When did the Sales-Marketing Conflict Resurface?

When did the Sales-Marketing Conflict Resurface?

Hey! Martin speaking. I’m observing a growing number of companies embroiled in internal Sales-Marketing conflicts. It strongly reminds me of my early days in sales back in 2001. However, remember a period of approximately 10 years during which we didn’t perceive this conflict as prominently. Here is how I see the progression and the reversion.

In 2001

The tasks within the marketing department were diverse, ranging from creating brochures to orchestrating trade shows and conferences, and executing small-ish outbound lead generation campaigns (such as event invitations, newsletter creation, and telemarketing).

Apart from handling key account management, as sales representatives we were predominantly either on the road visiting leads or attending events (such as trade shows, conferences). Back then, about 99% of our leads were generated through personal networks established at these events and followed up with phone calls, sometimes emails.

Leads handed over from marketing to sales were generally either not pursued or pursued with significant reservation. Marketing complained about sales not following up on these leads, while sales criticized the quality of leads provided by marketing. The reality was, that it wasn’t such a big deal because sales created their own leads and for marketing departments they were not performance (KPI) driven as they are today.

Aaron Ross’ book “Predictable Revenue” changed a lot in how we think about outbound (and ultimately inbound) lead generation.  It started with pulling lead generation into a part of the sales rather than marketing team and focusing on hard performance metrics and internal service level agreements.

In 2024

Marketing departments now possess a thorough understanding of the core business of their companies, are well-versed in inbound and outbound prospecting KPIs, and have insights into various target audiences relevant to their company. Consequently, lead requirements are often provided directly by marketing. Rarely do these requirements come directly from sales, as it’s evidently the sole responsibility of the marketing department to generate leads.

This is likely due to the rise of performance marketing and the KPI-ification of all business areas.

Sales representatives likely spend a similar amount of time with leads (provided by marketing) and existing clients but invest significantly less time in generating their own leads, whether through phone calls or emails. The day of the ‘full stack salesperson’ is rare– specialization has been the trend. Especially with remote selling and SaaS type products and services.

This means that communication with leads in the early stages has largely fallen under the purview of marketing. This ‘leveling up’ of marketing teams to their sales peers; however, causes one negative consequence– conflict. We observe sales teams rejecting outbound leads from marketing for reasons such as “That individual wasn’t the decision-maker” or “They were just exploring the market at an early stage.”

It seems to me that many sales representatives have not only forgotten how to generate their own leads but also seemingly lack the skills to handle and develop early stage leads into opportunities:

“That individual wasn’t the decision-maker”. Here’s my take: In enterprise sales, there are typically 4-8 decision-makers and influencers for each purchase. The salesperson only interacts with a portion of this group, and it’s their responsibility to get to know as many individuals as possible. Questions like “Besides you, who else is usually involved in such decision-making processes?” are very helpful to get closer to other decision makers along the sales cycle.

“They were just exploring the market at an early stage”. Again, my take is that typically, if you’re only engaging with a lead during the late vendor selection phase, you’ve likely already lost the deal. The advantage of early conversations is that the salesperson can still shape the need through effective guidance and consultation. Usually, the lead isn’t considering multiple competitors at this stage, but rather just a couple.

Matt’s opinion is that Sales Operations is now too important. The division of work now over-focuses on department optimization rather than smooth throughput and the normal business development trait of always focusing on the goal of closing business and not letting things like internal rules get in the way of that objective.

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Let’s travel back to 2017

But what about the period between 2001 and 2024? I recall a time when many companies had SDR/BDR teams in action, well integrated into the sales department, often working closely together and gaining insights from each other’s conversations. There were well-defined lead generation playbooks and sales playbooks, and the handover of leads from SDR to AE (Account Executive) was nearly seamless– huge effort was spent to make it so.

There seemed to be much less potential for conflict between SDRs and AEs regarding lead quality.

 

But when did we lose all this good things and, more importantly, why?

 

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