How to Get Marketers to Think Like Salespeople… and Vice Versa


“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” —Slim, to George, in Of Mice and Men

That quote from the well-known John Steinbeck novel may be a bit of an exaggeration if we apply it to the relationship between salespeople and marketers, but it’s clear—and not especially surprising—that the people in Sales and those in Marketing can have differing mindsets.

It’s also clear that if an organization is to be successful, Sales and Marketing must work hand-in-hand, combining their strengths to reach the company’s goals.

How do organizations create empathy and greater collaboration between Sales and Marketing?

We’ve held key sales and marketing positions for many years and now work for the same company. We’ve spent many of our waking hours thinking about ways to get salespeople to think more like marketers—and vice versa—and putting that shared understanding to work for our business.

What we’ve learned is that it’s critical to create empathy between the two teams. When you foster an understanding of what each team’s members are charged with, they all can more easily understand one another’s motivations and behaviors.

Doing so takes a commitment of both time and resources, but it can and should be done.

First up: some primary concepts marketers needs to adopt to understand salespeople.

Marketing and the Mysteries of the Sales Team

Understand the company’s sales compensation structure—and its effect on salespeople

One of the major differences between marketers and salespeople is the way they’re compensated.

Most of us know that companies set a more complex compensation structure for the sales team—often based on a commission or percentage of each sale. That means salespeople don’t necessarily know what each paycheck will look like; moreover, it’s general knowledge that salespeople are motivated to make their quotas and be successful.

Those factors can affect salespeople’s behavior: They might be (or seem) more emotional, erratic, and determined as a result, and so they can sometimes behave in unexpected ways.

Marketers, on the other hand, tend to earn a fixed salary (perhaps with merit-based bonuses), and they are likely to feel relatively more secure about their income.

To foster understanding, we recommend holding a “sales compensation” learning session for marketers, to help them understand how sales compensation structures work and how that motivates Sales differently from Marketing. That session could be a one-off, or it could be woven into a “Sales 101” series of presentations.

Understand why Sales views accounts differently from Marketing

One of the primary tasks Marketing is charged with is generating and sending leads to the sales team.

For most marketers, it’s a numbers game: they want to use their marketing prowess to attract the highest number of leads, which they then pass to the sales team with the notion that the more leads they can deliver, the more sales will have to work with. The salespeople are then responsible for turning those leads into paying customers, or accounts.

What marketers may not know, or fully understand, is that the sales team is looking for very specific leads—those that fit each salesperson’s criteria and which have the greatest opportunity to become an account for that salesperson.

In other words, Marketing tends to look at the big picture, and sales tends to winnow that picture down to what best fits each salesperson.

To gain a deeper understanding of this dynamic, a session on how Sales treats accounts could be part of another educational session, or (again) perhaps as part of a “Sales 101” series.

Understand why Sales sometimes needs to blow up a bridge

The marketing world—at least compared with that of sales—can seem predictable and stable.

Marketers reach out to potential clients on a continual basis via a wide range of channels; from email and social media campaigns to webinars and trade show interactions. But they are not responsible for closing deals and bringing on new accounts.

Conversely, salespeople’s place within the sales team—as well as their paycheck—is predicated on their ability to sign new customers, which means they sometimes must take risks and shake things up. That can translate to a salesperson’s being very direct with a potential customer… to the point of appearing confrontational. They may tell a customer something he or she doesn’t want to hear, or take a calculated risk to get a deal signed.

To the marketer, such behavior can seem reckless or even appear to alienate a client merely to make a point. Salespeople, however, are expected to take on that sort of risk, and they learn techniques to do so from by their managers and mentors.

Calculated risk-taking can be a good thing… and Marketing should consider taking a page from Sales’s playbook to become a bit more aggressive.

Sales and the Need to See the Larger Picture of Marketing’s Role

Just as Marketing could use a primer in empathy for Sales, so too Sales could learn to put itself in Marketing’s shoes to enhance the overall effectiveness of both teams.

Shift your storytelling

Most marketers understand that marketing is a blend of art and science—it’s both data-driven and emotional. As a result, they’re well known for their ability to weave nuanced, humanized ,and personalized stories into their communications. It makes potential clients feel understood, accepted, and valued.

Sales professionals would be smart to become more persona-based with storytelling—and with their messaging in general—and fine-tuning its abilities to account for things like persona changes and differences in degree of influence.

Further, salespeople could improve their pitches by understanding the depths marketers go to customize communications and craft a story that is told consistently, while still personalizing it for each target buyer. We did this by recently introducing a “Value Selling Playbook.” Phase one calls for sales team members to “certify” across each pre- and post-sale persona we encounter.

“Deliberate practice” structures like this require continuous education and an audit to ensure a standard level of competency across all customer-facing roles.

Understand a day in the life of a marketer

Often, Sales doesn’t have a clear understanding, or appreciation, of all the facets of Marketing’s roles, including objectives, challenges, or even day-to-day functions. Many sales teams also tend to think that Marketing exists only to help them find leads and close deals, when in fact Marketing leads a number of cross-company roles.

By getting the sales team to walk a mile in a marketer’s shoes, at our company we’ve been able to drive both understanding and empathy in what they deal with on a daily basis—and how sales and other teams can learn from them. That includes everything from building and extending a personal brand to becoming more persona-based and to viewing the success of the company through a broader lens.

We start this process every year, at our annual sales kickoff (SKO) meetings. We bring in Marketing team members, starting with our chief growth officer (CGO), to explain Marketing’s role in depth, clarify its functions, and answer questions from Sales.

Embrace the data

Sales can have a tendency to operate on gut and intuition, particularly when forecasting individual sales pipelines each quarter—a philosophy that tends to carry over into the day-to-day effort and activities to win deals.

For example, most sales professionals have stored who their top opportunities are at any given moment in their brains, and use this (sometimes foolish) pride as justification for not updating any opportunity details in the CRM. With confidence and intuition as their guide, who’s to say they are spending time in the right places? Talking to the right accounts? Are the more “ideal” prospects getting enough attention? Are smaller opportunities getting too much?

In contrast, a core strength of Marketing teams tends to be looking at the data up front and letting that information guide initiatives. That can mean segmentation to acknowledge prospect diversity (e.g., do enterprise clients need different outcomes and have different use cases from those in the SMB space?), analysis to gauge where the highest marketing impact might come from, and other examples that put the ongoing measurement and analysis of data at the forefront of decision-making.

It’s no surprise, then, that many more “ah-ha” moments for the business tend to spring from Marketing than from Sales, although the evolution of sales operations teams is beginning to blur lines.

The Bottom Line

Some days, Sales and Marketing can seems closely aligned. Other days, it seems Marketing is from Venus and Sales is from Mars. But by creating a learning culture in which formal and informal methodologies are employed, your sales and marketing teams can gain an understanding of one another, share goals, and work together more effectively for the greater good of the company.

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