Marketers need to learn that when sales and marketing fight, sales wins. Even when they’re wrong.
Here’s a quiz for distribution executives:
Q: How do you pronounce the title, “VP Sales and Marketing”?
A: “VP Sales” (The “marketing” is silent)
With some notable exceptions, most VPs of Sales & Marketing come from sales and inherit marketing thanks to CEOs who see the two departments as natural chums. In reality, VPs managing both usually know a lot about sales, not much about marketing, and bringing the two departments together creates an amazing albeit unstable solution – much like when you nitrate glycerol.
But, if you’re going to have one leader for both functions, it makes sense to choose the candidate from sales: Sales is an essential function for most distributors while a marketing function is optional.
To be clear:
A. A great marketing department can help a distributor drive much better sales, profits and long-term growth.
B. The absence of a good marketing department slows down growth and profitability.
C. A bad marketing department not only hurts business results but also annoys everyone along the way.
Generally speaking, the distribution of distribution marketing departments is about a third from each of A, B and C. I thus bow to the marketing heroes who make essential contributions; mourn for those distributors lacking this exciting catalyst for growth; and flip the bird to the marketers who make the discipline look bad through their egregious behaviors. Pro tip: Acting like the Department of Brand Guidelines Enforcement is no way to win the hearts and minds of your coworkers.
Why is It Marketing’s Fault When Sales and Marketing Fight?
Three common reasons:
A. Sales is closer to the customer and has a much better handle on what products, services and messages are relevant in the market.
B. Marketers obsess over dumb things at the expense of helping to grow sales. For example, nobody has yet developed a model for how Facebook “Likes” equate to sales growth. Also: No one cares about fonts, color correction, pagination or pixilation but you. Sorry.
But the real answer is:
C. It doesn’t matter. Sales wins all these arguments anyway, so if there’s going to be peace between the two functions, marketing has to learn to win over sales. Sales doesn’t have to win over marketing.
Wait: Why does Sales win arguments? Because in most distribution firms, the revenue line is structured around salespeople. If you’re a $100 million company, at least $80 million of your sales (and probably closer to $90 million) can be tracked to a specific salesperson. CEOs use that information to assign responsibility and accountability. They can take specific actions in response to good and bad outcomes (promote or fire the responsible parties), and it gives them a sense of control over the company’s revenue line.
There’s no corollary for marketers in many companies. Can you identify exactly which revenues and profits marketing is responsible for, or do you have some vague, overall impact on results supported by soft numbers, speculation and dubious claims of how your tagline made all the difference? Salespeople have specific sales goals, clear accountability and they’re with customers every day. Marketing has none of this.
If you’re a marketing leader, when’s the last time the CEO called you to say, “Angus, things could be tight this quarter. Make sure you drive the troops hard to close the sales gap.”
Pulling Marketing Out of the Rabbit Hole
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I don’t believe marketers are mad (well, not all of them), but I’ve met some who seem to have wound up in marketing by accident. They’re not sure what they’re supposed to do, so they lash about for something to grab onto and call their own. That’s why so many marketers spend their time on social media marketing, branding and complaining about their budgets.
If you’re in distributor marketing, how about you:
- Ride along with sales reps and figure out how to help them sell more.
- Take responsibility for the customer lifecycle: new customer count, wallet share, retention, win back, etc.
- Get a team from sales, marketing, operations and purchasing (e.g., SMOP) together every month to plan your promotions.
- Set up a ticketing system where field salespeople can ask for marketing support and you provide it.
- Conduct high-quality research so you can understand customer needs.
- Measure the company’s service performance: on-time deliveries, percent of orders that ship complete, will call ready rate, telephone service metrics, etc.
- Launch a Net Promoter Score (NPS) initiative to measure customer satisfaction.
- Shop your competitors and report back on your experience.
- Create a “services” tab on your website with compelling descriptions of your company’s value-added services.
- Work on the company’s value proposition so it goes beyond some form of “what you want, when you want it, where you want it.” We researched this phrase and found the first use in The Timberman magazine from 1919. It’s tired; give it a rest.
- Call your top 20 suppliers to ask about their marketing objectives. See if you can align your plans with their needs. If you can, they’ll fund most of your initiatives. (Read more: Stop Leaving Supplier Marketing Co-Op Funds on the Table.)
- Follow the Golden Rule of Distributor Marketing: The more often you put relevant offers in front of targeted customers, the more frequently they’ll buy.
I could give you more examples, but if you do this stuff, you’ll be way ahead of your competitors. More importantly, marketers who enthusiastically throw themselves into initiatives like these discover:
- Salespeople like them and support the marketing department because it’s contributing to their ability to sell more.
- The CFO looks more benevolently upon their budget requests because the marketers are obviously contributing to the financial success of the firm and are raising much of their own money from supplier co-op.
- Marketing leaders earn an equal place at the table and can effectively interact with sales leaders because both departments have become essential.
Perhaps you think the title of this article is unfair, and the war between marketing and sales isn’t really anyone’s fault. But it doesn’t matter: Marketing has to take the initiative to end the war and that means becoming as essential, useful and relevant as the sales department. If you’re in distributor marketing, absolutely no one can do that for you.
So, accept responsibility for the making peace even if you didn’t start the war. It’s the right thing to do for the company, for the marketing department and for your career.
As always, we welcome your feedback. Please feel free to comment below or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.