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8 min read

The battle between sales and marketing – is there a winner?

Team alignment

This article originates from a panel at the Revenue Marketing Summit in New York, 2022. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

The battle between sales and marketing has been raging for years. Is it a case of one team winning out over the other, or is it more of a symbiotic relationship?

To explore the ways in which sales and marketing can work together to drive business success, we brought together a panel of revenue marketing experts:

🔷 Tobes Kelly, VP of Revenue and Product Marketing at Transfix

🔷 Mary Costa, Co-Founder, and CMO at Better & Better

🔷 David H. Dancer, Interim CMO at NGDATA and FutureMethod

Read on for their hard-won insights on how to bring both teams together for revenue marketing gold, including:

  • The roots of misalignment between sales and marketing
  • Sharing KPIs with sales
  • How to show the marketing team's value
  • Uniting sales and marketing under one umbrella
  • Building bridges between sales and marketing
  • How to share marketing wins with the organization

The roots of the misalignment between sales and marketing

Tobes Kelly

We are here to discuss an alignment issue, and so my first question is what are some of the underlying reasons for misalignment between sales and marketing?

Mary Costa

While a lot of companies are pivoting and realigning, I think there’s a foundational problem that goes back decades: the idea of marketing being a cost center while sales is viewed as a revenue-generating center.

That mentality starts at the top and funnels all the way down through the organization. Plus, these two functions have historically been separate.

However, I think we’re now moving in a more collaborative direction. I mean, here we are talking about revenue marketing, which is ultimately the intersection of these two areas. That misalignment still does exist, though we're seeing a lot of positive movement.

David H. Dancer

There are lots of things that can potentially go into this misalignment, but a big one is that marketing has often been positioned as a service organization, here simply to serve everyone else.

Two things that salespeople have said to me over the years that have stuck in my mind are, “I mean, you just hit the button and send an email, right?” and, “Your team will make it pretty!”

I think it’s really important that we share roles and educate each other so that we can all understand how each team contributes. Aligning KPIs is essential to overcome this misalignment too.

I also think everybody in marketing needs to be able to articulate their product’s value proposition just as well as sales. They should be bringing insights and leading the conversation so that sales doesn't feel that we’re just here to dress up their good work. That’s what gets marketing an equal seat at the table.

Back in my very first job at MCI Telecommunications, which became Verizon (our claim to fame at the time was that we did a big spot with Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes), I was the marketing manager for our airline programs.

I went to the call center in Phoenix to do some training for 1000 call center employees, and I remember thinking, “I'm just the marketing guy. I'm gonna get pizza and have fun,” and they said, “Welcome! Here's your headset. Sit down.”

I was terrified, but I learned an important lesson. My CMO at the time said that every person that works on a program that sales supports needs to be in the field once a month, and I’ve carried that with me.

Marketers have to get out there. They have to understand the real challenges. They have to understand that when feedback comes in, it's not arbitrary; it's not sales picking on marketing – they’re looking for solutions.

The most practical way that I've enforced this mentality with my team is by making sure that my team gets out there. We’ve got to:

  • Be knocking on doors.
  • Get our headsets on and make outbound calls.
  • Be in sales meetings with big clients.

And we've got to be able to do that so that we can gain credibility and, most importantly, gain insights so we can contribute.

Pssst. Wanna learn how to properly align your marketing and sales teams? We've got a playbook for that. 👇

Sharing KPIs with sales

Tobes Kelly

We've talked about shared KPIs, which seems nice in principle, but what KPIs have you shared with sales? For example, have you shared revenue accountability?

Mary Costa

In my current role, and in my recent roles, the answer is absolutely – we've shared all of that. That's because we have a shared seat at the table. We're speaking to our CFO together.

We're understanding the business metrics and the company’s overarching revenue goals and strategies together. We can ensure that information flows down so that people on both the marketing and sales teams understand what they're contributing to.

We share revenue KPIs. We also share customer insights, for instance in audience segmentation, which then can be translated into sales conversations to support both pitching and retention.

The other component that I think it’s important to share is success. Whether it’s a case study, a customer review, or a customer success win, we should celebrate that together.

David H. Dancer

When I first started working at Inspire, my marketing goals promoted the service mentality I was talking about – we were targeted on enablement and ensuring that everyone had the tools and insights they needed.

Then one day our CEO came in and forced me and my sales counterpart to sit down together and own the revenue goal.

That completely changed the dynamic. Marketing wasn't about just delivering a pretty presentation or sending out emails anymore; it was about making sure that all those activities translated to revenue.

To make that happen, revenue goals need to be tied to incentives. Sales teams are usually commission-oriented, but the marketing team is often on a different comp plan.

We changed that comp plan, shared those revenue goals, and gave the marketing team incentives. That changed the behavior of my team overnight. I saw a lot more collaboration, and I found that my team was more interested in having a seat at the table.

