There is a perennial, and mostly erroneous, conversation about the alignment of sales and marketing. The two functions may share certain outcomes, but their day-to-day work has little in common. The sales force is not designed to help marketing convert leads any more than the marketing function exists to arm the sales force, despite what some companies think.
The fundamental difference in the two functions, I would argue, arises from a misalignment in the nature of their roles. By nature, marketing is one-to-many and sales is one-to-one. This distinction calls for different conversations and outcomes, so it helps no one—least of all your clients—to approach a sale like a marketing outreach.
Major Differences between Sales and Marketing
The one-to-many approach belongs to marketing, even if salespeople engage in some brand-building efforts like posting content on LinkedIn. Marketers are excellent at acquiring attention, positioning the company, exposing a problem, and pointing at a solution. They are also adept at understanding the market and the competition, developing strategic messaging, and helping interested parties to take some action. This is all as it should be.
Salespeople are designed instead for one-to-one conversations, focusing on individuals and their companies, which is why you don't often see them moonlighting as sign-spinners at busy intersections. Once marketers succeed in getting people’s attention, salespeople must improve specific clients’ results by engaging in a series of conversations that create value for the decision-makers and stakeholders inside a company.
Unfortunately, taking a marketing-focused approach to sales rarely creates any value at all. Allow me to present Exhibit A: the marketing-approved legacy slide deck. Most sales organizations still use one, even though it creates a poor experience for the prospective client. It is natural that a marketer would prioritize your company’s story and successes to create trust and credibility at the beginning of the sales conversation. They’re all about the brand. A marketer might also include your national or global footprint to establish your company’s reach and your ability to handle the client's business. Likewise, a slide with logos of large and well-recognized clients provides the social proof that your company is a safe bet. A quick pivot to the products and services and the salesperson is all set to begin a discovery call—except by now, the decision-maker on the other side of the table is impatient, bored, and most likely frustrated and disengaged.
You see, most if not all of the information in that slide deck is already on your company’s website. And maybe, just maybe, your contact (or someone on their team who can use Google) already visited that site before your meeting, to get a better idea of who’d they be dealing with. Repeating that information in a sales presentation is like telling your client to look you up in the Yellow Pages.
I’ve spent a long time trying to help salespeople create greater value, so believe me when I say that starting with “why us” is exactly wrong for early sales conversations. Let marketing do their thing to convince the masses that your company is trustworthy, innovative, disruptive, or whatever. Your job is to prove "why us" through your sales conversation, one that must provide specific value to a particular individual or company.
The Value of a Sales Conversation
We cannot lay all the blame at the feet of marketing. There are still many sales leaders and sales organizations who still sell like it’s 1988 (or 1968), believing if the approach worked for them once, it will work again. Quite a bit has changed in the last five decades in buying and selling, with both sides evolving and adapting to their environments (even if there are still too many holdouts).
The value of the sales conversation is that is one-to-one. It is an exploration of possibilities, potential, and the change necessary to create a new and better future. Start that conversation by explaining the forces that are causing your prospective client to need to change, helping them make sense of their dissonance—that uneasy feeling that something is wrong even without recognizing exactly what’s wrong and why. Because the conversation is about one individual or one company, it naturally focuses on the client: their challenges, their opportunities, and what they need to do to create a better future, the obligation of leadership.
If you really want to apply marketing acumen to your sales force, you might start by collaboratively developing a slide deck that acts as an executive briefing, with hard-hitting insights that explain why companies in your target area are no longer able to produce the results that used to be automatic. Marketing’s one-to-many approach would be improved by focusing on the forces that prevent the company's prospective clients from generating the results they need.
The Value of Marketing Conversations
Marketing is, unfortunately, measured on MQLs and SQLs. While these metrics are important, some of what marketing does isn't easy to quantify. The one-to-many conversations that create awareness, when done well, can nurture future sales, even when there is no clear chain of evidence. A lot of people, me included, underestimate the impact marketing makes by continually having the one-to-many conversations that create a familiar and trustworthy brand—the kind that helps prospective clients agree to meet with a salesperson for a one-to-one conversation. But in the end, marketing and sales demand different expertise, different approaches, and different outcomes.