How To Align Marketing With Sales

Michael Brenner on Sep 30, 2010 in Sales Alignment

This is arguably the single most important topic for marketing: how to align with sales. If you are asking if we need to align with sales, go find a new profession. If you think marketing is much more important than sales, update your resume. If you think marketing objectives are about something other than sales, then it’s time to start networking.

Five years into my early sales career, I realized that I was a mildly successful sales person mainly because I focused on relationships, not selling. And…Marketing needed lots of help. So I followed my frustration into a marketing career and have never looked back.  In this post I will provide some of the latest thinking along with my own thoughts on how to better align marketing with sales.

This week alone, there have been 3 popular media articles on this issue. In BtoB Magazine, Karen J. Bannan wrote “Creating a true partnership between marketing and sales”. In the article, she offered this call to action for marketing and sales: “Partner or Perish”. She also recapped a CMO Council study:

Sales and marketing—according to the report, which surveyed 506 sales, marketing and channel management professionals online—were more “antagonistic than synergistic” and there was “mistrust, misunderstanding of function, and a lack of alignment and singularity of purpose.

Karen’s singular advice: “Send your marketing folks out with your salespeople”. Similarly, the Harvard Business Review wrote in Why Sales and Marketing Are at Odds — or Even War:

The ongoing conflict between sales and marketing is the “elephant” in the room at many companies. No one wants to talk about the problem until it becomes so disruptive that it must be dealt with.

The author suggests we focus on true Win-Loss analyses to determine what causes us to lose deals and at which stage of the sales cycle. Then work with sales to fill those gaps in content and process.

MarketingSherpa released a 2-part series called “Bridging the Gap: 5 Objectives for Improving Relations between Sales and Marketing” (Part 1) and (Part 2). The 5 objectives are:

  1. Sales is your target audience. Or as I say “Sales is the customer of marketing.” Main tips include going on sales calls and to provide them the “best possible leads (as defined by them)”.  One of my most popular posts ever includes the big challenge all marketers face: Marketing Leads: Quality Vs. Quantity.
  2. Lead Definition and Scoring: where they discuss how to score hot, warm and cold leads and also how a responder to a campaign is not a “lead”.
  3. Help Them Sell: the reason I moved into marketing started with my frustration regarding our sales collateral and the content on our websites. Websites are store fronts. Are you open for business? Sometimes simple things like user-based navigation, transparent pricing and a comparison against your competition can go a long way in helping prospects gain the insights they need to pick up the phone and speak with a sales rep.
  4. Gather Sales’ Contacts and Feedback: by offering to clean up their records.
  5. Gather Sales’ Marketplace Insights: which starts with information gathering and ends with sales validation of any marketing plan.

These are all great tips. I would add that the first meeting for any new marketing person is to sit down with the head of sales and ask “what do you need?” Next, make sure you go on a sales call but I’ll go further to state that marketers should know how to demo products and how to make that 30-second pitch on why customers should chose you and your company.

Let’s start a discussion: what do you think?

Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 26 comments
  • Mario

    More and more the line between sales and marketing is blured. What is a salespage? Who should manage it? A salespage is the online seller, usually marketing creates it, but the tone and focus is totally sales oriented.
    When are the emails from the newsletter turned to the sales department? Many automatic emails are sent with sales pitches that are created by the marketing department, yet they produce sales.
    I see more and more sales becoming closure specialists while marketing does the prospecting and the warming up.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Mario, It’s a great point. And all the more reason to align more closely with sales so that the roles are clear and everyone knows what to expect from the team.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Mario, you are correct the line is more blurred. In fact, there never should have been a gap between marketing and sales in the first place!

  • Nick Copley

    Hi Michael, I totally agree with your ending comment about the first thing a new marketing person should do, sit down with the head of sales and say “what do you need?”. After that you can work through building consistent messaging so that sales and marketing are saying the same thing and reinforcing each other, and each knows and acts on what the other is saying. Then also define the hand offs between the two ie when does a prospect move to being a lead that sales works on and when does a (former) sales lead go somewhat cold and move back into lead nurturing – these are always somewhat grey and moveable areas but it’s still important to get them right.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Nick, thanks for the comments. Messaging and lead management are definitely important details to hammer out in the conversations as you work toward building a relationship with sales based on mutual respect and trust and driving towards a common goal of more sales.

  • Robert Nomura

    It’s sad that there’s any discussion about why marketing and sales should work together. Why isn’t it accepted as fact, as common sense, a no-brainer? Why does the sun rise in the East? — It just does.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Robert, I couldn’t agree more. I wrote this post because I continue to see an unfortunately large percentage of marketers who never received the right training or guidance or life experience to provide this insight. But I am optimistic that the changes are all moving In the right direction.

