The Sales-Marketing Relationship

In episode nine, we’re talking the sales and marketing relationship.

Morris Porter is my guest.

Morris and I worked together in the early 2000s at a dot-com company that was undergoing a massive business model shift. He was running sales and I was in marketing. Through all the hard work, hair-pulling and sleepless nights, Morris was cool as a cucumber. So when I wanted to talk about the sales-marketing relationship, he’s the one person who came to mind.

He’s also worked at Cisco and Citrix—and is currently VP of Sales for Alpha Software.

It’s a great discussion–hope you enjoy.

Mark: Morris Porter, it’s great to have you here on Confessions of a Marketer. Welcome.

Morris: Mark thank you so much for having me as a guest. I’m honored.

Mark: Marketing and sales are often not aligned. Why do you think that is?

Morris: That’s a good question. I think one of the challenges around alignment is, potentially, conflicting objectives. Sometimes, marketing has very different objectives in comparison to sales. One example might be, marketing is being graded on the volume of lead flow while, of course, sales is being judged on bookings and conversion rate. I’ve been situations where that’s kind of bred some  distrust and some resentment.

Mark: So, with that in mind, how do you approach your relationship with marketing to make it work?

Morris: So, good question as well. I think, when I look at a new opportunity, one of the things I look at is–after getting past the CEO and the president, which are clearly important parts of the interview process–I always look to see who’s running marketing. Because, as a sales leader, that’s a make-it-or-break-it relationship that has to be good, in my opinion, for both the marketer and the sales person to be successful. I look at it as a partnership. I sort of take on the approach that sales should focus on sales, with a minor in marketing and marketing should focus on marketing with a minor in sales, so that everybody’s kind of in the same boat. The philosophy I’ve always followed, in general, is everyone’s in sales at a company–not just marketing. B ut I do think having a mutual understanding of each other’s objectives and challenges makes it easier for there to be an honest and open relationship. And I think being candid is also key to having that relationship work.

Mark: Well the ultimate goal is to sell a product or service.

Morris: Sure.

Mark: For everyone.

Morris: For everyone–absolutely.

Mark: What do you expect from marketing, as a sales leader, both strategically and tactically? What kind of support do you expect and how do you expect them to deliver it?

Morris: Great question. I expect very big delivery, high delivery! So, all kidding aside, I think the first part is: we need to have a we-are-in-this-together kind of approach, which I find is most productive. I also think an open mind and a willingness to test new ideas–having that that circle of trust kind of approach. In my relationship with the VP of marketing here at Alpha Software we have a “no bullying zone.” I mean, I’ll throw out the stupid, crazy idea and the head of marketing will do the same thing. And if it works out well, great. If it doesn’t work out well, we hope that it fails quickly. In terms of other expectations of marketing, I think that sales and marketing have to work together to understand who is the ideal customer profile for the product or service. I do expect marketing, before sales gets online will have done some of that heavy lifting–to figure it out or at least hypothesize it. And I think it is the responsibility of sales to pressure-test hypotheses once they come onboard and they start grinding through and selling the product or service.

Mark: So, then, what is the key to kind of engendering that kind of harmony between sales and marketing, which you seemed to do in every organization you’re a part of? I remember back when we worked together at the turn of the century, which sounds kind of strange, there was a great back and forth between sales and marketing. How do you build that trust and that kind of relationship that’s reciprocal?

Morris: How do you build that trust? Well, first off, I think you obviously have to follow through. If I promise something to my counterpart in marketing, I need to deliver that. In terms of other things, again, I’m a big believer in open and candid communication and I think you have to be as open with the positive accolades and the constructive commentary. I think it’s that open and honest communication, so that the marketing person and the sales person alike know that if their counterpart gives them feedback that it’s going to be coming straight from the heart and it will be open and honest.

Mark: So do you have any advice for a new marketer or sales leader who’s stepping into a role, on either side of the coin, for the first steps to take to build a solid relationship with the other side?

Morris: Sure. I think it starts with the interview. When one or the other person is joining, approach the relationship as a partnership. I think, if you go in with that expectation and with that orientation, it’s sort of like smiling at somebody: If you smile, they’ll smile. So, if you go in expecting to be partners with this individual, then that will come across. I would learn which challenges are present for their counterpart–and that applies both to the sales person and the marketing person–so that you can have some empathy when things inevitably go wrong. Because they always do at some point. And if you understand that person’s challenges, at least you know what they’re going through and can be empathetic. Like I said earlier, don’t be afraid to try things and fail together, but be sure to communicate throughout that process. And I think, as a subset of that, always stay in touch on success and failure. You know, one of the things we do at Alpha is we have a weekly stand-up meeting and then every couple of weeks we’ll have a more in-depth meeting. That’s important so that the communication flows and it’s not just passing each other in the hall, which is also important. But we have some structured time to share the battle stories, which are important for both sides of the table.

Mark: So, openness and respect for each other seems to be a common theme there.

Morris: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s key.

Mark: Well, Morris, thanks for being a guest here on Confessions of a Marketer. It’s been a great discussion. I’m sure the audience will really enjoy it.

Morris: Mark, thanks for having me. I look forward to hearing it.


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