Why there is ‘no excuse for misalignment’ between marketing and sales

Capitalising on the synergies between marketing and sales means being prepared to embrace conflict and strike a balance between short-term conversion and long-term strategy.

Marketing sales healthy tensionThe relationship between marketing and sales is typically characterised by a healthy tension. Both sides must learn how to balance the short-term need to drive conversion with the longer-term desire to build brand equity and create fulfilling customer experiences.

A 14-year working relationship helps feed the close alignment between EE’s managing director of marketing, Max Taylor, and managing director of channels and trading, Ettienne Brandt.

“We typically see things from a very similar perspective and when we don’t we will face up to that and we’ll have that conversation together,” Taylor explains. “That is what’s important; embracing conflict in a relationship between sales and marketing.”

Brandt agrees: “Occasionally in life you’ve got to have an argument, but because we have known each other such a long time, if we disagree we’re happy to be honest about it. It’s just an open and honest conversation and I think that helps.”

This level of closeness is fostered through a mixture of informal and formal conversations. Alongside weekly trading meetings and the monthly strategy meeting, the marketing and sales MDs catch up over lunch, text message and speak over the phone whenever there is a problem that needs to be resolved or opportunity capitalised on.

Crucially, when they came into these roles both Taylor and Brandt asked to have the same objectives to ensure they were aligned on what is right for the customer, the staff and also how best to hit the commercial priorities of the business.

Any tension is good in business because it gets you to think carefully about what you’re doing.

Jeremy Ellis, TUI

Such close alignment is crucial in a tough economic climate when businesses have to watch every pound they spend, according to Taylor.

“First pound and the last pound we spend as an organisation is on our network and that will always be the case to improve our customer experience, so when it comes to sales and marketing we have to be super efficient and that means that binds us together. There is no excuse for misalignment.”

READ MORE: EE on embracing the conflict between sales and marketing

Aligned objectives

When it comes to customer acquisition and retention, sales and marketing are almost one, says Jeremy Ellis, marketing and customer experience director at holiday group TUI.

“We are both working in the same funnel. Marketing tends to work at the top, where our objective is to attract the right customers, and then, once we’ve got hold of those customers, the sales job is to convert as many of them as possible. So we’re both effectively working to the same end, just approaching it in slightly different places,” he explains.

Ellis says it is imperative for marketers to understand which tactics convert best, while sales must appreciate the importance of staying top of mind with customers, even if they’re not in the market to make an immediate booking. This means working to the same set of objectives and customer segments.

Full alignment does not, however, eradicate the natural tension between the marketing and sales functions, and nor should it.

“Any tension is good in business because it gets you to think carefully about what you’re doing and I think you should always challenge everything you do,” says Ellis.

“There has to be a balance of long term and short term all the time, but clearly the pendulum swings from one side to the other depending on time of year, channel and customer type. We need to manage that pendulum swing appropriately between the two functions.”

Connecting the frontline

In any retail business, a key aspect of the marketing and sales relationship is connecting the brand message with the sales colleagues on the frontline.

The marketing team at EE make it a priority to listen to the frontline sales staff because they are the people closest to the customer, using their feedback to create campaigns. From a sales perspective, Brandt is looking for a marketing message that will resonate with the company’s 6,000 front-line staff, as they will need to convey this message to the customers.

Having learned a greater appreciation for the front-line staff through working closely with Brandt, Taylor acknowledges that even the most creative campaign in the world will fail if it does not capture their hearts and minds.

Likewise, Brandt acknowledges that often the hardest thing for a big organisation is to create a campaign that speaks to everyone in the business, which is why EE spends so much time making sure everyone understands the vision behind each campaign.

“I think the enthusiasm the team take to those campaigns – and how great they make them from the original idea to the end product – that’s the power of marketing. Max’s team do a cracking job of creating enthusiasm for the whole front line of our business,” says Brandt.

Communicating with front-line staff formed a central part of TUI’s rebrand from Thomson in October. The marketing team took 1,500 shop managers overseas and spent an entire day educating them about what the TUI brand stands for. The marketers even developed a game to bring the TUI brand to life, which the shop managers then took back to play with their teams.

Ellis argues that the only way to make a brand live and breathe is to talk about it in an engaging way, as opposed to simply creating a PowerPoint presentation or putting out news on the company intranet.

“You need to do it in a way where people can get involved and feel like they’re owning it. That’s the most important part of driving the right culture into your front-line operations and once that happens everyone gets behind it.”

Desire for duality

The close-knit nature of marketing and sales has encouraged some companies to go a step further and create dual roles.

A prominent example is Pizza Hut, which in July 2017 appointed former Starwood Hotels vice-president of marketing for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Stephan Croix, as Pizza Hut Europe and UK chief sales and brand officer.