  • Christina Pappas

    There are a couple other tactics that I have tried to ‘bridge the gap’ between sales and marketing. First, I did their job for 1 day per month. So, I took everything I had given them; scripts, datasheets, whitepapers, competitor data, etc. and sat in their seat and made calls. It’s not easy, especially for someone who is not a sales person, but it gives you, as the marketer, a whole new perspective on their day to day challenges and also gave me some great ideas of more ways to help.

    Another idea (got it from HubSpot) was to setup an SLA between sales and marketing. Marketing should have a complete understanding of what sales expects as far as ‘leads’ go. Are you in agreement as to what a lead is? Then sales needs to uphold their end by calling within x days, emailing, whatever it is you decide they should do to maximize the lead. Then put it in writing and have everyone sign.

    I am fortunate enough to work with a sales team that wants to help the overall cause so they are constantly asking ‘how do I use Twitter correctly’, ‘I saw a discussion on LinkedIn..can I answer?’ and not to mention, they write blog posts for our corporate blog. So to help and get them on board not only with what me and the rest of the marketing team are doing on a day to day basis, we have a marketing training meeting where we ‘train’ them on how to be marketers.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Christina! Yes those are great tips. Just oen day is enough to help gain the perspective needed to better align efforts. The SLA is also a great idea and something I have always seen work really well. In the end, your point about having a relationship with sales where you are sharing best practices shows that you are already being successful! Keep it up!

  • Brian Gilbert


    The one thing I took from your opening resonates strongly now that I go back and think about the best marketing programs I’ve sold behind.

    When marketing is led and driven from a sales point of view, the outcomes are typically more successful than when marketing is driven just for it’s own ends.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Brian. I have also seen this exponential inclrease in performance when marketing and sales align behind the customer!

  • Jocelyn Ring

    You bring up great points. I was just having this discussion with a salesperson friend of mine this weekend. He despises marketers; I was defending marketers. We touched on many of the same subjects you raised here. I think the final point that you raise is crucial. I have gone out on sales calls and observed salespeople at work. It was a real eye opener and I learned a lot more being out in the field than I did sitting at my desk creating spreadsheets and crunching numbers.

    Last week, I happened to randomly pick up a copy of the book Horizontal Management by D. Keith Denton which made reference to an old joke about “marketing thinking up a product then throwing it over the wall to engineering who in turn would come up with a design and toss it over the organizational wall to manufacturing. In turn, manufacturing would send it back to sales, then sales would try to sell it to a customer who probably didn’t want it in the first place.” Funny, but too often times true.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Jocelyn. Thank you for bringing this up. Your friend simply has had too many experiences with the wrong kind of marketers. That is why I joined marketing and it is only with folks like you working towards mending this gap, that we will make any progress.

  • Pranam

    Hi Michael,

    You have hit the nail on the head. Couldn’t have been more appropriate with your thoughts on how marketing is all about selling and not anything different as some marketing folks tend to think. After all marketing is as effective as the sales can be generated.

    So if the marketing seems to be failing, then don’t just blame your marketing team or sales team but sit together and bridge the gap between what is needed and what is being done.

    Good article. Very nsightful.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Pranam! It’s great to get feedback like this 🙂

  • Joe Lethert

    Hi Michael,
    Great article!! Why are so many marketers so defensive. When I review posts on subects like this, it’s apparent what the job function of the responder is based on thier answer. Why can’t we see that both are intregal to success and work together.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Joe, this was a somewhat of rant so really just venting some steam. But you’re right we need to approach the relationship constructively.

  • Bjarne Hadland

    I have in my career been managing both sales and marketing dept.
    Firstly, I learned that there is a distinct difference in attitude and roles between large capital intensive businesses (especially B2B)and small businesses whether it is B2B or B2C. Secondly, in smaller businesses the marketing is much closer or sometimes fully or partly integrated in sales, and often managed by one person.
    I have seen that organisations that integrate their customers in their value chain (ie.customer reference groups giving feedback or sharing their experience & views) gains great advantages as far as understanding customer needs. Sometimes this can be an eye-opener for marketing! Generally there is no need for speculations as far as knowing what the customer needs are, and in these meetings with the customers, both sales and marketing staff are required to be present.
    Other ways to bring sales and marketing together is to have both parties organise annual or bi-annual customer events including an agenda where customers give speeches and share their views.

    In larger organisations, the best way to co-manage a successful sales/marketing existence and culture is much more complex. It is a top management responsibility to make this work. The risks are also so much higher, and the company can not and should not allow a gap between sales and marketing become a risk!

