Why “unify” marketing and sales?

By and large, businesses operate in a self-contained bubble when it comes to creating strategy. The executive team creates a plan, often without meaningful cross-functional collaboration or significant marketplace inputs. To the people tasked with reaching those goals, the expected results are seemingly plucked out of thin air, often based on last year’s results with some estimated growth built-in.

Marketing might have been asked for a budget and they may have put a lot of thought into it, but then the CEO or CFO says that budget isn’t realistic, and just pencils in last year’s budget plus an additional 10% to account for “growth.” When there’s a new product due for launch, the CEO often consults with the VP of Sales about revenue projections. Those targets then get handed down to marketing and the salespeople for execution along with a note about how crucial their success is to the company.

This whole scenario may seem exaggerated, but maybe not. It’s astonishing how often business ‘strategy’ is done in this way: leaders throwing together a rehash of the prior year’s plan in a handful of hours. The role for marketing (and sales) is to do as they are asked, checking off a list of expected achievements as they go.

When things are done in this way, it’s more difficult for the teams to accomplish what they are expected to accomplish. That is the foundation of why the whole business benefits from a unified sales and marketing team. Let’s pull it apart from each perspective.

The marketing team is frustrated

Whether your marketing team is internal, external, or a hybrid, they are likely feeling some or all of the following: 

  • That the only way for marketing to work is if they “go rogue” and push their agenda between the gaps of executive priorities. Many marketers feel that no one else in the organization is interested in functional marketing (i.e. a healthy marketing team that works with confidence, understands the business like they need to, and has the latitude to take necessary action) and that no one else thinks their work is that important.
  • Marketers are discouraged when they try to share analytics or insights and executives’ eyes seem to glaze over while they miss the point of the conversation. 
  • Requests for market research to gain better insight on the preferences of potential customers are given the cold shoulder or rejected outright because they feel like a waste of time. The idea that “we should take our time now so we can do better work faster in the future,” is often squashed.
  • Executives are constantly passing down marketing ideas they’ve stumbled across – maybe from a webinar, or that they’ve seen the competition using, that one of their tech-savvy children mentioned, or that sounds ‘cool.’ Marketers who fail to explore these suggestions and follow up on this ‘helpful’ advice are often accused of being closed to new ideas, or worse, a barrier to progress. 

The leadership team is frustrated

While the marketing team is feeling undervalued and unappreciated, executives typically have their own justified grievances.

  • Executives tend to have both a fear and a strong feeling that large quantities of money and time (which equates to more money and opportunity costs) are being wasted in the service of marketing efforts whose impact is difficult or impossible to measure. CEOs and company leaders tend to focus the idea that every expenditure should bring a quantifiable return. Marketers can’t satisfy nor dispel this notion. 
  • Unlike other business functions like accounting, purchasing, or sales, there is typically not a widely agreed-upon process for doing marketing work and so there is a tendency by executives to want to “throw mud at the wall and see what sticks.” Marketing becomes an ongoing, unstructured experiment without a lot of understanding of what works and what does not. 
  • The mechanisms of marketing are largely hidden from outsiders, which creates a “black box” around marketing work. How does Search Engine Optimization (SEO) work? Leadership has no idea and, very often, marketing does not want to tell them out of concern that it could compromise their value (i.e., “I’m only worth something if I know something that you, my boss, does not.”) All the CEO knows is that they want to “be number one on Google,” and no one in marketing is making a cogent argument for why that is an unachievable or inappropriate goal, or what should be realistically expected in terms of business benefits if the goal were to be reached.

If a business executive is in a fog of misunderstanding about the purpose and value of marketing, it’s hardly their fault.

The sales team is frustrated

If your company was a football team, most sales managers would likely cast themselves in the role of quarterback: they may not make roster decisions and don’t draw up the plays, choose the uniforms, or buy the equipment, but there is an underlying belief (usually endorsed heartily by sales) that the game is ultimately won or lost on their shoulders. 

  • Many organizations do not have a clear hierarchy or reporting structure when it comes to sales and marketing. From the perspective of sales, marketing exists to serve them in the process of closing deals, sort of like a roadie to a rock star. But from the other vantage point, marketing sees themselves as strategic and sales as tactical, like an architect to a carpenter. When marketing does not appear eager to serve sales, salespeople feel like they have been hung out to dry, left to close deals in a system that is not engineered to make them successful. In the absence of a unified strategy, it’s easy to see why sales would be justifiably upset.
  • If you ask any salesperson what they want, the answer is usually “more leads.” It’s not hard to figure out why this is the case, many salespeople are subject to quotas and a compensation structure where a significant amount of their income comes from sales commissions. When marketing appears to be engaged in activities that do not directly correlate with lead generation, they tend to see it as a betrayal and a threat to their livelihood.
  • There’s a classic argument between sales and marketing where the sales manager pounds her fist and says, “We need marketing to get us more sales leads!” and the marketing director responds, spreadsheet in hand, “We get you plenty of leads, but your team can’t close them!” and the sales manager says, “But those weren’t good leads.” Both sides have a very valid concern, though per the issues we have already outlined, the salespeople tend to take this frustration more personally than their counterparts in marketing.

What this frustration costs us

Clearly, this state of affairs is not marketing’s fault, not the fault of leadership for not understanding what marketing is for, not the fault of the salespeople who just want to sell. The effects, though, are devastating:

  • Lack of trust between leadership and marketing and between marketing and sales. Relationships are fractured and sometimes irreparably broken.
  • No one is on the same page, no one knows where they fit into the process or how decisions should be made in order to drive the success everyone says they want.
  • As executives, department heads, and team members argue and fight amongst themselves, the company tends to focus more on internal drama than the needs of the marketplace they want to sell to. 
  • Magical thinking begins to emerge, “All we need is a better CRM,”… “That direct mail campaign would have made all the difference,”… “Our competitors all have big budgets, let’s just spend more.”

The bottom line is, everyone did what they did, and you got what you got— a whole bunch of people allowing the situation to deteriorate into confusion while blaming marketing. 

Every business needs a clear, communicable vision of what they want to accomplish and they need a process that will allow everyone involved— marketing, executives, finance, sales— to contribute at their best to ensure that goals are met. No matter what role you have personally played in this dysfunction in the past, we suggest that you pause, breathe, and let go of the pain you’ve been feeling. It’s not your fault, but you can take responsibility and go forward with hope.

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