Sales and Marketing Are Often at Odds. They Don’t Need to Be.

The two sides can learn a lot from each other.

Written by Brian Nordli
Published on Nov. 03, 2021
Sales and Marketing Are Often at Odds. They Don’t Need to Be.

Dustin Katka was ready for a showdown during his first sales team meeting with marketing. 

Based on what he read and heard before joining the manufacturing tech company Augury, sales and marketing were supposed to be the Montagues and Capulets of business. The Sharks and Jets. Oil and water. Whatever your frame of reference, the two teams didn’t get along.

He heard about sales representatives complaining that marketing never sent them any qualified leads, and that marketing content was all flash and no substance. And he heard how marketers felt that sales reps were pompous and didn’t use the content they created for them on principle rather than on any shortcoming in quality.

With all of that in mind, Katka had braced himself for a tense meeting with marketing. Instead, he was shocked to find that there was no standoff. The marketing team asked for the sales team’s field experience talking with customers, and the reps learned from marketing about what content is bringing in prospects.

In all respects, it was how the dynamic should be.

“It was a little bit eye-opening,” said Katka, who’s a senior enterprise sales development representative at Augury. “I got that first meeting invite and thought, ‘Oh god, we’ll see how this goes.’ But it was a very open forum with a lot of mutual respect and understanding.”

Still, there is some truth to the contentious sales-marketing relationship Katka had heard about.

3 Tips Sales Reps Have for Marketers

  • Work with sales to create a best practices guide for content.
  • Understand the difference between sales and marketing tools.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask sales reps for customer insights.

Erika Davis, who is the head of content services at the revenue operations consulting firm Greaser Consulting, works with both sales and marketing teams on content. She’s seen scenarios where sales reps write an email and marketing rewrites it because it doesn’t reflect the brand’s voice. And there have been times when marketing grows exasperated that sales isn’t using their event invites and white papers.

She’s also been that sales development rep who’s frustrated that marketing is creating content for her that’s too long or irrelevant to her buyers. 

While both sales and marketing have the same end goal for the company — bring in revenue — their approaches can vary greatly. Marketing defines a company’s brand and creates content like infographics, white papers and blog posts to draw prospective customers into the sales funnel. Sales seeks to form a personal connection with the customer and is responsible for closing deals.

When there’s misalignment between the two teams, it can result in content adoption issues, a lack of trust and disjointed customer messaging. But the two have the resources to help each other thrive. The secret to a successful relationship often comes down to open communication.

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Work With Sales to Create a Best Practices Guide for Content

If Davis had to pinpoint the most common source of tension between sales and marketing, it’d have to be around content.

As a sales rep, she would frequently rewrite the email sequences that marketing sent her. She found marketing’s content to be too focused on product features, too impersonal and too “sales-y” to send to her prospects. And she wasn’t shy about letting them know.   

“I was always that vocal rep that would get a sequence or asset and say, ‘I’m not sending this to the prospects in my pipeline because this is not how I would talk to them,’” Davis said. “It’s a very common experience that I see in other reps who feel just like I felt as a sales rep.”

But the frustration goes both ways. Now, at Greaser Consulting, she often works with marketing teams annoyed that sales isn’t adopting their content. They feel like the time and effort they spent on an email sequence or a new graphic gets wasted.

At the root of this tension is a lack of awareness around the role content plays within both teams, Davis said.

When a sales rep writes an email, their goal is to build a personal connection with the customer. The simpler the language and more conversational the email, the better. They may even write a subject line in lowercase letters or purposely misspell a word to make it seem like it was written just for the prospect and not part of an email blast — two things that would be anathema to a marketer, Davis said.

Marketing’s goal is to write content that resonates with a wide audience. As a result, it tends to be broader, lengthier and use more buzzwords — three things that cause reps to scrunch their noses. They’re also in charge of developing a coherent brand voice, which is why they may be hesitant to cede content creation control over to sales, Davis said.

Despite the differences, sales can still gain a lot from using marketing copy. When sales can use a marketing-driven email campaign instead of having each rep create their own content, it allows both teams to generate more consistent data on what messaging resonates with customers.

Still, reps need the freedom to personalize those messages to their buyers.

“Marketing should be there to help salespeople communicate more effectively, not to say ‘You can’t customize messaging to your prospects,’” Davis said. “That’ll cause salespeople to lose trust in marketers really quickly.”

If the marketing team is struggling with getting sales to adopt their content, Davis suggests creating a sales content best practices guide. This is an opportunity for marketing to sit down with individual reps and ask what they talk about on the phone with their customers, what they send in emails and what resonates with their prospects. Those details can inform the type of content the sales team needs.