    Overall, marketing in todays world have so many more resources at hand compared to 20 years ago, ie. internet, email, search tools and specialized research tools, statistics etc including direct access to clients!
    However, sales depending on face-to-face meetings is about personal relationship and trust, unless you are able to take advantage of the new online sales technology and tools.

    Still business is always a matter of trust when you decide to spend your money!

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Bjarne, I really appreciate you coming to the site, reading the article and posting such a thorough response. And you are correct that in large and B2B organizations it is a challenge. I also agree that it takes senior management support to get it done.

  • Dale Underwood

    This is my first visit to your blog, it looks good!

    As for alignment, I think it depends on a couple of key issues.

    First, if a company is doing really well and blowing out their numbers, then there is a lot less friction. If doing poorly, the blame game starts and everyone heads for the high-ground.

    Second, I don’t think you can force or impose “alignment” by having a senior level person push it. Just like you can’t legislate prosperity, you can only provide the ground rules under which people can make free decisions to move the organization forward and this leads to my final point.

    Sales and Marketing people (in B2B anyway, that’s where I sold for 20 years) are different in how they are compensated and judged among their peers. Sales in most companies is an individual sport with clear leaders and also-rans. Compensation plans foster a competitive attitude to win and that is a good, healthy attitude for a sales team. It doesn’t mean we don’t help each other, it just means I’m going to make sure I meet my goal before I spend time helping everyone else meet theirs.

    Marketing, on the other hand, does not live or die by the quota. They certainly have a vested interest in the company doing well and are well intentioned in all they do. They just don’t have the individual risk that sales people do.

    In light of the fact that I hear so much about “lead nurturing” (to which I am adamantly opposed because it means sales finds out about deals too late, I prefer the traditional term “branding”) and the fact that many lead management approaches are moving further down the sales cycle, I think the next phase of alignment might just be “merge the two”.

    The marketing team could move into more of an inside sales role which is what a lot of the marketing content fits anyway. Just think of webinars, case studies, etc. that marketing produces. Those are new versions of sales tools, not marketing.

    I posed a similar question on my blog a while back and I’m sure we have not heard the last of this issue.

    Thanks for the post.

    Dale – EchoQuote

    • Michael Brenner

      Dale, thanks for the comments and for stopping by. I agree that in good times, these issues are less painful. I do think some work could be done to bring sales and marketing objectives closer together. I have no problem carrying a quota but realize that is not possible for all marketing spend. As you said, the conversation continues…

  • Ruari Kirwan

    My first time here too.

    The debate has an underlying theme…’them and us’. That’s the issue, but alignment is much more than ensuring the two disciplines work well together.

    When we look at sales and marketing from an internal perspective we generally see two styles of marketing. In b2b, long term business practice, typified with field sales emphasis, created the classic business process of field sales plus marketing support. In this situation, marketing is rendered tactical and becomes lead creation and management focused. But this isn’t marketing, it’s more back-office and perhaps should be considered ‘sales support’. If you look at it from this point of view it becomes very easy to see what the priorities should be and that those priorities will be optimised by an integrated effort.

    The other type of ‘marketing’ is strategic. Michael makes the point in his article that selling for him is about ‘relationships’ and Dale states he prefers ‘branding’ as a descriptor for nurturing a customer’s or prospect’s attitude to the company’s product or service. Well, in my opinion that neatly sums up the priorities of my second type of marketing. Marketers enshrine Micheal’s relationship through branding and they are responsible for building value into the brand, through relationship development.

    Just as the debate has focused upon marketers understanding the selling process, sales functions need to appreciate how they fit into the big picture. Businesses sell into markets, marketing is the discipline that positions, defines product value and presents the product to market with a goal to maximise sales value. Depending on a businesses sales model, the sales channel may include direct sales, or telephone sales or field sales, or of course all three. It is imperative that the sales message and effort is wholly aligned with the cumulative effort of the strategic marketing process, but to achieve that we all need to see and understand our role in the wider picture.

    • Michael Brenner

      Ruari, I could not agree more. I believe we are doing our companies a disservice by simply taking orders to fullfill tactics for sales. Our comapnies need strategy and market direction for long term success.

  • Sampath

    Hi Micheal,This is a brilliant article – When Marketing and Sales can move beyond their differences and align to work in tandem, they have the ability to increase the revenue cycle while cutting the cost of doing business at the same time. Most companies spend 30-40% of their revenue on Sales and Marketing. If these two sides of the same coin coordinate activities and better align themselves, they can optimize what their company spends on them.

    Also feel free to have a look at my product – It solves the same problem!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks so much Sampath. I completely agree. Having been on both sides, I have seen firsthand the power of sales and marketing alignment.