Growth Insights for CEOs

Sales and Marketing for the Win: Three Keys to a Championship Collaboration

Posted by Gary Fassak


This year’s NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament final was hailed by sports experts and fans alike as one of the best ever. As time ran out late in the game, and Villanova forward Kris Jenkins delivered the shot heard around the world, it was thanks to the efforts of the entire team – not just Jenkins – that put Villanova in position to emerge victorious.

Indeed, Jenkins brought his best individual game with that three-point buzzer beater, but post-game interviews revealed that the entire team had rehearsed the last play at each practice during the regular season. Trusting in the play, and able to keep their cool until the final shot went in, Villanova proved that its team was much greater than the sum of its parts.

In the game of basketball, there are times when the players are able to hit the paint by themselves and take the ball in; but, more often than not, they pass the ball off to a teammate with a better position on the court. Each member of the team has to know their role in executing the game plan, and they must trust that their teammates will do their part, too. This bond of trust forms a natural give and take that drives the best teams to the Final Four and championship glory.

Staying on the basketball theme: Who or what equates to the championship team of the business world, then? It’s the linkage of sales and marketing, says the American Marketing Association. Unfortunately, the degree of high-fiving or grudge holding varies by company. Sometimes, sales and marketing can execute together and produce high quality campaigns with the skill and fluidity of Final Four teams – and sometimes they fail to mesh, like the squads that are considered perennial “cellar-dwellers.” What’s the difference – and how do we know if we have a shot at winning?

A Classic Tale of a Team’s Give and Take

If your sales and marketing teams fail to engage in a healthy give and take, your organization could be in trouble long term. To illustrate an example, let’s start with a story about Company A. Not too long ago, the marketers in Company A came up with a great new product – something innovative and exciting that they hoped would launch them into an additional channel and generate a new stream of revenue.

They were so excited about it, they rushed it to market. Sales liked most of what they saw, but they knew the launch was not quite ready for prime time. The packaging wasn’t appealing to customers, and the pricing and segmentation were off. The launch was ultimately a bust.

In the case of Company A, marketing and sales are nowhere near aligned. Each unit viewed the launch from their separate silo, instead of working through issues (the give and take) to achieve alignment. When the launch went forward without any consideration of market feedback, the marketers blamed the salespeople for lacking aggressiveness, and the salespeople thought the marketers weren’t listening to the market. The launch fell well short of its objective, thanks to the ensuing “blame game.” 

Now here’s another example: Company B. They also have a new product that is pushing the boundaries into a new usage area, designed to expand their business and forge forward. The entire team understood the challenge from the beginning – receiving incremental distribution to the company’s current products. The marketing team thought they had a winner on their hands, based on their testing, and the sales team knew the new launch would work if they landed the right distribution.

Based on the sales team’s feedback, the marketing team adjusted the size of the packaging, even though it was late in the launch process. The sales team spent its time understanding the marketing target, and the importance of placing the product into the distribution that reached that target, so expectations were set with their people. In this case, the combined marketing and sales teams executed with precision and blew away their first-year objectives.

Why did Company A fail, while Company B succeeded beyond its wildest expectations? There are three critical characteristics of winning marketing and sales teams that Company A failed to follow, while Company B took full advantage. These are:

  1. Complete transparency and openness to information. The most successful teams (like Company B) bring their own functional excellence and commitment, but they work as one, with a common objective of winning in the marketplace, says Gartner. While it’s not always pretty internally (there are often disagreements and tough choices), in the end, those choices are made for the benefit of the launch, and not the individual functions. 
  1. An aligned strategy from beginning to end. Company B understood it was trying to open up a new area of usage, but it also knew that despite all of the testing, it would need to understand every step of the introduction process to be successful. It wasn’t a case of a “handoff” from marketing to sales. Instead, it was a complete collaboration. Both sides stayed deeply engaged throughout; when a sale to a key customer was at risk, a marketer jumped in with a personal visit and new market data to help the sales team ink the deal. When sales received field pushback about the difficulty of the distribution targets, the sales leadership held firm and got the job done.
  1. The trust to call an audible without worrying about motives. Company A had identified issues with the launch and these were known inside the company, but the team did not possess the vision to resolve them. Company B had also identified issues, but in this case the teams stepped up and got them resolved -- trusting in each other’s abilities and knowing that doing so meant mutual success would result.

Although marketing and sales don’t always work together – when they do, the results are undoubtedly greater than the efforts of two separate but working parts. It was the case with Company B, and certainly was the case for the Villanova Wildcats. No matter what industry or line of work you’re in, as CEO, you must commit to the alignment of sales and marketing to stimulate pivotal growth.

Nurture your team culture, hire well, and ensure that your overarching company goals are clear, transparent, and well-defined from top to bottom. With these critical characteristics in mind, you’ll build a winning team that knows how to execute – and launch a winning product.

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Topics: Marketing Strategy, Sales and Marketing Integration, Sales Strategy, Marketing and Sales

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