Think that the sales team doesn’t get it? Maybe it’s you

Sales and Marketing Alignment

I just got back from PGi’s annual sales meeting.  It was a great event and got me thinking about the importance of having a strong partnership between sales and marketing.

Back in 2007, I started working on the b2b marketing team at AutoTrader.com.  At the time, there was a big wall between the sales and marketing organizations. We would sit in our corporate office, look out at our sales team and say, “They just don’t get it.”

Then I had an opportunity to spend some time in the field. Talking to one of our more outspoken sales reps, I asked him what he thought about the marketing department. Without even thinking, he said, “You guys just don’t get it.”

I’m sure this story sounds familiar. The field thinks corporate doesn’t get it. Corporate thinks the field doesn’t get it.

Well, at least we agree on something. 

The thing is, both sides are probably right to some extent. People sitting in a corporate office really can’t understand the day-to-day pain a sales rep has to endure. Similarly, a sales rep working independently out in the field probably has little understanding of the bureaucratic complexities in a corporate office.

As a b2b marketer, I view the sales force as my client. One of my key responsibilities is to provide them with the tools they need to be successful. So if my client thinks I “don’t get it,” then I have a big problem.

Our b2b marketing team set out on a journey to “get it.” We got out of the office and started spending a lot of time in the field. We went on sales ride-alongs, attended local sales meetings and listened to our sales reps and their customers. We immersed ourselves in the sales organization.

And you know what? We actually started to get it. Our marketing materials got better and started to reflect the issues that we saw in the field. And, as we tracked the adoption of those new marketing materials by our sales reps, we saw that the usage dramatically increased.

Then we took it a step further. We formed a sales advisory board and brought 10 of our best reps to our corporate office for a three-day work session. The result? A complete overhaul of all our marketing materials to make them more relevant and more useful for the field.  These new marketing materials were built for the sales force, by the sales force.

That sales advisory board started meeting every quarter, and continues to this day.  Sales and marketing working together to develop new and innovative ways to support the field. We also had a little fun along the way.  Recent advisory board events featured skee ball, karaoke and helicopter tours of Atlanta. Our advisory board actually became quite the status symbol for the sales force. One of the most common questions I used get from the field was, “How can I get on that advisory board?”

The best part of “getting it” is that we saw a clear link between the enhancement in our marketing support and the overall performance of the sales organization. After we started making some changes based on feedback from the field, we saw AutoTrader.com revenue go way up, customer satisfaction reach an all-time high and customer churn hit an all-time low. I’m not going to suggest that marketing gets all the credit for that.  But let’s just say it’s a nice coincidence.

The lesson? Stop complaining and start collaborating. To be successful, sales and marketing have to work together.

Marketing needs to listen, to understand what the sales force needs.  And the sales force needs to get more involved with what goes on at headquarters and help the marketing folks understand what they need to be successful. We all have skin in this game.

In early 2012, I attended a regional sales meeting and gave a presentation on our marketing support for the year. Guess what happened?  A standing ovation. After the meeting, the same rep who told me four years ago, “You don’t get it,” approached me. He patted me on the back and said, “Hey, you’re finally starting to get it!  It’s about time.”  Well, no one said perceptions were easy to change. But we’re getting there.

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8 Comments on “Think that the sales team doesn’t get it? Maybe it’s you

  1. Awesome post Jeff – really resonates with my experiences. The stalemate or inertia that happens when both sales and marketing both “don’t get” and don’t try to understand what the other team does results in a situation of the whole is far less than the sum of the parts. You are totally right – you just have to ‘get over yourself’ and start collaborating.

    Thanks again!!

  2. Great insight Jeff!
    Both sides forget sometimes, we are part of the same Team.

    • Thanks Chris! In some companies, marketing is known as the “Sales Prevention Department”. Glad that wasn’t the case at AutoTrader. Good to hear from you.

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  4. Awesome, awesome post. Every line here resonates. Thanks for writing this.
    In most cases, it is one big turf war too.

    Maybe a fair part of the marketing metrics could be linked with final sales revenue numbers. As part of strategy teams, we had tried doing this – Was always difficult to push through with marketing, but when it did, it helped. Only a little though. Collaboration is tough to implement if the parties are unwilling to step out of their comfort zones.

    • Thanks for the response! Agree that sales and marketing should align on metrics. Shared goals will help foster collaboration.

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