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In this post, we consider possible ways to improve the marketing and sales relationship. We then discuss the potential sales and marketing alignment benefits of an Account-Based Marketing approach.

Areas of conflict Between Sales And Marketing

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.

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

Marketing teams, with little field experience, often employ tactics that have no relevance to the market. They can focus on activities without actually generating meaningful business opportunities.

Marketing complains that sales follow a path of least resistance instead of pursuing their strategic plans. Sales complain that marketing is of no help in their day to day sales process. So the war between sales and marketing continues.

Overcoming A Focus On The Short Term

Sales teams are measured (and often paid) based on results. That is the order value they bring into the business. Directors are often compensated in some way based on increased business turnover or growth. It should not be a surprise therefore that business focus is primarily on short term sales.

That is understandable as sales are the lifeblood of any business, without them, people lose their jobs and ultimately a business fails. That said, short-termism does little to improve the marketing and sales relationship.

Let’s assume the marketing department is actually marketing and are not some sort of support function. Their focus will be on markets and customer needs. They will build a structured plan to satisfy those needs over the medium to long term. The potential conflict with sales is obvious. Their focus is the next order, sometimes any order, regardless of fit.

The solution is to strike some sort of balance. A business needs orders. It is not practical to sit around waiting for opportunities that fit the carefully crafted plan. But the opportunity cost of taking whatever is available can be significant.

With a balance between the short and medium-term agreed there need to be rules. These should cover what orders, what customers, what opportunities and what new products are a fit.

Leadership to enforce those rules is key to improving the marketing and sales relationship. That needs support from the top of the organisation. Given potential director remuneration (discussed above) that can be a challenge.

Demolishing The Marketing and Sales Silos

If an organisation has managers for both sales and marketing departments then the potential for infighting is obvious. If there is a single manager for both then it is difficult to be both judge and jury. One side tends to win at the expense of the other.

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

However, marketing must understand that it is sales who are closest to the customer. They (not marketing) 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.

Communication (see below) and leadership are key. Both sides need to understand the value the other brings. They need to understand the mutual benefit of working together. That is far from easy to achieve; it takes time and consistent messaging.

Marketing and Sales Communication

With silos removed, sales and marketing can start working together towards the common goal.

Sales and marketing must agree on common objectives. They must then jointly develop plans to achieve those objectives. Sales and marketing need to co-operate closely to decide what constitutes a lead. They must also agree on the handoff point in the buyer’s journey

Sales need to be fully aware of what marketing is doing and vice versa. Otherwise, resources will be wasted or (worse still) customers will become confused.

The best communication tends to be informal and based on solid interpersonal relationships. Where it is not possible to achieve this in the short term a formal reporting structure may be required.

Common Sales And Marketing Systems

Without common systems used by both sales and marketing communication will be compromised. If it is necessary to install formal reporting structures they are likely to fail without a common data set.

It is important to choose systems and technology carefully with sales and marketing involved in the decision-making process from an early stage. The feature set should be limited to those that are absolutely necessary as ease of use is critical

Sales and marketing personnel will avoid using the system if they perceive it to be a waste of time and effort. Any system must equally satisfy the requirements of both sales and marketing.

Even if all these obstacles listed above 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 often various biases and preferences to deal with.

How ABM Can Help

For businesses in a project-driven environment, an Account-Based Marketing process can help. It brings order and a focus to the sales and marketing process.

Account-Based Marketing (and its partner Account-Based Selling) as the name suggests focuses effort on key customers. The main consideration is not what products the business wants to sell but what defined key accounts want.

Members of the decision-making team influencing the placement of major orders must be engaged. The early part of that process is Account-Based Marketing the latter part Account-Based Selling. Neither will work without close cooperation between sales and marketing.

As suggested above to improve the marketing and sales relationship there needs to be a structure and rules. Account-based marketing delivers that structure. Sales and marketing must agree on what is a key account, the decision-makers within that account, their needs and how to service those needs.

Of course, there still needs to be rules of engagement for the large proportion of customers who are not part of the Account-Based Marketing process.

To improve the relationship between sales and marketing both disciplines need to change and adapt. Managing change is always difficult and it takes time. An Account-Based Marketing or inbound marketing approach can help but there are many obstacles to overcome. This HBR article (Kotler, Rackman & Krishnaswamy) outlines some potential solutions. More information on Account-Based Marketing and Account-Based Selling is available in the following blog posts.

ABM in a project driven sales environment

Account Based Selling – The main challenges

An introduction to Inbound marketing is available here

The advantages and disadvantages of inbound marketing.

Should you want to talk through if Account-Based Marketing could be a solution for your business please call or email and we will be happy to help.