Marketing And Sales Alignment: Mystical Or Methodical?

CMOs need to be willing to release any fixed definitions of our profession and be comfortable with shared revenue accountability.

Marketing And Sales Alignment: Mystical Or Methodical?

Where does marketing end and sales begin?

Leaders struggle to resolve this age-old dilemma. In spite of our unlimited access to customer data, many marketing leaders have not kept pace with emerging buying preferences and behaviors and cannot clearly explain their measurable contributions to their buying experiences.

I found some answers when I recently attended a session led by a seasoned sales sorcerer, Neil Rackham. Rackham pioneered the consultative selling methodology and made his bestseller, “SPIN Selling,” a household term in the late 1980s. He has earned numerous lifetime achievement awards and advised nearly 50 of the Fortune 500 leadership teams on sales effectiveness. Much to my delight, he is channeling his energies into his first work of fiction: “A Telling of Stones.” His upcoming book will explore the medieval and mystical meanings behind hagstones (aka adder stones).

Some ancient soothsayers believed that when peering through hagstone holes, people with poor vision could improve their sight. Rackham’s new book is the perfect metaphor for how marketing needs new tools to gain new perspectives, focus, and insight into the sales function. Data is just one piece of that puzzle. Wisdom—a more intuitive and “mystical” ingredient—is just as important. Yet few marketing leaders have capitalized on their inner wisdom, their own adder stone, to enhance the customer buying experience.

When I work with marketing leaders, they are usually facing one of several obstacles: They are drowning in too much data, lacking useful data on their prospects and customers to make informed decisions, or struggling with clear sales lead handoffs to sales. The logical solution is to invest in process maps, sales development, and marketing technology. Even under these conditions, I believe customer acquisition and retention strategies miss their true potential.

Rackham reminded us that “a great (consultative) sales team provides greater competitive advantage than a great product.” In other words, strong relationships are often the primary reason for winning big sales. That’s why today we should expect more blurred lines between the sales and marketing functions for consultative sales opportunities.

Sometimes a simple process change can reduce ambiguous handoffs between sales and marketing. Rackham cited Dow Corning’s success with allocating resources according to changing customer behaviors. For its Xiameter silicone product line, Dow discovered that customers no longer need valued sales advice or consultation after their fifth product reorder. That’s when they automatically transfer the selling function to marketing, which then handles it on a transactional level.

We can expect an ever-widening split between the transactional sale and the consultative sale. The convenience culture leaves organizations with no choice but to segment and personalize their high-potential, consultative sales opportunities and direct the transactional buyers to seamless, low-cost business models. In many cases, marketing should manage transactional business. After all, they are the experts in social media, web design, SEO, advertising, content strategy, and messaging. That’s one explanation for why we are seeing more and more business development representatives (or inside teleprospecting teams) assigned to the CMO’s organization.

Marketing leaders may also want to emulate Amazon’s 1-Click transactional business for online purchasing. Its platform lets us buy on our terms. We research product options and reviews on Amazon’s website, seldom using the Google search function. We lose patience for any online purchase transaction glitches or delays. What was life like prior to 1-Click shopping? I cannot recall.

Tying marketing’s performance to sales performance has accelerated within our private CMO communities. One of our members recently told me that 75% of the person’s annual bonus is contingent upon the company’s ability to meet quota and represents a whopping 50% of the person’s base pay. Another CMO’s team accounts for 40% of the company’s total annual revenues.

We have reached a period when sales and marketing functional definitions may no longer be relevant. Teams might form, disband, then reorganize around specific account and opportunity profiles as buyer needs shift. I see this as a tremendous opportunity for marketing. That means marketers can no longer recuse themselves from spending more direct time with customers. This has been a source of resistance with many marketers since I began my career.

CMOs need to be willing to release any fixed definitions of our profession and be comfortable with shared revenue accountability. They need to be ruthless with their time and reduce the number of high priorities on their plates. They should re-examine the talent needed to design a user-centric, transactional buying model. They need to participate in strategic account planning sessions and make more sales calls with account teams for large, strategic opportunities. Finally, they should team with sales to develop specific criteria that enable the high potential sales opportunities to receive on-demand design, presentation, and competitive analysis support.

The distinction between transactional selling and consultative selling isn’t a new concept. What has changed is that the impact marketing can have in every customer touch point has exploded—and we must accept living in a period of ambiguity for the betterment of our customers. Where will CMOs find their very own hagstone to allow the mystical and methodical to co-exist?