Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape: 5 Tips to Help Marketing Deal with Sales

Last week, I went to Silverpop’s B2B Marketing University.  As I have blogged before, I don’t write about conferences unless I can write about something interesting. This event was awesome — the content was great (not your typical BS), 180 people were in the audience, and the questions were engaging. I was having writer’s block going into the event, and I left with three posts (coming soon). Props to Silverpop.

OK, so during Malcolm Friedberg’s presentation, someone in the audience asked for advice on how to handles sales. (The actual question is not important, but it had something to do with convincing sales to let marketing nurture instead of passing the leads to them directly.) Anyway, I was sitting there thinking that, here we have Malcolm on stage talking about marketing automation processes, etc., and one of the questions that comes up is the age-old issue of the sales-marketing divide. Boom. Funnelholic blog post.

One thing I have noticed as Marketing 2.0 continues to gather steam is that all of us in the marketing blogosphere can act like dealing with sales is easy because we are all in marketing-dominated companies. But in the real world, sales is the powerful and dangerous entity. That’s not an insult. That’s reality. Sales is on the front line — they are type-A, aggressive, unforgiving folks. It’s rare to find a place where marketing is in the catbird’s seat.

If you don’t have sales on board, however, you will have NO ROI. So act, don’t complain.

So, here is how you know you have a problem with sales:

  • Sales tells you that you suck — Do I need to explain?
  • Sales ignores you completely — Sales is a “you are either helping me or in the way” type of crew, so if they view you as being in the way (fairly or not), prepare to be ignored.
  • Sales tells everyone you suck, but not to your face — It’s amazing how many sales leaders are passive-aggressive, but I see it all the time. Which leads to …
  • Sales is really nice to you: Beware of smiling sales management.

Here is how you tell you have a good relationship:

  • When leads don’t convert, they look into what they can do about it. Good.
  • They ask for more of your leads. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!

Here are 5 things you should do to foster a healthy sales-marketing relationship:

1. Have a meeting: I know this sounds obvious, but here is my point. If things are bad, then have a meeting. If you are starting the relationship, have a meeting. In the meeting, tell sales the following:

  • MARKETING will create an infrastructure (nurturing, phone) to pass qualified leads to the sales team. (Again, stop passing raw inquiries to sales.)
  • MARKETING AND SALES will AGREE on a unified lead definition to live by.
  • SALES will sign an SLA that, if MARKETING hits the unified lead definition, they will follow up an agreed amount of times.
  • MARKETING AND SALES will meet at least biweekly to optimize the program.

2. Create a unified lead definition: I give Brian Carroll the credit for this term, but gurus like Stu Silverman have been making the lead definition the key to sales and marketing success for years. Here is the essence: sit down with sales and AGREE on the definition of a lead — what marketing passes to the sales team. Look, sales will forget — particularly when one an account executives complains — but you can always refer back to it. When sales comes back and says, “none of your leads are closing,” offer to revisit the lead definition. Keep in mind that the lead definition dictates volume, and when you discuss definitions, you have to make sure sales understands the volume implications.
3. The sales SLA: When you agree to a unified lead definition, you also need to agree on sales’ activities after you pass them a qualified lead. Do this. It’s only fair.
4. Have weekly sync-up meetings: You can do this biweekly, if necessary. Just don’t let it slip. Don’t just talk about the numbers, talk anecdotally. Remind everyone that the meeting must be honest but not accusatory, because the wheels can fall off these meetings very easily if you are not careful. On the other hand, they can’t be a meaningless rubber stamp either. Optimization is a two-way street.
5. Just try to get along: I hate to say it, but if you are the marketer, you have to lead this charge. Sales is always moving, so have a plan and instigate peace. Both sides will win as a result.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • David Locke

    Finally a post about a solution other than destroying marketing. Thanks.

  • Hi Craig,

    Nice post!

    One thing I’d add to #4 is to actively solicit feedback about the leads making progress and the leads who are not. Marketing can’t improve and refine programs without knowing what they’re doing has noticeable impact and what isn’t working.

    Ask if salespeople are hearing new questions. Those can be indicative of content gaps marketing can fill to help increase momentum.

    The second thing I’d add is to celebrate wins!

  • I have been writing about this issue for about ten years and agree with you for the most part. There is one major element missing from the list. To explain, you first have to understand two things about sales people. First, sales people are driven by control, compensation and credit. Anything done by anyone that is perceived as a threat to any of the “three C’s” is going to create a problem (that includes nurturing programs, re-heating leads, lead audits to determine the effectiveness of follow-up…). Second, sales people do what you pay them to do, not what you want them to do.

    So, the only way to move from the free-for-all apparent in most companies to a more controlled environment is, in addition to the points in this blog, more stringent deployment. A really smart boss of mine once said that the problem with most sales people is that they are not forced to hunt for food in a methodical way because to them there is food everywhere. How many companies suffer from sales people that have an off quarter only to talk about how great the next one looks? With fewer than 50% of the average sales force on or above quota – there must be a lot of them!

    I have written extensively about this subject, but a summary of my recommendation is that at the beginning of the quarter document the status of and then hold sales people accountable for only the absolutely validated opportunities already on their pipeline – regardless of what opportunities they find in the next quarter and regardless of the opportunities presented to them by marketing. The reality is that their success, or lack thereof, on a controlled number of prospects is going to be indicative of the potential for success in subsequent quarters. This does not mean that a sales person should be shot after one bad quarter. It does mean that lack of movement in the funnel for two quarters with each quarter’s hot prospects appearing to be different at the start of each new quarter is reason for concern.

