7 Problems Between Sales & Marketing (and How to Fix Them)


Guest Post by Max Altschuler, founder of Sales Hacker and the Sales Hacker Conferences.

Sales and marketing share a lot in common — including the crucial roles they play in customer engagement, revenue generation and organizational growth. Marketing and sales working together in synergy have been known to achieve two-digit annual growth rates and
improve a company’s chances of closing deals by as much as 67%. In contrast, a discordant relationship between the two departments will reduce the bottomline and trigger productivity inefficiencies that cost companies around $1 trillion per year, as cited by Salesforce.

Yet, despite their near synonymous functions and tight interdependence, sales and marketing teams often find themselves at loggerheads, sometimes as rivals but mostly as convenient scapegoats for missed targets and epic fails.   

In many organizations, they form the stereotypical cat-vs-dog relationship even when they hardly need to at all. Heck, even when they ought to be doing just the opposite: join forces, execute a unified strategy, and reap the benefits of shared success.

As many YouTube videos and Instagram photos affirm, dogs and cats do get along very well, especially when discipline and mutual understanding override the instinct to protect one’s turf and to bite back when threatened. And surprise, surprise: marketing and sales departments are populated not by furry creatures but by human beings who presumably possess the ability to transcend their beastly instincts.    

So what can smart organizations do to prevent the perennial conflict between sales and marketing?

Sales and Marketing: ROLES and Turfs

People often use the terms “selling” and “marketing” interchangeably. You can’t blame them, especially when it comes to small businesses where both functions are typically performed by a single person or department. As companies grow however, sales and marketing inevitably diverge into distinct functions that are performed by separate teams.  

In general, marketing encapsulates all the activities and resources needed to reach and persuade target customers. This includes branding, messaging, advertising, customer research, pricing, PR, social media campaigns, email newsletters, events management and other activities. On the other hand, sales covers everything you do to close a deal and reel in revenues. Often, this involves direct customer engagement via one-on-one meetings, cold calls and sales proposals.

Sales vs. Marketing: ROOTS of Conflict

Long before Harvard Business Review’s seminal article on the subject was published in 2006, misguided sales and marketing departments were already waging a war of attrition. More than a decade later, many of them are still at each other’s throats. There are many factors contributing to the discord, and here are some of the most salient:

  1. Ineffective or lack of communication – In organizations where sales and marketing operate as separate units, establishing adequate interdepartmental coordination remains a challenge. Lack of communication not only leads to a significant dent in productivity but also erodes mutual understanding and trust.  
  2. Competition for departmental funding – Sales managers want higher budgets to cover additional hires, advanced training for the current team, or better performance incentives. Meanwhile, marketing managers may want more budget for building high quality promotional materials or for financing long-term social media campaigns. Since budget is always limited, not everyone will always get what they want. It’s easy to see how disappointment, jealousy and resentment can arise from this scenario.
  3. Misunderstood roles – Inaccurate stereotyping can needlessly sap interdepartmental relationships. For example, some marketing professionals tend to think salespeople have a myopic view of the company and its customers while sales professionals may underestimate the value of esoteric marketing campaigns.
  4. Personality/culture clash – Sales and marketing typically attract different types of people. Marketers tend to be methodical, analytical and focused on achieving strategic outcomes. In contrast, sales professionals are often excellent relationship builders who relish being in the front lines of customer engagement. In a competitive and tense environment, disparities in personality traits and priorities can sometimes lead to serious misunderstandings.   
  5. Overlapping or unclear goals – While both departments aim for corporate growth, each attempts to do so through different means. Marketing departments aim to build an ever increasing pipeline of qualified leads while sales teams aim for closing deals and generating revenues. Generally, marketers tend to have a long term view of things while sales professionals want to effectively manage their sales pipeline by meeting (and exceeding) their daily, monthly or quarterly quotas. Sometimes, asking help from someone from the other department doesn’t work out simply because each team pursues different goals and timelines. 
  6. The blame game –  When shit happens, guess who’s the culprit? Because silos like sales and marketing teams rarely see eye-to-eye, their understanding and expectations of each other’s contributions don’t automatically jive with reality. Under a cloud of uncertainty, mishaps — such as low sales — tend to be attributed to the other party. Marketers blame salespeople for not executing adequately on an otherwise successful lead generation campaign. Salespeople call out the lack of appropriate marketing content for the customers they are engaging “now”.
  7. Disparate or unaligned strategies – This cuts as deep and damaging as the lack of communication between the two departments. Misaligned strategies may lead to redundant efforts, pipeline gaps, massive process inefficiencies, lost opportunities and other negative outcomes. According to Marketo, at least $1 trillion dollars is lost annually due to misaligned sales and marketing strategies.     

Sales and Marketing: ROAD to Shared Success

Once properly isolated, interdepartmental problems between sales and marketing can be addressed more easily. Here are some steps you can take to keep your sales and marketing teams aligned with each other:  

  1. Establish a culture of open and constant communication between teams. If necessary, appoint a liaison officer to bolster the interdependence and collaboration of your marketing and sales operations. Collocate the teams whenever possible.
  2. Clarify the roles and functions of each department. Set the expectations and scope for each role or function. Implement compatible success metrics and performance indicators. Rotate jobs or crosstrain people from both departments to establish mutual appreciation of diverse roles and functions.
  3. Create a unified sales & marketing strategy –  Set the teams to achieve complementary goals. Set shared revenue targets when possible.
  4. Sync assets and resources used by both departments. Configure pipelines and funnels that link the teams’ workflows with customers’ purchasing behavior. Enable the teams to use a centralized knowledge base where they draw insights from the same datasets.
  5. Incentivize collaboration – Reward the achievement of shared targets.

Keeping a united front

While sales and marketing use distinct funnels and pipelines, the processes involved are so closely linked that the two departments should operate in tandem even when each is led by a different manager. These departments directly impact your bottom line and your organization’s survivability. Binding them as interdependent components of a single strategy is your blueprint for growth.  

Are your sales and marketing teams waging an endless and annoying tug of war?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How closely do the teams communicate with each other? Do they ever collaborate on shared projects? Does each team know key details of what the other team is up to at any given moment?
  • Do your sales and marketing teams share an overarching strategy that aligns their respective goals?
  • Does each department know the other’s objectives and timelines?
  • How often does one team cite a shortcoming or oversight reportedly committed by the other team? Is the blame game a constant occurrence in your organization?

If your answers suggest a systemic conflict between the two teams, then it’s high time to implement a sales-marketing alignment strategy.

Max Altschuler is the founder of Sales Hacker and the Sales Hacker Conferences. Previously he led BD at Attorneyfee (acquired by Legalzoom) and built the supply side of Udemy as their first sales hire.