It’s Not “Integrated Sales And Marketing,” It’s “Interleaved Sales And Marketing”


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I’ve been pretty tough on content marketers and marketing in a couple of my recent posts, “Are They At 57% Yet,” and “Opportunities We Are Blind To.”  Beyond that, there are hundreds of articles and discussions on Integrated Sales And Marketing.

The discussions are powerful, the walls we erect between the functions, the fingers we point at each other are diminishing, albeit slowly.

We are realizing we have shared goals and must work together to optimize our abilities to attract, communicate, engage, and connect with our customers.  There have been dramatic shifts in the type and relevance of content we create.

All of us recognize content focused on product/feature/function/feeds/speeds need to shift to focusing on the customer and their problems, challenges, and opportunities.  Furthermore, we have to segment it by industry, market, role, maturity levels, and then tailor it to where these people are in their problem/opportunity solving journey.

Layer on top of this marketing automation tools, analytics, and other tools, we can further refine our ability to target the right customer with the right message at the right time.

But we still, tend to view the marketing engagement model and the sales engagement model as separate and sequential processes.

Caitlin Roberson published a fantastic article addressing some of these issues, “How Much Value Do Your Sales People Generate Through Thought Leadership.”  But there was one sentence that captivated me:

“For content marketing to succeed in driving a sales cycle 60 to 90 percent of the way, it must retain the freshness and third-party validation of thought leadership”

The statement is indicative of the thinking most of us in marketing AND in sales have of the process.  Everyday, I’m involved in conversations with great marketing and sales professionals.  They tend to be, “How do we(marketing) attract attention and create demand,”  “When and what do we hand over to them (sales),” with sales saying, “What should we (sales) be doing with those leads?”

That is, it’s largely a sequential process, initiated by marketing and, at some point, handed off to sales.  Whether it’s 30%, 57%, 90% through the customer problem/opportunity solving journey, it’s still a sequential process.

Generally, when we talk about integrated or interfaced sales and marketing, we focus on aligning goals, metrics, messaging, as well as smoothing that hand off from marketing to sales.

Based on this model, a challenge is finding, attracting and engaging the customer.  If the customer has decided they need to change and is actively letting their fingers do the walking through Google, this model may work well.  They will find our content, hopefully, it’s relevant, we can nurture them, score them, and at some time pass it to sales, saying “Tag you’re it!”  Sales picks it up, and since we are integrated, they pursue it through the rest of the customer cycle, hopefully winning the deal.

But that’s probably not what the customer is thinking or how they are doing things.

In fact the majority of the time, they are just trying to survive and do their jobs.  They don’t realize something might be done better, that there are opportunities they are missing.  They aren’t out Googling for solutions.  Even if they saw a billboard with capital letters, “You Need To Change Or Die,” they’d probably not pay attention because they aren’t thinking, “They’re talking about me.”  They are just doing their jobs.

The challenge becomes, how do you disrupt them, how do you capture their attention, how do you get them curious to even think about something and go to Google?  Our marketing can’t reach out, grab them by the collar and shout “There is a better way!”

Sure we can probably find them, email them, or do something similar, but since they don’t know they should be paying attention, they delete or spam those messages.  Not because they are bad messages, but they aren’t relevant or on the customer’s radar at the moment, so they don’t care.  We miss them, there is a real opportunity, but they don’t realize it yet.

How do we capture their interest?  How do we get them to sit up, take notice?  How do we get them to the point of saying “We need to change!”

I think one of the key ways is through sales (or the “New SDR“).  People chartered with going out and disrupting, catching their attention, getting them curious.  The customer might say “Tell me more,” the sales person can engage them carrying on the conversation, or point them to relevant content.  We can probably accurately guess, that once we’ve gotten them curious, their fingers will start walking through Google, so we have to be there to intercept and engage them through Content, SEO, PPC and other means.

Now we start to see, the process is not sequential, instead it is interleaved.  There are points through the process where the most appropriate engagement is with sales and then it is with marketing/content, and then it’s back to sales.  As we map engagement models across a relatively Squishy Buying Cycle, it becomes clear that we need to look at sales and marketing in a very different way.

As we design our engagement models, we have realize they have to be very nimble/adaptive/agile.  Each journey will be nuanced and we have to be able to respond to it.

In discussing this, I like to use basketball as a model. On a basketball team, we have differing roles–forwards, guards, and a center.  We develop and run plays, mastering them in each of our roles.  But because we have them well defined, because we have well defined plays that we have mastered, when we are actually in the game, we have the ability to be very nimble and adaptive.  We switch plays, we change what we do to produce the best result.

To do this in our customer engagement, marketing and sales cannot be viewed as integrated but sequential processes, but we have to be interleaved.  We have to clearly know our roles, and how we “play” with each other.  We must have playbooks that we continue to refine with experience.  Mastering these plays and our ability to execute then equips us to be nimble/adaptive/agile.

What do you think?  When we talk about integrating marketing and sales, do we really need to be looking at interleaving them?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. I’ve heard Sales, and Salespeople, referred to as ‘heat-seeking missiles’ and the ‘point of the spear’; and those tags bring up images of typical auto dealership sales staff, selling features instead of benefits, dealing in functional elements of value rather than making an emotional connection.

    Today, customers pretty much own the purchase decision, managing the process, and in many cases are well along before even connecting with a vendor. Through various sources, including sales, content, social media/informal communication, etc. they develop an impression, which, if it meets their emotional and rational criteria, leverages initial purchase. Emotional experience and memory leverage downstream behavior once purchasing has begun.

    To be more effective with customers, the various components of value delivery do need to integrate so that each supports the other, rather like a shuffled deck of cards. Whether interleaved or integrated (and the distinction isn’t clear to me in this context), the components need to be melded in the customer’s mind.

    Also, when you say ‘sequential processes’, that implies to me a linearity that doesn’t much occur in customer decision-making. Customers are more emotional than rational, i.e. definitely non-linear; and it’s the emotional considerations to which more attention, and more focused integration, should take place in sales, communication, marketing, and support.

  2. While I believe that Dave and Michael are correct I add a large BUT! The but is all about the third leg of the customer-facing stool. That leg is the support team.

    I believe they must be interleaved with sales and marketing because no one can know with certainty which elements of the value proposition is top of the buyers mind. And sometimes it is about support, service, obsolesce, or total cost of ownership. And sometimes the service/support people are the customer’s trusted advisers who may be aware of the challenges they customer is dealing with every day. This kind of insight can genuinely create the opportunity everyone is looking for.

  3. Brilliant comment Sam, actually it’s not a BUT, it’s an AND. We really need to focus on the total customer experience–making it as impactful, effective, and efficient as possible. We need to make sure the experience is consistent with our overall strategy–across marketing, sales, customer service and other parts of the organization that touch customers.

    Thanks for the great catch/add!


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