Sales vs marketing is a diversity issue


A theory on why chronic friction between sales and marketing departments limits the potential for high performance in many organizations.

Phil Jackson

NBA coach Phil Jackson's success in managing diversity offers lessons to sales and marketing executives.

The competition, distrust and all-around enmity between sales and marketing departments in large companies is a festering problem. Some organizations try to fix it. But, they cannot without recognizing the fundamental personality differences that distinguish successful sales people and marketers.  Until they can get these perpetually antithetical people to work together companies will pay a steep price.

In most companies, executive leadership (CEOs and presidents) either:

a) Don’t really pay attention to the nuts and bolts, day-to-day functioning of sales and marketing departments.

b) Regret the problem, but accept it as an inevitable fact of the business environment.

c) Charge sales and marketing leaders with improving the situation, if not solving the problem. The usual tactics — team building, interdepartmental task forces, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, etc. — only detract from their primary objectives.

The last is probably the most harmful because it gives each side more reason to be suspicious of the other, and management. Employees always love being sat in a room and told that they must like things they don’t understand.

To solve the problem, leaders should look at it as a diversity issue as defined by R. Roosevelt Thomas, founder of the American Institute for Managing Diversity and a fellow of the Society for Human Resources Management. In his landmark book, Beyond Race and Gender, Thomas told business leaders that systematic dysfunction in the workplace, caused by misunderstanding and prejudice, is more widespread than the publicized, litigious incidents which prompt companies to spend millions “celebrating diversity.”

According to Thomas, the same dynamics that cause workplace explosions over discrimination and harassment are also responsible for less visible but equally damaging consequences when different types of people are forced together as the result of mergers, reorganizations, technology implementations, etc.   To effectively manage diversity, leaders do not have to get different people to like or understand each other.   But, the group must have a common goal and their leaders must get members to put aside differences to focus on that.   Thomas lauds current Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson as a great diversity manager for getting the colorful, widely divergent members of the Chicago Bulls to work together to win six NBA championships in the 1990s.

Because sales and marketing people do not have to play together on the same court at the same time, corporations can hide the open wounds caused by each department using a different play book.  But the results, if visible, would be the same as if a point guard repeatedly threw lob passes toward the basket for a teammate standing by the 3-point line waiting for a jump shot.

In my next post, I will offer some suggestions on how companies can solve the problem.

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Rick Salas January 14, 2010, 10:18 pm

You’re so right John. People are different and have a different way of finding a solution to a problem. I might even be better but sometimes creative minds are silenced. Real leaders are changing things up a little with new ideas and strategies and teaching their employees how to do what is most effective.

John Ribbler January 15, 2010, 12:32 pm

Thanks for your comment, Rick. When we take the time to examine the true meanings of words, it is enlightening to discover how many new points of view are revealed about situations that are supposed to be commonplace. Seeing new solutions to difficult problems becomes much easier.