Sales and Marketing: Alignment or Integration?
I wonder if we need to rethink our concepts of sales and marketing and how we organize to provide those functions within the organization.
Looking back, historically, it has made sense to separate the functions. Marketing was primarily focused on creating visibility and awareness. It typically dealt with markets and industries, not customers. Its job was to make masses of people and organizations aware of our companies and our products. It created high-level interest that would attract people to want to learn more. Typically, it dealt with things like PR, advertising, events, and other methods of driving awareness. It created content, mostly around products and their application in markets. As the web evolved, it created websites to engage prospects.
Marketing’s Changing Role
Increasingly, marketing got involved in the front end of the buying process. It drove programs to create leads. Way back, it ran direct marketing programs–we’d find things in our physical mail boxes about the company. As communications shifted, most of that was shifted to the web, email, and other channels. But the primary focus was on establishing initial curiosity, creating leads that could be passed to sales.
More recently, marketing has found a need to get involved in more of the buying journey. It has had to provide content to help sales and customers not just in establishing interest, but in providing different content/engagement through the customer buying journey. Most of this is done in support of sales activities.
Likewise, sales traditionally followed up on the initial steps that marketing had started. Sales tended to start with prospects that were curious or interested. Sales nurtured that curiosity; developing the prospects’ interests, finding those few that were interested in taking further action. They qualified opportunities and led all activities, working with customers to making a buying decision.
Have Silos Outgrown Their Usefulness?
As we examine those activities, it was efficient and effective to create different silos. The jobs and goals were different. They were interrelated, but the transition points were well defined. We thought that marketing works to this point, then sales takes over. There needed to be coordination at that intersection point, but outside of that, there wasn’t much coordination needed. Each organization could act relatively independently.
Today, we face a new reality, it’s driven by our customers and profound changes in the way they want to buy. First, a lot of the things sales traditionally did, for example, educating customers on new ways of doing things. Customers found new channels for learning about these things. They learned through the web and other channels (marketing had to expand the types of content it provided to support this.)
For a period of time, customers were agnostic about which channel they leveraged to get information. They could leverage digital channels, sales people, influencers, colleagues in other companies. They just wanted to get the information they needed, effectively and efficiently. They were changing how they were buying.
But we kept inflicting our processes on these buyers. Marketing was doing its thing, but for qualified deals we kept trying to lead with our sales people and supporting them with marketing content. We have retained our marketing and sales silos, increasingly talking about alignment, viewing our jobs/functions as very different.
But we still have failed the customer. Fast forward to today; customers express preference to minimize the role of sales people in their buying journeys. They increasingly express preferences to leverage digital channels as much as possible. So our digital channels must support customers in all stages of their buying journey, not just the early stages.
The Buying Process
On top of that, customers are increasingly overwhelmed in their buying process–it turns out the things they have most difficulty with aren’t the things sales and marketing are doing, or the information customers need most. They struggle less with solution selection and more with their internal change management processes–committing to doing something different, getting the right people involved, aligning diverse agendas/priorities, sorting through all the information available to “help them,” making low-regret decisions.
The things they most need are seldom supplied through marketing or sales, so they fail to make a decision, they fail to change, solving a problem or addressing the opportunity. One asks, “What do sales and marketing need to do to reduce this failure? How do we engage them?”
Increasingly, we find the way customers buy or want to buy, and the challenges they face in their buying journey are no longer well served by our well aligned marketing and sales silos.
How and when we intercept them, how we help them the most, wherever they are in the buying journey. The traditional things we do in marketing and selling no longer fit how customers buy, so we have to change those things. What marketing provides and how we provide it must change. Sales has to move from primarily focusing on educating customers about products and influencing their buying decision, to helping them with their buying and change management processes.
But it’s even more difficult. All of this applies, only when the customer has decided to change and has embarked on a search process–far before they initiate a buying journey. But they have initiated a search and are looking for answers that we might provide through digital channels.
But how do we reach those who aren’t searching, but should be? Our digital channels work when people search, but are probably weak in inciting people to search. How do we find and engage those? If digital is, currently, insufficient to do this, does this become a role for people–perhaps sales people?
I’ll stop here, but as we look at how our customers decide to change, how they learn, where they get information, and the challenges they face in the process no longer fit our traditional models for engaging them. Separated marketing and sales organizations, however well aligned, are probably not optimized for working with our customers the way they want.
Perhaps the functional models of marketing and selling have outlived their usefulness. Perhaps rather than aligning these silos, we should abandon and integrate them.