Building a united sales and marketing team

Sales and marketing departments have historically battled against each other for budgets and recognition. Mark Robson, senior partner at Insight Group, explains how they might be encouraged to work better together.

The typical organisation not only experiences daily challenges and conflict from the outside world, but within its four walls as well. Traditionally, two departments in particular have struggled to get on, though both are equally vital to a company’s success.

I’m not suggesting that sales and marketing are always arch-enemies (though it does happen), but the two functions often share a mutual wariness. It might be because they have similar roles: building company presence and market penetration. Or perhaps it’s because their qualities and skills tend to be so similar: both groups are competitive, both thrive on success and both love recognition.

More importantly, both marketing and sales need, and therefore compete for, ‘the budget’. Sales wants to spend the budget on ‘x’ and marketing wants to spend the budget on ‘y’. Though the disagreement may give rise to bitter arguments, in most cases the difference between x and y hardly matters to the company at large.

When sales and marketing departments vie for similar resources (financial, personnel and support), each tends to perceive themselves as the driving force behind the company’s evolution and therefore better entitled to a share of these resources. Each group promotes itself (knowingly or unwittingly) as the dominant team and declares (or infers) that the other group must come second.

If the two sides could be made to step back and look at the tensions between them objectively, they’d agree they are ridiculous. Far from being natural rivals, each group relies on the other to succeed: without sales and marketing the growth and often the mere survival of an organisation is in jeopardy.

So how to gain that simplest of things: joint focus and activity for the company?

First, the two departments’ perceptions of each other must be addressed. If you are in sales you may well have heard the phrase ‘All marketing does is tart up data sheets’ while the marketing equivalent is ‘Sales, hard work? They just sit there and take orders over the phone’.

Neither perception is true (if only life was that easy) but such myths are easily propagated and make it nigh on impossible to build an effective team. An educational process must show how the two form a single, cyclical force within the company, and why the success of each group provides tools for the other to succeed.

Cynics may ask how the two sides are expected to work in tandem. Take one example: the marketing department’s communication skills and promotional abilities enable the organisation to meet with key influencers such as leading analyst groups or industry publications. Such high-level market building leads to industry-respected product endorsements, which provide the sales force with a competitive edge, or even high-profile coverage which leads to inbound sales enquiries.

In return, once the sales force has secured a new contract and maintained customer satisfaction, the marketing department can establish customer contact and produce case study and press release materials to further assist the closure of sales opportunities and increase brand visibility by placing these with the media.

This simple example shows how each group’s separate job functions impact on the other’s ability to deliver. Such a relationship is essential for the success of any business, and once sales and marketing teams realise this, both of them will benefit, along with the entire organisation.

It’s not a simple task, but the effort and time taken in changing the culture to cultivate a team spirit will pay dividends. The simple truth is that the two groups renowned for their ability to talk need to talk to each other so that, combined, they can talk to customers and prospects as one body. Then, and only then, can the company reap the real benefits of the sales and marketing skills it has at its disposal.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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