The Blurring (Alignment?) of Marketing vs. Sales Functions

OK, so this is not really a post true to the Product Marketing / Product Management nature of the blog, but it does apply to career path and growth.

Unless your company is so committed to Product Management that they have a Vice President of Product Management or Vice President of Marketing and Product Management in mind, at some point, your options for career growth may be to look into a path leaning more towards marketing.

And before you go thinking that I’m talking about the creative, “fuzzy” aspects of Marketing the answer  is no.  I am talking about what’s becoming increasingly important for marketing, especially in a high-tech company.  And that’s the ability to do lead generation and demand gen that is more and more, directly aligned with sales goals.  For example, to some people, “marketing” really ultimately means the facilitation of customer acquisition.

For many of the best Product Managers I have met, this is not a scary prospect because many of them started out in Sales Engineering /Pre-Sales.  For Product Managers who may have come from the R&D staff, this is a more daunting proposition as there is an aversion to being to “salesy” in the PM work.

But if you are in a sales-oriented company that really values this type of PM or marketing skill set, and this is where you want to thrive and  grow, what are your options for training and growth (the way you got PM training from companies like PragmaticMarketing)?

Well the only advice I can give you is my own experience, which I believe has been fairly successful.

  • Get formalized sales & marketing training – if you are young and can afford the time, this means getting an MBA with a focus on marketing, supplemented hopefully by Sales training workshops at your company.  If you are older (like me), there are excellent (but expensive) continuing MBA education programs like that offered by the University of Virginia.  There is nothing quite like doing a case study on Porsche and having a Porsche sales exec in your study group.  The point is, you need to expand your knowledge base and getting a “merit badge” from formalized training doesn’t hurt either.
  • Understand the importance of sales & marketing alignment – I have seen many marketing programs meet their set goals (number of contacts, web site visits, webinar attendees, etc.) only to fail in the ultimate goal of customer acquisition.  Yes this is a pain to track and manage, but to survive in marketing these days you have to have this focus.  This doesn’t mean you are a “slave” to sales, but your goals and processes must be aligned and the relationship has to be symbiotic.  There is much research out there on this topic if you Google it, and there are some companies like SiriusDecisions whose full focus is sales and marketing alignment.  In fact the research at SiriusDecisions indicates that the most profitable companies they have analyzed have well aligned, cooperative sales and marketing processes and goals.  Put another way, if you head up marketing for your company, the quarterly sales target should feel just as important to you as to the VP of Sales.
  • Get your hands dirty – gardeners will tell you that they love the feel of good dirt as they put flowers, seeds and plants into the ground, and they love to see the tangible results.  So as you move into marketing, and eventually marketing management, don’t expect that you will simply be running meetings and doing admin work.   If your company uses a CRM / sales automation system like salesforce.com, you should understand how it works and how to get the most out of it.  If you have it linked to a marketing tool, you better know how that works and what types of contacts, titles and industries live in both systems.  And back to your product management / marketing roots, if you are using white papers and case studies as collateral, you better have conviction about their authenticity and how they fit your target market and audience.
  • Bring some unique expertise to the table – these days, it’s rare than you can be a sales or marketing “generalist”.  For those “generalists” who are successful, it’s more likely that they are “adaptable”.  What I mean is that if you are a high-tech marketing professional, it’s likely that your company sells to a specific user persona or industry.  So the more you know about the specific trends, concerns, or fears of that type of user or of that  industry, the more “authentic” you can be in your marketing efforts.   And if you don’t have this knowledge, you have to adapt and acquire it. If there’s one thing I’m certain of is that IT buyers have better and better “bullshit antennae” these days, and you better bring relevant knowledge to the conversation to have “game”.

In the end, this blog could have easily been posted on a sales blog talking about how sales needs to be more consultative and market-aware.  So we are talking about the inevitable blurring of  the lines between what it takes to run successful sales operations vs. marketing operations.

In this “blurred” (aligned?) world of sales and marketing alignment, the staffs may be different, and the tools be distinct but have overlapping value.  But the goals better be aligned.

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