How to show the marketing team’s value

Tobes Kelly

Having a seat at the table is great, but how do you then communicate with the rest of the organization to show the output that marketing is responsible for and the value that we bring? What communication tactics can you use internally to establish the business role we have?

Mary Costa

The most practical and immediate piece of advice is to reach out to your sales counterpart and build a relationship. You’ve got to listen to sales and learn their language.

A lot of the time, data from sales calls kind of gets lost in translation before it comes back to marketing. That’s because when sales makes those calls, nobody from marketing is present, so the information that comes back is filtered, and when it’s put into your CRM system or your lead management system, it's fuzzy.

The only way you're going to be able to show your value add and ultimately educate sales on what you do is by listening, learning their language, and digging to understand what they're experiencing and what they're hearing.

Tobes Kelly

Having shared pieces of software like Salesforce or HubSpot could also be valuable.

You have a sales team out there, getting granular intel from customers or prospects, coming back, and putting it into the machine so that marketing can go into the same machine and draw insights that can feed into messaging and positioning.

I think that's where we start to see integration in how we enable and how we go to market. You can use the software in many ways to promote that.

David H. Dancer

Something else I do to promote that communication is to have someone from my marketing team work with a sales counterpart on a campaign. That salesperson can be a part of the campaign development and they can be part of that feedback loop, and then you're recognizing sales and marketing together.

I've often seen and been a part of teams that really wanted to share all of marketing’s wins. Frankly, that just produces eye rolls.

Marketing needs to know we all love them, but sales is like, “But we're the ones that are out there making this happen.” We need to find new ways to show how those teams exist together and make sure they’re rewarded together.

Uniting sales and marketing under one umbrella

Tobes Kelly

Do you think if sales and marketing were united under one leader, a chief revenue officer, that would solve the alignment issue?

David H. Dancer

I've been in a few organizations where I have been the CMO and there was also a CRO. I definitely like the idea of sales and marketing rolling up to that. I think that's the ultimate solution.

The difficulty is in making them come together seamlessly because I think inherently you end up finding a leader who's either a salesperson or a marketing person and leans one way more than the other.

It's also a huge responsibility. Those are two massive organizations that are critical to the revenue and viability of the company. So while I really like the idea, I haven't necessarily seen it executed effectively.

Building bridges between sales and marketing

David H. Dancer

One lesson I've learned in my career is that when you're an individual contributor, you can sort of stay in your lane. That changes as you move up into positions of influence.

It's not an exaggeration to say I spend 50% of my time as a CMO maintaining relationships with my peers and making sure we’re aligned, have trust, and everyone’s roles are clear.

I have to make sure I understand the rest of the organization to be able to lead my team in the right direction

I love what you said because we often celebrate wins and go and have fun in the vacuums of our departments – that needs to happen, but how can we make sure sales and marketing get together too?

Especially in a hybrid environment, we find that people are often like, “Hey, I need the brochure,” and there’s a very transactional relationship between the two teams, so carving out time for them to spend together is really important.

Bridging the gap between your revenue-generating teams
At SEC’s Chief Revenue Officer Summit in September 2021, industry leaders from around the world shared their knowledge. One of the top talks of the week was a panel discussion all about communication gaps between revenue-generating teams.

How to share marketing wins with the organization

David H. Dancer

I think when you’re sharing wins – whether it’s in a newsletter, a town hall, or an offsite – you have to show the exact impact on the bottom line. Marketers do make things pretty.

We love things to be pretty, but we can't just focus on that. We have to talk about the components of each campaign and tie them back to revenue.

The head of product at one of the companies I’ve worked for did this exercise where everyone in the company had to track where they sit between bottom-line and top-line revenue and show how they contribute to that.

I thought it was a great exercise because it made people look at their jobs differently, and it enabled them to make different kinds of decisions and talk about their work differently.

So when you share wins, make sure they’re grounded in how the company makes money, not how many impressions a campaign got or whether it was featured in Adweek – those are the real eye-rollers.

They’re still important wins for the brand, but when you share them with the wider company, you have to ground that news in financial results. That's the key.

This post was a collaboration between

Mary Costa, Tobes Kelly, David H. Dancer

  • Mary Costa

    Mary Costa

    Mary Costa is the Co-Founder, and CMO at Better & Better.

    More posts by Mary Costa.

    Mary Costa
  • Tobes Kelly

    Tobes Kelly

    Tobes Kelly is the VP of Revenue and Product Marketing at Transfix.

    More posts by Tobes Kelly.

    Tobes Kelly
  • David H. Dancer

    David H. Dancer

    David H. Dancer is the Interim CMO at NGDATA and FutureMethod.

    More posts by David H. Dancer.

    David H. Dancer
The battle between sales and marketing – is there a winner?