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Beginning Again: Sales/Marketing Collaboration
Sensible suggestions for fostering real communication.
Posted Mar 11, 2009
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With all the talk about Solution Selling, Relationship Marketing, Partnership Marketing, Loyalty Marketing, and the like, some companies today forget to check the basics. If new strategies are not working as well as predicted the result could be an adversarial relationship in an organization-and between the two departments that can least afford it: sales and marketing.

In many organizations, the sales and marketing departments have been at odds, unable to agree upon how to drive leads and prospects, who the targets should be, and how prospects and current customers can be and should be addressed. The problem is simple to understand: There are two sides to every argument.

The sales team thinks that marketing isn't aware of what is happening in the marketplace. It wonders what marketing is up to, and why the team can't drive more leads to them. The sales reps may believe that the marketing department is "overthinking." They often commiserate about how all the analyzing and strategizing that marketing executes causes inaction, and they think that marketing should "just get the (ads, mail, TV, events, materials) out there so the leads will come in."

Marketing may be thinking that the sales team is either too busy or not savvy enough to recognize the importance of a sound strategy that produces and nurtures leads into profitable customers. It doubts the quality and consistency of a sales pipeline that doesn't include their strategic efforts.

Encouraging these two areas to work better together toward a consensus on strategies and tactics will help a company's bottom line-and can lead to more opportunities to build brand equity and future revenue. Here are a few ideas to get sales and marketing teams collaborating before plans are executed:

Pre-planning meetings

A little dilemma: Marketing folks are typically meeting mavens; sales folks tend to have considerably less patience for them, unless they include prospects. Certainly, team meetings can be useful under most circumstances. However, here are two meetings that are essential for making the sales/marketing partnership work.

1. The marketing department head meets with the sales department head to develop parameters for collaboration before annual plans are distributed

A short list for the discussion:

  • Sales goals for the coming year
  • Marketing goals for the coming year
  • Open discussion on establishing SMART [Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Reliable, and Timely] strategies for sales leads
  • Agreement on one or two sales reps responsible for creative review
  • Establishment of dates for marketing's annual plan presentation to sales

In addition to these basics, marketing should initiate a preemptive discussion with sales on more controversial issues, specifically:

  • The year's strategies that will not involve sales
  • A profile of next year's prospect, and why it may vary from the current customer or leads in the sales pipeline
  • Any recommended changes to materials and tactics that are executed by sales currently, and why the changes are necessary for the coming year

2. The individual sales and marketing teams meet on plans, especially tactics that will involve sales

Marketing presentations to their respective sales counterparts go a long way toward building a strong collaborative effort for the year. Companies that avoid this step are usually the ones whose sales force has a higher-than-average turnover.

Important considerations-such as team concentrations and configurations in particular vertical industries or within specific groups of customers-should be discussed to ensure that sales reps understand the coming year's strategies and tactics before they are launched.

Previews (versus reviews)

A common, major complaint is that marketing doesn't allow sales to have input on customer-facing tactics and communications. Here are two easy points in the process where sales input would be most valuable to ensure marketing benefits fully from the input of the sales team.

  • Marketing submits annual plan to corresponding sales team for preview

Marketing should not expect any changes, since pre-planning meetings have already occurred. Drastic changes from pre-plan to plan should be explained, both by marketing and sales reps. Further discussion and revision due to previously unforeseen issues should be hashed out at this time. Any lingering disagreements should be pushed up the chain of command for discussion and timely resolution.

  • Sales committee previews and submits comments on creative materials within two days

A one- to two-person sales committee evaluates customer-facing marketing materials to identify any potential issues. It is important to note that this committee does not outrank marketing, compliance, or legal, but that it is responsible for catching any sales issues and for notifying the rest of the sales team.

These are just a few of the ways that sales and marketing can more effectively work together to build a better customer-facing effort. Without these small-but important-steps, moving full-speed ahead with advanced marketing initiatives is a waste of time and money. If there is any pushback from either department, an organization should recognize that it has work to do.

About the Author

Stephanie Byrd-Harrell is a brand- and direct marketing veteran with comprehensive experience driving brand strategies and return on marketing investment. She has held senior positions with CIGNA Group Insurance, DMW Worldwide, Harte-Hanks, and Microsoft Corporation. Byrd-Harrell can be reached at sbyrdharre@hotmail.com or 215-758-2070.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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