Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why Marketing/Sales Alignment May Not Be Enough

In December of last year, The Chartered Institute of Marketing in London published a report advocating that companies should merge their marketing and sales functions. The report received a significant amount of coverage in Great Britain's marketing-related media, and it triggered a lively conversation in the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Network discussion group at LinkedIn.

Aligning marketing and sales has become a major objective for many B2B companies. Easy access to information has fundamentally changed how business buyers research potential purchases and made them less dependent on sales reps. As a result, marketing must play a larger role in the demand generation process, and this makes it necessary to (a) rethink and reengineer the traditional roles and responsibilities of marketing and sales, and (b) ensure that the buying experience provided to prospects is seamless, regardless of whether he/she is interacting with marketing or sales.

Few people now disagree with the proposition that it's important to forge a closer alignment between marketing and sales, but, there's little support for merging marketing and sales organizationally. The issue provokes a visceral response from both marketing and sales professionals which, if nothing else, demonstrates that there is still a widespread belief that "sales is from Mars, marketing is from Venus" despite all the talk of building a closer relationship. Below are just a few of the common arguments for keeping marketing and sales as separate business functions.
  • The activities performed by marketing and sales are significantly different.
  • The knowledge and skills needed by marketers and salespeople are significantly different.
  • Marketing and sales operate on different time horizons. Sales focuses on short-term results, while marketing focuses more on longer-term objectives.
  • If marketing and sales are merged, one or the other will be neglected, and the company will suffer as a result.
These are all important issues, but they are challenges that can be managed. The real issue for company leaders is:  What is the best way to organize and manage our demand generation activities and programs given the realities of today's B2B marketing and sales environment?

For B2B companies with lengthy and complex demand generation cycles, I suggest that there are compelling reasons to unify marketing and sales. These are the kinds of companies that need the greatest transparency across marketing and sales activities and the highest level of marketing and sales integration. If we were starting fresh today, without preconceived ideas and the "baggage" of tradition, would this be a hard or controversial decision? I suspect not.

If we approached the issue objectively, we would recognize that our prospects move through one buying process, not a "marketing" process and a "sales" process. At some points during the buying process, the best way to engage with a prospect is via a marketing outreach, and at other points, the optimum way to interact will involve a sales rep. Marketers and salespeople will perform different activities, but all of these activities must be components of a single, integrated demand generation function. Given this reality, I think most people would decide that all demand generation activities should be part of the same organizational unit.

I doubt that many companies will move quickly to merge marketing and sales into a unified demand generation function. The political and cultural opposition is simply too strong. However, I believe that five or ten years from now, many more B2B companies will be using a unified organizational structure for their demand generation function.


  1. Marketing inDemand portals if done right can help this transition and be the glue that holds this together.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tami. I agree that marketing technology can help bring marketing and sales together, if the technology is properly implemented and used.