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.

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Marketers Are Sellers Too

The relationship between marketing and sales is well chronicled but poorly practiced.

One knock on marketers is the allegation that they’re out of touch with the reality of selling and making money.  Marketers need to be savvy operators who understand that marketing’s role is to help generate profitable sales.  A key enabler is the ability to effectively interact with selling teams and customers.

Marketing and sales have to work together.  Sadly, some marketers just don’t get it, are more interested in other things, or just can’t do it.  While that doesn’t help the Marketing brand, it does open the door for enlightened marketers to stand out. 

Former Denny’s CMO Mark Chmiel opined on this topic in a recent Advertising Age column, borrowing a political theme to make his point:  “It’s sales, stupid.”  One of his contributions was a list of five key questions marketers need to ask themselves:

  1. Are my marketing plans sales-focused?
  2. Do they significantly help achieve the corporate financial objectives?
  3. Are they aligned with other company disciplines?
  4. Do I challenge my department and agencies to be sales-focused?
  5. Most importantly, am I seeking the executive committee’s, the CEO’s and the board’s input and agreement on a regular basis?

Chmiel is on-the-mark, and it’s a philosophy I recommend.

One of my key tenets is that it’s marketing’s responsibility to properly equip sales for customer selling success.  Two examples come to mind.

As a management consultant, I led a multifunctional client team to create a new, value-priced brand.  It was a segmentation strategy to complement a well-known, premium priced market-leading brand.  To prepare the sales force for the retail sell-in, I put together a detailed Q&A document addressing all aspects of the strategy and launch.  To make sure it was thorough and covered all the bases, I asked the sales team to tell me their reservations, give me their questions, and predict the toughest questions they expected from buyers.  Every question was included verbatim and all topics were answered completely.  The sales team was surprised, impressed, and most important, well-prepared.

The second example comes from when I led marketing at a supplier to the food and beverage industry.  Our challenge was to convince marketing teams to use our new wellness ingredients in their products.  A marketing and selling differentiator for us was to present the manufacturer with proprietary consumer research that supported the consumer-perceived benefits of products containing our ingredients.  Customers complimented us on having relevant data for their product categories, and in conjunction with technically effective ingredients, we began to build the business.  One key to this success was to engage our customer-facing teams (sales, technical service, product management, R&D) and get their input on what consumer information we needed to persuade customers.  The output formed the basis of the marketing brief used to design the research study.


Don’t forget that marketing needs to help generate profitable sales.  One success key is figure out how to forge great relationships with the sales team and become part of an effective cross-functional customer facing team that gets results.  If sales won’t meet you part way, you cross the road first.  Another success key is make sure the selling material really works.  You can get a double win here.  Present the material yourself, learn from direct customer interaction, and then optimize as needed based on actual customer experience.  None of this is easy, but when it all comes together, you’ll have fun and kick butt!

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