The Four Different Types of Sales and Marketing Relationships

To remain competitive and reach company goals, your company’s sales and marketing functions must work as a team.

Sales and marketing alignment isn’t just a hot topic – it’s a business necessity. To succeed in today’s competitive and digital world, companies need these two functions to operate as partners.

But, in many companies, sales and marketing are far from that vision. Instead of operating as partners, many are in one of three camps:

  1. Adversarial Relationships
  2. Subservient Relationships
  3. Siloed Relationships

Each of these can be a serious hindrance to growth, but in very different ways.

Adversarial Sales and Marketing Relationships

Adversarial sales and marketing relationships get all the attention – or at least the think pieces.

When people talk about sales and marketing alignment, it evokes the idea of sales and marketing as natural enemies. And, unfortunately, this does happen. Sometimes sales and marketing functions compete for resources and leadership support.

Often, these adversarial relationships are baked into the organizational structure and culture. For instance, when sales and marketing report up to the CEO separately, with separate budgets, they can begin to feel competitive.

“The campaign was successful, but sales couldn’t close the leads,” marketing might say.

“My team is working hard, but our marketing is holding us back,” sales might say.

We’ve even seen CEOs unintentionally feed into these adversarial relationships. They can “side” with one function or another in their disputes, or shift their favor depending on how things are going in the company.

In this situation, it’s hard to analyze and eliminate barriers to growth. Instead, adversarial sales and marketing relationships devolve into the blame game. This zero-sum game does little to generate alignment or better results, and it doesn’t set a good foundation for growth.

Subservient Sales and Marketing Relationships

However, sales and marketing teams don’t have to hate each other to be ineffective.

Adversarial sales and marketing relationships may get more attention, but subservient sales and marketing relationships can be just as damaging to growth.

In a subservient sales and marketing relationship, marketing operates only as sales support. Usually, this means that marketing creates collateral for the sales team and helps with tactical items (updating a Facebook page, sending a newsletter, etc.). They check things off the list, but don’t do much to drive the business forward.

Subservient sales and marketing relationships often happen when companies underinvest in marketing.

In an earlier era, marketing was “nice to have,” and sales did all the heavy lifting. Salespeople wined and dined prospects and customers in-person – marketing was an afterthought.

The three-martini lunch and people who answer the phone may be gone for good. And yet, these traditional sales and marketing structures persist.

For instance, these sorts of companies may have a VP of sales and marketing whose background is only sales, with a low-level marketing manager reporting into them.

These companies may get exactly what they ask for from marketing, but they don’t always know what to request.

They’re also not well set up to adapt to a changing business climate, where online touchpoints increasingly make up a greater portion of the buyer’s journey. Strategies like digital advertising, account based marketing and marketing automation can all feel out of reach. Calculating ROI on the marketing spend can feel like a pipe dream.

Siloed Sales and Marketing Relationships

Siloed sales and marketing relationships are the kinder, gentler version of adversarial relationships. In this case, sales and marketing are very separate. They may know, and even like each other, but they rarely come together to partner on anything of substance.

Often, marketing works on awareness and “the brand”, while sales owns the customer/prospect journey.

This structure is untenable in today’s world. Marketing teams that only focus on awareness are at a huge risk in today’s world of measurement and big expectations. They risk losing budget, headcounts and authority.

And, companies who treat marketing and sales as separate entities risk an inconsistent buyer’s journey. The marketing campaign may get attention, but does it connect back to what you’re selling? Is all that “brand building” really adding to the bottom line?

Companies with siloed sales and marketing relationships may struggle to reach their growth goals, particularly if competitors have been quicker to align their sales and marketing functions.

Achieving a True Sales and Marketing Partnership

Today, sales and marketing need to operate as partners in achieving the company’s growth goals.

This often starts by creating a reporting structure that fosters alignment. Many companies are creating a new position of Chief Growth Officer or Chief Revenue Officer, but it could even be a VP of sales and marketing with the right mindset. Ultimately, you need a shared accountability and reporting structure – and leaders who treat both functions as mission-critical.

However, the structure is just the first step. High-performing sales and marketing teams need:

  1. A shared understanding of the growth strategy. Can your sales and marketing teams both clearly articulate the company’s growth plan? Do they know which target markets, geographies, product lines, etc. are the priorities? Sales and marketing should both be involved in defining your company’s growth drivers. Otherwise, you miss the opportunity to concentrate their efforts and energy toward your biggest objectives.
  1. Shared definitions. Who is a qualified lead? What’s a good deal size? Who is a profitable client? If your sales and marketing teams answer those questions differently, it’s unlikely they’ll get along very well. Shared definitions are a simple step toward a more aligned growth strategy.
  1. Shared KPIs. This one scares people, but it’s a logical step in sales and marketing alignment. If sales and marketing are going to partner on a campaign, they should work together to define the KPIs, and then measure themselves accordingly. Of course, each function has a different role to play, but shared KPIs mean everyone is united in understanding what success looks like.
  1. Shared plans. Ultimately, a high-performing sales and marketing function should be working off one 10,000ft growth plan. This plan showcases sales and marketing initiatives around different growth drivers, documents shared KPIs and provides a roadmap for the year or years ahead. Working from the same plan and measuring by the same scorecard keeps the teams tightly aligned.

This vision is possible, but well-worn patterns don’t change without an impetus. Your first step towards alignment depends on your current type of relationship:

  • If adversarial, then start with a team alignment exercise.
  • If subservient, then upgrade marketing through a marketing transformation initiative.
  • If siloed, then bring sales and marketing leaders together for annual planning. 
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