Croix sees a simple rationale for joining sales and marketing in a single role. “We’re in an extremely fast-moving space where we’re selling directly to consumers, so we don’t need to have a key account management function,” he explains.

“We’re also heavily focused on digital and this is where the synergies are becoming more obvious. The website is a marketing tool, it’s a sales tool and it’s even a part of the product experience itself. So when we talk about selling pizzas, it all starts on the website and it’s really all part of the journey. It’s marketing and product all together.”

The strongest sales people I have encountered in my career have either worked for a few years in marketing or have a very in-depth understanding of consumer dynamics.

Stephan Croix, Pizza Hut

While acknowledging that sales and marketing display a healthy tension between building the brand over time and driving sales overnight, Croix argues that if you bring the two functions together it reduces friction and enables you to move much faster.

Although the team is fully integrated, the KPI for the campaign and promotions team is to drive a sales uplift, whereas the food teams are tasked with creating products that build the brand and get Pizza Hut noticed by the media. The team are encouraged to assess every opportunity through a brand and sales lens.

“I’m not saying that integrating sales and marketing is the right model for every brand. Any brand that has a longer product life cycle, like a luxury brand for instance, has the time to build brand equity and disassociate the sales activity from the brand marketing,” Croix says.

“We really don’t have that complexity. One of our internal mottos is that we want to be the ‘most loved, fastest growing brand’. This is what we write in big capital letters above our desks. You already see the synergies between marketing – ‘most loved’ – and ‘fastest growing’, the sales dimension.”

Croix also believes having sales experience is the best way for a marketer to progress to general management, arguing that it is difficult to go from a pure marketing role, which excludes commercial responsibility, to the position of CEO.

“In order to become an even better marketer it is a great thing to get involved in sales for a few years. The strongest sales people I have encountered in my career have either worked for a few years in marketing or have a very in-depth understanding of consumer dynamics,” he adds.

“I have always encouraged any marketer in my team to look at the other side. Some have actually dedicated their careers to sales and some came back in a much stronger position than where they were before.”

Commerciality breeds credibility

Being a marketer with a proven track record of understanding the commercial imperative of the business undoubtedly helps facilitate closer communication between marketing and sales.

Ellis believes that starting off on the commercial side of the Thomson Holidays business in 2000, as head of product development, has helped him seize upon the synergies with sales.

“In order to get the sales team to listen to the things you need to do from a brand point of view, you need to demonstrate that you understand how the commercial side of the business works,” says Ellis.

“At the same time, what I’ve learnt is that you can’t just look at brand exclusively. If you don’t understand that, then you’ll just lose credibility. 

Commerciality is a key skill for any business leader, agrees Helen Warren-Piper, the former Premier Foods UK marketing director who in January was appointed sales director at Mars’ Pet Nutrition business.

Warren-Piper, who will assume her role in April, will be tasked with setting sales strategy for brands such as Pedigree and Whiskas, by applying both a marketing and a commercial lens to the sales function.

READ MORE: Mars hires Premier Foods’ top marketer as sales director

She argues that leadership, which is critical to any senior role, is transferable irrespective of function.

“The most important skill in any senior role is leadership – the ability to envision, energise and enable people, empowering and encouraging them to be the best version of themselves,” she explains.

“The focus in any FMCG commercial role, be it marketing or sales, is profitable sustainable growth. In my view, movement of senior leaders between functions in FMCG is a good thing, as this builds perspective, experience and broader business leaders.”

Symbiotic relationship

Ultimately, lessons being shared across the sales and marketing functions can only be beneficial to businesses. Reflecting on his experience at TUI, Ellis feels he has helped the sales team better understand the importance of the “softer side”, particularly emotional brand engagement. He believes it is also marketing’s job to show sales why some messages might not always do the job they think they will.

“There’s a risk, for example, that you can make your brand look pretty desperate if you are constantly on sale. It’s about the importance of brand and getting emotional engagement. The way you get that is through data, using econometrics and attribution modelling over a longer period to demonstrate how this stuff works,” Ellis explains.

TUI recently invested heavily in developing robust customer segmentation, which helps the marketing and sales teams be clear on which segments they want to win or defend. Using this information the teams find ways to collaborate from a brand and customer experience point of view, not just from a selling perspective.

“We call it ‘sales through service’ and actually you can deliver stronger sales if you deliver a great service based on who your customers are,” says Ellis.

“So it’s not about the hard sell. We find sometimes soft sell works even better because your customers are more likely to be receptive if you treat them in a way that’s consistent with the brand. That is an important discussion between sales and marketing, and strengthening that relationship makes a big difference.”