B2B Marketing and Sales Integration

B2B marketing and sales integration: the rewards are great – the hurdles are high

When marketing and sales are effectively integrated, your organization wins with improved operating performance and outstanding financial performance. And when integration fails, many sales and marketing efforts are wasted, and your corporate image suffers.

Integration failure is more often the case

With so much to win through marketing and sales integration, and so much to lose by not doing so, it is a wonder why so many companies refuse to address it or have thrown up their hands in not being able to have it work. Why? Because many of the solutions that are touted to address sales and marketing integration are only partial answers. And partial answers, in the end, don’t work.

Hurdle: band-aid solutions don’t work

Most organizations have been using a band-aid approach to achieve integration of the sales and marketing functions. Generally, they get behind one narrow solution – such as integrating data sharing or changing incentive compensation systems without looking at the whole picture.

For integration to take hold and have a long-lasting effect, the organization must be willing to address a complex set of barriers.  

Solution: acknowledge the changes in doing business

Traditionally, corporate leadership puts the marketing team in charge of managing the brand and providing leads to the sales force. Salespeople are charged with closing the deal. Salespeople know their territory and jealously guard it. Unfortunately, many companies still view the division of labor this way.

However, when you become willing to take a hard, cold look at the changing world of business, it becomes clear that the focus must be on the customer and meeting them in their comfort zone. Today’s customers are now reached through complex and overlapping means. That fact, in and of itself, changes the roles of sales and marketing.

Hurdle: culture clash

The new business reality of complex sales and marketing roles is often overlaid on top of long-held opinions about these sister departments. For example, some might say that sales and marketing “personalities” are two very different animals. They think differently and act differently and approach the same customers with very different points of view. Added to that is the unspoken habit they often have of “looking down” on one another. 

Marketing types are often cerebral, creative, and long-term oriented. They tend to be more of the idealizers and cheerleaders for a more sophisticated, centralized approach.

Salespeople are often action-oriented and short-term oriented. They are typically more independent and free-spirited. Those that can open new accounts are often more ego-driven than those who are outstanding at servicing and maintaining existing accounts, who are more relationship-driven.

When technological aids are sought to improve communication between the sales and marketing departments, the need for an integrated database system is often viewed differently. Marketers want all touch-points to collect as much information as possible about prospects and customers. On the other hand, salespeople only want data enhancements that will qualify and sort leads in real-time.

Solution: Join forces and become one team

One company’s primary solution to integrating these divergent cultures was to have marketing and sales both report to the same department. 

With joint department meetings and problem-solving teams, the simple proximity of people broke down barriers that no new technological fix could have achieved.

Hurdle: everyone’s talking, but what are we saying?

In today’s business environment, there are numerous touchstones with the customer and prospect. For example, there are global and national account teams and field sales, which often have product and market specialists as well as territorial generalists. In addition, there are telesales and telemarketing; distributors; dealers; value-added integrators, resellers and packagers; wholesalers; retailers; plus direct-mail and e-commerce venues.

Solution: Read from the same script

With this proliferation of ways to speak to the prospect and the customer, an organization now has several groups interacting with the same account. Obviously, the goal is to give the customer the choice and flexibility to receive efficient, integrated, timely service. But the reality of this proliferation of touch-points is often chaos, internal conflict, costly duplication, and appalling service.

At the very least, customer contact message training is needed for all colleagues who have direct access to the company’s prospects and clients.

Hurdle: old behaviors and lack of trust

In “Really Big Corporation X,” the sales team had lost trust in the tools that the marketing department was providing for them. Instead, they created their own sales materials, reduplicating between 40 – 60 hours of effort a month to create collateral material that they felt was relevant to the customer. The marketing department was frustrated with the sales personnel because they made promises in that material that they knew they couldn’t keep with the customer. 

This lack of trust and do-it-yourself approach often created a message disparity between what marketing is saying and what sales is talking about, eliminating the trust that good business relationships are built on and tarnishing the company’s reputation.

Solution: incentives reward change

For integration to become something more than empty promises of change, the marketing and sales departments must face and change some attitudes and actions. Some of these changes are driven by giving incentives to the desired activities that enhance integration.

The marketing department needs to accept that the company’s salespeople were their customers. Marketers are given incentives to interview prospects and customers every week to better craft and target marketing messages. Marketing now regularly goes on sales calls to keep up-to-date on what tools are needed for demonstrating, proposing and closing sales. They have also developed programs designed to nurture sales leads until they are qualified as being sales-ready and then turn them over for sales attention.

On the other hand, the sales department needed to recognize that they don’t “own” the customers, nor do they have total control over the communication with “their” customer. They needed to face those customers belong to the company.

The sales team at “Really Big Company X” now takes the time to report back on the results of the sales leads from marketing so they can eliminate the efforts that don’t work and concentrate efforts where they will produce more high-quality leads. 

Accountability is what ensured these changes would be sustained. There are new tracing systems in place. Cost-per-inquiry, cost-per-qualified-lead, cost-per-closed lead, and average sales value of leads that close are tracked and measured.

Some new and different incentives

Some companies have found that rewarding and promoting cooperative team members, those who actively work across the marketing/sales boundary leads to a cadre of more balanced managers. These same companies also often explicitly financially punish salespeople and marketing executives who callously disregard the importance of their sister function.

One company put new compensation programs in place to reward salespeople for all behaviors that contribute to the company’s success, including “closed-loop” feedback on sales leads, more accurate forecasts, adding names and information to the sales and marketing database. Another incentive change that the company made was that salespeople were paid substantially more for selling products or services to new customers than selling to existing customers, which enhanced the communication between marketing and sales and rewarded those coordinated efforts accordingly.

Indeed, any steps toward better communication and incentives will give a short-term lift to integration efforts between sales and marketing. But including incentives into a view of the whole picture means that management will address all of the avenues that improve sharing power, information, and resources.

Hurdle: Budget Prejudice

Budget short-sightedness happens when the CFOs and CEOs mistakenly view marketing as an expense vs. an investment in sales. CEOs and CFOs with this point of view usually cut costs of anything that they consider non-essential to sales. However, this is not taking the whole picture into account. 

Solution: budget long-term view

When management can see marketing as an investment in sales, then budget allocation more easily goes to efforts that enhance sales indirectly. For example, response increased when the company replaced canned, automated email responses with live pre-sales support assistance.  

Improving their website so that navigation is easier is also a sales-related budget expenditure. This change alone has painlessly helped prospects move from interest to consideration to sale.  

Hurdle: how will this ever be achieved?

In order for marketing and sales integration to be effective, corporate leaders must address complex organizational, technological, and communication changes. Unfortunately, whenever we face any complicated change, we may turn our backs on it and ignore the challenges or put quick-fix solutions in place.  

Solution: see the end game and take one step at a time

While the changes needed to bring about real marketing and sales integration between sales and marketing may take a while, it is best to address the need to change using the principle of continuous improvement. You know, if you do nothing – then there is little hope for improvement. However, by taking small steps to address the big picture of needed changes, you can be assured of eventually making great strides. Sales and marketing integration needs an evolution, not a revolution.

Taking a long-term view, one step at a time, will get you there.

For some additional ideas to integrating your marketing and sales, download our Five tips for Integrating marketing and sales

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