Why is Sales and Marketing Alignment So Hard?

November 9, 2015 Mark Emmons


In theory, sales and marketing are on the same team. But we know the reality. More often than not, the two groups are pointing fingers at one another. Sales believes marketing is giving them (insert derogatory phrase here) leads. Marketing believes sales is wasting the leads that are gift-wrapped for them.

A new LeanData survey largely confirmed the traditional strain between the departments. The survey found that 51 percent of marketers said they are not satisfied with the level of communication between the teams and 53 percent of sales professionals said they are not pleased with marketing’s support. In other words, nobody is overjoyed.

Business leaders said that settling those fundamental differences is much harder than just bringing people into a room and hashing out their differences. It’s difficult, they explained, getting those teams on the same page because they often are reading from entirely different playbooks.

“They’re really in it together, but there still can be a serious rivalry,” said Sam Melnick, director of customer and marketing insights at Allocadia, who previously researched the sales-marketing relationship as an IDC analyst. “I don’t think alignment is ever going to be complete. It’s never going to be a totally harmonious environment. There’s a natural friction because their incentives are different, and that makes it just a hard problem to solve.”

The core issue: Sales constantly feels the hot breath of quarterly numbers on the back of its neck while campaign-driven marketers think in a longer time frame.

Matt Heinz is a proud marketer. But he’s talked to enough sales professionals to see the challenge from their point of view.

“Somebody in sales told me once that, ‘I’ll feel better when marketing feels the same terror I do at the end of the month or the end of the quarter. Marketing team is off at happy hour because they hit their Tweet goal or something, and we’re here grinding trying to reach our number,’” said Heinz, the president of Heinz Marketing. “I see it as marketing’s responsibility to take a deep breath, step up to the plate and feel that terror with them.”

But social selling expert Jill Rowley comes down firmly on the side of marketing as the team that’s working the hardest to adapt to the changing B2B landscape.

“Marketing has evolved, but sales largely is stuck selling the same way they did 10, 20, 50, even 100 years ago,” Rowley said. “The line between the roles and responsibilities of sales and marketing are blurring. It used to be that marketing did this, and sales did that. That doesn’t work anymore. So alignment really is critical.”

For Trish Bertuzzi, the president and chief strategist of The Bridge Group, the trouble comes down to a lack of clearly defined goals from the top. She described a hypothetical scenario where she meets with a CEO, the VP of sales and head of marketing at a company – asking each to describe where they think their greatest potential revenue lies. The CEO says the enterprise category. The sales executive points to mid-market. The marketing director believes it small-and-midsized businesses.

“That’s when I know: Houston, we have a problem,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s not so much that sales and marketing aren’t aligned. It’s not that they’re not getting along. It’s that we have a communication problem somewhere along the line. Everyone is marching down their own little path, whistling away, and not realizing that they aren’t working together. And then there’s an ugly outcome at the end.”

Of course, even when there is communication, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be constructive. Both sales and marketing pros can have strong opinions about how best to do their jobs. They dig in their heels and take the attitude: Things will be just fine as long as you do things our way. And there’s no movement toward a middle ground.

“Sales thinks it’s best and wants to know why marketing is sending us all of these leads from people who are never going to buy,” Melnick said. “And marketing is saying, ‘Well, they downloaded all these white papers. Just call them and try.’ So they both have their subjective points of view, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that either one is wrong.”

They also have very distinct personas, added David Lewis, founder and CEO of the DemandGen consulting firm. Lewis believes problems arise when sales and marketing don’t respect their inherent differences.

“A football team has offense and defense,” said Lewis, who has been in both sales and marketing during his career. “They are very different animals. One wants to get down the field and the other prevents people from getting down the field. They have different objectives, but by working together, they win games. Sales and marketing need to be that same kind of team.”

Heinz added that while there are no shortage of examples of sales and marketing struggling to work together, he has noticed encouraging signs that businesses are understanding the importance of making teamwork a priority in the new B2B environment.

“On the plus side, we are seeing changes,” he said. “It is getting better in some places.”

Next: Some successful strategies to align sales and marketing.


Read the Pulse Report: Sales and Marketing Alignment survey results!

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