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Marketing Displaces Sales!

by Dave Brock on February 7th, 2013
Tug of War

Customers are self educating, they don’t want to see sales people until they have completed the majority of their buying process!  We all know this–much to the chagrin of sales.

Companies are responding, as they should with great content strategies.  Marketing is providing rich content and relevant information for customers and prospects.  Great organizations are leveraging social channels, complementing the content, responding to the continued customer need for information and education — the way they prefer to be informed and educated.  Marketing becomes the primary channel to the customer for much of their buying process.

So we get confused, what’s the role of marketing, what’s the role of sales?  Many of us still have the headset that marketing creates awareness, drives demand and leads, which sales qualifies and ultimately closes.  It’s the classic vision of the marketing funnel feeding the sales funnel.

But the customer is really screwing things up.  They don’t want to cooperate.  They want to be engaged in a different way.  They want meaningful information and content, without the annoying sales pitches and “buy my product” that accompany it.  The customer doesn’t care who’s providing the information.  Whether it’s marketing or sales is absolutely irrelevant to them!

As a result, marketing must stay engaged longer than our old models would tell us, taking a stronger role in the sales process.

What’s this mean for sales, a shorter, more compact funnel—go in give a proposal when the customer calls, try and close them?  I’ve likened that to responding to the RFP that you didn’t write (or had little involvement in).

Actually, the implications are very different, and much more powerful!

Our traditional marketing and sales pipeline’s have to be thrown away–they’re legacies of the past, and anchors.  We need to develop a new pipeline, a new process.  The marketing and selling processes are deeply intertwined, with marketing leading some activities, sales leading others.

Challenger has brought an interesting possibility, perhaps a revelation—maybe sales initiates the process.  Where marketing first created awareness, maybe in a targeted sense, that becomes a sales responsibility.   Now, sales is charged with identifying  and targeting appropriate customers, engaging them with provocative discussions about their future.  Planting the seeds of change, inciting the customer to consider new possibilities.  Then, perhaps marketing takes over, providing insightful and relevant content, to move the customer further through their learning curve, then sales steps in–translating the general concepts to specific impact to the customer.  Marketing may then step in providing case studies, justification models, references and others, followed by sales with specific business cases, proposals and more.

In the new model, it’s not inconceivable, that marketing may even get the order!

The cycle has changed–driven by the way the customer wants to buy!  Continuing to force fit our old models onto the way the customer wants to be engaged is a recipe for failure or at least protracted expensive sales cycles.

We have to change our marketing and sales processes into a single process.  We need to redefine the engagement model, roles, and responsibilities through the entire process.  Sales will need to get engaged much earlier than in the “old days,”  marketing will need to stay engaged longer than they had in the past.

We have to be nimble in handing things off, between functions (but technology is an amazing help to this process), we need to be much more collaborative in the manner in which we work together.  We need to be aligned in our priorities, goals, and metrics–not necessarily the same, but aligned and complementary.

This also puts pressure on sales and marketing alike to develop new skills–not redundant skills, but new skills.  We have to know more about what each other does, and how everything fits together, creating the ideal customer buying experience.

Too often, in the past, marketing and sales haven’t played well together.  But if we are successful, we have to learn that we are on the same team, working for the same goal, driving revenue generation.  Rather than talking about collaboration, we need to practice real collaboration.

Are you realigning your marketing and sales processes to reflect the way customers want to be engaged?

Are you redefining roles, responsibilities, metrics?

Are you identifying the new skills that marketing and sales need to have, training, developing, and coaching people in those new skills?

Are you truly working together and collaborating, or still just giving it lip service?

Are you celebrating your joint success or individual successes?

The customer doesn’t care whether it’s sales or marketing, so why should we?



Interested in our Sales Management Operating System–a framework to look at the entire sales function and how the different pieces, parts fit together? Ask for our free interactive MindMap by emailing dabrock@excellenc.com with your full name, company and company email.

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22 Comments
  1. John Sweitzer permalink

    I am glad to see more leadership articles that highlight this change in doing business. I left a company a while back who thought they were doing something along this line, but what they did was to issue an edict that Marketing would report to Sales at the beginning of the next month, and then left all the old Pipeline generation, sales forecasting and compensation (quota) systems in place. It was a disaster. Stock dropped to one third of its value before the change and now the company has been taken over by a rival.

