Smart strategies bridge marketing, sales chasm

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Three years ago, Bruce Dahlgren faced a daunting task.

As VP-general manager, North America, for printing solutions and services at Lexmark International Inc., he needed to knit together sales and marketing teams that were badly disconnected at the Lexington, Ky.-based printer maker.

Like a handful of other marketers, Lexmark discovered ways to bridge the sales and marketing gap. Executives from such companies agree that certain changes are necessary to break bad habits and bring the two disciplines together. Changing the organizational chart and creating common definitions, goals and metrics solve some of the problems. But topping the list of changes is constant, open communication.

"We saw a lack of teamwork and trust," Dahlgren recalled.

In fact, lack of trust was causing duplication of effort and added expense. Because the sales organization felt marketing wasn’t creating the right tools, it created its own marketing resources. Similarly, the marketing department developed telesales groups because it didn’t feel its messages were getting to the customer.

Dahlgren and his VP-marketing, Randy Nelson, traveled throughout the United States, hosting roundtables in Lexmark’s regional offices to get to the heart of the company’s selling and marketing problems and facilitate communication.

Communication is also key at marketing software provider Unica Corp., Waltham, Mass. Yuchun Lee, CEO and co-founder, holds a daily 12-minute meeting with 22 managers around the world to share knowledge, identify problems and clarify goals.

Without what Lee calls "the daily huddle," disconnects take hold and fester. "Politics and conflict happen because of tiny disconnects at top levels of the company. Alignment is a lot of work, but it’s worth it," Lee said.

Creating the right management structure is also vital. Lee said the company’s head of sales for North America and its global marketing head report directly to him and have offices right next to each other. "We designed this specifically," he said. "There needs to be the highest levels of communication."

Lexmark’s organizational chart is similar. Marketing executive Nelson reports directly to Dahlgren, as do three sales VPs.

Common terms, methodology

"The first thing we did to make sure the two organizations were speaking the same language was defined what a ‘lead’ was," Dahlgren said. Once common language was established, Lexmark built a new selling template. "If you’re going to change an organization, there needs to be a common methodology that supports that change," Dahlgren said.

For instance, Lexmark defined a "funnel" through which prospects move. Criteria and measurement metrics were established at each stage in the funnel—prospecting, qualifying, proposing, closing and implementing.

Using this model, sales executives could pinpoint how many prospects there were, where they were in the cycle and the probabilities of closing each sale. Marketing executives also can tap into that information to understand how and when to support the sales team with tools and materials.

Shared methodology is the common ingredient at other organizations that have successfully managed to connect sales and marketing.

"Figuring out what we were challenged by was the easy part," said Sallie Jarosz, VP-marketing at Sales Performance International, Charlotte, N.C. The hard part was finding a solution.

"There was a clear disconnect between sales and marketing. Sales was trying to achieve certain revenue targets and never really talking to marketing about those goals," she said.

SPI specializes in sales performance consulting and training, but its own staff was a classic case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes. So it brought in GAJ Services Inc., Cincinnati, a marketing consultancy, to develop a common methodology.

GAJ implemented a combination of standard business methodology, analytics, measurement tools and training courses. "[It] forced everyone to align strategically as well as operationally, with sales and marketing working together on common milestones," Jarosz said. "Before, we never knew whether we were on track or not."

The process lasted several months and involved representatives from all levels and areas of the organization. But the result was positive.

"Sales and marketing get along quite nicely [now] because we agree to metrics that would feed into someone else’s success," Jarosz said, indicating the company subsequently exceeded its revenue goals. "We’re 20% above plan in the first quarter," she said, adding that her CEO wants to begin the process again in 2004.

Unica also linked its effort to annual objectives. "We start every year with our annual planning where we pick three to five objectives for the whole company, and we all agree on the objectives and the metrics," Lee said. "This sets the stage for sales and marketing to integrate well."

Surprisingly, technology is low on the priority list for many of these marketers. Lexmark’s Dahlgren said that a rudimentary methodology and approach have to form the foundation before a process is automated.

Lee agreed. "One of the biggest problems is clients chasing CRM nirvana to find the right tools to solve everything," he said. Technology, he said, cannot be based on a single system. "Sales uses technology in a transaction-oriented manner, dealing with one quote, one meeting, while marketing is aggregating, looking at customer segments, looking at the competitive set. They integrate with each other, but they are very different tools."

In January, Lexmark began to implement San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Systems Inc.’s sales force automation and marketing automation applications. But Dahlgren insists this only happened after the process was in place.

"If I implemented Siebel two years ago, all these people would’ve learned that screen, but they wouldn’t have the fundamentals of selling," he said. "I don’t believe the automation changes the organization. The automation supports it."

His efforts at change seem to be working. Dahlgren said sales productivity last year grew 24%, and this was "directly attributable to sales and marketing working together."

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