Sales and marketing got to live together

Summary:

A potential method for end the costly dysfunction caused by differences between sales and marketing organizations.

Roosevelt Thomas uses a fable about a giraffe and elephant to explain diversity

'Building a House for Diversity' by Roosevelt Thomas offers ideas on managing people who are and always will be different, which applies to sales and marketing professionals.

In my last post, Sales vs Marketing is a Diversity Issue, I wrote that the perpetual disunity between sales and marketing departments has the same underlying dynamics as conflicts between employees of different races, genders, national origins, and religions. This view comes from my work with R. Roosevelt Thomas, founder of the American Institute for Managing Diversity, who has been counseling FORTUNE 500 companies for decades that preaching love and understanding does not solve the problem.

Companies just looking to sweep away discrimination lawsuits and government sanctions can bury those demons by “celebrating diversity” with ethnic festivals, affirmative action employment policies, and grandiose advertising/public relations campaigns. Thomas’ advice is generally not for them. However, companies striving to achieve their greatest potential value his views on:

  • Why people with different backgrounds and personalities are unable to cooperate productively even though their employers have tried hard to make that happen.
  • Why (or why not) diversity is important within the specific context of an organization’s mission.
  • How members of different groups can work together effectively without approving of, liking, or socializing with each other.

Understanding diversity can help companies discover why their sales and marketing departments are disconnected and how to get them functioning effectively as a team. In his book Building a House for Diversity, Thomas introduces a fable about a Giraffe and an Elephant to explain diversity conflicts outside the stereotypes of black vs white, male vs female, gay vs straight, young vs old.  The giraffe and elephant are not suited to living and working the same way. It is not that they dislike each other or do not want to work with each other.  Their differences inevitably cause conflict and tension.

Giraffes and Elephants do not fit in the same house

In Thomas’ fable, the Giraffe wants to be friendly with the Elephant and invites him to his house.  Although the Elephant clearly cannot get through the door, the Giraffe insists and the Elephant destroys the doorway.  Sales people live in a world of interpersonal relationships, cat-and-mouse gamesmanship, and day-to-day accountability for delivering the goods.  Marketing people live in a world of brand equity, market share, big-picture creative concepts, and return on investment.  They just do not fit in each others’ houses.

However, in the 21st century, if sales and marketing people do not appreciate the value that each brings to the other, their employers are losing money like a car with a punctured gas tank loses fuel.   Yet, none of the commonly recommended solutions can enable an Elephant to function in a Giraffe’s house.

Solving the problem requires strong leadership and commitment to long-term learning and “unlearning.”   Assumptions, fears and behaviors that have developed over years will not go away because a single executive is put in charge of sales and marketing, more e-mails keep everyone in the loop, or interdepartmental task forces “encourage shared understanding and contributions.”

A company’s leaders must initiate a process that steers each individual in both departments to understand:

  • His or her role in the organization’s mission,
  • Basis of the tensions and impacts they have on the organization’s effectiveness,
  • That personal responsibility for focusing on common objectives enables the conflicts to be seen in context as less threatening to individual success than failure of the corporate mission,
  • That commitment to ongoing learning is necessary to optimize each person’s effectiveness working with others and as an individual.

Obviously, management consultants affirm that management is responsible for solving organizational problems.  But, Thomas says that  management cannot fix diversity conflicts the same way it can redesign a manufacturing process or change hiring policies.  Management must create a climate that is the product of all workforce participants.

“Nurturing such a climate depends not on how one group or the other perceives diversity,”  Thomas writes.  “It depends on the mindsets and actions of individual members of both groups and how they interact with each other.”

While sales and marketing are the twin engines driving business development, some people contend the differences (the diversity problems) are reason enough to keep them away from each other.

Time for a national discussion?

Consider this discussion board comment following my first post on the subject:  “My question is who came up with the concept to create a position called Sales and Marketing when both disciplines are clearly different!  Time for a nationwide discussion about why Sales & Marketing positions are listed together!”

Leadership’s primary role — not an easy one — is steering the two sides to learn why the group and its individual members will be better if they understand their differences in the proper contexts.  Thomas says the organization and its employees will not profit as a team until they gain clarity about their differences — rather than ignoring or glossing over them.

If you would like to know more about issue and its affect on your company, please let me know. Contact me or leave a comment.

Related Comment: The single most complete, concise and insightful statement on diversity (maybe on any single subject) is Everyday People,, Sly and the Family Stone, 1969.

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Dave Stein October 22, 2009, 11:36 am

John,

This is an important post. The reason is that this problem has been inhibiting sales productivity for decades.

Marketing leaders who have no respect for the sales function or for people that sell will not align with them, no matter how many workshops they attend or diversity approaches are taken. By the way, I recommend to CEOs that they strongly consider hiring marketing leaders that have successfully sold at some time in their careers. It’s not required, but it sure helps.

Sales understands that they serve the customer. Their job is to help people buy. To do that, they need ongoing support from marketing. Just to set the record straight, sales is accountable to marketing as well. Sales has a responsibility to follow marketing’s direction regarding product positioning and target markets, among other things. They must also provide feedback on what they observe in the field-industry trends, what the competition is doing, how customers doing, as well as providing useful feedback about the quality of leads being passed to them.

Sales leaders who believe that “people who can’t sell become marketers” will not likely ever find themselves in the enviable position of working for an industry leading company. Asking carefully designed questions of sales leader candidates about their experiences working with marketing can mitigate some of these risks.

So you see, we aren’t going to fix this at the VP of Marketing or VP of Sales level. The solution lies with those who hire these people.