How Marketing Can Win the Love of Sales

J. David Green
November 15, 2018

Who wouldn’t want to win the love of sales?

Alignment with sales is not the most important priority in marketing, but it’s very difficult for marketing to reach its full potential without a good working relationship with sales.

Alignment with sales is hard. Misalignment is much harder. The symptoms of misalignment are many:

  • Your job longevity
  • Complaints from sales about lead quality
  • Complaints from sales about lead volume
  • Concerns in marketing about rapid, comprehensive lead follow-up
  • Insufficient, uneven feedback/resolution on marketing leads
  • Doubts about marketing claims of ROI
  • Lackluster ROI (or no measurable ROI in the most severe cases)
  • Difficulty securing necessary marketing budgets

That first item, job longevity, is a heart-stopper, right?

Get the 58-page ebook, “How to Win the love of Sales.”

Marketing’s Credibility Gap

At the heart of this struggle is credibility for marketing with the CEO, CFO, and COO. In too many companies, B2B marketing is a junior partner, often not getting a seat at the executive table. For marketing to realize its potential to orchestrate shareholder value, marketing must develop a working partnership with the sales organization.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours interviewing top sales reps and their leaders, thousands of hours talking to marketers about leads and their perceptions of sales teams. I’ve also implemented successful service-level agreements in multiple enterprise organizations.

So let me share some things I’ve learned.

Before I do, let me also say that a big part of building a winning relationship with sales is simply wanting to do so. Sales won’t respond well to your telling them what they must do. Instead, as my friend David Lewis said, you need to go with your palm up and ask them to go on a journey with you, one that will help both teams.

The Looming Iceberg that Can Sink Your Marketing Ship

Before talking about some important principles in winning the love of the sales organization, let me talk about what’s at the heart of many struggles in B2B: complexity. B2B complexity makes collaboration with sales even more important.

Without collaboration, measuring ROI won’t happen.

The array of marketing technologies that were going to usher in the holy grail of marketing—the right message through the right channel, at the right time, to the right person in the right company—has made life for marketing more complicated, not less.

What makes B2B so complicated isn’t just the avalanche of new go-to-market technologies but the buying behavior of businesses. Consider these factors when B2B companies make buying decisions about complex solutions:

  • Corporate culture shapes business buying behavior;
  • During the investigation of your solution, your prospects and customers interact with your marketing, sales, and even post sales team (where many pre-sales interactions can take place), across every medium;
  • Multiple people from an account influence the final decision;
  • Not everyone who gets involved has influence;
  • Some people who have influence work for consultancies or agencies, not the brand;
  • Many look but few buy;
  • Your customers and prospects take weeks and often months to make a buying decision;
  • The questions your prospects have change as they move closer to a decision;
  • Their answers to your questions also can change as they move closer to a decision;
  • B2B accounts often have multiple locations and even different buying centers in the largest companies;
  • Most prospects choose the status quo, making closing out “dead” opportunities difficult.

This list is not exhaustive.

How Marketing and Sales Duplicate Effort

The top-of-the-funnel overlap between sales and marketing makes things more complicated still and efficient use of sales and marketing resources more problematic. For example, both sales and marketing target a set of accounts and buyer personas. Both can spark interest in those accounts, marketing with lead programs and sales with prospecting. Both can qualify those who express interest. And both can nurture those who are not quite ready. Because the sales team talks to multiple people in the same account and often more than one marketing lead, even the most diligent salespeople might not take the time to sort through proper attribution so that you get the credit you deserve and can more effectively optimize your results.

All these issues make sorting out cause and effect extremely challenging. It also makes revenue attribution like a game of pin the tail on the donkey. Plus, how can B2B companies avoid duplication of effort or sales and marketing avoid working at cross-purposes?

This complexity underscores the need for alignment with sales.

Get the 58-page ebook, “How to Win the love of Sales.”

Start with a Common Goal

The need for sales and marketing alignment isn’t new. Getting both teams to work together each day on the ground doesn’t seem to happen that often, however. The problem starts at the top, with a lack of goal alignment.

Part of the problem is that both sales and marketing experience significant turnover. Another common problem is that those initially trying to create better alignment see the issue as a one-time event, not an ongoing journey.

Develop a Culture of Mutual Empathy and Respect

Perhaps more than anything, both sides need to develop — from senior leadership to entry-level people just starting their career — mutual empathy that comes from better understanding of the feelings of each side, the perceptions of each side, and the misconceptions of both sides toward each other. In other words, this isn’t a date. It’s a long-term commitment, akin to getting married.

