How to Improve the Working Relationship Between Sales and Marketing

This is part of a series of interviews with B2B revenue leaders. This interview is with Kelly Winter, VP of Marketing.

Note: at the time of the interview, Kelly was working at Sortable as a Digital Marketer.image-asset54645

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Kelly Winter and I'm a digital marketer at Sortable. 

You've been with Sortable for almost a year now. Give us the 30-second pitch.

Sortable helps publishers make more money from their websites, allowing them to optimize their advertising revenue.

We have an engine that finds the partner that will pay the most amount of money for an ad space. For publishers who are trying to make money from their sites through advertising, it’s important to get top dollar for their space.

Today we're going to be talking about that tricky relationship between sales and marketing. It's something that every company deals with. Do you believe there is a solution out there, or is it just one of those things that we have to deal with the best way that we can?

It’s one of those things that we have to deal with it the best that we can. 

There's always going to be a little bit of tension between salespeople and marketers. They have fundamentally different personalities and fundamentally different motivations. I think that you can get closer to a middle ground, but I don't think I know any sales/marketing team that has a perfect, friction-free relationship.

Definitely, I agree. The dynamics really resembles a dysfunctional relationship. Do you agree with that?

[laughter] I do, yeah.

What are some things that marketing should do or experience in order to better understand what the sales teams go through… their pain points and roadblocks?

Something easy for marketers to do is to sit in on discovery and sales calls with their sales teams so that they can really understand the questions that they're being asked, and how they're positioning the product. 

It's easy for marketers to say, "We're responsible for the positioning of the product, and sales are responsible for executing on that," but salespeople really are the front line when it comes to prospects and understanding what resonates. 

It is so valuable to understand what motivates a salesperson, but to do that, you’ve got to get into their shoes. Then you’ll understand what makes them tick, understand how they're compensated, and understand how they prioritize. Putting yourself into a salesperson's shoes will make you a better marketer.

Let's say we reverse the scenarios. Would it make sense for sales to go through any marketing activities so they can understand their pain points? Would it have the same sort of impact?
I don't think so.

In my experience, the onus is really on marketing to make that relationship work. Not that sales doesn’t have any responsibility in having a collaborative relationship, of course. But like Dr. Phil says, “Every relationship needs a hero” and, more often than not, marketing is the hero in the sales/marketing relationship.

What are your thoughts on tweaking some of the job descriptions and targets that marketing has to hit to incorporate more sales-related goals?
It's one way to get both groups marching towards the same target. 

In the past, I've always worked in a marketing role that was very tightly aligned with sales, and I was actually compensated and measured based on the performance of my sales team. Marketers often get wrapped up in vanity metrics like open and click-through rates, and all of those things, but at the end of the day, marketers should really understand how their activities contribute to business objectives, primarily revenue.

There are some activities we do for awareness or for PR, but largely the work that we do results in sales. Giving marketers responsibility and accountability for achieving sales targets helps get everybody aligned and on the same page.

In that former job, what were those sales targets aligned with your role? 
At a previous one, we just did the backwards math, starting with the new business number, and used known conversion rates. At the top, it would spit out a number of MQLs we needed to generate, and that was the target for the marketing team.

In a role before that we worked with account development teams, so we had a lead qualification team. The entire marketing and account development team got compensated on the number of qualified leads that were passed over to sales, and those were basically just pre-opportunities. They were pretty heavily qualified, BANTed leads, and it was marketing's job to generate those. It was the account development team’s job to qualify them and do appointment setting.

So really, we weren’t measured on any kind of traditional marketing metrics.


Can you think of any things that sales and marketing leadership (CMO, VP of Sales, etc.) can do to help the issues around the sales and marketing relationship?
The friction that occurs at the lower level happens when senior leadership isn't aligned. Those two levels need to have an agreement on a few things in order to remain on the same page:

  • an understanding of what the targets are
  • what is a qualified lead
  • what are we trying to achieve
  • who are we trying to reach

Having that agreement and disseminating that information is really helpful. 

In a lot of organizations, sales have their tools, marketing has their tools, and the two remain pretty separate. Is that the case at Sortable?
I don’t think so. We use Pardot forms that feed directly into Salesforce. 

We don't use a ton of other marketing tools. Marketing has the line of sight into the sales tools. Sales doesn't have as much line of sight into Pardot, but they don't really need to, either. They see those outputs in Salesforce.


How much do you think that team structure matters in all this? Is there a way to structure the two teams in a better way… maybe having some sales roles under marketing?
I'm not sure about sales roles under marketing, but I think there's something to be said for having some marketing roles under sales. 

I've worked in organizations before where there was a corporate marketing team and they were responsible for the brand and content, high-level company events, and all of those things, and then there was a sales team, and field marketing was basically the conduit between two.

They would take everything that marketing was producing, put a sales-focused lens on it, and then work with the sales team on accomplishing their goals. That function reported up through the sales organization, up to the SVP of sales. It didn't roll up to the chief marketing officer. It was a marketing title within a sales reporting structure.

I've heard a lot recently about different sales roles report into marketing so that marketing can make their content better fit for sales, but I haven't heard the reverse of having a marketing team report into sales… but it makes a lot of sense.
It does make sense for some sales roles to report into marketing, like a business development role, for example. That function is so essential and so important that if you have that team sitting on the sales side, it can get absorbed into “the machine.” 

It takes a certain kind of person who wants that to be their job—doing the qualification—and they’re happy to take on sales activities as the team reaches capacity, cannibalizing the critical lead generation/qualification function. It sometimes makes sense to have that kind of role  reporting to marketing so that the focus remains on lead qualification.

Do you have any favorite resources that you'd recommend, people that you follow on Twitter, blogs that you often read or podcasts?
Jill Rowley is a very knowledgeable sales person who talks a lot about sales and marketing alignment. 

Sirius Decisions is also a great resource — you have to pay for their reports but they also offer a lot of content for free, and their research is really comprehensive.