by Paul Sparrow, Area Managing Partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders
Since the era of cavemen, the roles of sales and marketing professionals have been well defined. The earliest marketers would create awareness for that remarkable invention, the wheel; and the salespeople would roll it down the streets, sharing the features and benefits to interested customers, then collect five dodo-birds in compensation.
In the million years since, these departments still have a similarly symbiotic existence — but a lot seems to have changed in the digital era. Today, the gap between sales and marketing represents a gray area at most companies — from the smallest distributors, to the largest multinational enterprises.
Out of necessity, or simply because so many marketers these days are subject to revenue accountability, sales and marketing team members often scrape for leads and cross into each other’s turf. This misalignment can be quite costly: A recent study reports that about 10 percent of a company’s annual revenue is squandered when these teams work at cross purposes.
It’s easy to understand why this happens. In this new era of austerity, both sales and marketing departments are asked to do more – a trend that has pushed these pros into one another’s swim lanes. In some companies it’s common for an outside sales associate to generate leads and pursue them to the finish line; conversely, marketers, with a digital kingdom at their disposal, can generate prospects and use a variety of technologies to move them down the funnel.
But are these qualified leads? Are they motivated prospects? It’s time to stop sowing the seeds of dysfunction and get back to the basics. “It’s simply not a smart use of a company’s money for these professionals to cross over,” said Shannon Muniz, a fractional Chief Sales Officer with Sales Xceleration in Orlando, FL.
This chasm has been observed in companies both small and large. That said, a company’s size and resources can have a decided effect on how blurry the lines may be between these functions. So, let’s look at how small, mid-sized, and larger companies tend to allow this dysfunction, and what steps can be taken to foster cooperation and an increase in revenue!
Small (less than $10 million).
The Dysfunction: Most small companies are helmed by an entrepreneur or founder. Since, in many cases, they created the product, they tend to know it backwards and forwards. Though they will hire sales representatives to supplement go-to-market efforts, they often don’t employ marketing help – or focus on branding and the customer journey. “They’re more dedicated to selling and not really to thinking about generating leads, or even interest or demand,” said Muniz. “They want sales closing deals, and that’s about it.”
The Cure: To grow the business, the small company CEO needs to face the situation and break out marketing as a distinct function. A small-company marketing staff (often just one or two individuals — in-house or outsourced) can supplement efforts with any number of contemporary strategies and tools, which they can deploy to crank up qualified leads, open the funnel, and make the sales process more efficient. “Neither sales nor marketing should be dragging the other one down the road,” Muniz said. “They need to work together.”
Medium ($10-$50 million).
The Dysfunction: Though most medium-sized companies have distinct, and fully-staffed, sales and marketing departments, the sales team typically leads the charge, and receives the criticisms and accolades – and the marketers are left to catch the bouquet. In a kind of “make me some sales collateral and get out of the way” sort of relationship, marketing is the slave of sales – and it’s not healthy.
At this level, sales professionals sometimes can harbor an operationally-focused mindset – a reliance on experiential instinct versus science, which is an affront to a good marketers’ more data-driven approach.
“The marketer is stuck on the outside, looking at all of this information, at the marketplace’s dynamic shifts, and at distinct trends,” said Muniz. “When a salesperson eschews data and demands trade show booths and collateral instead, it takes the teeth out of the marketer’s mouth.”
The Cure: Simply, marketing needs a mandate to use their analytical skills to perfect the go-to-market strategy. They need an endorsement to live at the strategic level – to take a step back and lead an effort to move the revenue-generating engine from good to great. If a company lacks the marketing leadership to make strategic decisions, a fractional CMO can be hired to negotiate a middle ground between sales and marketing that creates unified harmony —and a healthy revenue engine.
With a fractional sales or marketing executive, a mid-market CEO can ‘rent’ skilled C-level talent for a modest investment and get a lot of runway out of that. The fractional talent can make sure the components of the revenue engine (that would be marketing AND sales) are healthy, aligned, and working in tandem.
Large ($50-$200 million).
The Dysfunction: The key benefit to sales and marketing functions at large or even enterprise companies (greater than $200 million in annual revenue) may also be their downfall. Because both departments are fully staffed, distinct, and have specific responsibilities, they tend to operate in silos with limited coordination of efforts. Dysfunction is apparent through veiled or even blatant finger pointing: “If they’d do their jobs, we’d have more revenue!” Not good.
Marketing departments at the larger-company level tend to be brand-driven – they generate a lot of content and maintain the front entrance of the building. Style points based on branding, marketing personas, and content generation tactics tend to mute effectiveness at this level. “The larger the company gets, and the larger the marketing team gets, the less focused they are on generating leads,” Muniz said. As a result, most of the activity stays at the top of the funnel, and less qualified leads flow to the sales organization.
The Cure: Marketers need to be motivated to manage the dichotomy of their existence – sure, they should manage the brand, but resources need to be appropriately allocated to impacting the buyer’s journey and the cultivation of quality leads. “This can be a challenging thing for a larger company to manage,” Muniz said. “To ensure that marketers are supporting the company’s need to hit its number while also building the brand, they need a strong marketing leader to make sure that’s managed really well.”
If the dollars a CEO invests in marketing are not yielding quality outcomes that help sales generate expanded customer deals and produce new clients, the investments are not sound. So, let’s be clear — marketing is just as responsible for revenue growth as sales.
Regardless of company size, as the CEO what are you doing to encourage sales and marketing alignment in your business? The growth of your organization, no matter today’s size, depends heavily on the two functions coalescing into a healthy revenue-generating and growth-producing machine. It’s up to you to make sure that happens.
Paul Sparrow is an Area Managing Partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders, the nation’s leading fractional CMO firm focused on mid-size company growth. He builds sustainable revenue acceleration engines and drives their execution on behalf of his clients which include CEOs, business owners, and private equity firms.