If sales and marketing work best in teams, why are they split into different functions?

Separate sales and marketing functions has long been the standard organizing principle. However, in the modern B2B buying environment, where buyers use channels interchangeably selling is a product of sales and marketing collaboration.

Separate sales and marketing functions has been the standard organizing principle for the commercial organisation since they first came to light.

Sales would sell and organize around the professional discipline of selling. Marketing would lead branding and awareness and organize around the professional discipline of marketing.

And in the old world, where the two could succeed together by succeeding individually, that might have made sense. Marketing would create great campaigns to prime the markets and sellers would take action to capitalize.

However, in the new B2B buying environment, where buyers use digital, virtual and physical channels interchangeably throughout their entire buying process, selling is a product of sales and marketing collaboration from buyer problem identification and needs assessment to vendor selection and purchase.

B2B organisations with strong sales and marketing collaboration and alignment see 25-30% higher 3-year revenue growth and growth in profitability, from higher win-rates, higher customer retention, higher ROMI and shorter sales cycles (source).

So far most commercial organisations addressing this challenge have turned to joint KPIs, writing formalized partnership agreements or even physically placing the two nearer eachother in the office, to bridge the gap, dancing around the central question:

“If successful selling in the new B2B buying environment requires a team of marketeers and sellers (and maybe data and tech specialists), to collaborate, why are we organized into seperate functions instead of cross disciplinary teams?”

As B2B buying grows in complexity, the current assembly line approach to sales and marketing stops making sense

The past decades have seen a revolution in innovation and product development, as traditional waterfall approaches (professional areas of expertise working in sequence of each other) have been substituted for agile development (professional areas of expertise working together in short sprints).

Instead of designers handing over work to engineers who hand over work to programmers etc. work is done in cross disciplinary teams around achievement of a shared objective.

We call it a new paradigm because it is doing away with the traditional manufacturing view of production (the assembly line), which works well in environments with low uncertainty and complexity.

For the past century, the “assembly line” approach, where sales and marketing work in sequence of each other (marketing creates demand and leads, sales sell and manage accounts), has been the dominant paradigm in B2B and shaped the organization into a marketing function with marketeers and a sales function with sellers.

But selling in B2B is no longer as simple as generating awareness & demand through marketing and then coordinating teams of salespeople to convert demand into sales.

  • The buying process has become digital & virtual: Besides meeting physically with vendors, B2B buyers now use on average 6 digital channels through the entire buying process and prefer to engage virtually with vendors in 75% of buying situations. 
  • The buying process has become more complex: B2B buying now happens in a buying committee of 7 people on average with an overload of information to interpret, increasing the complexity of decision making.
  • The buying process has become messy: 90% of B2B buyers report looping back and forward in the decision making process.

This means the classic handover from marketing to sales doesn’t exist in reality and with B2B buyers using a mix of digital, virtual and physical channels through the entire buying journey the need for marketing and sales (face-to-face and virtual) to collaborate around the entire buying journey grows.

In this kind of environment an assembly line approach to organizing the commercial organization does not work and we need to move towards a new paradigm of collaboration for complex problem solving

Organize around achievement of commercial objectives rather than the professional disciplines of sales and marketing

Separate sales & marketing departments is such a stable of any B2B company that we forget sales and marketing are in fact professional disciplines, that we have just traditionally grouped together into separate departments, to drive achievement 4 primary objectives that generate profitable growth (the funnel):

1. Positioning & awareness: Helping the right companies and buyers understand why the company exists and why it is relevant to them. (Objectives: Awareness, recognition & perception with target companies and buyers)

2. Lead/opportunity generation: Helping targeted buyers identify relevant specific opportunities for value creation and initiating and buying process to address the opportunity. (Objectives: Pipeline value generation)

3. Opportunity management: Helping buyers through their purchasing process from problem identification to purchase (Objectives: Sales)

4. Customer success: Helping buyers maximize value from purchase and proactively identify new opportunities for value creation on their behalf (Objectives: Customer growth, satisfaction & retention)

Sellers specialize in the professional discipline of achieving the 4 objectives above through direct personal interaction (Event presentations, calls, face-to-face meetings, virtual interactions etc.) while marketeers in the discipline of doing so through indirect interactions (Billboards, Facebook ads, website e-commerce, e-mail marketing etc.).

