‘Smarketing’ gets the pitch, but are b-to-b companies buying?

This week’s post is from Matthew Schwartz, editor of Follow the Lead and a contributing writer at Crain’s BtoB and BtoB’s Media Business magazines. He can be reached at matthew.schwartz38@yahoo.com.

Amid the growing chorus for sales and marketing alignment I’m reminded of George Roy Hill’s classic film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” In one scene, after the two bandits evade U.S. law enforcement officials, Butch (Paul Newman) regales Sundance (Robert Redford) with his plan for the duo to scamper down to South America, where the prospects, according to Butch, are plentiful. “You just keep thinking, Butch,” says Sundance, with a chuckle, as if he’s heard Butch’s brilliant schemes a thousand times before (with little to no success).

Sundance’s response to Butch’s proposal is similar to what many b-to-b sales reps must think when their marketing counterparts hand them another batch of leads, with assurances that, with the right blend of content, distributed through the right channels, the leads are ripe for conversion. Sales execs take the latest lists, along with smile and a nod, and subsequently toss (or delete) most of them. At the same time, marketing executives can be forgiven for being constantly frustrated by the lack of feedback from sales execs about the nuances of a particular customer/close that marketers simply can’t glean from an algorithm.
Akin to Butch and Sundance, sales and marketing execs work toward the same goals, yet often disagree on how to achieve them. With increasingly sophisticated ways to segment customers, less may, in fact, be more for today’s sales execs. But that doesn’t necessarily pay the rent on the marketing side, where the idea is to generate as many leads as possible (even though, on closer inspection, a good percentage of the leads may turn out to be thin gruel). Indeed, a major part of the problem remains that management judges sales and marketing execs by different metrics, which, let’s face it, lends itself to a low-key hostility that is suffered by both sides.

Like the constant struggle for ROI, sales and marketing alignment has been bandied about for decades. But as the rate of change in b-to-b sales and marketing accelerates at breakneck speed, keeping sales and marketing execs in separate silos may be starting to become prohibitively expensive, if not passé.
“The single biggest reason companies fail is that they overinvest in what is, as opposed to what might be,” said strategy consultant Gary Hamel, in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled, “The End of Management.” Hamel added: “The thing that limits us is that we are extraordinarily familiar with the old model, but the new model, we haven’t even seen yet.”

Bridging the schisms between sales and marketing has to be a key element in the new model, however that formulates. With the Web wreaking both opportunity and havoc on the sales process, b-to-b companies now have a legitimate excuse to make the structural changes – in terms of budget and resource allocation, content creation, compensation and clearer delineations between sales and marketing execs on objectives, goals and ROI – that will start to make sales and marketing alignment a reality rather than just pleasant conversation.

To be sure, there are many sales and marketing executives who think alignment is folly, and that the two disciplines are too inherently different to be truly aligned. And while you won’t get 100% (or even 90%) of anything, stressing that sales and marketing alignment is doomed from the start is a defense of the status quo, which recent history has not been kind to.

B-to-b sales and marketing execs are increasingly focusing on areas such as Sales Enablement, Process Efficiencies and Lead Funnel Management. But software should be subordinate to the human component, which is often missing when b-to-b reps talk about sales and marketing alignment.

Real-time communication – and not laborious meetings bogged down by charts, graphs and cheerleading – has to be the linchpin to effective sales and marketing alignment. Sales and marketing execs should huddle regularly to provide the give-and-take that is needed to (perpetually) refine the sales process, from the top of the funnel down to the bottom. Studies continually show a direct correlation between lead generation ROI and the frequency that sales and marketing meet to collaborate.

While having closer ties within the office is crucial to aligning sales and marketing teams, sales and marketing execs also need to find the time to blend the professional and the personal. How about the VPs of sales and marketing meet up for a few rounds at a local golf course or grab a beer together before the long weekend kicks in? Socializing in an unhurried, mutually enjoyable (and physical) environment allows sales and marketing execs to create trust and build the sort of camaraderie that is often elusive in the office.

What do you think? Is b-to-b sales and marketing alignment attainable?