What's a marketing customer vs. a sales customer?

By Published on .

Reprints Reprints

Most Popular
If you had 50 min-utes to pound your b-to-b sales and marketing VPs with questions—in front of your CEO—and without fear of reprisal, what would you ask them?

At Forrester's recent Marketing Forum, I was joined by David Cooperstein, Forrester's VP and role manager-marketing leadership, and Forrester Senior Analyst Scott Santucci to simulate just such a gathering. We had in our room about 100 senior marketing professionals, about 10% of the forum's total audience, and asked them to pretend they were the board of a major Global 2,000 corporation.

David, who runs Forrester's marketing leadership research team, played CEO; Scott, who drives a lot of the thinking in our tech sales enablement research team, played VP-sales; and I, the research leader for Forrester's tech product marketing and management research team, played VP-marketing.

Wow! Even a simulation can be stimulating.

The session started steadily, with David asking Scott and me CEO-like questions about how each of us would generate returns in the coming year.

Scott (in his sales role) offered that sales targeting was the key to return on sales, finding ways to drive more targeted, focused conversations with customers that would lead to shorter-cycle, larger deals.

And I, posing as VP-marketing, suggested that marketing actually could scale faster than sales, as we implemented adaptive approaches to integrating engagement across channels, including social media.

David, our role-playing CEO, then pointed out the gorilla simulacrum in the room: “So, how do sales targeting and adaptive, integrated marketing line up together?”

Of course, he knew the answer: leads.

That's when the room exploded in a frenzy of comments and questions. How can marketing take responsibility for sales' use of leads? What steps can marketing take to ensure that salespeople accurately close the loop on leads? What kind of lead-quality demands can sales ultimately make on marketing?

Great questions, with each one highlighting the interesting sociological drama playing out in b-to-b businesses everywhere. They also prompted another question: Why do sales and marketing professionals both turn into prepubescent siblings when talking lead management?

There are many reasons, but the bottom line is that lead management is the thread that ties the different operational cycles of sales and marketing together. And that thread can get frayed.

Sales is responsible for revenue attainment. In most companies, that's a “now,” “this quarter” and, sometimes, “yesterday” cycle.

Marketing is responsible for profitable revenue growth. In most companies, that's a “pipeline,” “next quarter” and (too often) “whenever” cycle.

One solution is for marketing's and sales' efforts to better administer lead management by defining a distinction between marketing customers and sales customers.

A marketing customer is one in the process of being developed as a lead. Marketing uses engagement mechanisms to nurture customers, providing concrete value in return for additional customer data, opportunity insights and commitments to enter into deeper types of engagements.

A sales customer, by contrast, has declared a need (perhaps at that executive event) and is ready for a revenue discussion. Sales uses selling resources and techniques to do whatever they need to do to secure deals.

To make this work, marketing needs to alter a few things:

  • Ensure that every marketing interaction can be regarded as a source of value by marketing customers.
  • Implement real systems for evaluating likely returns on engagements throughout the nurturing process.
  • Stop throwing leads over the wall at sales, then complaining that sales doesn't close the loop on worthless interactions.

Like a good CEO, David made sure that his sales and marketing VPs didn't end up in a public wrestling match. But the lasting solution to effecting excellent joint stewardship over lead management is to ensure that both marketing and sales stay focused on customers, not just processes.

Peter Burris is principal analyst and research director at Forrester Research ( He can be reached at

In this article: