Ruth P Stevens, our digital markeging expert and board member, writes about the yawning gulf between sales and marketing is a fact of life in B2B companies. 

We all know this.  We struggle to meld the cultures.  We talk about the need for “alignment.”  We grab onto new strategies like account based marketing (ABM) in the hope that this will be, at last, where the two functions will finally work together in harmony. But the gap is as large as ever.  So, what needs to be done?

I don’t have the whole answer.  But in my 25 years in B2B marketing, I have learned a few lessons and  truths, some the hard way, but all of them important and practical.  Here are three truths that will help senior leaders drive the change needed to bridge the gap.

It starts at the top

The truth is, if the senior sales leader and the senior marketing leader in your company don’t truly like and respect each other, all is lost.  Nothing is more important to set the tone and establish the culture of cooperation than a solid relationship between the two leaders.

And that goes for the CEO as well.  The two leaders need to report to someone who respects and likes them both and who will defend them both and their teams, and demonstrate that attitude consistently across the board. So, dear CEOs, if there is friction between your sales and marketing leads, it’s up to you to make a change.

Both functions are required for success

Sales without marketing… marketing without sales… the truth is that B2B firms need both. Both sales and marketing have an important role to play in revenue and profit growth. Despite gulfs and misunderstandings and animosity, both are essential. When times are tough and divorce is not an option, what do you do?  You make the marriage work. You communicate, you set mutual objectives, you treat each other with consideration.  This is the truth in B2B today.

Sales owns the P&L

In consumer markets, the marketing function owns the P&L.  Sales is one of the many levers that marketing pulls—along with other levers like product, distribution, advertising, promotions and everything else—to achieve their goals.  This is the famous product management role that rules the roost in CPG and other consumer categories.

In B2B, though, revenue responsibility lies firmly with the sales team. Marketing is in a support role, and is viewed as a cost center.  This may be a hard swallow for marketers who enter B2B from consumer, but that’s the way it is.

Marketing’s job is to make the sales function—that highly constrained and valuable resource—more productive.  To provide leverage.  By building brand awareness, identifying high-value prospective audiences and providing sales with the tools to access those audiences, like qualified leads, reasons to call, opportunities for meetings, value propositions, competitive analysis, sales presentations and collateral, educational content and whatever else they need to spend less time cold calling and more time closing. It’s a tricky position to be in, not having revenue responsibility.  Marketing spends half its time and resources trying to prove its value in financial terms.  A frustrating, humiliating and fundamentally hopeless task.

So, senior leaders, I urge you to embrace these truths. Treat them as operating principles. Set objectives and expectations appropriate to them. Don’t ask marketing to justify their existence based on revenue. That just sets sales up for resentment and marketing up for failure. Set metrics like cost-per-lead, and lead-to-sales conversion rates by campaign, by channel, by product and other variables, where marketing can hold its head high and deliver on what it can actually control. Create an environment where the two functions can work in harmony and mutual respect, where they can be more productive and deliver more value to customers and to the company.

About the Author:  Ruth P. Stevens is a member consultant of Consultants Collective. She advises clients on customer acquisition and retention, for both consumer and business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association.

She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is a guest blogger at AdAgeHBR.org, and Target Marketing Magazine. Her newest book is B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results.

She is also the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B MarketersTrade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM. She studied marketing management at Harvard Business School, and holds an MBA from Columbia University. Learn more at www.ruthstevens.com.

This article was published in Biznology on August 02, 2021