From there, the two teams should work together to establish a few general principles. Davis suggests agreeing on a word limit for sales emails. Since those emails are meant to be shorter, she recommends limiting it to 100 words. The content should also focus solely on the buyer’s pain point versus product features, Davis said. Marketing can also share their best practices to sales reps creating their own content.

This helps get both teams on the same page and ensures that marketing is creating content for sales that fits what they need.

“You’re going to create a two-way feedback loop,” Davis said. “Anytime you have cross-departmental collaboration and you’re not thinking as marketing or as sales but as revenue operations … the more everyone will be equipped to do their job better.”

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Understand the Differences Between Sales and Marketing Tools

It’s not just sales and marketing that operate differently — their tools are different, too. 

As a rep, Davis would often see marketers craft beautiful event invites full of artistic graphics and external links. While they looked great, she could never use them. What marketing overlooked was the fact that multiple images and links can hamper email deliverability on sales engagement tools like Outreach and SalesLoft, Davis said.

If marketing isn’t wary of the differences between their email marketing tools and sales tools, they can end up creating a conflict without even realizing it.

“Even basic logistics are different between marketing and sales sometimes, and marketers don’t think about that, and salespeople don’t think about it, either,” Davis said.   

In another situation, a marketer pushed an event invitation out to a rep’s prospect email list on Outreach. This created a series of issues, Davis said. 

When you use an email tool like Outreach or SalesLoft, prospects can opt out of your messages, meaning you can’t message them anymore. Those tools also don’t allow you to segment email lists, so once a person opts out, they’re out. In an email marketing tool like Marketo, however, a person can opt out of the event invite list but still receive other emails from marketing because the platform allows for segmented lists.

So, when the marketer pushed event invites out on the sales rep’s email list on Outreach, and people opted out because they didn’t want to go to the event, it closed off communication for the rep. The rep was furious, but the marketer didn’t even realize that they’d done something wrong, Davis said. 

“So you can get really angry about that, but a marketer could be like, ‘Hey, we work with segmented lists, so I had no idea this was going to happen,’” Davis said.  

That’s why it’s important to take the time to understand the tools the other team is using and coordinate with the rep to provide them with assets that they can use. Otherwise, it can create tension without either team realizing they’re doing something wrong.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Sales for Customer Insights

Every other week, Katka and the other sales reps at Augury meet with the marketing team. 

During those meetings, Katka and his colleagues share what conversations they’ve been having with customers. They bring data on what meetings they booked, the objections they encountered and why they were successful in booking them. They also dish on what messaging has been resonating with each buyer persona and which objections they are hearing more frequently.

On the flip side, marketing also comes in with data. They tell the sales reps what content has been resonating with prospects over the last two weeks and why. Marketing will also highlight prospects who they think might make for valuable leads and get sales’ input.

Those exchanges lead to more effective email campaigns, better leads and more trust between the two teams. It’s also why Katka believes there’s such a good relationship between the two teams.

“It’s an opportunity to share and inform each other so that we’re all on the same page … and nobody gets to the point where it’s like, ‘This person just doesn’t understand,’” Katka said.

Back-and-forth communication is crucial for any successful sales-marketing relationship, said Dan Reiners, who’s the VP of digital ads and revenue at Yappa World, a commenting platform.

After all, marketing only sees one half of the puzzle when it comes to customers. It knows how to attract prospects to the website but not what makes them buy. Sales can provide insights to fill in that gap, but it also needs help understanding what brought those prospects to them.

Ideally, both teams should be rowing together, said Reiners, who’s spent a lot of his career working with both sales and marketing teams to drive revenue. Marketing should be creating content that informs prospects and moves them into being interested buyers. Sales should be building on that and turning them into customers. But that isn’t always the case.

As teams get larger, the department heads might meet but the conversation never makes its way to the reps and marketers. As a result, marketing is blind to what’s going on in sales and sales is blind to marketing’s efforts.

“You’ll have a situation where marketing and salespeople are not communicating on their day-to-day challenges and objections,” Reiners said. “Nobody is really asking, ‘What are the issues that customers are having? And how do we talk about these things and solve for them?’”

You don’t have to organize team meetings to reap those insights, either. Tyson Hartnett, an account director at the sales development platform Rev, encourages marketers to ping a rep at least once a week and just ask them what they’re hearing from customers. He also suggests they hop on a few sales calls a month.

Sometimes you can pick up insights about the customer that the rep might not even notice. That will help you create more targeted marketing content and provide resources to support the rep.

Ultimately, sales reps accrue a wealth of customer information that marketing could in turn use to build better content to help sales. All they have to do to access it is ask.

“Sellers love to talk,” Reiners said. “If somebody’s asking them for their insights, they’ll be willing to share.”

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