Shrink the Divide Between Sales and Marketing

Shoppers are welcomed into the Apple store during its grand opening in Turin, Italy Photograph by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

The other day, I heard a radio commercial offering a free tablet computer with the purchase of a new automobile. The pitch got me thinking about cars and computers and the very different experiences that shopping for each has become. Buying a computer used to be as confusing and distasteful as buying a car at a dealership, but the experience has evolved into something much more pleasant. Why the difference?

Due to the legacy infrastructure of the automotive industry, sales and marketing are segregated; the buying experience is driven by different companies with different priorities and differing cultures. That’s the way it used to be in the computer industry, too, until such big manufacturers as Apple and Microsoft got into the retail game. They’ve been able to integrate from factory to showroom floor to the point where you can’t really tell where marketing ends and sales begin. That reflects a sea change in customer expectations—one to which every industry ought to be paying attention.

It should go without saying that customers these days are too mobile, too connected, and too informed to tolerate any gap between what one department says and another does. This means that companies intending to compete can’t allow sales and marketing to operate in different spheres. The tech behemoths I mentioned above get this and are acting on it. So is Burberry (BRBY:LN), which uses CRM software to analyze what customers are doing across social media and within diverse sales channels—in-store, desktop, tablet, and mobile. And GE Aviation uses data-sharing technology to integrate its teams and ensure they’re working with the same customer data, both internal and on social media.

Unfortunately, such examples are rare, particularly when it comes to companies with limited resources. The marketing-vs.-sales divide is as insidious as it is old. Sales professionals have historically dismissed marketers as lightweights who exist simply to make things look pretty; marketers tend to look down their noses at sales Neanderthals who wouldn’t recognize something tasteful if it hit them in the mouth. This is why at many companies, sales and marketing departments simply coexist. It ought not to be that way.

What fine dining establishment would invest in décor, furniture, menus, heat, light, point-of-sale systems, advertising, and everything else while neglecting the wait staff who have the most influence on customer satisfaction? Equally ridiculous would be to expect waiters to satisfy customers in a musty warehouse where food arrives by conveyor belt. Restaurateurs know what computer makers have come to understand—and the rest of the world is now awakening to: Customer retention, client referrals, and profit margins can all be enhanced when sales and marketing are fully integrated.

It’s crucial that salespeople view marketing not as a department, but as a philosophy: Everything about a product or service contributes to its appeal and salability; prospects must be nurtured through the early stages of attraction and engagement before one tries to close a deal. Marketers must similarly understand that sales is not merely a function or department, but the company’s ear to the ground—a business’s fundamental driver. This New York Times profile of Spain’s Inditex, a fashion powerhouse that changed an industry, offers some powerful examples of how both teams can work together.

As the leader of a marketing company whose prospects must be nurtured through a long and complex sales cycle, I have a unique appreciation for both functions. I can’t imagine one being subject to the other; sales and marketing are equal partners in the long-term health of my enterprise. The two disciplines should not only be above conflict, they should be joined at the hip. The sales perspective must be woven into and throughout an organization’s integrated marketing program, with marketing philosophy informing everything that sales does.

The automakers may not have a lot of options in this arena, but you do. If you have a divide between sales and marketing, bridge it. Cross-train them, ensure that they have access to the same data, make them responsible for each others’ metrics, and set expectations regarding collaboration. Seat them side-by-side, if you must.

Marketing may naturally lead the way if your industry and customers are more in the do-it-yourself category, in which transactions are basically order-processing. If their business entails a complex purchase with a long sales cycle and sophisticated clients, sales will probably be out in front. It doesn’t matter whether marketing reports to sales or sales reports to marketing, as long as everybody involved understands the purpose, power, and possibilities of both.

As economic growth continues at its anemic pace, we’re all looking for ways to make our operations more productive. Bridging the sales-vs.-marketing divide is a way of achieving this. Doing so will require a change in perspective, but it will make a positive impact on customers—and the bottom line.

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