Hey Marketing: Watch Out, Here Comes the Sales Storm
February 25, 2019

Hey Marketing: Watch Out, Here Comes the Sales Storm

by Brian de Haaff

Do you hear that rumbling sound? There is a storm coming — a big one. The air is growing thick and the thunder clatter is getting louder. The boom is echoing across your company. Because this is not your average weather event. This is a sales storm. If you are in marketing, you might want to run for cover because the downpour is headed your way.

I got this term from a digital marketer — she used it to describe being swarmed by a fuming sales team looking for someone else to blame for another bad quarter.

The topic came up as our team was preparing to launch Aha! for Marketing. I started out my career in marketing, but I wanted to understand the struggles that marketers are experiencing today — especially those working in online or digital marketing. So I spoke to many of our customers and I asked our in-house marketing experts to share what they had faced in the past.

This is when one of our teammates brought up the “sales storm” as something she and her team had weathered in the past. She was not alone — almost every marketer I spoke to had a similar story of sales blaming marketing for difficult times. Maybe you do too.

Why does the storm hit? There are a number of reasons these storms strike marketing teams and digital marketing in particular in technology companies. Typically it is all about the perceived quality of the leads you are sending — when the sales team is struggling to meet their quota, they shift blame towards marketing rather than focus on their own challenges.

But there can be more nuanced reasons too. With so much of marketing happening online, it may be that more and more customers are coming through digital channels and now the sales team wants to battle over who gets credit for the “sale.”

But the storm is predictable. It pours down at the end of the month or quarter, when sales is under-performing.

Now, we do not have salespeople at Aha! but I have worked with many in the past — good and bad. And I can understand their perspective. If they feel like the leads you are delivering are not qualified, they may instinctively go into attack mode. Cue the dark and stormy skies.

The best way to handle this is to watch the patterns and get out in front of them when you can. Here are the warning signs the sales storm is coming:

Not on target

You are a team player. Your online campaigns drive lots and lots of traffic and that is your focus — making sure sales has as many opportunities to convert as possible. You have your target numbers to hit and they have theirs. You are hitting all your goals, but is the sales team on target? Keep an eye on their velocity. Missed targets are your first indicator that a storm will likely start brewing.

Benefit misalignment

You might unwittingly be part of a “throw it over the wall” culture. Before you protest, let me explain — it is actually your prospective customers who are being thrown over the wall. They are attracted by your marketing messages. But once customers funnel through to the sales team, a different story is being told. There is a total lack of alignment between how the product is marketed and how it is being sold.

Arguing over quality

Of course, when there are a lot of leads but few customers, people notice. Not just you, but the rest of the organization and the leadership team too. Backed into a corner, sales goes on the defensive. Fingers are pointed, nasty emails are sent, and there are even charts to show how lackluster the leads truly are. When people start talking about poor quality and the need for lead scoring, take cover.

Shiny object syndrome

Your product or service is not the ideal fit for everyone. This is why you have a specific persona that you focus on with your online marketing — right down to keywords, location, and industry. But sales does not have the same focus. Their approach is to chase anything and everything, sometimes without much thought to how well the solution meets those people’s needs. It is easy to see why — their livelihood depends on it. Yet, when everything looks like a deal, beware.

New leadership

You saw the signs along the way, but now the clouds are heavy and dark. You see that there is a big change coming and things are about to bust wide open. The old VP of sales is out. There was a hush-hush campaign to bring in an outside hire to reinvigorate customer acquisition and the forecast is chilly.

Sales storms negatively impact the whole organization — drowning out real progress between marketing and everyone who serves customers.  

But here is the good news — you have the power to shift weather patterns. This does not require superpowers, but it does require strategy and communication. Start by clearly defining and documenting your marketing strategy (target audience, key messages, channels, etc.) and sharing your campaign plans with sales. Share your view of the market and ask for feedback on the benefits you are showcasing.

Make regular conversations with sales a priority. Take the time to understand the challenges they are facing and what they are hearing from customers. You need close communication if you want to diffuse the storm. And it will bring less chaos and more purpose to the work — maybe even sunny skies too.

How do your digital marketing and sales teams work together?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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