How to optimize the marketing and sales interface

Dominique Rouziès, Professor of Marketing - October 30th, 2014
How to optimize the marketing and sales interface by Dominique Rouziès

While it is useful to know how to coordinate marketing and sales functions to enhance their collaboration, it is also necessary to help them avoid “stifling” each other through that collaboration. A study led by Dominique Rouziès and John Hulland provides insight into this difficult balancing act.

Dominique Rouziès @HECParis

A graduate of McGill University (Ph.D.), Dominique Rouziès is professor of marketing, member of CNRS-GREGHEC – a joint research laboratory between the French National Research (...)

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In recent years, many surveys have confirmed just how difficult the marketing and sales relationship is. Marketers consider, for example, that salespeople are too focused on client interests, while salespeople find that the offers and promotional plans designed by marketers do not meet customer needs. In general, salespeople complain that they are not heard by marketers, who they find out of touch with the market, and marketers consider salespeople too willing to grant price reductions, too tactical, not strategic enough, and too focused on short term issues. Such recriminations are aggravated when positions are functional (i.e., there are few bridges between functions), and evaluation, promotion, and compensation systems are not transparent. 

Sales and marketing interface: a key performance factor

Bonds of trust and collaboration between marketing and sales groups support quality relationships, increased interactions, and mutual enrichment. In addition, shared understanding contributes to a common vision of internal and external environments. “These factors are valuable for organizing social capital. They have a positive impact on the performance of firms, which therefore have a vested interest in developing them between marketing and sales teams,” explains Rouziès. To encourage these attitudes, companies have effective tools at their disposal, such as respect for equity in decision-making and resource allocation processes as well as human resource policies (in particular, compensation). 

Guillemet
Bonds of trust and collaboration between marketing and sales groups support quality relationships, increased interactions, and mutual enrichment

Means to improve marketing and sales performance

The study by Rouziès and Hulland shows that a culture of fairness promotes collaboration, mutual assistance, trust, information sharing, and understanding of functional perspectives, and this is particularly so given that marketing and sales tasks are interdependent. On the other hand, unequal power relationships get in the way of harmony between functions. Similarly, compensation criteria that are not transparent and largely based on individual objectives do not contribute to the pursuit of shared goals. Reconciling the roadmaps of an account manager and a product manager is a delicate matter that can be facilitated when part of compensation is based on criteria that promote cooperation (see practical applications).

The case of key accounts

While it is crucial that marketing and sales groups share a common vision and work together to achieve business objectives, there are nevertheless market factors that hinder collaboration. For example, when clients are huge buyers or multinationals that account for a large part of the company’s sales, interactions and collaboration between marketing and sales teams often stay focused on serving these key accounts. They can then be pushed to the extreme: teams concentrate so much on their clients (on whom they feel dependent) that they lose global vision. Satisfying the interests of these clients at the risk of adopting their unique perspective is not without consequence: marketing and sales teams omit information that contradicts the customer viewpoint, shut themselves off to other perspectives, and ignore important opportunities. This is when innovation and value creation suffer. It is thus necessary to find the balance between customer intimacy and a sense of belonging to the company. This is because performance results from the inclusion of two seemingly contradictory forces: the need to integrate marketing and sales groups to better meet customer expectations and the need for differentiation, which makes it possible to take full advantage of cooperation and learning.

Based on an interview with Dominique Rouziès and her article “Does marketing and sales integration always payoff? Evidence from a social capital perspective” co-written with John Hulland  (Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science , vol. 42, no 5, September 2014). 

Practical Applications
Practical Applications

The issue of marketing and sales integration often comes up in leadership seminars led by Rouziès. To help companies improve their team performance, she recommends examining decisions made at the frontier of marketing and sales, dissecting processes, evaluating the level of interdependence, and identifying shared resources and sources of value creation. Everything is reviewed and clarified: information sharing, resource access, roles and responsibilities, timeframes, objectives, decision criteria, and performance evaluation. This is the price of teams committed to common goals.

Methodology
Methodology

Dominique Rouziès and John Hulland studied the relationships between marketing and sales teams of 38 major American manufacturers of consumer products and the impact of those relationships on performance. Unlike previous research, this study is not limited to examining formal relationships as described in organizational charts, but focuses on social relationships and their structural, relational, and cognitive dimensions – that is, the social capital of marketing and sales organizations.