Who is Marketing’s Customer?

Marketing needs to view sales as their customer!”  How many times have you heard this one?  It’s a common refrain used by many to drive the thought of marketing-sales alignment in B2B organizations.  To be honest, I’m probably guilty of saying these words myself.  Yet the other day, I heard them spoken by one of my industry colleagues.  When I heard it, my first thought was “That’s simply not true!”

I understand why people think this way.  It’s often the result of marketing submitting to the idea that sales is king.  However, the reality is that the most successful marketing and sales organizations have come to understand that they each have the same customer:  the B2B buyer.

Let me first expose the flaw in thinking that sales is marketing’s customer.  The thought process is that marketing’s job is to deliver high quality leads to sales.  To do so meets sales’ expectations.  In essence, marketing is delivering a product (leads) to a buyer (sales) and meeting their need.  So sales is ultimately their customer.

On the surface, this may seem right.  After all with this sole objective, marketers have a very clear direction, goal and objective.  However, viewing marketing’s role through such a myopic lens severely limits them.  And the role of marketing as the “vendor to sales” does nothing to align sales to marketing.  It only further drives the traditional thought that what sales says goes, and that marketing is there to grant their wishes.

However, if we understand that the customer (defined by Webster’s as one that purchases a commodity or service”) is truly the B2B buyer, then the alignment discussion completely changes.  It puts marketing and sales on equal ground.

According to research conducted by DemandGen Report, 50% of B2B buyers stated they don’t interact with a rep until after they have established a list of preferred vendors.”  This point alone speaks to the need for marketing to do more than just deliver what sales wants.  They must be an active and vital participant in developing engagement with buyers and customers.

If the transformation of marketing and sales as equals (and ultimately, alignment) is  going to happen, then…

1.    Leadership Must Show The Way

Recent research indicates that very few CEO’s, CMO’s, SVP’s or CRO’s view marketing and sales as peers.  There is an array of reasons for this which we will not unpack here.  This needs to change.  An organization’s leadership must enable and equip their marketing and sales teams to transform.  This begins with adjusting compensation, driving collaboration, and managing by example that a culture change is needed to move from “sales only” thinking to “marketing-sales collaborative thought.”

2.    Process Must Be Developed

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that we are believers in the importance of process.  One by-product that comes from developing a Lead Management FrameworkSM is a better definition of the roles marketing and sales need to play, and what each should do to better manage the buying relationship from beginning to end.

3.    Change Management Must Be Implemented

This is a must with any transformation, but can often times be the most challenging.  In order for marketing and sales to move from an antiquated to a modern approach, there must be the willingness to change, a commitment to change, and a plan for change.

4.    Customer Knowledge Must Be Obtained

It’s amazing to me the number of marketing and sales professionals who cannot properly define their customer.  It will be impossible to align around the customer/buyer if it’s not known who they are.  This is beyond segmenting based on vertical.  True customer insight includes assigning characteristics, knowing their challenges, their needs and their approaches to business.  If this is not part of your existing marketing-sales mix, then having both groups develop this together is a good first step toward alignment.

5.    The Right People Must Be In Place

A few years ago I was on a call with a sales manager who said, “I’ve read all about this ‘new B2B buyer’.  Doesn’t matter.  I am going to keep calling them, and we will make them engage with us.”  Make them?!?!  Perhaps he should have been training dogs instead of engaging customers.  Obviously, he did not understand what today’s buyer needs.  Unfortunately, there are those in every organization who just don’t want to understand.  They don’t want to adapt. This may be an indication that it’s time for them to go, and for the right people to be put in the right positions to make the transformation.

We’re in a new phase in the B2B landscape.  At best, the traditional view of marketing is antiquated.  The key to alignment is the customer.  For organizations to be successful they need to stop viewing marketing as a service bureau.  Instead, they need to be viewed as a partner in the process of reaching the buyer.

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