Aligning sales and marketing to drive growth

The need for Sales & Marketing to work together has been around for a long time but as we increasingly operate in a complex omni-channel environment, the pressure has never been greater to get it right. To launch our series of blogs on this topic we are starting by looking at a couple of fictional scenarios: scenarios we often hear played back by our clients.

What would you do? How would you advise these colleagues? While the situations are fictitious the issues are most definitely not.

Sarah has just taken up a Senior Regional Commercial role with a clear remit to reignite growth.

"3 months in and it feels like I am getting under the skin of the business and the organisation. I was encouraged to see that some of the traditional battle grounds between Sales & Marketing functions are being successfully navigated - particularly there is intent from the senior leaders on both sides to understand the needs of the other - but the reality is we are not enabling this within the wider teams with our current processes.

We have a real challenge around timings. As a business our Sales teams are having to develop Joint Business plans with customers at a point in the annual planning cycle when we have not even confirmed regional portfolio priorities, targets and plans let alone deployed them to the markets. Not only does it make it difficult to set meaningful targets and investment levels, it exposes us to potentially challenging conversations with customers through the year if plans change. From the discussions I have had with some of the Sales leaders their teams are struggling with the whole process, and feeling that they are not being set up for success at the same time as being expected to deliver on increasingly stretching targets.

I have to find a way to make the strategy and planning process truly cross-functional and more aligned to customer lead times. The trouble is the business believes it is doing this already. I don’t think that talking more frequently is enough of an answer, but how do I go about taking it to the next level? And do so without crippling the agility of teams which is vital for success in our dynamic market?"

Michael has recently joined a consumer packaged goods company as a Marketing Manager.

"It is so frustrating: the stream of new brand initiatives we have is fantastic, we have really listened and acted on the feedback from the sales team & their customers about how uncompetitive we are, both in how much we invest and the rate at which we bring news to the category, but they are still not happy.

We have an outstanding plan for next year but all I hear is that the marketing teams are not realistic in what they expect the sales team to be able to deliver. “Shelves aren’t elastic” is constantly played back to me as I show the revised range and when I discuss my proposed promotional plan I am told it is not implementable in the current retail environment. The other pushback I get is “yours is not the only or the biggest launch I have to manage this fiscal”. It’s not that I don’t understand or appreciate the constraints but it would help if Sales were clearer on their constraints and what they really needed up front. 

I’m sure I could approach things differently but there is some helped needed from the senior people on the broader capacity issue. There seems to be little co-ordination across the business and brands, particularly in the regional teams, about the number of launches and activities feasible in a year with the resources we have locally. The tension is not apparent until we get to the execution stage in the local market. It’s only going to get worse when we dial up ecommerce. I can see that ecommerce will make our plans more complex and more assets will have to be developed and executed to support them.

What increases my frustration is that I feel that there is a solution to all this.  People throughout the organisation, at all levels and across functions, need to find a way to work together more collaboratively (no big investment needed in systems or technology). The question is how do we make this happen in a way that isn’t a talking shop, but genuinely makes it easier to activate our plans?"

So what would you advise Sarah and Michael to do?

From the work we do with clients and our recent assessment of what it takes to effectively join up Marketing and Sales, we have identified a number of opportunities which if seized upon can drive incremental growth.

In Sarah’s case the opportunity is to create a more joined up strategy and planning process where the customers’ requirements are built in much earlier and planning from brand to channel to customer is done collaboratively and iteratively. In Michael’s case the opportunity is to gain better cross functional understanding and alignment to what it takes to successfully activate initiatives in the market.

Over the next few blogs we’ll be looking at what can be done in practice to tap into these and other opportunities. We will be starting with joined-up strategy and planning, and moving on to activation, e-commerce and total retail.  We’ll explore different topics that practically contribute to a driving accelerated growth through a more joined up way of working between Marketing and Sales. You may also be interested in our recent research on where the biggest barriers lie.

Do get in touch to share your experiences and challenges in lifting the capabilities of your teams to join-up. We’d love to hear from you, especially if we can help.


Brand Learning: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.