Sales and Marketing, a Symbiosis

Sales and marketing often have a very complex relationship. Too often, companies take one of the two extremist positions in relating the two organizations: Either marketing is just an adjunct of sales or it is somehow almost completely distinct and involved in the “bigger issues” of branding and other longer term goals. As someone who has a broad background working in different departments within business, I have a more holistic approach.

Marketing and sales must work together, they are closely tied but still separate entities. On one side, it’s critical to ensure the tools exist to close sales. The sales force is right to demand messaging and material and it’s critical for all of marketing, not just product and events marketing, to understand the pressures upon a sales force.

At the same time, marketing must be positioning the company past the individual sale, for mid- and longer term imaging of the company. Those messages must be clear. The first issue on that side is that means getting the executives to agree upon a vision for the firm. There must be CxO buy-in as to messaging and positioning. This especially matters in the SMB software company, since the founders are usually very active in sales, discussions with analysts (both market an financial) and other external groups. If they’re saying different things, the market gets confused. The key challenge for marketing on that front is convincing the founders that a new message may be needed and to stick to it. I’ll focus a bit more on that challenge in later blogs.

Those are high level concepts that many have seen, but how does the rubber hit the road? The product marketing manager, or the “marketing person” in a small company, must be able to help sales understand the balance between individual sales and corporate goals. In an early stage company, there’s not really a difference. Each sale is critical to survival and the product can change drastically to help close. However, at some point the company has to address the larger market, then things change.

I have an example from one company that was in the transition. The previous year it earned around $15 million in revenue. Analysts were expecting a hockey stick revenue gain for $100 million in the current year. I had one sales person come to me in a rush, saying “I need feature X added into the product and I can close a $1 million dollar sale!” They’d closed their first one million deal the previous year and it meant a lot to the sales force. Telling him a simple no and pointing out that we have a market to address isn’t enough. Neither is acting as if the company is smaller and rushing to change product.

I responded, asking him how much analysts expected us to make this year (and sales always knows). I then pointed out that the deal was only 1% of expectations. I asked him to see how many other prospects wanted the same feature and sent out an email to the sales force to see if it was popping up elsewhere. I explained that if we could, again, get to a pipeline of 5% I could check with development about tradeoffs with other features the market wanted. At the same time, I worked to give him information to provide the prospect with a workaround and words to help him communicate where we were going with products.

It ends up there weren’t other people who “required” it and that the workarounds were good enough to close the deal with the prospect. I was able to address both the short term sales needs and the corporate goal of addressing a wider market. Neither one exists on its own, there’s a sliding scale.

Marketing is about communications, all types. Sales is a critical channel of communications and it’s what pays the bills. The wars between the two groups do a disservice to both. It’s a symbiotic relationship.


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