Nov 092011

Sales Marketing: How the Rift Between Sales and Marketing Undermines Reps

Sales Marketing: By Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, Monday November 7, 2011, Via Harvard Business Review

This post, the last in a four-part series, is also part of the HBR Insight Center Growing the Top Line.

It’s no secret that sales and marketing executives don’t always see eye to eye.

In a recent Corporate Executive Board survey, sales executives’ top terms for their marketing colleagues included “paper pushers,” “academic,” and perhaps worst of all, “irrelevant.” On the other hand, marketing executives called out their sales counterparts as “simple minded,” “cowboys,” and flat out “incompetent.” Strikingly, across several hundred sales and marketing responses, a full 87% were negative.

Management has long called for sales and marketing to bury the hatchet, but the requests often lack urgency and are generally met with indifference. That must change. In today’s historically difficult selling environment, the rift between sales and marketing seriously undermines even the best-performing reps. In previous posts (here, here, and here), we’ve described a gifted kind of sales rep we call Challengers. Challengers excel by creating constructive tension with customers through unique and surprising competitive insights. However, all but the very best Challengers will struggle to source and package those insights unless they have organizational support — especially from marketing.

Yet much of the sales support marketing provides falls short because it’s focused on teaching customers about the supplier’s business, not the customer’s. Worse, the function responsible more than any other for differentiating your solution in the marketplace often churns out collateral and sales tools that look and sound exactly like everyone else’s. Where’s the teaching in that?

Don’t take our word for it. In a recent study, public relations expert Adam Sherk analyzed the most frequent terms in company communications, and the results were eye opening. Here are the top ten: Leader, leading, best, top, unique, solution, largest, innovative, and innovator.

Sound familiar? Most companies’ marketing materials make generic claims like “an industry leader with decades of experience helping global customers achieve business objectives through unique solutions and uncompromised value.” Blah, blah, blah. When customers hear such commoditized messages often enough, they stop hearing them altogether. So, you say to your customers, “Our solution is unique,” and your customers don’t believe you. Why should they? Your message sure isn’t. Their reply? “That’s fantastic. Can I get a discount?” After all, why should your customer pay more for your solution when it sounds exactly like everyone else’s?

So what’s the alternative? In our book, we share case studies of companies whose marketing organizations have gotten it right.

Here are four rules Challenger marketing organizations live by:

1. Identify your unique capabilities, not all your capabilities

In their excitement to tell the world about their broader “solution,” most marketing organizations fail to identify the handful of capabilities that truly set them apart. Sure, your products are “faster,” “newer,” “smaller,” “bigger,” or “greener,” but why does it matter? If customers see no difference between you and the competition, anything you teach them will simply wind up in an RFP headed for a price-driven bake-off. Bottom line, if you can’t identify the unique capabilities customers should be willing to pay you for, they’re sure not going to do it for you.

Answer the question, “Why should our customers buy from us over anyone else?” It’s a simple question, but often proves surprisingly hard to answer. It’s shocking how many companies are unable to identify what truly sets their solution apart.

2. Focus on the unique capabilities your customers currently undervalue

Most marketing organizations naturally focus on capabilities customers disproportionately value. The thinking goes: customers want it, we’re best at it, so that’s the core of our value proposition. The best marketing organizations, however, are far more interested in promoting capabilities customers under value. Why? Because their primary goal is to teach customers new perspectives, not reinforce existing ones. The best teaching opportunities often spring from the question, “What is it that customers fail to appreciate about their business that leads them to undervalue our capability?” The answer provides a strong foundation for insights that challenge customers’ thinking.

3. Design messages that lead to those capabilities, not with them

Virtually all marketing collateral suffers from the same flaw. If the first five pages — and the first ten slides — of your collateral or sales pitch deck are about you (and they almost invariably are), you’ve got it wrong. Build messages that lead to your unique capabilities. In a teaching conversation, the supplier enters the conversation at the end, not the beginning.

4. Calculate the ROI of changing behavior, not of buying a solution

Finally, equip reps with an ROI calculator (See listed items I & V) that shows customers the value of behavior change. Surprisingly, the best ROI calculators are supplier agnostic. They’re built to convince customers to do something, not to buy something — to take action on whatever new perspective you’ve just taught them. Of course, when customers ask, “Wow, who can help us do this?” the rep must be able to legitimately say, “Let me show you how we’re uniquely able to help make this happen.”

Successfully challenging customers’ thinking is a team sport. Does your company set up Challengers to succeed? Pull out the latest piece of collateral produced by your marketing organization. Does it equip your salespeople to teach customers about their company or about yours?


To Discuss how these Solutions will add value for you, your organization and/or your clients, Affinity/Resale Opportunities, and/or Collaborative Efforts, Please Contact:

Tom McDonald,; 608-788-5144; Skype: tsmw5752

sales marketing, McDonald Sales and Marketing, LLC