Make the Sales Team Your Friend

I’m passionate about working with sales teams and customers to help sell my company’s products and services.

It’s a topic I’ve written about before, Marketers Are Sellers Too, and I’m thinking about it again because of a question posed by a member of a marketing network to which I belong.

In order to protect confidentiality, I’ll just say the poster is a Vice President of Global Marketing, and the network is a referred-in, annual fee-based group of US-based senior marketing leaders.  One of the benefits is access to the entire group to bounce ideas, seek advice and get insights into the latest, practical thinking.

Here’s the original request:

One of the biggest challenges in go-to-market strategy seems to be ensuring that all of the content and tools, etc., etc., that marketing teams produce are providing meaningful help for the sales team’s efforts. I find that I am always underwhelmed with the level of absorption that occurs with content that marketing teams create, and find one of the contributing factors to this phenomenon is the message delivery vehicle.  What are the best examples, tools, fun programs, and processes that you have dreamt up or seen used to help with this challenge?

As a marketer who has spent his entire career working closely with sales teams and customers, I understand and can relate.  Let me give you my perspective and expand on the thoughts I shared with my network colleague.

Here are four key themes to embrace for successful marketing-sales interaction and communication, which will also help you build a great working relationship.

1. Have the Right Philosophy

If you don’t approach this challenge with the right mindset, don’t expect success.

I tell my marketing teams that if the results of our communications to sales are not what we want, then it’s our fault.  Of course, this is harsh and overly one-sided, but that’s by design.  We, as marketers, can’t control how the sales teams will use the precious materials we supply.  But we can control, for the most part, how the material is prepared and disseminated.  Marketers need to market selling materials to sales teams as if they were marketing to a customer.  Make sure the information is useful, usable, and helps the salesperson achieve better in his/her job.  To do this, you need to think from the salesperson’s perspective and understand his/her challenges and pressures.  Ask sales team colleagues at all levels what they need and then work with them to find out firsthand.

2. Communicate and Teach

Don’t just send the information and hope for the best.  Yes, I know, some material will just be sent, and that’s fine.  However, that’s not good enough for the most critical selling material.  For those items, you must present the information, either via in-person training, special workshops or some other way.

This is what I did in my role heading marketing for Tate & Lyle’s Americas food and beverage ingredients business.  An important part of our go-to-market strategy required conceptual selling so that food and beverage producers would use our new dietary fiber ingredients in their products.  As part of this strategy, we made a significant investment in proprietary end-user consumer research in all the relevant product categories and segments.

Consumer research was new to our sales teams, and so was interacting with customer marketing teams.  We rolled out the material via a three-pronged approach.  First, we worked closely with the sales leadership team, getting them comfortable and up-to-speed (including joint customer calls with marketing presenting).  We then used WebEx Internet conferencing to introduce this data to all sales team members and to “train” them how to be comfortable presenting consumer research, especially to customer marketing teams.  The third part was making sure that each salesperson could watch a sales manager or marketing team member present to a customer to provide a real learning experience (think of the teach a man to fish fable).

2A.  Creative Communication Note

There is a time and place for creative, out-of-the-box communication methods, but be careful and use them judiciously to maximize effect.  Important caveat:  creativity is good, but make sure you have substance to go with your style!

Here are two examples.

In the mid 1990s, I led marketing teams for Unilever’s Lipton Tea business.  The first unique sales presentation was created to break through a longstanding pattern of traditional podium presentations in large hotel ballrooms and to create some excitement for the company’s flagship brand.  We hired improv entertainers who created special, live, on-topic skits that, coupled with brand team presentations, helped us communicate the key points.  The event helped us change the brand’s perception with the sales force.

The second example followed a merger of Unilever food companies, and took place at a meeting of combined sales forces where we were competing for attention and trying to stand out with our new colleagues.  We created a Planet Tea themed night club presentation room, with display cases ringing the walls and actual tea chests from our factory serving as tables for small groups.  It was a huge success.

3. Do it Yourself

This is related to points 1 and 2.  If you can’t successfully present the material to a customer, don’t expect a salesperson to do it either.  The marketing team should use its own information with customers.  The best way to find out if the material works is to present and/or use it yourself, and then continuously optimize going forward.

This also means that it’s important to get the material out to the sales teams in a timely manner.  Don’t hold the material in the office until you think it’s perfect to release.  Put together the best materials you can in a timely fashion, introduce it properly to sales, and then adjust as needed.

4. Earn Respect

It may seem like a cliché, but I will absolutely tell you that a successful marketing and sales relationship requires marketing to earn respect.  Yes, again, this is one-sided and harsh.  Of course, sales needs to meet marketing at least part of the way.  But you can’t count on that happening (maybe a topic for another post).  You have to make something happen.  If you can adopt an operating mindset and approach that enables you to work the way I describe in points one through three, you will have a chance to earn the respect of sales teams.


Stop whining about your relationship with sales.  Instead, control what you can, and find ways to connect with sales teams and earn their respect.  Make joint customer calls during which you actually do something important and relevant toward making a profitable sale and furthering the customer relationship.  Remember that your relationship building with the sales team never ends and won’t be easy.  But keep pushing.  When you get it right, you get a powerful go-to-market advantage.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.

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