Is it Time to Reframe the Sales and Marketing Alignment Debate?


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We, as a country, have just witnessed another mid-term election of the House as well as Governor races in various states.  Opposing sentiments are running deeper and the polarization continues to put a paralyzing stranglehold on the Congress and Senate.  The widening gap between the two parties severely affecting the ability to legislate as our founding fathers had envisioned. 

This past election made me think about parallels to the ongoing debate that surrounds sales and marketing alignment.  While we can point to recent reports showing that there is payoff in alignment, such as the recent Aberdeen Research Study showing improved results when sales and marketing are aligned, the debate appears to be caught in a spiraling cycle on the same points about sales repurposing the work of marketing, sales not effectively following up on leads, marketing not generating leads, and the many so called “points” that would make any political organization proud.  It is very possible we may be having the wrong debate.

What is interesting is that while the world has changed rapidly and the transformation progresses at warp speed towards the technologies of the digital age, the debate continues, more so than not, to be caught in a vacuum of conventional thinking.  We continue to use language that supports convention and is function oriented.  As if the state of sales and marketing has an imaginary aisle like the House on Capitol Hill. 

The debate is framed in traditional ways as well.  Sale’s role has been primarily one of PUSH.  Marketing’s role has been primarily one of PULL.  Executive turnover is rampant in the key positions of head of sales and head of marketing.  Each new executive coming in and giving the marching orders for Sales to PUSH HARDER and for Marketing to PULL HARDER.  This tension of pushing and pulling harder creates a never ending spinning wheel of the sales and marketing alignment debate.  I also acknowledge that there is definitely a renewed spirit of collaboration amongst the sales and marketing spectrum led by leaders in Sales 2.0, Sales Enablement, and Marketing Automation.  Undoubtedly, progress is being made.  The challenge lies in how to move the conversation forward to a new level.

In the article, The Design of Buyer Experience, I noted the monumental shift that is occurring in our percepts of buyer behavior and buyer strategy.  Calling into question how we have conventionally thought about buyer retention and buyer loyalty.  This transformation I believe is causing us to examine how we have continued to look at sales and marketing structurally as well as systemically.  Are we not moving the debate forward in an accelerated manner because we continue to view the roles and structure of both sales and marketing without a buyer experience orientation?  Is a modern view of buyer strategy and sales and marketing roles as well as functions required? 

If we need a new modern view of Buyer Strategy oriented towards the Buyer Experience, it may mean we need a new modern view of how an organization structures itself to support a buyer experience orientation.  If we apply a “thinking outside the box” stratagem here, what may be needed is to bridge the structure divide with two newly defined areas that can support the new modern era of Buyer Strategy and Buyer Experience.  The first of these defined areas can be described as Buyer Experience Strategy and it is supported by a role consisting of a Buyer Experience Strategist.  The second of these areas can be described as Buyer Experience Design and this area supported by a role consisting of a Buyer Experience Designer.  Let’s look at each role briefly:

Buyer Experience Strategist: in this role, one examines buyer strategy, buyer insights, and developing end-to-end journeys that enable buyers to buy.
Buyer Experience Designer: in this role, one focuses on buyer interactions and designing interaction points along the buyer journey.  

Both areas and roles support a critical buyer experience orientation and a holistic view of the entire end-to-end buyer experience.  This is in direct contrast to the conventional function oriented thinking that appears to have the sales and marketing alignment debate struggling to shift to a new level.

We may not be that far off from the future or that far outside the box.  One organization leading the way is eBay.  While eBay is an online auction model, it is in the unique position of having to support an infrastructure that enables a seller and buyer marketplace.    In many ways, eBay’s Marketplace can be viewed as a microcosm of the larger economy of marketplaces.  When Meg Whitman left eBay in March of 2008, the company was coming under harsh criticism, mostly from sellers, for the deteriorating buying experiences buyers encountered.  Since taking the helm, eBay’s current CEO John Donahoe has made improving the buyer experience a cornerstone of their ongoing strategy.  Creating specific positions and titles within the organization that are tasked with buyer experience strategy and buyer experience design. John Donahoe was quoted in his first earnings call in Q1 2008 as saying:

Back in January (2008), I was very explicit that we are extremely focused on improving the buyer experience on eBay. This is not to say that sellers are not important to us but our belief is and always has been that what is good for buyers is ultimately good for sellers, and this successful balancing of the ecosystem is what makes for the most healthy and vibrant marketplace.”  

Due to the inherent model of being an online business, much of eBay’s buyer experience strategy focuses on search and transaction as well as being a liaison to product development whereas buyer experience designers are “interaction designers” focused on improving the experiential aspects of eBay.  The emphasis to point out though is that improving the buyer experience was made a mandate for the future growth of the organization.

Is it time to rethink the sales and marketing alignment debate and reframe the issue around buyer strategy and buyer experience?  As eBay has shown through improved results, organizations can reorient themselves around a buyer experience strategy and develop a supporting structure as well as roles that are less dependent on the conventional.  While B2B business models may vastly differ from that of eBay’s and do not have the online or B2C focus they do, a common thread is that buyers are demanding end-to-end buying experiences as opposed to being an “object of a sale.”  This increasing demand curve is serving as a catalyst to innovate around a buyer experience orientation and to evaluate future structure, roles, and systems that helps create revolutionary buyer experiences in the modern digital age. 

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


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