Start with getting executives aligned but don’t stop there.  You’re just getting started. The real work happens when the larger sales and marketing teams, at all levels, collaborate again and again, working toward a common goal and developing a culture of respectful teamwork, based around customer buying behavioral insights.

The reason for this commitment is simple: if each side doesn’t help the other, neither sales nor marketing will be nearly as successful working alone as they will be working together. The goal is to bring out the best in each other.

Measure What Matters Most

Conflict between sales and marketing happens because the two teams have completely different goals. Sales is always obsessed with surpassing quota. That’s how they make money. That goal is not the goal of most marketing teams.

Getting people to come to your website or fill out a lead form doesn’t necessarily correlate to revenue or profit. Is there a relationship? Sure. But it’s not hard to create false positives. Junk traffic to your website can bounce. Low-cost leads don’t convert.

So the goal of marketing should not be to generate a certain number of leads per month. It shouldn’t be to generate leads at a particular cost, either. Neither of those things necessarily helps salespeople or the bottom line of the company. In fact, a high volume of low-cost leads could easily waste time for salespeople, lower sales production, and waste a lot of sales and marketing resources.

More sophisticated marketers want to contribute a percent of the pipeline via marketing leads. That’s closer, but here is the problem.  Marketing is, in a way, competing for pipeline creation credit.

Don’t Let Your Quest for Revenue Attribution Derail the Partnership

Getting closed-loop feedback on leads is a big step in the right direction. Once marketers start closing the loop, however, the contribution to revenue is often not that high. Rarely is it above 50 percent of revenues, and often it’s much lower. In fact, the bigger the company and the larger the installed base, the lower the contribution from marketing leads becomes generally. Moreover, far too many inquiries don’t convert, even with lead nurturing.

That said, a casual review of closed deals against a list of marketing inquiries usually reveals cases where prior to the sale closing marketing engaged the account but got no credit for generating the lead. So to tell a more compelling ROI story, marketing started to distinguish between marketing “sourced” revenue and marketing “influenced” revenue. This approach gave additional credit to marketing touches on closed deals.

These efforts to analyze the true contribution from marketing notwithstanding, identifying true causal relationships between closed business and marketing engagement is almost impossible. The buying cycle is long. Many people may influence the decision. Some who visit a website have no influence on the decision, and others are looking for reasons to derail your sales team. And then in the daily frenzy of sales activity there is the problem of getting salespeople to track marketing leads properly.

In short, revenue attribution gets very complicated very quickly. Is it worthwhile? Yes. But it shouldn’t be the bedrock of modern B2B marketing ROI stories.

Crediting marketing with revenue contribution in this way doesn’t prove much to the skeptics, and there are many. Sales and those creating products or delivering services certainly deserve a lot of the credit for this same revenue. Then there are the arguments about how much of the revenue the company might have gotten anyway, without all the lead generation and lead nurturing activity from marketing. You’ve probably heard these arguments before. The CFO and CEO have the difficult job of deciding subjectively how much credit marketing deserves.

Understand the Economics of Sales Prospecting

I’ve interviewed hundreds of salespeople and surveyed thousands more. Invariably, a lot of their time is spent looking for people to sell to. It’s not uncommon to hear that even the most highly paid salespeople are spending 20 to 40 percent of their time on this type of activity. Multiply either of those percentages by the overall sales budget and you have a considerable expense with no real measurement around effectiveness.

Does this mean salespeople shouldn’t prospect? No. If their pipeline is low, they need to prospect. And some prospecting, like referral networking, is an extremely profitable use of time when done properly.

Sales prospecting, however, provides a baseline — particularly cold calling. Research this activity to answer a few fundamental questions:

  • What are the material categories of sales prospecting?
  • How much do various types of sales prospecting really cost?
  • What is the revenue contribution from various forms of prospecting?
  • Do marketing leads offer a better return than any of these sales prospecting efforts?

From this perspective, the most important question is whether marketing leads can drive more revenue through a sales team more cost-effectively than the team can do on its own. If not, shouldn’t a B2B company just cut investment in marketing leads and hire more salespeople? Compared to lead tracking and revenue attribution, looking at an increase in sales production is very simple.

For this simple reason, I would suggest making the goal of lead generation a tool for helping sales people surpass quota more often and at a reasonable cost.

Moreover, while there are many variables that contribute to sales productivity, it’s not impossible to establish experiments that benefit one group of salespeople and not another. This concept is the basis of testing and experimentation. There is no reason you can’t use it to measure the most important question.

Get the 58-page ebook, “How to Win the love of Sales.”

Further Reading

Lainey Mebust
June 15, 2020
Lainey Mebust
May 29, 2020
Olin Hyde
April 8, 2020
. 5 min read