Ashley Friedlein: Is the future a fusion of sales and marketing?

More than anything ‘digital’ has blurred lines. That might be blurring the lines of what we used to consider typical consumer behaviours or models (for example an increased focus on behavioural segmentation and targeting rather than relying on, say, demographics), blurring the lines across physical and digital channels, blurring the lines across value and supply chains or the blurring of national boundaries and commerce.

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The level and pace of change, and these blurring effects, are felt acutely within organisations, not least at the level of organisational design and structure. What are the correct teams and departments, who should be in control of what, what are the correct roles and responsibilities? Digital and marketing are, of course, at the sharp end of these corporate contortions.

In the past I have argued that the focus among all this is that businesses should become genuinely customer-centric. I defined ‘digital transformation’ not as anything to do with technology or digital but about focusing on the customer experience and developing the right culture. I have argued for a wider remit to marketing and encouraged marketers to aspire to become CEOs. I believe the route to get there should not be through a chief digital officer but could well be via a chief customer officer role that has a remit across customer-facing functions.

Marketing has had to work closely with other functions as a consequence of digital. Social media has blurred the lines between what is ‘marketing’ and what is ‘customer service’. Who should own your corporate Twitter presence, for example? Is that marketing or service? The rise in content marketing, both earned and owned media, has brought editorial, operations and production closer to marketing. And, of course, we all know how much closer marketing and technology need to work.

But what about sales? Dare marketing court closer ties, or even take control? Just like the infamous tensions between marketing and IT, there have always been power struggles between marketing and sales. Depending on the business model, one is typically dominant. In B2B, for example, sales is invariably the dominant partner.

Once again, digital is forcing this question with increasing pressure.

And for two main reasons:

First, because of what we might call ‘distributed commerce’, where the point of transaction has become digitally layered or embedded within any digital experience. Any piece of digital content, any ad, video, piece of ‘marketing’ or customer service, also becomes a point of sale.

Most obviously we see this in the proliferation of ‘buy’ buttons integrated into social media such as WeChat, Facebook and Twitter. We see this happening to video, where transactional
layers are becoming more commonplace. And recently Google announced the buy button is coming to its search results. So where will we draw the line between marketing and sales when both can be part of the same customer experience?

Second, the disruption to business models brought about by digital. Many executives are worried about getting Uber-ed, Amazon-ed or China-ed. One response is to try to ‘go direct to consumer’ using digital and ecommerce to redress the power balance. Nestlé recently hired Amazon’s director of consumables Sebastien Szczepaniak as global head of ecommerce. Mondelēz is embedding ‘buy it now’ buttons into social media, video advertising and CRM campaigns. Unilever has set itself a target of 40% growth in direct online sales this year. The brand marketing and media worlds are talking big about sales and ecommerce and hiring aggressively.

Marketing Week’s sister title Econsultancy has always said it covers “digital marketing and ecommerce”. It has always been a bit of a mouthful to have to say both. But it always felt the two were very closely related.

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