While the traditional assembly line approach (marketing responsible for objectives 1+2 and sales responsible for objectives 3+4) worked in a more linear and simple B2B buying environment, both sellers and marketeers are now needed in teams to collaborate around achievement of each objective.

Instead of separate teams split by professional disciplines (sellers in sales and marketeers in marketing), we need cross-disciplinary teams of both sellers and marketeers (… tech and data specialists) organised around achievement of each objective:

1. Brand engine: Specialists in direct (seller) & indirect (marketing) buyer engagement collaborate to drive awareness, perception and positioning (e.g. Event team of thought leader presenters to speak and conferences (sellers) and marketeers to help craft messages, presentation etc.)

2. Demand engine: Specialists in direct (seller) & indirect (marketing) buyer engagement collaborate to drive generation of sales qualified leads (e.g. lead qualification team of marketing automation specialists with inside sellers)

3. Deal engine: Specialist in direct (seller) & indirect (marketing) buyer engagement collaborate to convert pipeline value to sales (e.g. Consultative sellers and Account Based Marketing specialists collaborating to drive deals forward through digital and physical engagement)

4. Customer success engine: Specialists in direct (seller) & indirect (marketing buyer engagement collaborate to develop customer business and drive loyalty. (e.g. Key Account Management specialists collaborating with data specialists and e-mail marketeers to identify & address customer opportunities for value creation).

As B2B buying complexity grows, teams of both sales, marketing and other specialists, each with their professional expertise, increasingly need to collaborate around achievement of these primary commercial objectives, rather than focus on their own individual areas of expertise.

“The future commercial organisation is organized, not by its distinct professional disciplines (sales, marketing, data, technology etc.) but by achievement of commercial objectives, with cross disciplinary teams collaborating to achieve these.”

Transform in incremental steps to avoid chaos and continuously learn how to build functioning teams of sellers and marketeers

The transformation from a commercial organization organized by professional disciplines (sales and marketing) towards cross-disciplinary teams organized around commercial objectives, is critical to succeed in the new B2B buying environment but not a small change.

It requires change in culture (from sellers and marketeers regarding each other as opposites to joint team members), in work processes (from sellers and marketers working seperate and in squence to joint and collaborating) and in management and leadership (from leading teams of similar specialists towards leading teams of different but complimentary specialists).

A complex transformation with many moving parts, where a big bang approach comes with a high risk of creating chaos that disrupts the neccessity of “running the revenue engine while innovating on its fundamental strucutres”.

To manage the complexity and “run while innovating”, we propose a commercial leaders transform in smaller focused sprints to test the impact of selling through cross-disciplinary teams while learning how to set up and manage these.

1. Identify opportunity for value creation with cross-disciplinary team: E.g. Deal management through collaborating team of marketeers and sellers, expected to drive higher win-rates and shorter sales cycles

2. Set team and align on roles, responsibilities and working mode: E.g. Digital marketeers role, content creator role, customer engagement manager role etc. with daily team calls to align on progress, tasks to be done and next steps

3. Run & test business case: E.g. 3 months with continuous learning and development by the deal team, to demonstrate impact of new ways of working

4. Review, assess learning, agree on actions for improvement and next opportunities for value creation through collaborative commercial teams: Work with continuous leaning & development and as business case for working in teams become clear, expand on this new way of working

The transformation from traditional sales and marketing separated structures towards collaborative teams around achievement of commercial should happen gradually, allowing the case for change to be made (business impact) and avoiding chaotic disruptions to the existing revenue engine.

For years we have talked about “removing the sales & marketing silos” but never taken it to its natural conclusion: The removal of sales & marketing as the dominant organising principle for commercial organisations.

Now is the time to do that.

About the author

Martin Nyvang Mariussen
Martin Nyvang Mariussen
Martin has 10+ years of experience as management consultant to commercial B2B leaders with a special focus on commercial strategy, global salesforce development, marketing organization and building inside sales functions.

Suggested Reading

Contact the author here...