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Should marketing report to sales? Aaack to that!

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) thinks it knows how to solve the problems with sales and marketing alignment. According to a just-released report, within 10 years, marketing will report directly to sales.

“For too long, the trend has been towards separate marketing and sales,” said David Thorp, CIM’s director of research and professional development, in a new “Marketing and Sales Fusion” white paper. “We believe that, in the next decade, more and more companies will see reintegrating marketing and sales as a smart move that brings real rewards.”

Could it be true? I hope not.

Nothing in my three decades of experience in B2B technology marketing suggests that this notion has merit. And since I personally ran a combined sales and marketing organization for five years, I know firsthand that fusion of the teams creates more problems than it solves.

The reason is simple. The marketing function influences markets full of buyers. The sales function influences one buyer at a time. The skills and timing of activities that influence markets have nothing in common with those that influence individual buyers. Combine the functions under one executive, and the focus inevitably shifts to individual buyers for near term revenue. This is vitally important, but when the company’s ability to influence the market is lost, so is its future.

Admittedly, the problems between sales and marketing are real and deserve attention. However, I find it unconscionable that an organization like CIM, which is celebrating 100 years as “the world’s largest organization for professional marketers” would just throw in the towel.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on the full report yet, but the CIM report overview makes their position clear enough:

“Marketing as a discipline has its roots in sales. Over time, due to the ambitions of the new science of marketing, the two became separate and in many cases, estranged. In our centenary year, we believe it’s time for The Chartered Institute of Marketing to say mea culpa and to try and make amends… We feel there’s no time to waste in burying the hatchet so that marketing can evolve from a discrete, some sales professionals might even say elitist, discipline to reunify with sales. There is inescapable evidence why businesses will benefit enormously if we bring them back together.”

Inescapable evidence? This U.K. based organization can’t seem to send me a PDF of the report – I need to wait two weeks for a print copy. So I haven’t seen their “evidence” yet. But I can tell you that during the five years when I was SVP of Sales and Marketing at a technology firm, my marketing team suffered. Even as a career marketer, I found that the pressure to achieve 90-day quotas whittled away at my bone-deep commitment to strategic marketing.

Just a few weeks ago, a speaker at the Sales and Marketing 2.0 conference, Gerhard Gschwandtner (@gerhard20) of Selling Power, forecast that: Of the 18 million salespeople in 2011, only 3.6 million will be needed by 2020.” This radical prediction resulted from a report by the Sales Executive Board that said that buyers are 60 percent of the way to a decision before they ever talk to a sales person.

I’m not sure that I agree with Gerhard’s prediction, but I do know that the shift reported by the Sales Executive Board is forcing companies to learn how to engage buyers on their own terms.

Engaging buyers requires a department or function to be the buyer experts – a feat that can be accomplished only by interviewing buyers, looking for patterns and trends, and grouping buyers into buyer personas according to their findings. Then, this function needs to develop marketing content that those buyers find helpful. I wrote about this role for marketers in my e-book, The Buyer Persona Manifesto.

Frankly, I’ve never met a sales person who wanted this job. That’s because it’s a marketing job.

Then, someone needs to be there to help the buyer travel the final 40 percent of the buying process, answering the questions that are unique to each account.

Now, that’s a sales person’s job.

What do you think? Should sales and marketing remain separate or become one department?

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Comments

  1. Mike says:

    While I agree with your opinion, the CIM position does reflect the unfortunate reality of marketing being subsumed into sales in recent years. My experience is that executive management only understand sales and whatever marketing does must be directly measurable and supportive of quarterly sales. Not only is that view grossly uninformed regarding the role, contribution and potential of marketing, but it’s also an easy target for the cost cutting, consolidation and staff elimination trend since 2008. B2B companies can learn a lot from B2C CPG type companies where brand managers (marketing) are the chiefs.

  2. Adele Revella says:

    I completely agree Mike. This only tells me that we’ve all got to double down on our commitment to position marketing as a unique and valuable organization that has its own distinctive competence. To the extent that marketing is about lead generation and sales collateral, we’re doomed to miss our potential to drive strategic thinking.

  3. Tim Johnson says:

    Totally agree with you on this one, Adele.

    I haven’t been as high as you in Sales but I spent 20 years doing it. They are not the same and making Mktg part of sales reduces the function to little more than lead gen for the next quarter.

    One point that also bears further explanation about developing buyer personas is the when you, as a marketer (not on a quota), are interviewing buyers, you are not there to overtly or secretly try to sell them anything. That results in a more honest discourse and more accurate and valuable information.

    No matter how hard a sales rep tries to to interview a buyer to develop a persona, they will always be under pressure to throw a sale in at the end or somewhere along the way. Result: biased data (if any data at all).

    So it behooves us as marketers to measure what we do and prove it to senior management, especially on things like influencing the sales cycle, lead development, etc. Sales doesn’t always see that impact even though it can be dramatic.

    Tj

  4. Adele Revella says:

    Great comment Tim. And the pressure sales feels to sell something isn’t just about making quota, there’s a whole different approach to interviewing buyers and getting them to talk for 5 or 10 minutes about just one aspect of the decision process. Sales people have never had a reason to take this approach.

    Measurement is also only one of the ways to prove to senior management that we’re having influence on the sales cycle. We also need marketers who have the confidence and data to speak for the buyer at meetings where critical decisions are made. This will have a huge impact on management’s new view of the role of marketing. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Jeff Quandt says:

    Adele,

    After spending nearly 10 years at a software company, being the marketing department (it was a small $10 million company), I can see your point of having the two functions separate.

    I may have been fortunate enough in my case, reporting to the VP of Sales, that I never felt pressured for 90-day results.

    Sales relied upon me to provide them with great material and that included understanding the Buyer enough to create marketing that resonated with the Buyer.

    I relied upon sales as well to feed me current information as to what was taking place in the field, so I could adjust to the marketplace between periodic surveys I would conduct.

    We had such a close and good relationship – I know I was spoiled by this experience – that over a 3-4 year time frame, our primary solution became number one in the market. Sad to say the company was sold to a competitor that has let the knowledge-base leave and let the product languish to the point customers are leaving as well.

  6. Adele Revella says:

    You make a good point about very small companies, Jeff. When a company is small, they often have a good grasp of what motivates their buyers. And with one or only a few products to market, the decisions about how to message and go to market are far less complex.

    Plus the experience you describe, where the personality of your boss made it work, is always a factor, a wild card in this debate. I had one CEO / boss who was incredibly open to learning about marketing, and yes, that made all the difference.

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