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The Sales-Marketing Paradox, and How to Avoid It

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During my years in business I’ve encountered various insider phenomena that have caught my attention and I promised to myself that I’m going to write about them. For example, lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the “sales/marketing paradox”, as I like to call it.

It’s the inevitable tension that occurs between the sales department and the marketing department of a company. Sales and marketing, what can be such a discrepancy when these two words are like siblings? Ironically, in the world of business, their common goal ( = to sell) often becomes baffled by the different approaches these two choose to reach it. And that’s what I’d like to elaborate on today.

I’ve written before about the need to keep sales and marketing separate. But in my head, every sales manager — or anyone involved in the sales business for that matter — should have a clear image of how exactly the functions are intertwined. But it’s mainly advantageous to be aware of their contra-effects on each other, because as a manager, from a leadership point of view, you are in the perfect position to spot the cracks and keep the fine web of sales in balance with the marketing high tide.

The Cohabitation

If the marketing department is doing a good job, the brand gets communicated effectively to the right customer group, and the demand grows. We know that marketers aren’t really individual-oriented, so it’s all about creating a persona of the ideal customer, and market the products to them. In other words, getting goods sold without the actual selling process.

Sales, on the other hand, deal with each and every customer personally, and the delivery of the product happens on a much more customized level. The sale gets tailored according to the customer’s specific needs, and it’s often made even with the “not ideal” customer that may not have been targeted by the general marketing activities.

So far it sounds like a perfect working machine that transforms a targeted anonymous group into individual buyers with some extra coverage. Demand grows, sales are being closed, the goal is achieved. So where’s the problem?

The Paradox

The problem lies in the presentation of the goods itself. By its nature, marketing aims to present the goods as exclusive. Covering the product with an aura of uniqueness and exclusivity is what makes it outstanding and eye-catching among the competitors. In other words, to communicate a value proposition — where higher value means more revenue.

The seeming paradox occurs when the sales department focuses on cost. All to often, sales people default to giving a discount — which undermines the value creation that marketing is trying to achieve.

You see where the problem is by now. As a successful manager, no matter if you’re in sales or marketing or both, you should always strive to find the fragile balance between these two dynamics.

In the ideal world, every salesman is a little bit of a marketer and vice versa. And that’s especially true if you’re a sales/marketing manager. It’s not just about looking at your department’s numbers, but mainly about looking at your business’ development from the general point of view. If you’re a marketing manager, it’s critical that you provide the sales team with the tools they need to successfully close on your value proposition. If you’re a sales manager, it’s critical that you manage any of your sales people who are using a discounting strategy to get the deal across the table.

This isn’t a genuine paradox — it only occurs when one side or the other of sales and marketing isn’t doing its job properly. Nevertheless, it’s something that comes up in business all too frequently. Don’t let it happen on your watch.