    • John, thanks for the comment. As you point out it has nothing to do with reporting structures, but workflow and customer engagement design. The customer wants to be engaged in different ways. It requires us to change everything we do and how we work. Thanks for the great observation!

  2. David,

    I believe that we may start seeing a role that integrates both functions. I can’t provide a good example of a big company that does this, but I have done it when I have helped small clients.

    It seems to work well for small companies who can’t bring on a full time marketing person, so the primary role is sales and secondary is marketing.

    • Jay, that’s a great example! So many of the small companies I work with are already doing this without knowing it. They are simply resource constrained, so the handful of people they have wear two hats–marketing and sales. They do the whole job without worrying about whether its marketing or sales’ job. It’s the large organizations that have legacies of silo’ed operations who somehow think it makes a difference to the customer whether it’s marketing and sales. In truth, the customer just doesn’t care.

  3. One of the best written posts I’ve read in quite a while David. Spot on with all of your comments. The book The Challenger Sale backs up everything you say. If sales people don’t agree with your comments, they are wrong, we all have to realign our business models to how the customer buys.

    • Thanks Jonathan. When Challenger came out, Matt and I had a discussion that it was really about business strategy, not just sales. I’ve written about this specific issue, about a year ago, Matt has referenced it a lot in his posts.

      The underlying problem is the inside out thinking, rather than the outside in. Customers don’t care what our titles are or who answers their questions–they just want the right information in the right form at the right time, delivered by a knowledgeable person.

      Sales people who don’t get this, will become order takers–but of fewer orders, then dinosaurs.

  4. David – you are so incredibly spot on. I quit my individual quota carrying sales rep role at Eloqua where I was assigned to 80 accounts (nothing remotely strategic about the assignment – just part of what was left in the Bay Area that hadn’t been “sold to” yet. I’m in the process of championing a new role for myself – the VP of Social Selling. I’m a Modern Sales Professional – I’m an Information Concierge, an Insights Professional, Socially Connected, Strong Personal Brand, Mini Marketer. I help people buy; I don’t sell!!! I refuse to do things the old way. Thanks again for your great insights.

    • Thanks for the comments Jill! I like to think of the modern day sales person as an “orchestrator, resource, and project manager.” The job is becoming one of getting the right resources, whatever they are–info, content, data, people, etc. to the right customer in the right way at the right time. All while managing the process/project to help the customer achieve the outcomes they expect.

      The sales person as the “face of the company” will be an outdated model.

      The skills of the modern day sales person will change profoundly. A base od solutions/consultative/customerfocused/insight driven skills becomes table stakes. They have to be change managers, project managers, business managers, team leaders. They have to be deeply conversant in all aspect of business–theirs and the customer.

      Thanks for the great content.

  5. Oh, and watch for me advocating a massive shift in compensation (from Sales to Marketing)! If 57% of the buying process is done before the buyer wants to engage with Sales, why is Sales still making the fat commissions? Marketing is being held accountable for pipeline and revenue; they should be paid on it!!!!!!!!

    • Interesting comment Jill. Sometime ago, I wrote a blog post saying “marketing should be on commission.” It created a bit of an uproar. Many thought of it as a free ride for more pay, but then when I responded they would have to be responsible for outcomes–as sales people are, I’ve never seen more back peddling.

      I believe everyone in customer facing roles should be on some sort of commission/bonus based compensation plan, based on outcomes produced. There has to be accountability, but there also has to be rewards for that as well.

      In the new world of marketing and sales, as roles are redefined, we have to rethink compensation. Thanks for the great discussion. Regards, Dave

      • Tamera Phallan permalink

        I think the measurement for success should be on coversions that each department is responsible for. As a marketer it is my job to get an end consumer from market segment person to a lead (which I believe begins that self directed resource process). It is the responsibility of the sales person to take that process from a lead to a sale. I recently had a program that was successful from the standpoint that it generated appropriate leads but the ball was dropped when it came to coverting those leads. I have no challenge what so ever seeing variable comp on the part that we control.

        • Tamera: Thanks for the comment. Your absolutely right, we need to have metrics–aligned between the marketing and sales organizations. The process and related metrics have to reflect the new ways customers are buying and want to be engaged.

