‘Males’ and ‘sarketing’ mergers may sometimes make sense

Sales and marketing are not always comfortable bedfellows, but there is a growing clamour for the two disciplines to be thought of as one, as Dan Matthews reports


Opinions differ on the exact date when marketing emerged as a stand-alone discipline, but it’s safe to say that not too long ago everything to do with convincing a customer to buy a product was lumped together under the banner of “sales”.

Fast forward to the present and there’s a growing body of opinion that suggests the fragmentation of the sales process, with splinter groups of marketing and advertising, was a mistake that organisations should reverse if they want to optimise the sales process.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing believes that the notion of sales and marketing as separate entities has about ten years to live, and while it allows this will require a “radical shift in thinking”, it claims there is much to recommend the merger.

Sales, marketing, advertising, procurement, HR and finance are tribal entities in the workplace. Dividing lines are clear. There is mutual suspicion, even disdain for each other’s work and periods of interdepartmental co-operation are brief and regularly unsuccessful.

A joined-up approach enhances the overall customer experience, ensuring you are easy to do business with

So surely an effort to bring everyone together would be a good thing. Businesses that can find the right ingredients for combining – or at least fostering greater co-operation between – the disciplines stand to gain from increased efficiency, better communication and a joined up business where everyone can see the customer journey from beginning to end.

“Businesses that align their sales and marketing departments will reap many awards,” explains Peter Weston, senior vice president, strategy and content at Strategy to Revenue. “A joined-up approach enhances the overall customer experience, ensuring you are easy to do business with.”

Stephen Maher, chief executive of marketing agency MBA, says: “There would be no internal fights to mediate, no unsatisfied customers sold a product that does not deliver the promise and no sales people left to fend for themselves without a clear view of the vision they are selling. Ultimately you get more profitable customers.”

Continuing with sales and marketing as an example, many argue that fusing them is even easier and more desirable in some organisations than others. In some cases they are essentially the same thing; it’s just that the first sells one-to-one and the second sells one-to-many.

“I always think of sales and marketing as flip sides of the same coin,” says Angus Maciver, chief executive of McCurrach Financial Services. “In general, marketing can include product and proposition development as well as communication to large audiences, whereas sales functions tend to deal with selling and commercial propositions on a one-to-one or one-to-a-few basis.”

He says they are more similar – and therefore easier to combine – in organisations with a handful of clients than those with millions.

“Where marketing is focused on mass communications and proposition development as in consumer goods companies, with a full advertising, media, social and promotional agenda, the skill sets and responsibilities are too different to operate well as one function,” he says.

Deva Rangarajan, associate professor of sales and marketing at Belgium’s Vlerick Business School agrees that certain organisations will benefit more from an attempt to merge sales and marketing than others, but warns that such a move is fraught with pitfalls regardless of the business’s shape.

“In a perfect world sales and marketing should work together. However, this is almost never the case. The relative importance of marketing, when compared to sales and vice versa, always varies depending on the nature of your organisation,” he says.

“In almost all entrepreneurial firms and business-to-business firms, sales usually has an upper hand and do not like to relegate responsibility or budget to marketing. But in traditional consumer-oriented goods companies, marketing has the upper hand. It is when marketing and sales have to work together, with a shared budget, that tensions usually start building up.”

However, for some analysts, a merger is not only impractical but undesirable too. Clive Kahn, chief executive of CardSave, says sales and marketing should be working towards the same goals without having to combine them.

He explains: “If you merge the two departments, you risk the sales unit becoming too large; you may start losing your sales focus. You don’t want your salespeople to start thinking about strategy rather than going through the mechanics of the sales process. It can be far too much of a distraction from the important business development tasks.”

The problem stems from the differing outlook of the two disciplines: sales is seen as a profit centre; marketing a cost centre. Salespeople are focused on quick and easy-to-see results, while marketing professionals often concentrate on a longer game with less tangible goals.

The solution, according to Martin Lucas, founder of sales and marketing forum Phinkit.com, is a complete cultural shift from the top to the bottom of your organisation.

“If you don’t understand the issue correctly then merging them will make little difference,” he says. “It will be seen as an empty gesture; you need to make alignment changes throughout the roles, not just change the reporting structure for the head positions.

“It’s about who’s instigating the change and what is driving them. The person in charge holds the key to it all. I’ve seen exactly the same ideas implemented by two different people, one works due to charisma and presence, the other failed due to endlessly talking in clichés and corporate nonsense.”

Whether sales and marketing are about to become extinct and be replaced by “males” or “sarketing” remains to be seen. One thing is clear, though, and that is organisations must take a committed and structured approach to change or risk an almighty mess.

CASE STUDY 01

Focus on real value

Richard Kenny, TSA Europe managing director:

“Marketing is responsible for knowing who the most profitable customers are and what they value. They define the brand, and communicate and enforce this to clients, customers and employees, both existing and potential. Sales is responsible for seizing these opportunities and communicating how the solution delivers the value these customers desire.

“But it falls to HR, learning and development, and organisational development people to deliver the strategic skills that businesses need to attain this. Look at most successful firms and you will find great business-led HR where this function has been given the latitude to deliver the promise of its value.

“We need to be in a situation with strategic learning where we only focus on the vital few skills and expertise that deliver true value as opposed to the trivial many things that businesses currently spend a lot of money on.

“Underperforming companies are indiscriminately busy – with a work work, chop chop, busy busy approach to development and sales. We need to be more focused on our outcomes and the only way to do this is to align what we do with what the customer experiences as value.”

CASE STUDY 02

Agents of change

Chas Moloney, Ricoh UK marketing director:

“There has been much debate around the benefits of merging sales and marketing teams, but this shouldn’t simply be an opportunity to rebrand a department. Stronger internal collaboration is needed to break down traditional silos.

“We operate a long-term outlook instead of the traditional hire-and-fire approach, creating a sales academy where marketing metrics support the sales team allowing employees to thrive.

“Salespeople should have more autonomy to pick the best suppliers for the business, which they can assess against the criteria they are expected to meet when they pitch for contracts. With a unique understanding of securing value for money, it beggars belief that some businesses still exclude salespeople from the procurement process.

“Agents of change within any business, salespeople proactively drive through improvements and often go well beyond their remit to solve problems. In a challenging economic climate, sales teams are the lifeblood of the organisation and should be treated as such. Their role is evolving rapidly, especially in the high-tech industries where many act as knowledge workers and mini-consultants tailoring their approach to changing customer needs.”

CASE STUDY 03

Top-down service

Jo Causon, Institute of Customer Service chief executive:

“In this difficult economic environment, many senior managers are, understandably, focused on driving sales. Yet, at the same time, we have seen customers becoming far more discerning about the service they want to receive.

“To differentiate from the competition and attract customers, organisations must embed the notion of world-class customer service from the top down.

“Excellent customer service should no longer be seen as just another “add on”. It’s crucial in driving sales and needs a personal commitment from the chief executive to ensure that people, processes, systems, strategies and underpinning culture are all focused on real customer needs.

“What really matters to customers is that staff are good communicators and have strong people skills, demonstrating genuine understanding and an ability to treat them as individuals.

“Frontline sales staff should be given regular and consistent training focused on empowering them to make the right judgement and intelligent, on-the-spot decisions that will ensure customers feel they are being treated as a person and not a potential sale.”