Give Peace a Chance: 7 Steps to Ending the Sales and Marketing Conflict

It’s coming up on 10 years since the Harvard Business Review (HBR) laid out a strategy to end “the war between sales and marketing.” Decrying the negative impact on corporate performance due to misaligned sales and marketing departments, the prestigious publication offered several recommendations on how these teams could work together more effectively.

If the current level of cooperation between most sales and marketing teams is a reliable gauge, the article fell short on its peace-making mission. Despite making a solid case for the value that sales and marketing alignment can drive, few people seemed to care.

That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. As an increasing number of companies strive to improve both their top and bottom lines, management is beginning to lean more heavily on sales and marketing organizations to bury the hatchet.

That was especially evident at the 2016 Content2Conversion Conference in Scottsdale last month, where striking an accord between sales and marketing was top-of-mind for several speakers.

Christine Nurnberger, CMO of Bottomline Technologies, addressed how she is aligning her marketing team with the sales organization. A #C2C16 panel of marketing executives moderated by Matt Heinz also focused on how their teams provide more support for sales enablement activities. And more than a few other speakers hinted that it’s time for a significant warming of relations between sales and marketing.

Simultaneously, my colleagues at Demand Gen Report, in partnership with InsideView, conducted an analysis of nearly 1,000 responses to a survey that asked sales and marketing leaders how peace could be achieved. In addition to identifying the primary cause for the tension between these two important departments, the survey surfaced a number of alignment best practices.

What’s The Problem(s)?

As noted in the comprehensive report on the survey results — Cracking the Code of Sales and Marketing Alignment — the three biggest barriers to enhanced relations between sales and marketing are a lack of communication, broken or flawed business processes, and misaligned success metrics.

The communication shortfall leads to misunderstandings about what sales and marketing teams need from each other. The process breakdown impacts lead flow, pipeline review and lead handoff. And the different success metrics for both departments keeps teams at odds — even if they believe they are striving to achieve a shared business outcome.

For 22% of the survey’s respondents, the barriers to better collaboration between sales and marketing led to missed revenue goals. Of the respondents who hit their revenue targets, sales and marketing may have been “more or less aligned.” But for the companies exceeding their revenue goals, the DGR team noticed distinct clues pointing to stronger sales and marketing alignment.

Based on those observations, the report’s authors listed several recommendations to optimize alignment between these important teams:

  1. Improve communication: Focus on improving communication and fostering camaraderie between the two teams.
  1. Align processes: Ensure good process on critical alignment topics such as lead scoring and routing. Require regular review and examination to ensure they are working properly.
  1. Prioritize lead quality: Focusing on lead quality over quantity is critical to successful alignment.
  1. Enrich prospect data: A lack of data on targeted leads can stall routing and follow-up. Rich, detailed data on your leads is vital for successful prospecting.
  1. Shadow sales: Create opportunities for marketing team members to better understand the sale process to become more effective partners.
  1. Align on pipeline: Emphasize pipeline to drive mutual accountability. Align metrics, values and goals, and require consistent reporting, definitions and analysis of results.
  1. Give marketing variable compensation: Tie marketing compensation to pipeline to encourage revenue-focused behavior and increase credibility with the sales.

For companies that paid attention to the HBR article in 2006 — which, by the way, included many of the recommendations made in the DGR/Inside View report — the benefits were probably remarkable.

As the DGR/InsideView report noted:

  • Organizations with tightly aligned marketing and sales achieved 24% faster revenue growth and 27% faster profit over a three-year period.
  • Companies with aligned sales and marketing teams experienced 36% higher customer retention rates.
  • Companies with aligned sales and marketing teams are 67% better at closing deals.

With these kinds of benefits, who wouldn’t want to give peace a chance?

Has your organization tried to improve collaboration and communication between sales and marketing? Do you have any tips or advice? Share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.


terry-moffatt-circleTerry Moffatt is Content Strategist for Content4Demand. Every day, he helps clients discover great stories about their brands and businesses, and convey these stories through different content formats. He especially enjoys telling buyer-centric marketing stories through video because it can combine the power of moving and still pictures, text and audio. When he’s not creating killer content, Moffatt is building things, such as small structures, stone walls and even interiors. Creating something that has utility and provides value gives him an incredible sense of accomplishment, so you can count on him to create effective content!