Ask a B2B marketer which internal stakeholder relationship is the most critical and the most complicated, very likely they will respond with a resounding, SALES!

The nuanced relationship between sales and marketing is always a hot topic, with the lines growing ever blurry between the two, but one thing is for certain – Marketing and Sales can’t exist without each other, and both are essential to driving results for a B2B business. In November, the Marketing Association’s B2B SIG group set to dive deep into this topic by gathering leading sales and marketing professionals in the same room for a robust panel discussion – Here is what we learned.

Panelists: Natalie Robinson, Chief Marketing OfficerEmrod | Amanda Armstrong, DirectorRevenueLab | Adam Sands, Sales Director OfficeMax | Dale Koerner, Strategic Marketing Chapter LeadBlueOcean (Hosted by Rebecca Caroe, B2B Marketing Specialist & CMO)

So – What does sales REALLY think of Marketing?

Put simply, the traditional perception is that Marketing creates the demand as leads, and sales is primed to capture the demand as contracts.  The panel shared that this traditional view results in a common pain point: Marketing complains that sales don’t convert these leads, and sales complain that marketing generates poor quality leads that they can’t convert.

However, the overwhelming trend amongst the panel was that the interpersonal perceptions between sales and marketing are evolving – and for the better, with demand creation and capture becoming a shared role (especially in B2B spaces).

Natalie Robinson shared how at times in her career there was a perception that marketers ‘polish’ things right at the very end and can make anything look good. That they don’t need to be involved in the whole process – which often created a disconnect. Adam Sands echoed this by describing how in his early sales career they saw marketing as the “good time guys” that push out pretty flyers and throw great launch parties. However, his team have been on a journey to recognize that marketing really is critical at supporting sales by identifying key market opportunities, driving qualified leads, and building the credibility for sales to stand on when converting leads to sales.

So, if the sales and marketing relationship is evolving – what does this look like going forward?

Marketing and Sales are two sides of the same coin: emphasis on the coin.

The panel emphasized that businesses won’t get anywhere fast without sales and marketing working in harmony towards this shared goal of driving revenue. Amanda Armstrong flagged that to do this we must understand each other’s objectives, pain points, and key strategies to get there – and ultimately find alignment and ways to support each other.

The panel articulated some of these nuanced differences between sales and marketing.

  • Marketing tends to be focused outwards into the macro landscape, building our share of voice, consumer understanding and seeking to map out the longer-term direction of play. Seeking to prime the market for our products and brands to thrive. Success can be accumulated over longer periods of time, but harder to measure.
  • Sales is largely buyer-focused, with the customer and their needs front and center at all times – the timelines can be more urgent, as you have a customer on the phone requesting answers. Many sales KPIs are driven by shorter-term financial metrics and measured by closed contract value.

But these differences are just that – nuanced – because ultimately both are aiming towards an aligned outcome. Dale Koerner summed it up best when he said that sales and marketing are more similar than different – they both listen to their audience and respond to drive as much value as possible back to the business.

Make Listening your Superpower: Customers and Sales are your ticket to unlocking true insight.

On the topic of listening – it became clear throughout the panel that listening was key to managing the relationship between sales and marketing and driving this shared goal of landing contracts.

Amanda highlighted that in B2B, internal customers are just as critical as external – and you must invest time in building relationships. Have regular connections between marketing and sales, casual coffees and treat each other as people. Many of the complexities between sales and marketing can be mitigated via robust interpersonal relationships and treating each other as teammates working towards common goals. The panel raised a key point that if marketing has a regular plug into sales, they unlock a valuable insights stream. Sales have an intimate knowledge of customer needs and pain points which is critical to feed back into marketing strategy. Dale describes this as “marketing needs to listen to the macro trends and market; sales need to listen to the needs of the customer – both should listen to each other to paint the full picture”.

Amanda made it clear however, do not leave all the customer engagement to the sales team. Marketing must also talk to customers regularly and grow that muscle, especially as there is an increase in cross-functional pitching with both sales and marketing teaming up on customer engagements.

Death to Silo’s: True success comes from a melting pot approach.

Adam recalls how historically silos can be formed between sales and marketing due to the impression that we have different target audiences and objectives. This is detrimental in the long term. Today we are seeing the most effective approach is the blurring between sales and marketing, and a robust two-way dialog.

The panel agreed that the most robust approach to strategy and business planning is to ensure alignment between sales, marketing, and product innovation strategies and roadmaps. At a minimum having an annual coordination between these three key functions of the business, with the output being a combined and aligned strategy for each to leverage going forward. You can’t have a marketing or GTM strategy without a clear product roadmap. In addition, Natalie reinforced that the best leads come from a pre-qualified audience. That for marketing to generating the most relevant buzz its critical the whole business is aligned on the target audience so sales can feel confidence that they are receiving appropriate leads.

This collaboration in strategy is also being passed onto the customer. With more cross-functional customer engagements, where sales, marketing and product are co-captaining customer pitches to drive impactful results and build deeper connections with key decision makers. Amanda observes that this collaboration in the sales pitches is also valuable to bring into the marketing heartland. Involving sales in VP development and leveraging them as a first audience to litmus test our marketing messaging and campaigns.  

Measuring Success: Is it the biggest challenge between sales and marketing?

It’s an understatement to say it’s hard to measure marketings true contribution to revenue. Especially when compared to sales metrics which are rooted in tangible sales and signed contracts – and this can be a tension point for marketers who feel they aren’t getting fair credit on the bottom line. Often the first measurable step is when a lead lands in the system, but many things contributed to this. Amanda describes how many of the most successful B2B marketing channels are untraceable, which is why we see a rise in “where did you hear from us” questions at the point of purchase.

The panel cautioned that marketing success can’t just be measured by the number of leads closed by sales. But how do we move in a direction of shared metrics to help marketing gain the attribution to these sales, and ultimately help showcase the true value marketing contributes to the bottom line.

Dale talks about how selling is a team sport, and at BlueOcean they ensure that anyone in the business that was involved in a sale along the way is tagged against the contract and gets a share of the pie, admittedly this requires discipline and awareness of inputs that can be more difficult the larger a workforce gets. Adam echo’s this point that everyone really should feel they are a member of the sales team’s success. He describes how there is not one thing that generates a sale, it’s a multifactorial process – which at the core we all understand.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a silver bullet for this challenge. And the panel warned that often we can spend more time trying to figure out how to track things, that it detracts from actually doing things. Perhaps the answer is accepting the value marketing generates is often intangible. Natalie describes this intangibility in the form of building trust. Trust is critical in launching anything new, and it’s not until trust reaches a critical point of credibility that a buyer commits to a purchase. Trust is not easily measurable, but you know if you have it or not, and marketing is critical in building it.

“If you only remember one thing” | Final words from the panel:

Dale: In a room full of marketers, don’t think that sales is wildly different – we both listen to our audience and respond to drive sales at the end of the day.

Amanda: Make sure you are regularly talking to customers, regardless of if you are in sales or marketing – grow that customer-facing muscle.

Adam: Marketers are so good at research, but mostly they look externally – I would encourage you to be curious about the internal customer research too – and use your salesforce as a resource to learn.

Natalie: Build relationships – it can be easy to get held up by metrics and tracking and competing for attribution – but we must be nuanced in this for true success and building relationships with each other is key.  

Source: Paige Wilkinson, Global Marketing Manager, Fonterra