Sales versus Marketing... a narrative that is getting old.

The other day I was trying to explain the Sales and Marketing function to a friend who is a hard core "finance guy"; as I went about doing so, I couldn't help but flippantly say —

"When things are going well (meaning revenue) Sales gets the credit; when things aren't going so well Marketing gets the blame" 

We both laughed... but surprisingly not that hard.

I could not help but think of a conversation between a seasoned commercial leader and a marketing manager where I heard the manager say, "I understand what you are saying from a sales perspective but marketing is different, and we are going to do this..." As I was listening to the marketing manager I actually screamed in my head, "No, no... nooooo. The commercial leader is correct, and you are not different... focus on the customer, the customer's needs, and work together to generate revenue!" 

I should point out why I have earned the right to have an opinion on this topic. My career (30 years and counting) has been in both Sales and Marketing (almost 50-50), and I have received my fair share of credit and blame; for right or for wrong, I feel I have some insight worth considering. Academically, marketing is the business discipline that encompasses "Product", "Price", "Place" and "Promotion" (The 4 Ps); within the "Promotional Mix" is the sales channel... and make no mistake, this channel is extremely important — Why you may ask? It's because sales is one of very few groups in business that has an intimate and personal understanding of the customer, and is able to communicate complicated messages to generate revenue.   

And for anyone who doesn't think revenue is king, you should go ask any investor(s) you have to offer some insight regarding this point.

In my mind, the only thing that is different between Sales and Marketing is the levers available to each group, and maybe the degrees of separation their activities can be from revenue generation. The objectives of Sales and Marketing are the same — Engage with the customer, offer the appropriate product(s) and/or service(s) to meet the customer's need(s), and generate revenue. I very much appreciate the complexity to do all of this, but in the end it does boil down to this.

Many years ago a Sales Leader* was at a marketing retreat and was asked to speak about the relationship between Sales and Marketing. He was elegant, insightful, complimented his marketing partners, and offered insights on the sales team. At one point he compared sales to a "brochure" that talked back, had opinions, and offered ideas. He went on to say that some in marketing see themselves as "the great orchestrators of all things marketing, and frankly don't like rebuttal from one of their channels". He very eloquently suggested that this was the wrong perspective and that the sales team was a wealth of customer insight and ideas, and it's crucial to work together for success. Besides he went on to ask, "Don't we all have the same objective to engage with customers, offer the appropriate product(s) and/or service(s) to meet the customer's need(s), and generate revenue?" Fifteen years later his perspective still resonates for me —The narrative should always be Sales and Marketing.

So if your narrative is Sales versus Marketing, I strongly suggest you work to change this because no one wins when there is a dysfunctional relationship between Sales and Marketing, It's hard enough to generate revenue at the best of times.. just ask anyone in either Sales or Marketing. And if you're asking how to go about changing the narrative, I suggest you start with Sales and Marketing Leadership because in the end this is a leadership issue... on both sides. 

Let's not even get into those finance people who ask us about our latest expense report.


* His title was Sales Leader but in reality he was just a Great Leader... full stop.