When In Rome, Don’t Speak Greek: Marketers and Sales Need a New Mindset


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To most people, “sales and marketing” refers to the part of the organization that sells the product or service. In fact, the two terms are used interchangeably in many companies. The prevailing attitude is, “Sales? Marketing? What’s the difference? It’s all the same thing, isn’t it?” Nothing could be further from the truth, as we observed during a challenging and politically charged CRM project we were consulting together on.

We had been brought in to a large regional health-care company to help get its CRM project out of a ditch. The client had purchased a “$250,000” solution that was 18 months beyond scheduled completion, did not function properly and which saw the price tag balloon to $1.5 million. Our work was cut out for us.

The primary users of the system, the sales staff, were furious with the CRM sponsors—their brethren in marketing. Their opinion was that marketing had forced an ill-conceived system down their throat—a system that didn’t meet their needs, didn’t perform as promised and was severely impairing their ability to close deals.

When we spoke with the marketing staff, they offered their own, understandably different, perspectives. They expressed frustration that the sales team wasn’t willing to get involved early on to help design the system—and refused to invest the time necessary to sweat the details that would have made the system more productive. In addition, they asserted, the sales force tended to make isolated small “hiccups” seem like a series of absolutely fatal errors.

Different personalities

In our opinion, both teams were correct, to a degree. We’ve seen this before and since. People in sales and marketing tend to possess two very different mindsets when they approach business. While there are exceptions to any generalization, we’ve observed that sales tends to draw different personality types than marketing.

Focused on the Four “Ps” (price, product, promotion and place), most marketing people tend to be more analytical, detail-oriented and relatively more focused on planning. Strong interpersonal skills may or may not be a part of their professional repertoire. They tend to work with longer timelines, typically preparing strategic plans, producing detailed product performance reports, dwelling on analyses and crafting detailed presentations.

Operating from this analytical mindset, the marketing folks had become defensive when sales accused them of delivering a sub-par system. Marketing’s analytical bent was immediately evident, as the marketers focused on dissecting and proving why sales was wrong, and how the


of the system’s functions really were performing as planned. While they may have been right and winning the battle, they were losing the war—badly.

We reviewed marketing’s analysis, double-checked its numbers, and validated its objective conclusions (which were mostly on target). But we also chastised members of the team for not doing what marketing people are paid to do: manage perceptions. We knew the solution had more to do with human nature than better systems interfaces.

We turned our attention to the sales team. As results-oriented people, they are paid to

close deals

. They are focused on making things happen and, consequently, have little patience for details or extensive planning. Most successful salespeople tend to score off the chart with respect to interpersonal skills: They are highly focused on—and really enjoy developing and nurturing—personal relationships. Aside from schmoozing customers and prospects, their singular goal in life is to close the sale, record it and move on to the next opportunity.


This very different mindset required a very different approach to getting them back on board. Our first step was to meet with their most outspoken critics. As we listened to their litany of issues, we took the time to truthfully and directly empathize with their high level of frustration. We were also very conspicuous in writing down each of the issues they articulated, to visibly communicate just how important these issues were to us. Our goal was to connect with them on a


level, not just on a technical or diagnostic level.

We discovered two overriding issues. First, the system was preventing them from closing deals—akin to depriving most humans of oxygen and water. Second, they felt that no one had acknowledged their issues. (Whether anyone had or hadn’t was immaterial. What was important was that they


they were being ignored).

At the end of our interviews, we convened and facilitated a meeting with the marketing sponsors and the sales team’s thought leaders. We presented back to them the original rationale and justification for the system, as well as

each and every

issue and concern they had expressed. We didn’t judge the issues. We didn’t evaluate them. And we didn’t prioritize them. We simply played back to them what they had told us.

Their response surprised even us.

The project sponsor received immediate feedback: “Finally you’ve found people who can fix this problem. These guys really understand us!” Mind you, we hadn’t yet touched one line of code or modified any other aspect of the system, but the die was cast. Each side of the sales and marketing equation had been addressed in the language particular to their approach to the world. We listened and then spoke with them in a language they understood.

More importantly, our facilitated meetings became the model for the organization’s CRM Governance Committee, a forum dedicated to effective decision-making and communications on all CRM related issues. As the CRM application (and philosophy) expanded into other areas of the enterprise, the Governance Committee provided a forum for discussing issues and ensuring that effective communications was taking place at all levels of the organization.

Gary Schmidt
Gary Schmidt is chief catalyst of the West End Consulting Group, LLC. Morris Karolicki, a Southern California-based consultant, specializes in developing technology strategies and leading CRM and eBusiness projects for Fortune 1000 companies.


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