months on still. Measuring the ROI on that £10k at the end of the quarter in which the event took place will give you a false sense of poor performance. Getting your review points wrong can actually lead to stopping highly effective activities, and tension between sales and marketing teams, because if you measure too soon, you only get half the story.

What’s more, it can spark a degradation in the potential effectiveness of the activity. Where a salesperson is targeted monthly, you can see that setting aside some time for a bit of gentle follow-up on some leads, albeit tepid ones, from an event like the one above won’t seem as important as chasing the person who looks like they’re about to part with their cash. This means the tepid lead (that marketing has just paid good money to generate), swiftly turns to cold as they get on with their lives and forget about the event. When there are no immediate incentives for your sales people for nurturing the people upstream of a sale, you lose out in the long-term, waste money and end up having to ‘sell’ harder at each month end.

Narrow definition of marketing

The reason this mis-matched rhythm has developed is often due to a narrow definition of marketing, and indeed sales (and service). When different departments are seen as wholly responsible for discrete parts of a buying decision, cracks appear, money is wasted, and tensions arise.

In last month’s column, I interrogated cause and effect across a buying decision. The key to harmonious relationships between the different disciplines, (and indeed with your customers!) is in seeing this buying decision as one complete journey for which there is joint responsibility. There is an important role for each to play to support each step, and to move people from one to the next.

It may be that different skills come to the fore at different stages, but it’s only when they come together that the whole journey is properly supported. 

Sales marketing effectiveness


Taking the speaking event example from earlier, here’s a worked example of the different activities that could be undertaken by each team to support the process from end-to-end:

Who does what


Delivering long-term sales results

So, how do you get them glide beautifully across the dance floor? The key here is to be crystal clear about the roles and responsibilities that everyone has at each stage.

Once you’ve done this, there needs to be agreement on the hand-offs between each activity, and a way of measuring (and rewarding) everyone involved for the part that they play.

In practical terms this means:

  1. Tracking relevant metrics for every step of the sale as part of everybody’s performance management.
  2. Map back from your sales goals to the activities and behaviours you’ll need from everyone to reach them (see the chart on cause & effect in last month’s column.)
  3. Harmonise the rhythm at which you review the performance of all teams against, bringing them more closely in line.

So, if you’re the person responsible for managing sales performance, I strongly recommend that you get whomever is responsible for marketing and service performance into a room to agree on the choreography.

© Bryony Thomas.

Bryony Thomas is a professional speaker on marketing, the multi-award winning author of ‘Watertight Marketing’, and the founder of the UK’s only directory of quality-assured independent marketing consultants,

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