The changing roles of sales and marketing

Written by Keith Errington  |  5, June, 2019  |  1 Comment

In the past, the roles of Sales and Marketing have been fairly well-defined, understood and respected, but the changing nature of the market and buyers' behaviour has brought them into inevitable conflict.

Compartmentalised Departments

If we go back a few years, most companies had two, distinctly separate departments – Sales and Marketing.

In simple terms, Marketing would create all the sales materials and handle the brand positioning of the business. And sales would deal with the prospects and turn them into customers. It was more or less cut and dried.

Marketing was:

  • Strategy led – their direction determined by business goals
  • Focussed on the mid to long-term
  • Looking at the big picture
  • Concerned with the brand image of the business

Sales was:

  • Sales led – totally geared towards increasing revenue through sales
  • Focussed on the short term – the shorter the better
  • Looking only at converting the prospect
  • Only concerned with earning commission and sales success

In this past era, neither department had many dealings with the other, save for marketing giving an occasional briefing on the way sales material was intended to be used, or perhaps on product positioning.

Neither department really cared about the existing customer, being focussed on generating revenue from new business. If the business itself was well-organised, they would have a customer care / after sales department and /or a support department.

Customers would hear about the company from advertising or marketing materials, approach a salesperson, be directed to the right product or solution and place the sale with the salesperson.

For the time, it was an efficient way of gaining customers by having two departments with their own clear responsibilities.

Changing Times

Around 500BC Greek philosopher, Heraclitus is attributed with the saying “Change is the only constant in life”. Things change, markets change, technology changes and so buyer behaviour changes too.

The past few decades have seen rapid changes in technology which have caused widespread disruption of industries and markets. Even if technology has not changed your particular industry, it has almost certainly changed the behaviour of your buyers.

The Internet has completely transformed the buying process. There has been a huge switch in control, a massive transfer of power from seller to buyer.

Originally, companies controlled what information they released and to who. Buyers would have to request brochures, send for information and contact salespeople for any information about products or solutions, and they were pretty much the only source of advice and help too.

In this marketing landscape:

  • Companies could control the information they released
  • They could hide any negative aspects of the product, processes or business
  • They could make claims and statements that would go unchallenged
  • They could limit the knowledge that competitors had about them
  • They would know little of their competitors’ practices
  • Salespeople would make the first contact
  • Buyers were in the hands of salespeople
  • Leads are generated either by a request for information or by a call to a salesperson (both handled by sales)
  • It is possible that many buyers did not end up with the right solution

All this changed with the advent of the Internet.

In the modern marketing landscape:

  • Companies now publish more information about themselves and their products than ever before via their web sites
  • Social media and peer to peer communication makes it impossible to hide negative aspects of a business or product
  • Modern regulations and the high visibility mean that hype and false claims will be challenged
  • Competitors know almost everything about each other’s businesses – creating a level playing field
  • 68% of B2B Buyers prefer to do their research online according to Forrester. (probably without leaving a trace)
  • GDPR and privacy concerns mean that salespeople can't store information on potential prospects without permission – making cold-calling and similar techniques an issue. Even attribution may become problematic.
  • Buyers will ask their peers through social media, existing customers and visit review sites and blogs for recommendations. 60% of B2B buyers prefer it when their primary source of information isn’t a sales rep.
  • When they contact a sales person they will know exactly what they want, and often know exactly the price they want to pay for it
  • Leads are generated by offering useful content in exchange for contact information, content such as eBooks or White Papers (a process that doesn't involve a salesperson)
  • For some products and services, buyers may be able to buy online – with no sales person involved
  • Buyers are more likely to end up with the right solution (As they have access to more information and peer opinions and advice).

If you read that brief list of bullet points you will see how radical the changes have been. If your company is still organised for sales the way it has always been, it will be a poor match for the modern buyer and you will be suffering. You need to interact with customers in a whole new way across a whole new set of channels. Many companies are aware of their shortcomings in this area with only 28% of marketers being completely satisfied with their ability to engage customers across channels at scale

Let’s look at the implications of some of those changes.

From a business strategy viewpoint, the fact that most businesses in any industry know what their competitors are up to, not only levels the playing field as far as product features and pricing are concerned, but it also increases the importance of branding, awareness, reputation and authority. This makes the sales process more subtle – more nuanced.

Companies need to be more moral and ethical as any shortcomings in these areas will be noticed and communicated via social media.

Companies need to care more about their customers, nurture them and provide a high level of aftercare. Firstly, because any bad experiences will be shared. The old saying that an unhappy customer would tell ten prospects is now multiplied via the power of the Internet to several hundred or more. (When David Carroll made a video about United Airlines breaking his guitar it went viral and has currently reached over 19 million people).

And secondly, because positive customer experiences will be passed on to prospects when they ask via social media or other peer-to-peer sites, creating positive recommendations for your business. Because these independent recommendations are valued highly, looking after existing customers and helping them to become ambassadors for your business is valuable and rewarding.

Lastly, existing customers are the most economical to sell further products or solutions to. There is now a greater recognition of the value of repeat sales and the retained customer to a company’s overall revenue. Many businesses are now focussed around Customer Lifetime Value.

Because buyers are doing their research on the Internet and progressing up to 80% of the way to purchase before contacting a business directly, a business has to have relevant and useful content available during those research and consideration stages to have a chance of being considered in the final decision.

