The Sales and Marketing Divide

by Sat Duggal

I visited Frost & Sullivan’s 10th Annual Sales and Marketing conference in Los Angeles earlier this week. At one of the events, a roundtable on bridging the sales and marketing divide, a fairly senior member of the audience expressed his frustration at hearing the same discussion for the past several decades. He complained that the same arguments were being made, the same imperatives were emphasized, but the silos are still standing tall. In fact, one of the questions raised by the panel moderator was whether the only way to bridge the divide is to make a drastic change like hiring a new CEO. What I found intriguing about the panel and audience discussion was the notion that sales and marketing are two separate functions that have to be somehow bridged. I believe that this is the wrong construct. As long as we refuse to think about them as one process of demand generation, we will continue to re-visit the same challenges.

Most practitioners approach this problem from an organizational perspective. We have two separate departments - sales and marketing - and we have to somehow get them working together. But where does the customer figure in all of this? Why should sales and marketing have different and often conflicting sets of objectives? In this respect, certain principles are effective in addressing these issues:

  • Start with the customers and their needs. At the end of the day, demand generation comes from more customers buying more stuff and having a longer relationship with you over a period of time. So, instead of starting with the relative role of marketing in leading or serving the sales force, we have to start by identifying the specific needs of the customers we are going to serve at each stage of the buying and use process. British Petroleum (BP) has done a fine job in identifying what its sales process looks like on a single page, and it is driven at every stage by what the customer needs - e.g. why is BP calling on me? What are my potential areas of improvement? What is unique about BP and what is the incremental value in doing business with the company?
  • Be clear on the customer value proposition. It is only when we can express in tangible terms (dollars, hours, teeth whiteness, skin clarity, etc.) the incremental value we can generate for a customer, that we can have a clear mandate for our demand generation team.
  • Design a demand generation process that runs across sales and marketing. Process can be a great integrator and, as long as we have a common goal and a common strategy, we can get all participants in the demand generation team working in alignment. General Electric (GE) has set about driving commercial excellence as a key element in its growth process. Commercial means both sales and marketing, and GE is approaching it as part of a single process.
  • Cross-pollinate to every possible extent. In my first job at Unilever, I joined the Sales and Marketing Department. It was not one or the other, but both. That meant I had stints as an Area Sales Manager followed by a brand management role, followed by another stint in sales? This gave us a holistic understanding of how to drive demand.
  • Push P&L responsibility to the lowest possible level in the organization. When account owners or regional sales leads have complete accountability for their revenues and profits, it usually translates into the right set of actions to select the appropriate marketing and sales investments to meet their goals.
  • Leverage consumer insights for marketing through your channel. Consumer goods companies such as Proctor & Gamble (P&G) have done a great job of bringing unique and rich shopper insights to retail customers such as Wal-Mart and others to create a competitive advantage for themselves. Women’s health and mobility solutions are examples of such shopper insights-based platforms that consumer goods companies have been able to create for their retail customers.

The Frost & Sullivan conference this week did not reach any definitive conclusions on what could help bridge the great divide between sales and marketing. My proposal is that the division is of our own creation. The divisiveness is in our mindset, which is mired in organization structure and functional silos. The first step, therefore, is to commit to a demand generation approach that is designed around customer needs.

Organizational Design Case Study

Keywords: Custom Marketing Framework, Customer Experience Design