Podcast: How to align marketing and sales

By Alexander Evjenth

Podcast: How to align marketing and sales

Uniting marketing and sales — it's like the holy grail for most B2B companies (and plenty of B2C companies too). Imagine the gains you could make if you had both of these teams on the same page, rather than butting heads with each other! How much better would your customer experience become?

Imagine that, and now throw presales and aftersales in as well. Soon you would have one big 'market department' working together, rather than a bunch of silos that rarely speak apart from when something goes wrong.

Everyone sees the value in bringing sales and marketing (and some other departments) together, but it's a tiny minority of companies that actually succeed, especially when you look at large, traditional B2B companies. 

In this episode, I discussed this age-old issue with Stellan and Anders. How would they do it if they suddenly became the CEO of one of these companies? What are the benefits of getting it done? And what stands in the way of organisations that actually take the first step and attempt it? We covered all of these questions in this episode.

Since it's such an important question, we're making this episode available as a video podcast as well - take a look and take part in the discussion.

As usual, you can also listen to this episode and subscribe to the podcast on Spotify and Soundcloud using the buttons below. You can also subscribe to the blog right here — that way, we'll send you an email either when a new episode comes out, or on a weekly or monthly basis. Enjoy!

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AE: [00:00:00] So, welcome to The Onlinification Pod. Today, we have two guests, Stellan and Anders. How are you Anders?

AB: [00:00:07] AI'm very, very well, thank you. And um, yeah, that's it. As always, not dependable on the weather, I have to blame myself.

SB: [00:00:21] I'm the weather man then! It's a beautiful sky today.

AE: [00:00:25] Today again, you had a very good week. I've been in many telcos with you and the sun is always shining on you Stellan.

SB: [00:00:33] Yes, well, it's the advantage of staying close to the coast.

AE: [00:00:40] Yes, so today's topic is aligning marketing and sales, and I would like to start with you, Anders. Is it important to align marketing and sales?

AB: [00:00:50] It depends. Of course, we can say that I have almost never, ever experienced or seen it, but at a few times I have experienced it. And when I say experience it, it is actually even pre-sales, sales and after sales. It's the full customer experience, that with some companies and brands in B2B and B2C, you can sometimes experience that they know your history. They know you, they know all the interactions you have done and so forth in a nice way. But for most companies, whether they are B2B or B2C, they have never, ever made a decision that they want their customers to have one experience, and therefore built-in and the question 'sales and marketing' and so on, that's the stance we need to take. How do you want to be perceived? Do you want to step out of your inside costume and look from the outside and think, "OK, this is a B2B company, my sales and purchase cycle is three to seven years and then I will be a customer for five or 10 or 15 years. How do I want to perceive this company that I'm now stepping out of pretending that I'm on the outside," that I think is the type of discussion to have and then it's very, very easy. One source of data, relation, interactions, everything else, that that's how I think it's done.

AE: [00:02:38] And Stellan, do you think that it's relevant for all companies, no matter what industry you are in, to align marketing and sales?

SB: [00:02:47] Yeah, I think so, for two reasons. And so the first one is obviously then, what Anders has been talking about, for the sake of the customer experience. Basically, you never want to have a gap in that experience, you want to feel like you're interacting with one company even though you're passing through different departments on the inside. And then the other one, I would say, is for the sake of business outcome, it's a really sort of sub-optimisation or a deduction in return of investment in marketing and sales, if you have this sort of siloed approach.

AB: [00:03:26] I think it's always interesting to think it was if it was illegal or if it was forbidden. And let's phrase it like this: OK, it's from now forbidden to run a marketing department. It's forbidden to run a sales department and it's forbidden to run an aftersales department. And it's not enough just to rephrase it. You need one department, one department in the whole company called the customer department. No, the market department. Yeah, perhaps. Or something else. Everyone that works with different things within these previous three, or five in some cases, departments. How are we going to organise that and why do we organise it like that? Do we do it to save money? Perhaps that's a consequence. Do we do it to be more relevant? Yes, that's usually a prerequisite to have satisfied customers and so forth. I think it's good to play with the illegal thing or the forbidden thing. We must change for some reason, and I would say start by making sure that it's one department, and their responsibilities, their main responsibility is potential and existing customers.

