Sales and marketing working in tandem - organizational Holy Grail or the new reality?

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan December 12, 2018
Marketing and Sales working in harmony for the greater good...or fighting like a bag of cats. Salesforce's State of Marketing Report suggests progress.

A symbiotic relationship between sales and marketing has long been the goal of most organizations, although in reality the two have all-too-often operated in a blame culture.

But that may be changing according to this year’s State of Marketing report from Salesforce, which finds that a (very small) majority of marketing respondents (52%) are now sharing data across the aisle with their sales counterparts.

This leads to a situation where marketing becomes the “cross-functional glue of customer experience”, according to the study:

Marketers have a unique perspective of customer needs, behaviors, and trends. As such, nearly half (45%) of marketing leaders say their organization is leading customer experience initiatives across the business, up from 24% who strongly agreed with this sentiment in 2017…To operate successfully in this new day and age, marketers are fundamentally rethinking how they work both within and outside of their traditional purviews.

Nearly two- thirds (62%) of marketing leaders say that individuals and teams within their organization are more aligned with each other than ever before, while 45% say that marketing leads customer experience initiatives across the business. And on that sales/marketing synergistic ‘Holy Grail’, 54% of marketers say they are empowered to collaborate with sales, up 86% year-on-year, while 52% say the two camps now share common goals and metrics, up 87% on last year’s study:

Sales and marketing alignment is hardly a new concept. But as increasingly sophisticated customer experiences elevate consumers’ expectations, standards are rising for business purchases, too. Therefore, it’s critical for all sales and marketing to march in tandem. A slight majority of marketing teams with direct selling models now share common goals and metrics with their sales colleagues. A similar number enjoys a free and open flow of customer data between the teams.

Marketing is also reaching out to the paid advertising teams:

Historically, paid advertising has been stuck in organizational and technological silos. Today, advertising teams are joining the wider marketing fold. In fact, 87% of marketing teams with internal advertising colleagues share integrated technology stacks, underscoring the importance of unifying data to create the right experience on the right channel at the right time. Fifty-five percent of marketing teams collaborate with advertising teams when evaluating new technology.


The State of Marketing is based on a survey of 4,100 marketing professionals from the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, not all Salesforce customers. So it’s a pretty wide-ranging study that covers a lot of ground.

Top priority for marketers polled for this year’s report is the inevitable challenge of engaging with customers in real time. Customers now expect a “conversational manner” to engagement, but less than half (49%) of respondents reckon that they provide an experience that meets those expectations.

The top performing marketing organizations use customer data to identify and deliver more personalized and relevant experiences. Personalization is identified as a major priority by 30% all organizations, but high performers tip the balance (59% of respondents v 8% of under-performers). Similarly 28% of all respondents see creating personalized omni-channel customer experiences as another priority, with 57% of high performers citing this compared to 6% of under-performers.

But the problem of finding and accessing the necessary underlying customer data remains with the median numbers of data sources used by marketers is up from 10 last year to 12 this year and expected to reach 15 in 2019. The types of sources are expanding, including customers having multiple email addresses, social activity, web activity, e-commerce and point-of-sale transactions, and service engagements

This data deluge has consequences, notes the study:

Merely collecting data from different sources isn’t enough, however, as disconnected
data paints an incomplete picture at best. Only 47% of marketers say they have a completely unified view of customer data sources. Marketers across performance tiers differ on how urgent they believe data unification is, as well as the steps they’re taking to address it.

The temptation has been to reach for technology solutions that have grown into a stack:

Different technology solutions have emerged to solve for unique identities. But these technologies are traditionally owned and administered by different departments — such as ESPs [Email Service Providers] and DMPs [Data Management Platforms] owned by marketing departments and CRMs and databases owned by sales and IT departments. As a result, no default solution for customer identity has emerged. In fact, the average marketing department leans on three different technologies for this purpose.

But surely the answer to this - as it seems to be to every other organizational and operational issue today - lies with Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Certainly there are clear theoretical applications, such as predicting customer needs, and marketers use of AI is up from 20% in last year’s study to 29% this year, with more to come.

Screenshot 2018-12-13 at 11.33.43

But there’s a trust problem that kicks in here:

As technology advances, marketers have unprecedented ability to scale and personalize their programs through AI. But opaque data use policies have weakened the trust of many consumers.

That said, an earlier report this year, The State of the Connected Customer, found that 79% of customers are willing to share data in exchange for contextualised engagement, and 88% will do so for personalized offers. What’s critical is the degree of transparency about what uses data is being put to. But this is opening up new issues for marketing teams to worry about:

Fifty-one percent of marketing teams say they’re more mindful about balancing personalization and privacy than they were two years ago. Yet only 30% of marketers are completely satisfied with their ability to balance personalization with privacy, and one-third of marketers admit that it’s difficult to meet regulatory obligations (like those specified by the European Union’s GDPR). It’s little surprise, then, that only 44% of marketers differentiate themselves by going beyond what’s required by law or industry standards.

My take

One of the most pleasing things about this report is that it has taken a global look at the topic - some 34% of respondents are from Europe, followed by 29% from Asia Pacific, 22% from the US and 15% from Latin America - so this isn’t a US-dominated set of findings as is all-too-often the case with such studies.

The sales and marketing working in tandem idea has been a corporate Holy Grail forever and a day and it’s going to take a while yet before each stops blaming the other for poor results. But that small majority of respondents who claim to be aligning more closely gives room for hope. Maybe some kind of tipping point has been reached?

The inevitable AI-for-everything aspect is also treated with a welcome conservatism here, with the trust issues rightly highlighted. As the debate about the prospect of a GDPR-US rumbles on, this is a factor that we can expect to see becoming ever more important in 2019 and beyond.

A grey colored placeholder image