Why Tension Between Sales & Marketing is a Good Thing

Sales battling with marketing is an age-old tale, perhaps best illustrated by Alec Baldwin’s character in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” I love the scene when Baldwin’s character, Blake, comes into the regional office to light a fire under the sales department. “The leads are weak,” a cranky old sales guy complains. But Blake isn’t having it.

From the looks of things, the sales team is a listless crew with little ambition. So Blake announces a new sales contest: “First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado,” he says. “Anybody wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives… Third prize is, you’re fired.”

Now that’s what I call a motivational speech!

The lament from sales is age-old: Marketing isn’t doing enough to drive awareness, generate quality leads, and so on. Similarly, marketing folks often feel sales is off doing their own thing, making promises that can’t be kept and generally failing to align with marketing’s strategies and tactics.

And public safety is no exception. The fact is, usually, both sales and marketing are right.

Marketing should:

  • Ask lots of questions of sales, including what are the customer’s pain points and objections, and who are sales’ best prospects?
  • Ensure marketing strategies are in alignment with sales goals and objectives. (I know, duh. But I’ve seen many organizations where sales and marketing are like two trains heading in opposite directions.)
  • Measure the impact of what they do and ensure open communication with their counterparts in sales

Sales should:

  • Use the positioning, messaging and elevator pitch that marketing provides. (It’s truly better than 20 salespeople saying 20 different things.)
  • Bring marketing in early. When you don’t, marketers have no time to develop the right approach to support sales and everything becomes an emergency.
  • Trust that marketing knows what they’re doing. And if they don’t, look to management to make changes. Hopefully in a nicer way than Blake.

Sales and marketing pushing each other = better results

In the best organizations there will always be some tension between marketing and sales. They will never agree on everything, and they don’t have to. But they both must be committed to the larger vision and to reaching the finish line.

These days especially, the tendency is to want to quash any conflict. But there is significant evidence that some conflict is good for business. In Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Advantage,” he describes research that looked at Fortune 500 companies comparing those that are “smart” (meaning those with significant resources, including know-how in strategy, marketing, technology and finance) with companies he calls “healthy.” Healthy companies, according to Lencioni, have minimal politics and confusion, high morale and productivity, and low turnover.

In particular, healthy companies that encourage healthy conflict, he found, outperformed the smart companies by a wide margin.

Let’s say you’re creating a campaign to reach 911/emergency communications center leaders to sell your service. Your marketing team knows that creating more brand awareness is the top priority, based on both research and anecdotal findings. Sales, though, says they need leads, now (and maybe a set of steak knives).

It’s likely that both are right. There’s also likely to be a way to address both departments’ needs in a strategic and systematic way that achieves the desired results.

Once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.

– Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State, Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Four-Star General (Ret.)

That doesn’t mean having a kumbaya moment and getting everyone to agree. It does mean focusing on finding an approach that will be best for the business. One key factor in healthy conflict is that once you’ve aired opinions (and disagreement) and finally reached a decision, everyone must be on board with the decision—even if it’s not what they wanted.

Consider a third-party option to align sales and marketing

Since both marketing and sales can—and often do—have equally valid points of view, it’s often necessary to make tough decisions about what to prioritize and where to put valuable resources.

One way to broker these difficult choices is to use an outside agency or contractor to help align sales and marketing. A third-party perspective delivers an unbiased view, allowing an outsider to make recommendations that aren’t influenced by company politics. And, of course, they can apply their experience and expertise to help the company make the best decision. Which can also encourage harmony between the sales and marketing teams.

I must acknowledge that this doesn’t always work. We’ve seen situations where the organization’s culture won’t listen to any outside perspective, making this approach a waste of time and money. Similarly, bringing in outside experts to simply rubber-stamp the unspoken will of the CEO or sales or marketing VP won’t encourage trust or team-building.

So, be honest about what you need. Can your internal teams do this on their own? Do they have the expertise and experience? Put another way: Can sales and marketing navigate this healthy conflict and tension on their own to reach the best decisions for your business, or do they need outside help? If you decide to use an outside perspective, will everyone be open to it, or will some team members feel resentful?

Not all conflict must be resolved

It’s critical to identify what’s most important to keep your business moving forward, and then the best way of accomplishing the goal—as fast as possible. Sometimes that will come from sales, sometimes from marketing. And sometimes from both.

The key is that all involved leave their egos at the door, be willing to agree to disagree and do so with a smile, ambition and enthusiasm.

Now, who’s gonna take home that Cadillac?

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