AE: [00:05:01] So Stellan, the companies that decide to create one department, what challenges do they meet in the transition into one department?

SB: [00:05:12] Well, I think there is a very common scenario is a sort of a distrust on both sides of this, both from marketing and sales and after-sales. Sort of this, "they don't know what they're doing" attitude is something we come across. And that is, of course, related to organizational silos and then having these very sort of specialised departments that are driven more by their own existence than by the outcome for the customer in the end. And it's, I don't think it's a given that a company over time ends up in that situation because there are obviously companies that prove the other the other point, so to speak. But I think it is more likely for a company that been in business for quite a while to end up in that situation than for a younger company, simply because in the younger company, you have started that company and got traction with that company because you are solving problems for someone. And then until you reach a certain scale, it's more 'all hands on deck' than organisational siloed things that there is in bigger organisations.

AE: [00:06:30] Anders, do you have any challenges to add there?

AB: [00:06:33] You can look at it from several perspectives. And yes, I agree with Stellan. Let's say like this. If if I'm having a dinner with people who work in B2B and then I tell them, "you have one department, it's fun, but fairly costly." And then I say, "you have one department, that's needed. How else could you do business in your company?" And then you have one department, "ahh, so that's where you make the money. OK, I understand." Then everyone knows the three departments that I'm talking about, it's not fair, it's not always true, but it's very, very strange. So that's one perspective because I assume...

SB: [00:07:20] That's definitely the perception.

AB: [00:07:22] Yes. Yes. And then the other side of that is, OK, maybe I sign up for something with a B2B company. I sign up for their financial news. Let's say I do that and I do that because they are a prospective supplier of us long-term. We have a long-term contract now, but I will watch them a bit from a financial perspective, and I will also sign up on their LinkedIn page, their company page. Two years later, I start subscribing on their knowledge content, I read their articles. Perhaps I download something. Then some of my colleagues start signing up for some other things, and visit their 'buy' section or their product section or solution section and commercial section. And perhaps we look at a couple of the webinars that they provide. A couple of years later, we become customers and we get invoices, and we start getting problems with the deliveries. If I now would ask this company, "could you, from our company's perspective, give us a full review on the journey we have been doing together over the past, let's say, five years." Oj oj oj oj oj, they have to look in different databases now. In my world, they should only go to one tab saying 'companies'. Finding my company, finding all these interactions the last five years, and if they want to look at me, they go to the contact tab of people and look at all my interactions because I was very active early on and now I'm active again five years later in between there. There was a lot of influences and users and decision-makers in my company involved. I do actually not know any B2B company, at least industrial, that can show me this case. So that's an answer also on, sorry for the expression, damnit, change it. It's one experience. It's one customer interface. How valuable would it have been for this company to actually understand everything from the first IPs they met until all the questions and answers in our daily interactions and with service and after sales, and ordering more and so forth?

SB: [00:09:50] And you don't even have to go to sort of big data, AI etcetera to understand the importance. It's like it's here now because....

AB: [00:10:03] The one-liner, Stellan, is 'the big data bullshit' that has been buzzing around for 10 years now to companies who don't even have email addresses to all their customers. I mean, there must be an end on the big data stress when you don't even have the email addresses!

SB: [00:10:28] You have to start in the right place.

AB: [00:10:33] But at the same time, Alexander, it's a huge, we can sit here working for a small company, although we are trusted by fantastic companies. I mean, I can't give any examples of companies or names for various reasons, but it's a huge step. But at the same time as we get back to at many times, you need something in your remuneration model that motivates you to go this way. The number of times, I can't mention the company, but in 2008 for a huge, huge global company, we presented how they should onlinify their full offering. And I will always remember the faces of all these sort of business area managers thinking, "this will never happen and I will keep my bonus." Because it's so easy to say, why don't they do this? And at the same time, it's so easy to find the motivation to do this, change the bonus models, change renumeration models, although huge respect for if the owners want to do it or not. This is a very doable thing.

AE: [00:11:53] So that would be your first thing to change, Anders?

AB: [00:11:56] If I, I would be the owner of one of the companies that I'm thinking about, yes. I will never be an owner of a company like that. But if I would be: yes, that would be the first thing I would do.

