We get this question a lot from our B2B clients.
The answer most people are looking for is a strategy, a model, maybe a process. What meetings do you set-up, what tools do you use, what incentives do you put in place? But the answer we give, the answer that actually solves the problem in a sustainable way, the answer that we’ve seen work over many years of experience isn’t so much about process as it is about people. The answer involves getting marketing and sales to work together by putting the right people in place and giving them the right priorities. There are strategy, model, and process answers that will help sales and marketing people work together, but no amount of strategy, models, or process will fix the wrong people, and no lack of strategy, model or process will hold back the right people.
We know! It’s kind of an obnoxious answer, right? Of course it’s about the people. But usually the right answer, the real answer to most things is obnoxiously simple in theory but incredibly hard in practice. Finding good people is hard. Keeping them can be even harder! And if you have people in place already who aren’t the right people, you might not be able to make the changes you’d like to. All of these are real, valid blockers to getting the right people in place with the right priorities. But that doesn’t mean the answer isn’t right or that you shouldn’t focus on making progress on the people front, even if you can’t make it perfect right away.
Here are some things to get your thinking going and (hopefully) some actions rolling.
Start at the top – ideally by having marketing and sales roll up to the same leader. This is the hardest to do if you already have an org structure in place or if you’re not in a position to affect the c-suite org design. That’s fine! We have more ideas below, but don’t gloss over this one – even as just food for thought. Organizational culture, priorities, and eventually results are dictated (directly or indirectly) by the structure and DNA of leadership. Even if you can’t make a wholesale change to where marketing and sales roll up to, maybe you can create some nudges on how they work together that gets momentum going in the right direction. We will say, we’re seeing more and more B2B organizations combine marketing and sales in one c-suite role – usually a Chief Commercial/Revenue Officer (more sales leaning) or a Chief Growth Officer (more marketing leading). Maybe it’s something to work towards even if you can’t make that change now? Either way, start with an assessment of the c-suite roles and how marketing and sales roll up to that level then work your way down the marketing and sales org chart and see if there are any places where you can tighten collaboration and communication.
Codify collaboration in your culture – you likely already have company values in place. Maybe (likely?) one of them is even already about collaboration/or and communication. Great! Take that and build on it for your sales and marketing teams. Define what it means to collaborate and communicate as one “growth” team. Paint the big picture of why it matters and what great looks like, but also give specific examples of doing it well and poorly. And most importantly, reinforce the value in the day-to-day rituals and communication you have with the team. Praise publicly when someone behaves in a way that represents that value, and criticize privately when someone goes against it. Culture is what people do when the leader isn’t in the room to give them direction. You need to embed it in people ahead of time so they live and breathe it constantly when you’re not there. And if you don’t have a company value that embodies this concept already, make one! Or at least make one for your dept or team. It doesn’t even have to be something formal that’s in a handbook or on a poster (although formality helps reinforce the importance of it). It can be a “value for the quarter” that you spin up to kick start more of the behaviour and attitude you’re looking for. Whatever you do, make sure you’re leading by example, reinforcing the right actions and results, and constantly communicating to people the importance of sales and marketing working together. You know what they say: people need to be reminded more than they need to be told!
Vet for collaboration in your next hire – even if you have a team already and can’t make immediate changes to it, at some point you’ll need to hire someone new. Interviews are notoriously ineffective as a predictor to long-term success, but you can make them more effective by focusing on a few specific traits (more so than skills) that you’re looking for in this person to make them fit in and be successful as part of your team. Why not make one of them collaboration and communication? Come up with some questions that really get to the core of how the candidate thinks about and has demonstrated this skill set in the past, specifically when it comes to working with sales if they’re a marketer or marketing if they’re a sales person. You can always tell when a trait like that is important and core to who a person is. Do they light up when they talk about it? Do they have endless stories to tell about how they did it? Do they stay on the topic until you rip them away from it or do they try to move on quickly? There’s a whole other article we’ll need to write (or maybe a whole course!) on effective interviewing techniques, but for now just make sure you’re intentionally and explicitly looking to hire people who care about and have the attitude and skill set to collaborate well between sales and marketing.
Here’s the bottom line and the most important thing to take away with you from this article: effective marketing and sales integration is a people problem not a process problem. The real solution, the one that will last and will deliver the recurring results you’re looking for, is a people one. Process will help, and it’s far easier to change in the short-term, so we’re not saying to ignore it completely. But recognize and prioritize focusing on the people you have and priorities you give them as the foundation for any positive change. Get that foundation right, then worry about finding the right strategy, model, and process to build on top.