Tension between sales and marketing teams dates back at least 300,000 years. The Neanderthals who first discovered fire were clearly marketers because while the sales teams were out hunting for the food to keep everyone alive, they were back in the cave experimenting, creating a wonderful beacon to attract people and strengthen their community. Plus, a flame makes a kick-ass logo.
It’s this balance between the immediacy of ready-to-buy prospects and the broader ‘building of brand’ that has come to define the conflict between sales and marketing. This is then amplified by the attribution problem, as once the new client has been secured, both teams are likely to want to lay claim to the vital role they played in the process.
Ever since these divisions emerged, technology has been developed to act as a bridge between them. Never more so than with the dramatic explosion in MarTech (technology to enhance and streamline marketing activities) in the last ten years. This has been further bolstered by the more recent emergence of the RevOps function (operational activities designed to encourage coordination and collaboration across all revenue-focused teams) with its own rapidly expanding suite of tools.
But is it now creating more questions than it is answering?
A quick history lesson
Leap forward from cavemen to the turn of the 21st century, where the modern sales and marketing tech stack largely owes its roots to Salesforce. It blew the dusty CRM market apart with an early SaaS product that took a lot of the responsibility for buying and managing the technology out of the IT team and placed it in the hands of the business units. Often instigated and managed by marketing, it relied upon salespeople to use, enrich and keep clean the data on the platform, popularising the phrase “Garbage In, Garbage Out” (or “SISO” here in the UK) in the marketing lexicon.
And so there was a new beef for the warring siblings of sales and marketing to fight about…
After Salesforce, the SaaS market emerged slowly and then exploded. Scott Brinkler’s prototype MarTec Landscape, published in 2010, featured 142 companies. At the time of writing, the 2023 version features 11,038. It has featured “Sales Enablement” tools since 2014, suggesting that the responsibility for purchasing has remained with the marketing team, even if sales teams are the main users.
As the tools emerged, so did the specialist roles to get the most out of them, or skills were developed to avoid getting left behind. Larger organisations employed dedicated Marketing Operations people, while, more commonly, marketers adapted and embraced technology as a core part of their job. There was no longer a divide between “marketing” and “digital marketing”—it was just all “marketing”. You needed to learn tech.
More recently, however, the RevOps role has emerged. This means sales are getting in on the act and demanding greater control over the tools, systems and processes that drive their success. This also means that sales teams are the buyers, the decision-makers, implementers and managers of their technology stack.
And, of course, this butts horns against marketing’s tech stack and activities.
What are the issues now?
Let’s pull together a list of five key areas in which marketing and sales teams still appear to be misaligned. From this, we should be able to dive into the role that technology has played, both in creating these misalignments and addressing them.
1. The data conundrum
We’re awash in a sea of data: customer information, leads, and campaign metrics are essential for both functions. But as we said before, any garbage going into that sea pollutes everyone, so who polices these “international waters”?
2. The lead relay race
Leads are the lifeblood of any business, but they need to be defined consistently and flow seamlessly between the functions and the technologies they use. But who owns the plumbing, especially now this can be built with low-code and no-code tools?
3. Social as a sales channel rather than a medium
When social networks emerged, they were firmly entrenched in marketing’s world of broadcast, community building, brand and advertising. But now, with the rise of individual brands and social as a valid and effective sales channel, how can marketing leverage each member of the sales team and avoid gatekeeping people acting in a personal capacity?
4. AI’s role in personalisation
Artificial Intelligence is a game-changer, enabling mass customisation and personalisation of emails, making outreach more effective, but blurring the lines between what constitutes a marketing activity and a more personalised sales activity.
5. A happy home for SDRs?
The Sales Development Representative (SDR) role (identifying, qualifying, contacting and nurturing potential leads from both inbound and outbound activities) has always straddled both sales and marketing. But it now extends beyond cold calls to creating technology-driven outbound sequences that resemble marketing campaigns more than traditional sales pitches. So where do their loyalties (and reporting lines) lie?
How has technology influenced these challenges?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does encompass the broad areas where we see issues at Second Voice, both across our client base and the wider pool of businesses with which we work and consult.
What’s really interesting is that while these are not new divisions between sales and marketing, it’s the emergence of technology that has made them more evident:
- A larger range of interconnected tools makes bad data more likely
- Low/no-code technology connections like Make or Zapier have further removed IT teams
- Social media is now all-pervading and a legitimate direct sales channel
- AI is turning marketers into salespeople, salespeople into marketers, and SDRs into both
Just as technology has contributed to more confusion between the two teams, it also brings an enormous opportunity to unify them more than ever before. What’s clear from this list is that now the division is not because sales and marketing are two warring tribes getting further and further apart in their ideology. Instead, technology is blurring the lines between what marketing and sales are, who a marketer or salesperson is, and what they do. It’s the overlap that’s now the challenge.
The rise of the CRO
As MarTech has blurred into Revenue Operations and sales teams have gotten much more actively involved in technology selection, integration and effective use, we are moving towards a unifying concept that combines sales and marketing with a shared goal: revenue growth.
Businesses lining up both departments behind a single Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) are often seeking to better coordinate the efforts of these two departments for maximum impact.
Perhaps the clearest difference between the role of a CRO and her traditional equivalent—the Sales and Marketing Director—is the absolute reliance on coordinating technology, tools, and data as much as managing people.
Returning to the sibling’s analogy, the earlier incarnations of sales and marketing disagreements were like the squabbles of young children over who was doing the most chores or fighting for the affections of their parents by being the best behaved. But this second wave of technology-driven challenges feels more like the teenage years where everyone understands they need to get along to make things work, but things are changing fast; there’s just not a lot of space anymore, and we’re bumping elbows.
Politically, the two teams are aligned now. They’re aligned around technology and understand just how important it is for both of them to succeed. They get the role of data and the collective responsibility to keep it clean. And they realise they don’t operate in silos but are together building brand and driving revenue. Because technology, social media and dashboards are showing them this every day.
A unified sales and marketing tech team
So as these sales, marketing and SDR roles blur even more, and as the technologies become more interconnected and AI makes it harder to separate what is personalised and what is broadcast (let alone what is human and what is not), we’re actually marching towards even more unified teams.
The natural conclusion would be that the two teams then centralise technology review, selection, purchasing and management under one unit, aligned with a common goal (revenue) and meeting the needs of both marketing and salespeople. This group would have deeper knowledge and specialist skills to get the most out of the technology, leaving sales and marketing to specialise where they can really add value—the more human part of the role.
Centralised technology expertise, value-driven procurement, and coordinated vendor management in one place to free up other parts of the business to go faster?
Sounds like an IT team to me 😊