First, I would like to say that I did not really plan to write this post – it is more the result of my frustration over a topic which is well known to everyone working in sales or marketing: the constant struggle and blame game between both teams. Yes, let’s call it what it is: sales and marketing people hardly ever appreciate each other – but why, and how can we fix it? Here’s how I would do it.
Sales and marketing hardly ever get along
Have you ever spoken to a sales person about the marketing team in their company, or vice versa? I am willing to bet pretty much anything that 9 out of 10 times this will result in an avalanche of complaints, allegations and other varieties of displeasure.
“If only marketing could get our message across properly, we would not have such trouble closing deals!”
“If only sales did not try to squeeze the last cent out of every client, our marketing strategies would actually result in conversions!”
To me, this is really fascinating since I also worked in companies where this blame game took place, and from a management science perspective it was interesting to watch it unfold.
From an operational point of view of someone who was involved against his own will, it was hell. In high-def. Having dynamics like this in a company does not only endanger its performance, but also deteriorates the culture in no time. So I decided to take a closer look at why these two factions behave the way they very often do, and how it could be changed.
The unfortunate role of management
The first, arguably quite obvious observation I made was that this whole situation is completely absurd. Think about it: sales and marketing are both:
- directly responsible for generating revenue
- dealing with clients (at different parts of the purchase funnel, but still)
- conveying the value proposition of the company
Looking at this, you would think that these two teams should act like one army, each group supporting the other, with a common goal and intimate knowledge and understanding of the other team’s function and processes. So this whole conflict does not make any sense now, does it?
It does, unfortunately, when you factor in the role of management. What does management do? That’s right, they seek to maximise the performance of the company by driving revenue up and costs down, and in order to do that they set targets. Marketing have their targets (e.g. generate x new leads per month, to make it very simple), and so do Sales (sign y new clients per month, again greatly simplified).
Now I will show you why this might work nicely on paper, but almost always gets messed up in practice.
Opposing targets – a firm divided
Let’s imagine our marketer now who knows about his monthly target: generate new leads. What kind of target is that? Correct, a very stupid one! It is very stupid because it incentivises the marketer to simply drive up the number of his leads, irrespective of quality, just to hit his target! (Note: I am aware that real targets often contain mechanisms to prevent such obvious flaws, but believe me they are not perfect either). A goal set in isolation, designated to work in a complex environment like a company, is a recipe for disaster.
So let’s switch to the sales manager who receives those leads from marketing, and who needs them to achieve his monthly goal of signing new clients. Will he be happy about the work marketing did here? Probably not. And will he blame marketing if he is unable to achieve his monthly target? You bet he will – even though his own performance might be mostly responsible, but hey, who’s counting?
What is happening? Both sales and marketing are doing exactly what management instructed them to do, and they are pursuing their individual targets. They key word here: individual. As you can see from our little example, the problem is not that either marketing or sales are underperforming; they are both trying to perform well – but according to targets which are set in isolation from each other!
So the answer is that neither sales or marketing are ultimately at fault, but instead the conflict of interest between both groups is caused by the KPIs put in place by management. Is this the case in every company? Probably not – but I have seen it happening too many times to believe that it only applies to a few.
As a manager I do appreciate the difficulty in setting the right KPIs for an entire organisation, which is quite a complicated system on its own. And when you then factor in the human component, it becomes highly complex. Sadly, there is no quick fix: you do have to take all of this into consideration when setting targets, otherwise you will achieve terrible results.
So let’s look at a potential solution to our problem here.
Removing the barriers: an experiment
Thinking about how to better align sales and marketing to avoid these unintended conflicts of interest, I came up with an idea: Why not combine sales and marketing in multiple, mixed teams?
The idea is to create small, agile teams of marketing and sales people and give each team the target to sign a certain number of new clients. That way you would assure that marketing provides not only a high quantity, but also the right quality of leads which can then be converted by sales. And sales would be incentivised to work more closely with marketing and communicate their message in a better way. Both groups’ interests would therefore be aligned.
An additional benefit of removing the barriers between sales and marketing should also be a greater exchange of information. From my own experience this only happens in a limited way if both teams act in isolation (again, lack of common goals), and it is crucial for a company that all information about clients is shared across the organisation.
I do not know whether this has been tried before, but to me it would be a worthwhile experiment to see how sales and marketing interact in small units with aligned goals – could this end the struggle between both teams?
What are your experiences with sales vs. marketing? Have you experienced similar situations? And do you think this solution could work? Leave a comment!