Sales departments claim ‘marketers could do better’

Findings reveal a lack of cohesion between sales and marketing departments. But as Andy Ferguson explains, both sides stand to gain from mutual support. Andy Ferguson is managing director of NHA International.

The sales departments of some of the UK’s leading brand companies have delivered a damning verdict on the performance of their counterparts in marketing departments.

They claim marketers are out of touch with trade customers; there is hostility between sales and marketing departments; marketers are unwilling to work closely with sales people. In short, say the sales people, marketers “could do significantly better”.

The findings come from research conducted by sales management firm NHA International. About 250 executives from companies such as Carlsberg-Tetley, Whitbread, United Distillers, SmithKline Beecham, Walkers Snack Foods and Virgin Cola have taken part in seminars organised by NHA, and given their views on marketers.

The research, conducted in the past year, has shown little evidence of sales and marketing functions working in tandem. Retailers have introduced category management, and manufacturers have launched trade marketing departments to reduce barriers between the sales and marketing functions, but this seems to have had little effect.

The problem is that suppliers have been left behind by retailers’ ability to collect data about consumers. Ten years ago, it was the brand companies’ marketing departments which held consumer data, which they then fed to the sales people. The retail buyers sat back and listened. But with the introduction of loyalty schemes and electronic tills, retailers’ data is way out in front of that gained by suppliers.

This means sales people have to be more prepared when they go into a meeting with a trade buyer. They need to know more about the marketing implications of any given promotion, or the brand position of their product.

But sales people say marketers are unwilling to let them in on some of these secrets, that they are removed and hard to talk to. Marketers would rather plan high-profile advertising campaigns and ponder big strategic issues than get involved with the nitty-gritty of selling units to store chains.

Some interesting findings came out of the NHA seminars. Half the companies claim to interact at a strategic level, but ten per cent of the sales directors questioned felt their marketing and sales departments were hostile to each other. And 37 per cent felt their companies were not ideally structured to develop new business. Twenty-nine per cent of companies do not have a team approach and 12 per cent still rely on single sales contacts rather than team selling. Some 30 per cent believe their company’s internal communications are poor.

Over a quarter of managing directors and sales directors believe the marketers in their sales organisations fail to support the sales department in any way (see chart 1).

There seems to be a prescribed marketing route which avoids creative thinking and opts for the tried and tested method.

Most marketing effort is focused strategically on the consumer. Sales effort concentrates on trade buyers, hence the difference in perspective.

An example of this is the customer care departments set up by many packaged goods companies. These subscribe to a worthy principle and are aimed at creating the comfort factor, which matches a brand profile. However, according to NHA feedback, information from these carelines does not always help to build bridges between frontline sales and marketing.

One sales director canvassed mentions a recent launch of a new drink through a particular retail chain. The customer careline received dozens of complaints about the labelling. In this case, the sales team found out about the complaints from the retailer, not from the marketing people who ran the customer careline. This type of situation will not help reconcile the ten per cent of the survey sample who believe there is real hostility between sales and marketing within their organisations.

Winning new business continues to be critical, and not enough time is spent investigating new business opportunities. The most successful companies have dedicated sales teams committed to winning new business.

Some 37 per cent of those asked believe their organisations are not structured to exploit new business opportunities. Companies do have opportunities to work with retailers in building new business and listening to their clients. Time and time again we hear that marketing effort bypasses retailers. They simply do not communicate with each other (see chart 2).

A well-known household cleaning brand has recently been promoted to purchasers of a competitive product using mailings to loyalty card holders. The deal was set up by the sales management team not the marketers, because the sales account handlers are closer to the customer than the marketers.

One of the most surprising elements that came out of the survey concerned internal communications. According to the research, sales teams fail to effectively communicate their successes within their organisations. This comes as a surprise as sales teams are supposed to be famous for communication. From the NHA survey 30 per cent questioned felt internal company communications were poor in this regard.

If senior management recognises such a range of problems – from lack of communication to inefficient customer support – it needs to take urgent action. Sales and marketing people must realise they are playing for the same team and that they will all benefit from focused efforts, co-operation and mutual support.

For a free copy of the survey, The World’s Most Effective Sales Team, contact Rob Jones at NHA International on 01491 571 117 or write to NHA International at Badgemore House, Gravel Hill, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon, RG9 4NR.

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