3 ways to ease marketing’s tension with sales

The selling cycle has changed drastically over the past 20 years. Customers now have already done about 60% of research beforehand and a sales person has only a small window to make a difference. Hence, many organisations allow marketing to take the lead on a sales function.

But have the marketing departments of today learnt to speak the same language their sales counterparts are speaking? KP Unnikrishnan (pictured) marketing director for Asia Pacific and Japan at Palo Alto Networks, shared his views at the B2B Marketing 2014 conference held at the Four Seasons last Friday.

“I used to have a CMO who used to say that marketing drives sales. It is a powerful statement – it is not about driving numbers, but also about driving the sales organisation,” he said. He added that today, it was about identifying what you as a marketer were able to provide for the sales organisation while building up a true partnership.

“Unless a marketer is able to build a partnership with his sales team, the relationship will never take off. As we grow as a company, as an industry, as a fraternity, what are we doing to build a true partnership with the sales organisation?”

He added that in a sales role, it was always about deadlines and hitting numbers. The best way to harness a relationship with the sales teams is to empathise with it and understand where its demands to the marketing function are coming from. If a marketer is unable to do so, 100% of the battle is lost.

One fundamental rule marketing has to remember is to connect with the business as a whole.

“If you have no idea what the other departments are doing, or about the overall business, or the cross-margin kind of revenues the company is bringing in, you have lost the battle,” he said.

A good salesman, he added, does not just always talk, but rather listens. Hence, as a marketer, you will also need to listen and understand what sales needs before you strategise your targets.

Creating a market for the future

“Marketing is not just about building a brand or business. It is about building and creating a market for the future.” If you as a marketer are able to think along these lines, build a campaign and an activity based on this, it would help the growth of the company and your sales teams.

So what exactly is needed to create a future-ready marker?

Short-term versus long-term planning

It is about thinking short-term and long-term, said Unnikrishnan. It is about working with the sales teams to figure out what is needed over the next two quarters as well as over the next two to three years. The more you can connect with them for both quarterly and long-term planning, the more it will benefit you.

He added for marketers, it is difficult to help sales counterparts unless the request is put in way in advance. This is because marketers are geared towards impacting and contributing to the following quarter, rather than the present one. Therein is a fundamental communication breakdown. Hence, marketers need to define the market and timeline for the sales teams.

“At the end of the day, it is the health of the sales organisation and the overall company that matters. While creating leads are very important, it is not just about taking some data and throwing it over to the sales teams.”

Marketers need to show their sales teams that they are investing in and qualifying these leads.

“It is vital to show that you are putting a subset of your marketing dollars to make sure you are getting the right qualified leads into the system.”

He also added the definition of a lead had to be different from an organisational standpoint to a team standpoint, down to a sales standpoint. The definition is the way to go back and assess whether you were successful or not.

Work as a team

What also brings the sales and marketing teams together is the payouts. He added that if one person on the team was unsuccessful, the entire team should also be deemed unsuccessful.

“This however is not something that marketing can change, as it’s a HR policy. However, this integrated approach is something marketing teams can push towards in the organisation to make sure that teams are aligned.”

Measurement and communication

Measurement is vital. When you are able to measure your numbers, you are able to stand in front of the quarterly business review to say these are the kind of numbers that marketing impacted. This has to be done consistently.

“I would recommend that you do that on a regular basis. Your list of pipeline, numbers, reviews, go out week after week to the sales organisation to see how they are creating numbers, what is happening on your pipeline, what’s happening with conversions.”

This keeps the lines of communication open and helps marketers understand the psyche of the sales team.

“These are the guys who are bringing money to the table, driving revenue for the organisation. Marketing can always be looked upon as a support function. It is about understanding and aligning yourselves more to make things happen realistically.”