Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's Time to Combine Marketing and Sales

Suppose you were hired to design and implement an entirely new demand generation system for a large or mid-sized B2B company.  The board of directors and the CEO have given you a free hand to develop whatever kind of system you believe will produce the best results.  There are no pre-conceived ideas about what tactics should be used or what organizational structure the demand generation system should take.

When I work through this mental exercise, I can identify several things that would be part of my ideal demand generation system.  It would certainly contain a robust lead management process (lead nurturing, lead scoring, lead routing, etc.) that is supported by the right technology tools.  Content marketing would play a prominent role, as would social media.  I would also include processes and tools for demonstrating the value/ROI of my products or services.

However, one of the biggest steps I would take is to combine marketing and sales into one organizational unit.  Not that long ago, having separate marketing and sales departments caused few major difficulties.  The traditional roles and responsibilities of marketing and sales in most B2B companies were distinct, and the people in both departments could perform their jobs fairly effectively without a huge amount of day-to-day interaction and collaboration.  In other words, having marketing and sales in separate management "silos" didn't significantly impair company performance.

Times (and circumstances) have changed, and it's now critical for "marketing" activities and "sales" activities to be closely coordinated.  Buyers expect their potential suppliers to speak with one, consistent voice, and they expect everyone they deal with in an organization to know what interactions have already occurred and what information has been exchanged.

Both marketers and sales professionals now recognize the importance of aligning the efforts of marketing and sales.  This has become a hot topic at marketing and sales conferences, and it's been written about in numerous venues.  Many experts are advocating that marketing and sales should spell out their responsibilities and relationship in a formal service level agreement.  That's a good idea, but why not take the next logical step?

The American architect Louis Sullivan said that "form" should follow "function."  Marketing and sales are interdependent components of a single demand generation process.  Therefore, they should be part of a single organizational unit for management, planning, and budgetary purposes.

In lean management terms, marketing and sales are components of the same value stream.  A value stream is the set of activities that are required to produce value for customers.  Lean management recognizes that it is the output/performance of complete value streams that creates value for customers and profits for a company.  Therefore, mature lean organizations manage their operations by value streams rather than by traditional functional departments.

In the case of marketing and sales, the "customer" is the company itself, and the "product" is revenue dollars.  The sole objective of the demand generation value stream is to produce revenues for the company, and achieving this objective requires an integrated set of marketing and sales activities.  Having "good" marketing and "good" sales is important, but what really matters is the performance of the entire demand generation value stream.  To optimize that performance, it must be treated and managed as a single process.

Combining marketing and sales may be a controversial idea, and it would be difficult to implement in many companies for cultural and "political" reasons.  But the logic is compelling, and just because something is hard to do doesn't mean that it shouldn't be done.

What do you think?  If you had a free hand, would you consider merging marketing and sales in your company?

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