The Corporate Cold War

In past my life as a client-side marketer, there is one truth that I have found to be consistent regardless of organization. Sales and Marketing are generally engaged in a cold war. Each blaming the other side for, if not outright failures, then at least for their lack of success.

Snowball fight. Girl throwing a snowball at a boy.
Snowball fight

Occasionally, these cold war’s become hot with a “he said, she said” skirmish that either annoys the heck out of executives or forces them to pick sides.

It’s generally the same arguments regardless of time, place and company.

The arguments are always the same. Marketing spends a fortune on a CRM system. The Sales team refuses to use said CRM system.

Marketing spends thousands upon thousands (and sometimes millions) of dollars on a corporate re-brand and the sales team spends most of their time kvetching about how they don’t like the new color palette or logo.

There are two sides to every story and some of the stories in the Sales v. Marketing wars include:

The Sales Position

“We need more collateral.”

“Marketing isn’t providing us with the tools we need in order to 1. Get in front of a prospect and 2. Close a deal.”

“We need promotional leave behinds that resonate.”

“The CRM system is a way for the Executive team to spy on me. My contacts belong to me not the company. I’m not using it.”

As a side note to executives, if your sales team takes that last position, it’s time to clean house.

The Marketers Position

“We could give Sam the greatest collateral in the world, provide him a roadmap to close the deal and he still couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag.”

“Truly good salespeople don’t need collateral. They should be able to walk into a prospect without any props and close a deal.”

“It’s a bloody, freaking mug, an advertising tool. The mug is not supposed to be representative of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

“If they (Sales) won’t use the CRM system, how are we supposed to have an accurate representation of the state of the market?”

The Reality of the Situation

The reality of the situation is that Sales and Marketing have a co-dependent relationship. They need each other to survive. My personal favorite way to explain the sales and marketing relationship is to liken both departments to the two heads of a Siamese cat (evocative isn’t it!).

Marketing is a “revenue sucker.” Marketing departments spend money. In recent years there has been a push to turn marketing departments into revenue centers with varying degrees of success. Regardless marketing is a “spending” department and the core of the marketing function is communication.

Marketers communicate the business strategy both internally and externally. The stronger the strategy and the better it is communicated, the stronger your chances of business success.

Sales is a “revenue producer.” The “lifeblood” of any organization. They sign deals. If your sales are stagnant or flat, it is only a matter of time before your organization runs out of money.

The Sales and Marketing relationship is symbiotic and cyclical as shown in Figure 1.1.

Cyclical graphic showing the sales and marketing relationship.
Figure 1.1 The cyclical sales and marketing relationship

The Corporate Cold War

The root of the Corporate Cold War is usually not found in either Sales or Marketing. The root of the conflict can be placed at the feet of the Executive Team.

This can usually be attributed to three specific areas.

1.       Structure

Strong executives know how to lead without being dictatorial and can foster buy-in from their employees while maintaining order and decorum.

Strong executives have a solid foundational structure in place. They hire good people and trust those people to get the job done. They don’t micromanage but at the same time, they don’t tolerate any shenanigans.

Weak executives want everyone to be their friends. They build teams that are contentious and self-servicing because they are afraid to have anyone “outshine” them. They enjoy team conflict because then they themselves get to be “The Great Mediator.” Hiring becomes a popularity contest instead of a quest for the best and the brightest talent.

I’ve had multiple conversations over the last decade with managers of business of all sizes who were seeking either universal popularity or were total micromanagers, and in both cases, the resulting sales suffered.

At the end of the day, the weak executive needs to realize that they are running a business, not a girl scout troop. The executive seeking universal popularity generally winds up facing universal contempt because they are “flip-floppers.” Also, an employee with any self-respect, chafes at having to be their boss’s minion or sycophant.

It’s extremely demoralizing to Salespeople who use a CRM system and the Marketing team that uses the data collected for creating campaigns to find out that an executive is giving a “pass” to an ornery employee who feels “entitled” and refuses to use a business tool everyone else uses. This is a cultural issue that eventually needs to be addressed.

2.       Strategy

Strong executives believe in a strong corporate strategy and they work to elicit buy-in of that strategy from their employees. A strong strategy dictates the tactics that are used in almost every department.

A weak executive lets each department go on a tactical free-for-all thereby allowing tactics to dictate the strategy. This method is confusing, expensive and a lousy way to conduct business.

3.       Marketing

Finally, we come to marketing or in this case communication. Lack of communication and the ability to provide a cohesive message is a predominant reason why sales efforts fail. How can you expect sales to succeed if the messenger (in this case the salesperson) doesn’t have the right tools (in this case message) to go to market?

One of the biggest causes of strife between the Sales and Marketing departments is the lack of a cohesive message.

Executives need to take the time to explain what the corporate message is, how it is to be communicated, and solicit buy-in from employees across the organization.

Tales of a Client-Side Marketer

Years ago, I was working for a company in New York, and we were hiring a creative agency to build a website. I was in Florida visiting my sister who had recently had a baby. I kept having to get on calls with different agencies because I, apparently, was the only one in the department who could effectively explain what our company did and how we communicated that to our target audience.

Several years later, I worked for an organization that had brought in a top-level executive from outside the organization. This executive was a nice guy, but he didn’t know the business he was running and had zero interest in learning. As a result, sales were flat and during both of our tenures, never really recovered.

If the top-dog, so to speak, can’t articulate the message how is anyone else in the organization supposed to?

To quote Alan Weiss, not everyone is going to agree with the message. “Consensus is fine, uniformity is a frustrating myth. And sometimes, you just have to demand compliance.”[1]

And make no mistake, in a well-run organization every single employee from the CEO to the janitor should be able to explain what the company does and who they do it for.

In Conclusion

To sum it up, marketers require executives to validate their work by actively getting on board with the organization’s communication method.

Sales teams that have a solid foundation to rely on go into sales meetings confident about exactly what they can offer and how the company can deliver.

The key to thawing the Sales and Marketing relationship lies in the Executive Suite.

Interested in learning how strategic marketing consulting and tactical decision-making coaching can improve your sales/marketing dynamic? Visit us today at www.stcgllc.com.

Angela M. Insalaco is the Founder & President of Strategic Tactics Consulting Group, LLC. “Confession of a Client-Side Marketer” is a blog, podcast, and newsletter that focuses on her experiences in corporate marketing.



[1] Quoted from the Contrarian Consulting blog. Posted Oct. 8, 2019.

© 2019, Angela M. Insalaco. All rights reserved.

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