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What is driving the disconnect between sales and marketing?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher September 22, 2016
The disconnect between sales and marketing persists, no matter what tools or digital happy talk we try. It's time to ask why. Barb Mosher Zinck parses recent data - and does a rethink of marketing's corporate role.

What is driving the disconnect between sales and marketing?

It wasn’t that long ago that I asked the question, can content marketing change the relationship between marketing and sales? There is no one right answer, but there is one critical point - there is a disconnect between marketing and sales, and it needs to get resolved.

Marketing productivity is related to sales

The 2016 State of Marketing Productivity report from Docurated (free registration required), found that while 88% of organizations surveyed report on sales productivity, only 12% report on marketing productivity.

Is that a big deal? It should be important considering 85% said that supporting sales is the number one priority for marketing. If marketing marketing productivity isn’t measured, how do you know the content and leads you provide sales are useful? How do you know the content marketing, campaigns, and product marketing are working?

This study paints marketing productivity in a pretty negative light. For one thing, it said that 56% of sales people create their own sales materials, even though marketing says sales is its priority. It also said that 90% of marketing-produced content goes unused by sales:

In a time when sales reps are faced with increasingly complex selling situations, our data shows that marketing teams are increasing their spend on content, but 90% of that content never sees the light of day!

Another interesting commentary from the report:

In addition, heavy investment in top of the funnel programs such as Content Marketing and Thought Leadership has actually created noise and confusion on the buyer side. Buyers think they’ve read everything and know the pros and cons of all the different product/solution permutations. In fact, buyers are confused and drowning in all the materials they have access to.

So where is the disconnect?

The Docurated report comes from a survey of roughly 1200 sales and marketing executives, and it doesn’t break down the percentages by what marketing thinks and what sales thinks, so we don’t know if the 85% that say sales is the priority is marketing’s view or sales view or both.

We also don’t know if 90% of content never sees the light of day is created specifically for sales or not. As we’ve been told many times, “marketing looks for Mr. (or Ms.) Right but sales looks for Mr. (or Ms.) Right Now.”

What that means is that marketing is responsible for reaching out and creating awareness, creating interest over a period of time and drilling down to pull in the right leads to switch over to sales. There’s a lot of upfront work there that happens that sales aren't involved in.

Let’s add another layer to that. Marketing is also becoming more responsible for creating content and campaigns that reach existing customers - supporting service and support - to build loyalty and increase retention. Again content that sales don't need.

I don’t believe marketing exists to primarily support sales. I think it exists to the support the company overall.

The disconnect is the lack of a unified relationship between all the departments within a company that interact with and influence customers: marketing, sales, support. Marketing should not be run by sales because its mission is much wider. However, much of the content and marketing strategies developed should be heavily influenced by what’s happening in the sales department.

In this respect, the Docurated report makes a good point. The study found that only 30% of respondents sometimes or always involve sales in the content creation process. But sales is the one talking to prospects and customers - they should have a pretty solid understanding of pain points, needs, common questions. Marketing should take the time to listen to them. It would not only help them create more useful material for sales, but it will help them define their story better to suit the customer.

Ian Altman said it well in his Forbes post:

Marketing works to create a message that would resonate for customers. But, the sales organization spends the most time with customers. Without tight integration between sales and marketing, your marketing organization may as well be battling with one hand tied behind their back. If properly engaged, salespeople have the most to contribute to creating valuable marketing content.

The same can also be said for working with service and support. Another point Altman made:

The goal is for marketing to create content to attract more of the right opportunities, and for sales to have the right types of conversations that might uncover whether or not that opportunity is a good fit for your company.

Marketing is about audience building, and over time narrowing that audience down into prospects that can be passed on to sales. Marketing is about telling the right story, the customer’s story and how that story aligns with the brand, and it’s product and services. This brand development, content marketing, and product marketing.

Sales focus on turning the prospect into a customer. The material they use needs to help them do that.

The connection between the two is the story and messaging

Sales needs a seat at the table when the story and messaging are defined. They may not have the creative prowess to create great content or to create the right story in an entertaining and informative way, but they have the understanding of the customer. They also know what type of content the prospect is looking for when they get to the sales level and what they look for before they reach out and make actual contact.

Marketing needs to listen to sales. They need to listen to service and support. They need to take these insights and mold them into a story and messaging that resonates with the audiences they want to reach.

They also need to talk with customers directly; they need to research, talk with analysts, analyze traffic, develop personas and journey maps, and understand the company, it’s products and services.

If the stories don’t align, if the messaging is completely different, then there will only be problems. This is the biggest disconnect that exists between sales and marketing today.

Final thoughts

Probably the best way we see marketing and sales align is with account-based marketing. With ABM, marketing and sales work closely together to create content for a key subset of customers. The story and the messaging align.

Most organizations that do account-based marketing also continue to do inbound marketing, demand generation, and product marketing. I suspect that story alignment is the biggest challenge with inbound marketing because it’s not about selling, it’s about awareness and understanding.

Your story is the foundation of your company. Disconnects are cracks in the foundation. And we all know what happens when a crack becomes bigger.

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