Saturday, 11 July 2009

When the tail wags the dog – the great sales versus marketing debate

How can you tell if a salesperson is lying?

His lips are moving.

Don’t you just love the arguments between salespeople and marketing? Ali v Foreman was nothing compared with the constant bickering between these two old adversaries. Like brothers, they defend the family honour in public and snipe at each other in private.

I came across an excellent LinkedIn discussion last week started by a sales guru who was giving marketing both barrels: sack the Chief Marketing Officer; make every marketer spend at least a year in sales and measure marketing performance solely on the basis of reductions in the cost of sales where among his more strident remedies.

Never one to resist an argument, I couldn’t help but wade in with a view.

So, let’s try and resolve this once and for all. Should the marketing department be a support function to sales or is sales a function of marketing?

In my career I have seen examples of both. Now I’m running my own business, I see it from yet another perspective.

Among my favourite definitions of marketing is the one provided by Professor Paul Fifield who says that the sole purpose of marketing is to sell the maximum amount of units at the highest possible price.

So there you have it, even a Professor of Marketing admits that, in the final analysis, marketing has to deliver sales and profit. Perhaps the salespeople are right? Marketers should immediately bow down to Sales and accept their true position in life.

But what would happen if they did?

I have worked in organisations where salespeople rule. The top roles were filled by the top salespeople and every conversation was about turnover and pipeline. In this environment, the role of marketing was invariably limited to tactical direct mail campaigns, brochures and corporate gifts: all geared to supporting this week’s idea and today’s income target. To create a discussion, let alone gain sponsorship for more strategic initiatives was all but impossible.

This is not to say that the salespeople who were promoted into the senior management positions didn’t have the ability to be strategic. Of course they did, but because the culture was so heavily geared towards short term measurable results, tactics tended to dominate the decision making process. Business performance was highly cyclical as a result with great highs and near catastrophic lows.

Another great definition of marketing is ‘making friends with people who might need you one day’.

The definition needs some work. ‘Might need you’ feels untargeted and ‘one day’ too uncertain, but I love the whole concept of marketing and business being about ‘making friends’ and forging relationships. The idea that a customer would consider a business a friend is a brand Nirvana, providing as it would a platform for long-term sustainable growth and resistance to the worst highs and lows of economic conditions.

Inevitably the idea of building a brand and making friends is too soft and intangible for many people.

Let’s be in no doubt, and I see this first hand in my own business, Sales is one of the most important components of the marketing strategy. If the leads aren’t being found and converted, there is no long term to plan and position for, so the marketing department needs to get its finger out and do its bit to feed the machine.

But Sales is exactly that: one part of the marketing strategy and it puts the cart firmly in front of the horse to have Marketing reporting to Sales. All of the elements of product, price, place, promotion, people, process, physical evidence and positioning need to combine before a business can make friends with customers and sell the maximum number of units at the highest possible price.

A Head of Sales who has the ability to do all of this - manage sales performance as well as think about strategy, targeting and positioning - isn’t a Head of Sales at all, but a Head of Marketing... and thoroughly deserving of the title.


Fouad Naeem said...

Although at the end of the day it is sales which matter to run the business but how about not-for-profit organizations for instance? The discussions seem to be revolving around a sales oriented organization instead of a marketing orientated organization and it missed almost all points in the definition of marketing - defined as "A management process to identify, anticipate and satisfy customers' requirements in a profitably".

Michael Winwood said...

This is a sterile debate. What matters is optimising the performance of the whole organisation and synchronising processes to enhance and excel in performance to market demand. The two activities need to secure customer intelligence and to inform delivery.

Andrew Cringle said...

The problem with this sort of argument is that it starts with too narrow a vision of marketing. If it is simply about advertising and promotion, then yes it should probably focus on helping the sales teams deliver their targets. If it's about understanding and responding to the 'market' then it's about the whole business and every touch point with the world in which it operates, both internally and externally. In this case the activity of the sales team should be in complete alignment with the company's marketing strategy.

The Marketing Eye said...

Thanks for your thoughts.
Michael - the voice of good sense and reason. Unfortunately, in many large organisations this doesn't exist and the debate is anything but sterile.
Andrew - a very succint summary. Your right: the key lies in clearly defining the role of the marketing department. I have posted previously on whether the ambition of a marketing department's remit is too wide. I'd be interested in people's thoughts on this too
Fouad - The reality is that most organisations don't recognise the full definition of marketing and, even when they do, I have my own doubts about whether it is the role of one individual or department to deliver it. Not-for-profits are likely to have similar issues when sales is redefined as donations.

Lynn McBain said...

Having worked in both sales and marketing, I don't think it's a case of whether sales is part of marketing or marketing supports sales; there is value in both arguments. Certainly personal selling is part of the marcomms mix and the marketing team should produce support materials for the sales team; most organisations still view marketing as supporting the sales team as we seem to perpetuate the sales oriented climate of decades ago. Marketing need to up their game to become more commercially aware, then at least they would win the approval of sceptical sales people. Putting marketing on the Boardroom agenda in terms of how it can influence the bottom line is paramount. I agree with Rosie!

Rosie Phipps said...

If you think that marketing should deliver an increase in shareholder value ( or stakeholder value for nfp), long term cash flow, brand reputation and sustainable competitive advantage .........then how this is done and how it is delivered crosses the whole orgnisation is the real question that needs to be answered. The true vision that marketers hold needs to grip the organisational psyche.The CIM need to get this message across. Marketers will then find themselves valued beyond belief!

The Marketing Eye said...

Lynn - I totally agree that Marketers need to be more commercially aware. I see 3 main reasons for the battle for hegemony:
1) Sales and Marketing don't invest enough time in getting to know and understand each other (both are guilty)
2) Marketers don't invest in their own leadership skills and hence don't rise to the level of influence with an organisation needed to exercise the mandate they seek
3) The role of marketing is too big to be the sole responsibility of one individual or one department. Marketing has to be owned by the organisation as a whole. Responsibility for individual components needs to be clearly defined and there is no shame in the marketing department being primarily focused on promotional activity.
Rosie - I think you'll find some sympathy with these views.
You both might have a view on this post where I looked at the definition and remit of marketing within larger organsiations.