Only 12% of B2B buyers want to meet in person with a sales rep, and 71% of buyers start their process with an unbranded search. (Accenture; ThinkwithGoogle)

Sales and Marketing have to work together

In brief, there are two main, massive changes to the sales process;

  1. Content is crucial to attracting and engaging prospects and retaining customers
  2. Sales and Marketing department roles have to change

Staying with the second of these, the modern buying process pitches traditional departments against each other. Sales want the leads, but marketing is probably getting them.

It also pitches salespeople against buyers too. Sales want to contact the prospect as soon as possible and sell, but that’s not what the buyer wants, and they are now in control.

The buyer wants specific advice and consultancy relevant to their situation at the point of contact, rather than basic information and a sales pitch, so salespeople have to change.

These fundamental changes raise many questions. Should sales still be all about the commission? What has actually triggered the sale – the content provided by marketing or the salesperson who is potentially just taking an order?

The key to the modern sales process is data – but who holds it? Who controls it?

And who should be looking after existing customers and encouraging them to spread the word about your products and services?

It’s clear that the two departments need to work together, but which one is ultimately in charge? Does one actually have to be in charge or do we simply need to tightly integrate them? But then, do we even need two separate departments? And who keeps existing customers happy? It is time to reassess the whole marketing, sales, and customer retention processes.

How to integrate Sales and Marketing

In an ideal world, I could tell you exactly how to set up your revenue generating process efficiently by seamlessly integrating the sales and marketing departments. Unfortunately, we all live in the real world, and we have to acknowledge the politics of business, the vested interests, the inertia against change, the impact of company culture – all of which exist in any established organisation.

What might work in an ideal situation, will probably not work for you. In addition, products, services, markets and industries are different, so you may find that the traditional separation of sales and marketing is more relevant to your business – selling generic widgets, for example, is probably more reliant on the traditional sales and marketing approach.

So where does that leave us? It's simple really, there is one guiding principle you should use when looking to reorganise the way the two departments work together, in fact, the way the whole business should be led:

What’s best for the customer?

Look at the needs of your buyers, what do they want? How do they want it? When do they want it? What works for them?

Too often companies organise themselves around what is best for them, what allows them an easy ride, what allows their managers to build little empires even. But power has switched from the company to the customer – from the seller to the buyer – so you have to recognise and acknowledge that and ensure you organise your business and your sales efforts accordingly.

Identify the prospects touch points across different channels and over time and assign them to appropriate personnel – with either a marketing or sales background.

Make sure you are providing content that meets your buyer’s needs at every stage of the buying process. 95% of buyers buy from someone who gave them content at each stage of the Buyer's Journey. (SalesHub)

If you are still organising your sales efforts around product ranges and types, stop and re-organise around groups of customers.

A suggested approach

Marketing has always taken a strategic approach – the marketing strategy is born from the business strategy – directly from the board. So to me, it makes sense if marketing has the overall responsibility for revenue generation. They should be responsible for creating or commissioning the content that generates the leads and then keeping that prospect data clean, legal and safe. That data should be the basis of a system that coordinates and powers the marketing and sales efforts.

Sales should take a more consultative role and be involved in the aftercare of existing customers too. This may mean employing a completely different character of salesperson to those you’ve recruited in the past.

There may be a strong case for ‘self-service’ solutions too, where prospects can specify and perhaps try out different solutions in a virtual setting before placing an order online.  Forrester predicts that by 2020 there will be a loss of one million B2B sales people due to an increase in ‘self-service’ solutions.

Integration between the sales and marketing functions becomes easier if you use a fully integrated technology system – everybody uses the same system, everybody inputs information into the same system and everybody sees and acts on the same information. (One, integrated system also makes GDPR compliance easier).

Approximately 93% of high-performing marketers have integrated technology stacks, versus 69% of underperformers. (Salesforce)

Motivation – the toughest issue

Perhaps the most difficult issue to face and resolve is how the departments should be motivated and measured so they can be rewarded for success. With the attribution of a sale being more difficult and a more consultative approach required, it may be that in your particular circumstances commission-led salespeople are no longer appropriate.

If you stick with commission, then you have to work out how that person relates to the overall sale. You will either need to have a tight attribution process where every step of the customer journey is accounted for – that’s every touch point, every influence and when the buying decision was made – or more likely, you will need to take a view – an informed guess.

Marketing personnel may need to be included in commission for the first time, or commission may need to be shared across multi-functional teams.

All of this may require that you get a more accurate view of ROI and the value of a customer to you – with neither of these being simple, easy tasks. As retaining loyal, long-term customers becomes more important, calculating the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) becomes vital.

Whatever you decide, motivation should be aimed at creating loyal, satisfied customers.

Radical ideas are needed

These may all seem like pretty radical ideas, but B2B business has changed radically. You can’t ignore it – you have to react to it appropriately.

1 in 4 companies say their sales and marketing teams are either "misaligned" or "rarely aligned." 

Taking it to the next level would suggest the merging of the sales and marketing departments into one, along with responsibility for customer aftercare too.

Even if you don’t do this, it should be obvious that sales and marketing need to work closely together. They need to communicate, give feedback and hand-off leads and sales as necessary.

The arguments are clear – Companies that have tightly aligned sales and marketing achieve 24% faster three-year revenue growth and 27% faster three-year profit growth. 

And perhaps, more impressively, sales and marketing alignment can help businesses become 67% better at closing deals. 

The days of the adversarial relationship between Sales and Marketing, where each is fighting their corner and claiming credit for increased sales has to be over. It’s time to recognise that the client is in charge and a business that recognises that and delivers whatever the customer wants, when they want it, by whatever means necessary, will generate impressive on-going sales revenue.

Unify Sales and Marketing