The potential for conflict between sales and marketing in any B2B organisation is well known. It wastes time and effort and the opportunity cost can be enormous. In this post, we consider if a transition to inbound marketing could help improve the marketing and sales relationship.

The Clash Between Sales And Marketing

Many B2B sales teams, pressured by call rate and visit targets, waste significant time on prospects unlikely to ever positively contribute to sales numbers. There can be a tendency to visit easy targets or those always ready to chat even when there is no business opportunity. 

Marketing teams, with no understanding of customers real needs or any field experience, often employ marketing strategies that have no relevance to the marketplace. They can focus on activities and hitting the numbers without actually generating meaningful business opportunities.

Marketing, therefore, complain that sales are simply following a path of least resistance rather than pursuing their carefully crafted (possibly invalid) strategic direction. Sales complain that marketing is of no help in their day to day sales process.

If the organisation has managers for both departments then the potential for infighting and company politics is obvious. If there is a single manager for both then significant effort is required to be judge and jury between the two. One side tends to win (rightly or wrongly) at the expense of the other.

How Inbound Can Help

B2B Buyers now tend to research products and services they need before engaging with sales. A survey by BaseOne, across four of the major European economies (including the UK), found 87% of B2B buyers look for advice before making a purchase and of those 71% used the web as their primary source.

The theory behind inbound marketing appears logical. It states that prospects, tired of the old push sales process, will seek out the information they need to make a decision. When they are ready they will find a supplier that matches their needs and engage.

So what is needed is a sales process fuelled by content. Relevant information delivered at the most relevant (person and time) point in the sales process. 

At the top level general content can be used to raise awareness and draw the first customer engagement. Further through the process highly detailed information that addresses a particular concern or makes a direct comparison may be required.

Great in principle, not so easy in practice. What is the trigger? How effective is the delivery channel? Will the information actually be read? Does the prospect have all the information they need to make an appropriate decision? 

Even if all these obstacles are overcome there is the human element to consider. People do not always make rational decisions even if provided with perfect information. Relationships still have an impact on decision making. There are various biases and preferences to deal with. Inbound marketing is not a perfect solution but it can bring sales and marketing closer together.

The Impact On Marketing and Sales Responsibilities

The only way an inbound marketing process can work is with close co-operation between sales and marketing. If marketing try to create the required content without sales input it will fail. Conversely sales do not have the strategic, content generating and content delivery channel experience of marketing.

Inbound marketing provides an opportunity to clearly divide sales and marketing responsibilities. Once that division is in place and both sales and marketing understand the benefits then the prospects for conflict are significantly reduced.

A change to inbound should not impact on responsibilities. Although some in marketing may wish to believe otherwise their prime responsibility was, and remains, lead generation. Sales prime responsibility remains taking a lead forward to the point of sale.

Marketing should retain responsibility for strategy. Based on solid research and a detailed understanding of the marketplace they need to determine what should be sold and to whom. They need to define the proposition (price, service etc) and decide on the best way to ensure target customers aware of that proposition.

Marketing must understand that it is sales who are closest to the customer. They (not marketing) intimately understand customer needs and information requirements. Sales have the relationship, sales control the sales process, sales understand the requirement. People still buy from people and relationships are vitally important. It is sales who are responsible for developing those relationships.

However, sales should not have the authority to pick and choose leads. They should not be allowed to chase the easy wins at the expense of longer term opportunities at target (strategic) customers

Integration Issues

A change in sales structure and organisation is not sufficient to avoid conflict. Sales need to be fully aware of what content is to be delivered, by what means and when so they are prepared for sales conversations 

A customer will be unimpressed if, during the first sales interaction his time is wasted by a sales team who insists on going back to first principles. It is vitally important is sales understand that the leads generated by a successful inbound marketing process are unlikely to be at the point of first customer interest.

Sales and marketing need to co-operate closely to decide what type of leads are being handed off and at what point in the buyers journey. With leads generated at a later point in the sales funnel there will be less time for sales to build relationships.

While inbound marketing has some real advantages over outbound it is a different approach that requires both sales and marketing to change and adapt their working processes. If this change is not managed effectively it can result both in conflict and results that fail to live up to expectations.