The Phone Call…
“Am I going crazy?” Having just answered the phone, I had no idea who was calling and asking such a question of me. I responded with a courteous, but cautious chuckle saying, “Well…I think I’ll need a little more to go on. With whom am I speaking?”
She paused, told me who it was, laughed rather distractedly, then proceeded to dive right into describing her dilemma from today’s meeting with the Marketing Director from her “problem division.” She is the Sales Director of a firm in which I knew a bit about, particularly with the company’s background and this particular division’s struggle.
In summary, sales were strong across all of her other divisions and lines, each of which had their own marketing leader, while she led the Sales across all divisions. Things were great, that is for all but this one division. Sales continued to decline year over year and had high lead dependency from Marketing, thus her concerns.
The Rest of Her Story…
The sales model is B2B with an outbound sales team that sells consumer products ranging from $200 – $1,000. As described earlier, they are highly dependent upon Marketing to deliver leads.
The Division Head and Marketing Director were both new to this division in 2011 and had stepped in with a new, radical, $1M cost-reduction strategy for marketing. The new marketing mantra became for the next two years, “Less Quantity, More Quality!”
This strategy resulted in lead reduction of 60% in 2011 compared to 2010. In 2012, the leads dropped another 40% from 2011. Not surprisingly, sales had correspondingly declined steeply, more so than any other recent period. While sales did have a dramatic decline, it was nowhere near the rate of decline for the lead volume.
The Sales leader saw neither quantity nor quality from marketing, and as she describes it, the numbers supported her version of the story. Despite the numbers, the Marketing Leader and Division Head remained committed to defending their original strategy a year and a half into it with major revenue losses, and subsequently showed no openness to a different, or better strategy.
Towards the end of 2012, she managed to get a commitment from Marketing for substantially more qualified leads in 2013, although to the Marketer, ‘qualified’ apparently meant email, number and “Request for literature.”
Additionally, the Marketer’s commitment was simply to an aggregate number of leads on a monthly basis, but not by geography, firmographic, demographic, product type or other. His tactic? Email marketing….it’s part of the ‘cost-reduction’ plan.
Today, prior to the call and after her meeting with the marketing team, she made her plea for more qualified leads as the current lead quantity left her outbound team with capacity in excess of 60% going into their largest quarter of the year.
After her meeting, she shared that in addition to the quantity of leads being a third of what they needed, 80% of them were for two of their 10 product lines. This meant that they had on average a half-lead per rep to call on each day for the remaining products….not enough to meet the sales plan.
“A Lead is a Lead is a Lead!”
Through frustration, the Marketer responded to her plea for more balanced and qualified leads with saying, “A lead is a lead is a lead. We know that regardless of what product type we market, more than half of the prospects will want something different anyway. We could collect leads on just one of our products and it wouldn’t matter. All that matters is that you have leads of any type, then your team can determine what they really need.”
Again, the sales exec says to me…this time through tears…“Am I going crazy? Do I have my expectations set too high? Is it unreasonable to ask marketing to know the customer well enough to hit who they’re aiming at? Maybe I am the problem. I don’t feel like I am but it just seems like we need to change our approach to marketing.”
I responded, “Being crazy and unreasonable is not your problem, although your 2-year tolerance may be a part of the problem. It sounds to me like there is a much larger issue at play here…”
Change the Marketing, or the Marketer?
I speak with people in Sales and Marketing roles from all over the country. From executives to analysts to reps. Lead generation and qualification is by far, one of the most common frustrations I hear.
No matter who I am working with or from what field, I am pretty quick to keep the responsibility and accountability with each respective group I am working with. Most companies needing my help typically don’t have their respective ‘houses in order.’ Therefore, I keep Sales concentrated on their own responsibilities and Marketing, theirs so I don’t create an all out Game of Thrones. I work with the executive leadership on cross-departmental improvements before circling back to the departments.
For these reasons, offering up an anecdotal recommendation to this Sales executive to “change the Marketer” after merely an hour-long conversation would be ill-advised, no matter how apropos that may seem. There is always more to the story, especially when it comes to Sales and Marketing alignment.
What Advise Would You Give?
Given the very limited facts we all have here, what advice would you give and to whom would you target your comments? The Marketing Director? The Sales Director? The Division Head? Who would you love to spend 15 minutes with and what would you tell them?
Jeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.
4 thoughts on “Case Study: Is the Problem Marketing or the Marketer?”
I’ve had many calls like this and it’s far to easy to “take sides” without the full details.
The reality is that the sales director can make requests of marketing, but it isn’t their department. Given the leads which exist how can we exploit these to a higher degree? Can sales reuse old leads to prospect for further business as a boost? Are these leads really as poor quality as the sales director thinks – quantify why and where.
The marketing director hasn’t requested your help so that’ll be an up-hill struggle and seen as the sales director leaning on them. I’d spend my 15 minutes with the sales director and help them to make the most of what they have.
Thanks for your comments, Richard. Over the years, with the age-old tension that exists between Sales and marketing, I tend to see these situations as a both/and scenario, not either/or.
Both, Sales AND Marketing need to look beyond departmental goals and priorities to determine the organizational objective. Then partner together to achieve.
I often speak of this problem coming in terms of the tradition funnel setup as the top half is perceived as marketing and the bottom half is sales.
The problem is that Marketing and Sales end up wrestling over where the handoff should occur…this is unproductive and leaves the mess I described in the case study.
Instead, I advocate a funnel that is more of a left-half and right-half whereby marketing and sales are both responsible for seeing the customer through from beginning to end. The only difference is in the activities of each, since those vary by function.
Again, thanks for your great comments and insights Richard.
I know this is over a year old, but this article still rings very true. I would speak to both marketing and sales together. There is always some tension between both marketing and sales, but I think that the majority of it comes from lack of communication. They both are so concentrated on leads and customers that they neglect each other. I truly think that a CRM helps mitigate that tension because it allows both sales and marketing to see every interaction with the lead. It also allows both teams to view what the other is doing so everyone is on the same page regarding each lead.
Great comments, Tatiana!
You hit the nail on the head when you said, “There is always some tension between both marketing and sales, but I think that the majority of it comes from lack of communication.”
The woman who called me would have been better served seeking out the marketer she was having problems with to work through them, rather than seeking validation that she was right for feeling the way she did.
Again, thanks for your comments on my article!