          Then, as you point out, both marketing and sales are accountable for meeting their goals. Thanks for getting us right to the point. Regards, Dave

  6. Doug Schmidt permalink

    While the cultural divide still occurs between sales and marketing it looks like there is going to be closer integration and teamwork with sales/marketing blended. One of the challenges with “brand within a brand” strategy may be facing is are the social marketers going to be bigger than the company’s brand. I see too many geniuses with big egos in companies today who think they are smarter than everyone and don’t want to work in a team.
    As far as marketing being compensated great idea at the same time the work load and responsibilities have to carefully defined and outlined. If someone wants an MBA in marketing go out and sell for a few years.
    The US Marines have a culture backed philosophy “everyone is a rifleman/woman”. Maybe we can copy some of the philosophies that our military uses in fighting battles.

    • Thanks for the comment Doug! You’ve made some good observations. There are some challenges with some of the social marketing strategies and the cults of personality that result. I don’t think this serves the company or customers well. But we see many great organizations who have great social marketing programs and are avoiding this.

      On marketing being compensated, it is important to clearly define roles, responsibilities, metrics. It’s important to clearly define workflows, then coach and develop people to meet their goals—but isn’t that the same with all roles.

      There are some great leadership and teamwork principles that come from the military, and we can learn from them. But there are also great lessons we can learn from other areas and we can apply those.

      Thanks for commenting.

  7. As a small business owner also working with small businesses, I agree with the statements that small businesses are already doing this… Some only dream of having a sales team and for them marketing must convert sales for them. There is hardly ever a discussion about a sales team. My experience is that many often look to the web and their websites, email marketing and social to do the heavy lifting today. I know I have a different perspective because I am not inside a Fortune 500 companies marketing department or sales but that caught my eye!

    • Andrea: Thanks for the great comment. Smaller organization have already achieved what I’ve outlined–just by the mere fact they are small and tend to operate with more of a lean mentality. The web has been a blessing for many, since it profoundly improves their visibility and does a huge amount of the heavy lifting. Thanks for helping ground us in the real world of small business.

      By the way, I like your blog and website!

  8. David,
    How interesting that I read this blog only hours after being asked in an interview about the separation of sales and marketing. I believe I answered the interviewer well, but not as clearly as you’ve put it. I hope you don’t mind, but I quoted you (with reference) in my thank-you note. Then I added that “I’ll do all I can to not only bridge marketing and sales, but to dredge and fill the space between them, so they become as one.” I also passed your blog along to some Marketing groups in LinkedIn.

  9. David,
    how sales and marketing have to rethink their role in view of how customers want to buy today is a pet subject of mine and I agree completely that sales and marketing have to rethink they way they are working together.
    Here are a few suggestions of points to be considered when deciding the new division of labor between the two functions.First the discussion needs a foundation. I have found the customer’s journey being a good starting point. Yet there is not one journey.. For example from a McKinsey study we know that loyal customers buy differently from buyers not yet or no longer loyal. From my own experience, I would add that customers use one path when they buy a new category for the first time which is different from a repeat buy (as a loyal customer) which is yet different from a customer wanting to buy a known category but who is dissatisfied with the current supplier.

    The customer’s journey must have gates representing evidence that the customer has made a significant step in his/her process. Then we can see whether it is Marketing or Sales which is best placed to effectively help the customer to maintain velocity in the buying process. There is clearly no sequential divide as in the past as you rightly indicate.

    Unfortunately I m not so optimistic as you are with respect of tool support for such a dynamic division of task between the two functions. It seems to me that Marketing Automation systems with their standard processes are rather creating a divide than helping to close it. The way these processes and systems are often implemented (awareness creation, lead nurturing and qualification by marketing before handover to sales). cause exactly the phenomenon you describe. The seller comes in only at the 11th hour. Indeed there is not much difference than responding to RFPs. We know the abysmal success rates of such responses..

    Though I think the whole issue is much bigger for large companies handling deals with complex customer decision making. As some comments show, smaller businesses do not have this luxury and are more pragmatic in their approach.

    • Thanks for the great insight Christian. Clearly we have to look start with the buyer’s journey and the buying experience we want to create. A well designed buying experience can/should/must accommodate the differences you highlight.

      I’m not an expert at tools, but the first discussions have to be on principles, strategies, and processes. We have to clearly define roles and responsibilities of both sales and marketing.

      Only after that do we talk about tools. If current tools don’t support this, perhaps it’s an opportunity for a clever entrepreneur. The customer doesn’t care whether they are talking to sales or marketing, so clearly customers will be the forcing function to change the way we work with them and drive the need for tools to support the process.

      Always enjoy your comments! Regards, Dave

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