There are endless ways to describe the stereotypical relationship between sales and marketing: dogs and cats, oil and vinegar, the Patriots and the rules of football. The basic idea is that the two just don't mix.

The reality, as always, is a bit more nuanced. Sales and marketing always have the same objective: grow the business. But their roles require focusing on and solving different problems. As a result, the disciplines and the mindsets, are quite different. That doesn't mean the two disciplines shouldn't learn from each other.

As much as many sales leaders would hate to admit it, there are things that the best marketing teams do that sales needs to copy. And marketing can learn one key lesson from sales people.

A Lesson for Sales: Live by the Numbers, not the Number

When sales people think about "the number," it's singular: their quota. Sales managers may have a separate set of metrics, like dollars in the pipe, or calls placed for inside sales reps. But in general, sales people will tell you that there's only one number that matters.

Marketing teams today are taking numeracy to the next level, and beyond. They slice and dice the data on everything from what percent of visitors view more than three pages on the website to how many emails you can send without spiking your unsubscribe rate.

For marketers, his has been a tremendous cultural change from the old world of "I know half my marketing dollars are wasted, but I don't know which half." Now, every dime has an effectiveness metric attached to it. Companies that can't make this transition will simply die out. Their cost of customer acquisition is too high, and they'll increasingly find themselves unable to even get into the deals.

Sales teams aren't as far down this path, but in the end, the same dynamic will be true. In the past, sales management accepted that the few top reps bring in 80% of the business. This implies that most of the reps aren't pulling their weight. Competitive companies will use data to solve this, and uncompetitive companies will have unacceptable loss rates and cost of sales. Sales leaders that don't learn quantitative methods from their marketing counterparts will find themselves uncompetitive as well.

A Lesson for Sales: Make Room for Experiments

Most sales leaders will tell you that sales is a process, and they know the process that they're following. There is an increasing emphasis on playbooks and more formalized sales stages to standardize the sale. This isn't wrong, and it's far better to have a standard process than to let everyone figure it out on their own.

However, one of the most interesting things we see when looking at sales performance data are the differences in things that you would expect to be the same, like the response rate to an email template that two reps are using. Why would one person have such better luck than another with virtually identical emails?

Again, look at what marketing does. For leading edge marketing teams, marketing automation has made process hard to not follow. Buyer journeys are hard coded into the system, and everything from retargeted ads to nurture campaigns follow from there. But even as almost everything goes through the main process, there are always controlled experiments to find better ways. Marketing people test everything from the subject lines in emails to the color of buttons on the website. What they know is that tiny tweaks can have outsized impacts, and just going off gut feelings instead of data doesn't work. The learnings from the experiment get fed right back into the main process, and the results improve even as another experiment kicks off.

For sales teams, the experiments are happening, but they aren't at all controlled or deliberate. The experiments happen when a rep decides to go off script from the marketing deck, or try a different opener when they follow up on a lead. At Enkata, we see these experiments show up in the performance differences of people on the team, and the one top sales person with the approach that really works. What few companies do, however, is take the learning and feed it back into the main process for everyone to benefit from. If you're a sales leader with a locked down process, and a few top reps, you probably have an opportunity to improve team level results substantially with the kind of formal testing that marketing teams do as a matter of course.

A Lesson for Marketing: Cut the Experiments. It's All About The Number.

If your head of sales is losing sleep and your marketing team is sleeping well, something is seriously wrong. At the end of the day, quarter and year, the thing that matters most is the revenue number. Marketing teams often get very focused on things like the color of the button, or the results of their latest top of funnel experiment, and lose sight of the bigger picture. More clicks in emails don't matter if they don't turn into leads that turn into deals. Goosing web traffic with one trick or another is great, but it doesn't feed the sales team.

What sales people know is that without unrelenting focus on results, the results don't happen. When there is a breakdown between sales and marketing, it's far more common that the marketing team has gone off track. They've fallen in love with metrics and numbers that the sales team doesn't see value in, or they're working on things that are so top of funnel as to be useless to sales people. When people talk about sales and marketing alignment, they aren't looking at the sales team.

In the end, for companies to remain competitive, they need more than just alignment. For sales, they need a marketing style process for iteration and improvement based on data and analytics. And for marketing, they need a method to tie all their metrics to the one metric that matters.

Published on: Jan 30, 2015