Interview with Patrick Conte: Sales and Marketing – Friends or Foes?

Patrick Conte

Patrick Conte

One of the unfortunate realities of today’s market is that many marketing campaigns do not yield the results that were hoped for or promised. This usually leads to finger pointing between sales and marketing, and the battle is usually won by the finger with the greater amount of data, no matter how flimsy.

We asked Patrick Conte, whose career spans more than 25 years of leadership roles with high technology companies in both the private and public sectors, to give his insight on this phenomenon. Patrick is highly regarded for his ability to help high-growth companies successfully navigate market challenges, leverage opportunity and emerge as industry leaders.

Attain Marketing: In your many years in sales and as an executive, often overseeing large teams of sales and marketing professionals, you’ve probably witnessed some interesting dynamics between Sales and Marketing teams. How would you characterize the typical Sales/Marketing relationship and what factors influence the dynamics?

Conte: It is my experience that Sales and Marketing are frequently not on the same page and often the relationship ends up in some sort of conflict. But I believe this can always be traced back to the fact that the senior executives in all functional departments (marketing, sales, engineering, product development, finance) have not agreed upon a single set of shared objectives for the company.

Politics exist in both small and large companies, so unless senior management is united on common corporate goals which keep Sales and Marketing marching in the same direction, personal agendas tend to rear their ugly heads – which may end up affecting the relationship between Sales and Marketing. Since the two organizations are the most “out front” functions, it’s natural that there may be contention unless those organizations sit down and compare notes to make sure they are in synch about what the corporate objectives are and how each will help achieve them.

Attain Marketing: In your opinion, why does a disconnect – and at times animosity – develop between two departments that are supposed to be focused on the same goal of getting more revenue for their company?

Conte: A lot of the time, differences and disconnects in the trenches can be traced back to the fact that the VP of Sales and VP of Marketing, especially in young companies, may be atdifferent places in their career and may be focused on a personal agenda for success vs. the overall success of the company. Obviously it’s very difficult for companies to synchronize the selection of VPs that are in the same place in their careers when they hire them, so it becomes incumbent on these managers to sit down and sort out where their respective positions are so they can make sure they are in synch with overall corporate objectives.

Ultimately the overall goal for the company is to find customers it can help with a set of solutions. Its Marketing’s job to appeal to a broad group, and then its Sales job to find a way to deliver that technology to individual customers. If the Sales and Marketing teams can look at their mission and decide that they are part of a relay where one team will “hand off” to the other when it’s time, they can achieve success even if the VPs are at different points of their career.

Attain Marketing: Now we know everything is usually Sales’ fault (poke), but seriously, what are some of the common complaints you hear from Sales about Marketing? And how often does Marketing become Sales’ scapegoat when revenue numbers don’t match expectations?

Conte: “Your leads suck”, “you have not done the positioning so I don’t know how to talk about this stuff”, “the technology is complex so the messaging needs to be better”, “I am out here alone with no support” are some of the old excuses Sales may fall back on when revenue numbers fall short.”

Ultimately if the revenue numbers are not being met, each organization will come up with a set of reasons why that’s happening. When you believe you are doing a good job and yet expectations are not being met, then its human nature to point a finger at the guy closest to you. If it’s not Marketing’s fault, then let’s blame Engineering for developing a product that does not work, or Finance for being too tight with contracts or compensation packages.

This is something that organizations need to try to avoid, and part of that has to do with how well they hire. Do you hire people that have a level of maturity, not just talent, and who can be introspective about their own jobs and won’t take it personally when you point it out where things can be done better or differently?

Attain Marketing: What tips can you provide Marketing to be more successful engaging and working collaboratively with Sales? And how can Marketing better demonstrate their value to both Sales and the executive team?

Conte: I touched on this previously but the most important point is that senior management from all functional departments need to agree from the beginning “what” is the most important set of corporate objectives and most importantly “why” they are so important. The “why” may be the hardest to agree upon, but it needs to be addressed before the “what” can be successfully delivered.

The main tip is that a common set of objectives must be met. For example, we need to touch ‘x’ number of customers or deliver ‘x’ revenue, or we need to have ‘x’ many impressions in market places, or we need to be included in ‘x’ many analyst reports. Then, based on these objectives, Sales can say “ok Marketing, this is what I need.”

In my opinion, these items – in order- usually are:

  • Strategic positioning – this is where we fit in the marketplace, how we project our vision, where our products fit in the competitive environment, and how do the analysts and press view us.
  • Sales tools and collateral – these are the tools that allow internal folks, sales force, partners and others to readily understand what the company does and product benefits without the need to talk to someone directly. You want people to know about what you do before they talk to someone in Sales – this shortens the sales cycle.
  • Support for the channel or partners – this is a different way of conditioning the sales tools so they are consumable by your unpaid/commission-only salesforce. Or it’s a strategy to reach partners and get them on board with marketing activities.
  • Warm leads – these are different from raw leads in that warm leads are ones in which a prospect has responded to a campaign or set of messages delivered by the company.

I believe that if Marketing can deliver these items, then its Sales job to take the “hand off” from there, which really makes the two organizations partners in what they do. Now, if Marketing successfully delivers all the above and revenue numbers are not met, then Sales has some “splaining” to do (as Ricky would say to Lucy).

Attain Marketing: Any last thoughts, Pat?

Conte: Sales can easily be measured in metrics and numbers to quantify their results, so it’s very easy to blame Sales if revenue numbers are not met. And ultimately it is Sales that is accountable for closing customer deals and delivering revenue results for the company. But it’s fair to get Marketing to agree to metric-based goals – such as how many articles will the company be included in, how many analysts will they talk to, where you want to end up in their reports, how many sales tools will be delivered both internally and to partners, and ultimately, how many warm leads will be developed. This makes it a fair “fight” ;-). In other words, if Sales is going to be measured on numbers – and they should be – then Marketing can be as well.

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