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Relationship between sales and marketing - a traditional rivalry

Apr 23, 2021 4 min read

A traditional rivalry, going back all the way to the beginning. An industry-agnostic problem that is there, under the surface, causing tensions inside the office. Is it a real problem? Are there any solutions?

All the way back in 1998, The Economist ran a piece about how traditional marketing methods of consumer goods were failing. The article focused on brand attempts to lure customers with constant discounts - that didn't work, or large product lines with myriad options - that stopped working too. While the article then explained how retailers and manufacturers came to practical solutions and workarounds of this problem, it's important to stay on this key point: marketing efforts do not translate into sales.

For starters, consumer goods are a different category from B2B sales. Still, a very similar problem arises: sales departments constantly complaining that marketing is not doing their part in bringing leads. I wonder how many of you, dear readers, have heard this conversation in the meeting? "We can't reach our sales targets because we don't have enough leads for our sales team to work with! - VP Sales says forcefully, narrowing their gaze at VP Marketing. "Your department can't close deals with the leads we bring you! How do you expect us to market client satisfaction when you don't bring enough clients to ask this question?" - VP Marketing fires back, eyebrow twitching nervously. And so it goes.

Tradition in rivalry

It's the traditional rivalry, probably going back to when advertising and sales were invented as two different concepts. It's industry-agnostic too. I remember going for a CMO position and asked my would-be employer what was the relationship between marketing and sales (mind you, this was in the retail sector). Unironically, he said: "I see it as a rivalry".

But it's not anecdotal. Stats support this view. According to Insider Intelligence 2020 report, 31% of sales and marketing specialists think, and the two departments don't have an aligned revenue generation strategy. Meaning that a third of middle management don't think the other department is working on the same goal of getting the money in.

Only 26% of participants said that sales & marketing goals were very aligned to generate more revenue. And in the middle, 43% think the departments have "somewhat aligned" goals. Meaning that middle management thinks that others are doing their job but are not sure if they support each other's processes. If you think this paints a somewhat bleak picture of the internal company atmosphere, you are not alone. I do too.

So what can be done about it?

Here we reach another traditional saying: easier said than done. Solutions concerning sales and marketing alignment are often obvious but are hard to implement in real life. This is due to differences in the core process of each department and their approach to the customer.

One such obvious solution is aligning the goals of both teams towards bringing more business. It matters little which methodology is used inside the company to get sales and marketing working together. What's important is that they don't compete anymore because it directly affects its bottom line. The 2020 Demand Gen Report shows that companies with close sales and marketing alignment show 19% quicker revenue growth and a 15% increase in profitability.

This, to me, shows that sales and marketing must follow the same process and should be measured by the same metrics. After all, goals are set on a certain number of sales, new clients and so on. Another report shows that around 40% of B2B sales and marketing departments work based on completely different metrics. That means almost half of client-facing staff may choose to compete with each other for the same client.

The key aspect that's important to recognise here is the process of acquiring a customer - especially in B2B - has become very complex. Clients have access to infinite amounts of information, and 73% prefer to do research from more sources before making a purchase. Marketing must make a great first impression before passing the client to sales teams that have to close the deal. Sales then have to solidify the good first impression and confirm what the client already expected. That's one way to show the cooperation between the two teams: working on the premise of the same information and towards the same goal.


This topic an evergreen. It will never be truly done and buried, so long as the rift between sales and marketing will exist. I sometimes wonder if aligning the goals is all it takes to solve this issue or there's a deeper, psychological, tribal issue at hand here. Surely a topic for another time.

Whatagraph team
Written by Whatagraph team

The Whatagraph blog team produces high-quality content on all things marketing: industry updates, how-to guides, and case studies.

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