AE: [00:12:08] What would you change it to?

AB: [00:12:10] I would firstly, I would forbid the three departments and make one department. And in the model, of course, you should prioritise people's readiness for the change and you should prioritise 'what' and 'how', and always prioritise 'why' so they understand why you make the change, because we will get the result based on both revenue and satisfaction very, very quickly. We will become unique as a company when we get the feedback: "you know how it is to be me." And that's easy for us to say. But I claim that it's as easy as that, if the owners want it.

SB: [00:12:54] But that bridges also this famous quote, which I don't remember who said, but that "culture eats strategy for breakfast." And it's, you can decide what we want about the remuneration models, but if we don't have a culture that embraces the change, then then we're not going to get all the way anyway. So that is also a super important component, that people are empowered to make this change.

AB: [00:13:29] And whoever said it, it's a very, very true quote.

AE: [00:13:35] Yeah, I looked it up. It's Peter Drucker.

AB: [00:13:39] Well said, Peter.

AE: [00:13:41] Yeah. And Stellan, if you were part of an marketing department and you were really understood and want to align your marketing with your sales, where would you start?

SB: [00:13:56] Two of the things we mentioned, I think we can add to it that it obviously has to be priority, from leadership in both marketing and sales to make it happen. Someone very capable and someone with a very large mandate has to be in charge. And so it's not, you can't outsource it, and you can't sort of downsource it, if that's a saying...

AB: [00:14:29] Now it is.

SB: [00:14:32] ...and the change has to be measured. So we have to be in agreement on how we shall measure the success of the change. And so I think those are three very important components. In addition to the other two mentioned.

AB: [00:14:47] Could I answer from Stellan's perspective? I am certain that he wouldn't sign on for that job if the task wasn't to make one department of it, because he knows from his background, or what he used to do before he worked at Zooma, that it needs to be one department, because he has done this change once and we don't need to dig further into that. But I think an individual like Stellan would never sign up without that being part of the task. And as Stellan said, I mean, if we talk middle-sized, or a bit larger company, let's say a billion Swedish kronor, one hundred million euro in turnover and up. There is only one owner - that's the CEO. And there's only one more person needed, that's the CFO. And then say, "this is one department. The reasons for doing it is this and that. This is the tempo that we're expecting," and so on. But then, like we have discussed previously, then the owner needs to decide that, because very few of the CEOs and the companies we talk about own the company.

AE: [00:16:09] So who do you think are the gatekeepers in the transition to align marketing and sales? Could you generalise, say that the marketing wants it and sales doesn't?

AB: [00:16:25] I very seldom hear the discussion, even on a philosophical level. I hear that companies talk, "it's a prerequisite now that there needs to be a handshake, the mutual agreement between this and that." And at that point, we always try and say, "oh, hold on, where's the aftermarket part? Where's the customer support part? Will you only talk about prospects and becoming a customer?" So, I very seldom, I would say Stellan, hear the discussion at all.

SB: [00:17:03] Yeah, no, I was kind of saying it's a good question, but I don't think you can identify one, I think people are very busy doing what they're tasked to do. Most organisations are sort of very lean in that sense, at least in large corporations. So there is too few people that are thinking business development in that sense and thinking," hey, we might change this and do this in a different way and hence gain something 18 months from now," because it's always about here and now.

AB: [00:17:43] I sit and think about a listed B2B and B2C company in the US. I wonder what would happen if they started organising their companies in pre-sales, sales and aftersales, what would happen with that company, when the strength today with that company is that they have one contact card where they know everything about me, whether it's in B2B or B2C doesn't matter, they know everything about me. They asked me to start a business account, of course I can start a business account. I have more addresses, and I know we talk a lot about this company, but what would happen with that company and their revenue if they started dividing in presale, sales and aftersales? Most likely they would not be one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world anymore.

SB: [00:18:41] They would least lose their core edge, so they would be like everybody else.

AE: [00:18:50] Yeah, well, we need to round up, but thank you both for participating. Very interesting to hear your thoughts on this topic.

SB: [00:18:58] Thank you.

Alexander Evjenth
Alexander is a content creator who has a great interest in learning new things. What he enjoys even more is creating knowledge content.
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