Sales vs. Marketing: When Are They Not At War?

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Sales and marketing can often be at odds with each other – yet alignment with both is essential for sales enablement to be effective.

Since sales and marketing are focused on different parts of the funnel, their top priorities when it comes to sales enablement tend to differ. For example, sales leaders are 15% more likely than marketing leaders to say that increasing win rates is a top sales enablement priority, and marketing leaders are 61% more likely than sales leaders to say increasing new customer acquisition is a top priority.

While historically it was almost an even split between companies where sales enablement reported to sales and those that reported to marketing, the “ideal” reporting structure for sales enablement has become a hot topic of discussion for sales enablement practitioners. The divide has grown between sales vs. marketing and expanded to include a spectrum of other leaders from human resources to the CEO. According to the 2019 State of Sales Enablement report, sales enablement falls under a sales leader in 35% of organizations and marketing at 8%.

While there is no clear reporting structure formula that can ensure sales enablement success, there are certainly pros and cons to housing it within different departments. Since most sales enablement teams work closely with sales and marketing teams, it can be an easy default for companies to assign a leader in one of these departments to oversee sales enablement when first adopting it. Here are ways that sales and marketing can influence sales enablement and how enablement practitioners can work with both to maximize business impact.

Should sales enablement report to sales?

The benefit of having sales enablement live within sales is that sales leadership and the sales teams are going to have customer conversations at the forefront of their minds. A sales enablement professional could ask any sales leader or individual contributor about customer trends at any point in time and they will be able to relay in great detail the conversation that they just had with the potential customer. Access to that knowledge is invaluable.

With that kind of information always easy to find, sales enablement can identify and prioritize what types of enablement materials or tools are going to be most beneficial for helping the sales team achieve its goals.

Most sales organizations will admit that while the goal is always to help guide people through their product or service, at the end of the day the ultimate business objective is to improve the bottom-line. Sales understands this, and work daily to understand customer needs to close deals and upsell contracts.

Being so close to those customer conversations and experiencing the evolution of buyer trends firsthand is a major benefit of sales enablement living in sales. However, such a structure can also cause friction in other areas, including becoming too hyper-focused on sales and perpetuating misalignment with marketing.

Should sales enablement report to marketing?

On the other hand, housing sales enablement within marketing can also be beneficial in the sense that marketing crafts the message and creates demand. It is marketing’s job to position the company as a thought leader. They own the resources and key messages being delivered to customers.

Adding on the role of sales enablement is a very natural extension of what marketing is already doing; it is the next step in the customer’s buying journey after engaging with marketing content. In fact, there are a lot of responsibilities that straddle the line between demand generation and sales enablement. Both functions support the entire marketing and sales cycles to increase the success of a company’s interactions with potential buyers.

Despite all of the cross-over, however, there are also risks to housing sales enablement within marketing. Mainly, problems can arise if the marketing team does not have access to the data points that are critical for sales. Conflicts can also arise if marketing does not have a solid grasp on what the sales culture is like, such as how the sales process works or the types of situations that the sales team often encounters. In these scenarios, sales enablement will be ineffective if housed within marketing.

Even though sales culture may be out of the realm of what a marketing professional does in their day-to-day work, all marketing leaders would benefit from accessing data (i.e. listening to call recordings, etc.) to better understand the sales reps’ world. Understanding the questions customers are asking is not only helpful in building out keywords from a demand generation perspective but also in informing sales enablement material. Without it, sales enablement would be stuck in a reactive role rather than being able to create material that helps the sales team get ahead of key questions from prospects, freeing them up to have more in-depth discovery sessions.

How can sales enablement work with both departments regardless of who they report to?

Regardless of whether sales enablement reports into sales, marketing, or a different department, direct communication and alignment with sales and marketing stakeholders are important to sales enablement’s success.

Data shows that there is much room for improvement in increasing alignment at many organizations. For example, nearly a quarter of sales enablement professionals view decreasing ramp time for new reps as a top priority, a goal that only 6% of marketing leaders and 4% of sales leaders share.

Since it is rare that a leader will have one foot inside of each department, it’s imperative that sales and marketing leaders build rapport with sales enablement and each other. Successful sales enablement relies on collaboration and open communication to bring the sales team the most relevant programs.

Creating a strong bond of communication and trust requires more than just regular meetings. Sales enablement practitioners should really take the time to get to know the sales and marketing leaders as human beings. After all, there is a difference between somebody who knows you on a personal level, who you can be transparent with and somebody who you are meeting with once a week because it is in your job description. Investing in that personal relationship together encourages honesty and collaboration, which are both necessary for sales enablement initiatives to take hold.

How can sales enablement gain support from sales and marketing leaders?

Use data. That’s what it comes down to any time you are asking for some kind of investment of time or resources from a sales or marketing leader. You have to be able to demonstrate what their potential ROI will be.

Tailor data to show the impact on things that are clear priorities for the sales and marketing teams. For example, most organizations care about deal velocity; how they can shorten the sales cycle. They might also care about higher average deal size or how many resources it took to acquire a customer.

Work with the leaders to identify those metrics and map sales enablement activities and results to those. Sales enablement professionals have to be able to speak the same language as the sales and marketing leaders.

If that data does not exist yet, start with a small pilot group. Grab even just one or two reps and test a sales enablement initiative with them. Then create a compelling story based on their performance against the metrics identified. Without a story based on data, leaders are much more likely to refuse or hesitate to invest. When asking any leader to deviate from what the normal process or budget is, they have to be able to see compelling proof as to why the proposed plan is going to be effective.

Ultimately, the reporting structure that helps sales enablement be most successful will vary depending on the business priorities at each organization. Nonetheless, it is imperative for sales enablement to establish a solid relationship with sales and marketing leaders; recruiting their support as champions of enablement will help drive adoption of initiatives in the field. Based on the pros and cons outlined for sales and marketing-led reporting structures, companies should assess their goals for the sales enablement function and how it would be impacted by those dynamics before housing it within either.

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