    Thank you for the question!

  • Good one Craig. Agree with everything you said plus the great comments from Ardath and Dan. When I ran marketing, I had a couple of ground rules to make sure the marketing team did not antagonize or alienate the sales team:
    1. Sales is your #1 customer – so treat them accordingly.
    2. Sales does not have to do what you say. If you make their job easier, they will listen.
    3. THINK and ACT like a sales person.

    Nothing infuriates a sales person more then a smart-ass marketing person. If you want sales to be comfortable with your nurturing program, then make sure you know how to qualify opportunities the way a sales rep does it.

    And as Ardath said, celebrate (and publicize) wins. Make sure the entire sales team and management team (CEO too) know about the successes.

  • Great tips Craig. We call it “SMarketing” at HubSpot. Lots of great ideas in here, some of which we do and some of which we need to act on.

    The only additional point I would make is to define the sales readiness of a lead using factual data rather than sales gut. We have seen many scenarios where reps complain about particular lead segments. However, when we look at the data, those lead segments turn into high value customers for us at higher LTV-to-COCA ratios than other lead segments. Therefore, we run regressions of lead segments against sales LTV-to-COCA ratios to drive our lead quality definitions, rather than only rely on feedback from sales.

    Fantastic article on a critical topic.

  • So here I am sitting in my jammie, thinking does anyone get how critical this sales and marketing alignment is? And then, out of nowhere, BOOM! There’s a post from the Funnelholic. Marketing and sales working together. A unified vision. A Universal Lead Definition. This guy’s speaking my language. I gotta hang out here more.

    Nice post, Craig. Love that you keep the dialogue alive.


  • Great post. Defining a Lead is a start but also considered here should be defining behavior. Even in smaller organizations where the definition of a “Lead” is easier to put your finger on, behavior still escapes most sales & marketing departments.

    Lead scoring provides a more finite definition of WHAT behavior translates to a qualified, and more importantly, closed lead. However, it still tends to be marketing who is turning the dials trying to get the receipie right. When this comes solely from a department who’s job is to generate MORE leads… well you see the paradox here.

    We just assembled the latest paper ‘Bridging the Gap’ in our Kill Tradition series, which takes a look at tools that allow the Sales department to play a larger role. Having an open view into marketing activity and resulting behavior the lead exhibits to warrant the warm body touch promotes sales feedback other than just “these leads suck”. Take a look:


  • Hi, Craig. Glad to help clear your writer’s block, and happy to hear you got a lot out of B2B Marketing University.

    I like your practical approach to improving sales and marketing alignment, but the most important call-out in my mind is this idea of an SLA. Where I’ve seen sales and marketing go wrong is when there’s not a bar for ‘here’s what I will do, and here’s what you will do.’ Without that bar — that touchstone — everything becomes hearsay and you’ll never know if both parties are meeting a common level of service to the other.

    Also, great call-out by Ardath on content gaps. That part is critical. I think one of the ongoing ‘SLA’ responsibilities from the sales team has got to be helping to keep a check on whether the ‘upstream’ dialogue marketing is managing with prospects is the right dialogue — which requires the right content — and whether there is any discontinuity between upstream dialogue via marketing activities and downstream dialogue with the sales org.

  • Excellent points from everyone. In my experience breakthrough revenue performance can be achieved by
    1. aligning marketing and sales to the buyer’s journey (define the funnel stages based on buyer’s process not an internal sales process)
    2. transforming the culture in marketing and sales to one of trust, collaboration and open dialogue
    3. achieving a commitment to a single, integrated sales and marketing plan detailing exactly how the two organizations will work together throughout the funnel to achieve the revenue goal.

    None of this is easy, but the key point is that without cultural transformation the benefits of marketing and sales alignment are incremental at best.

  • Thought? Put Marketing and Sales under one umbrella in an organization. Maybe tie bonuses and compensation together for both departments? IE Reward qualified leads, and then further reward Marketing for leads that turn into sales. on the Sales end, there needs to be accountability as well.

    Take a hard look at “qualified” leads that do not result in a sale. Are we not targeting the right group, does the definition of a lead need to be refined, does the Sales Force need more training, do we need more meeting of the minds between the teams, etc.?

    This is where Business Technology can help, in a fully thought out Sales and Marketing Automated Application (CRM Package) that tracks first touch/response leads to engagement/opportunity to close. This is the only way to produce the cold hard data that can be measured,discussed,and tweaked amongst the team as needed. Only then are the teams on the same page and have a shared sense of company.

    Without this interaction the WAR between Sales and Marketing rages on and continues!

  • Craig,

    Great post. I came up with a similar list on my blog without having read this first (I swear). I love this model for small companies and wish sometimes that it could be so simple. However, I work in a very, very large company with thousands of sales folks and marketers. Some of these things are impractical like sitting down to define leads and “just getting along.

    I’ve also found that sometimes sales is incented NOT to give marketing credit for leads. For example, if sales is pursuing a company on their target list and marketing hands them a new lead from that company, the may flag it “KNOWN OPPORTUNITY” to ensure that they make their quota. (ie, a lead that someone else provided may not get counted towards their quota).

    I have found what works in these types of organizations is developing grassroots programs and pilots with a smaller number of sales folks who then spread the word about how great the pilot was… effectively we’re talking about WOM marketing internally. If you just try and throw leads at them, you can easily get stonewalled.