If you had to pick two groups inside a corporation that must work together effectively for the enterprise to realize its potential, which would they be?
Manufacturing and R&D? Finance and Legal? HR and Operations?
For my money, it’s Marketing and Sales. No inter-departmental alignment will have greater impact on awareness and affinity for a company’s brand. No tag-team will have quite the same impact on customer experience, for better or worse.
If you agree with that premise, then effective, ongoing communication and collaboration between Sales and Marketing should be a top priority for any company.
That’s why it’s surprising to see how wide the gulf sometimes gets between these two functions, especially in larger organizations.
Case Study: In Search of Corrupted Selling Time
Recently I met with one that has developed, in recent years, an emphasis to the point of obsession on stamping out “corrupted selling time.” Some time ago, leadership decided sales reps were spending too much time on what were deemed to be unproductive activities.
In fact, someone decided the Marketing people who produce sales support tools and content, including the sales intranet, were among the most egregious of corrupted-time culprits.
Turns out they would sometimes ask sales reps to fill out online satisfaction surveys and need assessments. It also wasn’t unusual for them to involve selected reps on teams planning new sales support campaigns and tools.
At some point (probably during a short-term dip in revenue), it was determined that Sales was spending too much time collaborating with Marketing. So, leadership decided to curtail those interactions. Significantly. No more surveys. No more fact-finding interviews or sales focus groups.
The assumption being that time saved could be devoted to selling. Sales productivity would skyrocket. Results would register on the top line.
But the pendulum swung too far. Sales reps, cut off from an outlet to express their needs for new tools and specific messages, grew frustrated. And, because sales people don’t take no for an answer, they began to create their own content. Presentations. Fliers. How-to instructions. Case studies.
In most cases, these materials went in front of customers and prospects with no creative or quality review by Marketing, much less by corporate Legal. Strategic positioning and selling messages, not to mention brand design guidelines, were left to the interpretation of individual reps, many of whom were not peak performers in their high school English or college art classes.
Because every sales rep was creating his or her own communications, there were no synergies or efficiencies. Within one regional team of 16, each had his or her own collection of leave-behinds. Each had a different, homespun PowerPoint to describe the company’s core value proposition to its most important B-to-B audiences.
Meanwhile, Marketing continued to produce batches of new sales support materials and load them to the intranet. But they were dismayed to see, from Web metrics, that site use was declining.
Weren’t they providing effective, on-target communications tools? Maybe. Maybe not. It was difficult to say, because they were operating in the dark. Essentially banned from asking Sales for input and validation, for fear those conversations would constitute — you guessed it — corrupted selling time.
Then, almost by chance, two sales reps got invited to a Marketing team off-site. They’d benefited greatly from a new tool Marketing recently developed. They attended the meeting, primarily, to thank their Marketing colleagues.
What transpired, though, was a two-hour, freewheeling discussion over box lunches about what Sales truly needed in the way of new support tools. More customer-relevant content. More step-by-step how-to documents and videos. Shorter PowerPoints, able to be customized with customer-specific data points.
One rep repeatedly flipped open a three-ring binder to show pieces he’d put together. “But I’m not a creative person,” he said. “If you guys could just give us something like this, I know everyone would use it.”
The marketers mostly listened and scribbled notes. This was manna. Internal customers, expressing their needs and challenges, clearly and passionately. It had been so long since this sort of exchange had taken place. Too long. All the meeting participants acknowledged as much.
Moral of the Story
Sales needs uninterrupted time to sell. But Marketing also needs access to talk and co-create with Sales, so effective, high-quality support tools can be developed, reviewed by the right stakeholders, and shared efficiently across all sellers.
Rather than reduce corrupted selling time, constricting collaboration between Marketing and Sales can have the opposite effect. With no one to listen and respond to their needs, sales reps are forced to go off on their own to develop tools they need. In doing so, they become a user base of one for each tool being created.
By contrast, having Marketing and Sales collaborate in a focused way, on an ongoing basis, is a powerful strategy to reduce corrupted selling time. Because the tools Marketing creates are more likely to be those Sales truly needs and will value.
Which means Sales will spend less time crafting their own customer communications.
After all, they’ll be too busy selling.
What about your organization? How do you strike the optimal balance between maximizing selling time and making sure Sales and Marketing are in productive, ongoing dialogue? If you have best practices to share, please do so with a comment. We’ll summarize them in a future post.