Fostering Sales and Marketing Collaboration: A Conversation with Bob Heiss of Sandler Training

After a distinguished career as a sales leader, Bob Heiss now trains executives across industries on business development fundamentals with Sandler Training.
This week he sits down with us to talk about the intractable debate between sales and marketing teams within organizations and how that traditional divide is slowly fading with advances in data-driven and customizable marketing. For Heiss, the key to success is collaboration—organizations that work together succeed, while organizations that compete internally and fail to communicate don’t.

Q: Let’s start by tackling the perceived divide between the sales and marketing sides of companies. Do you see this divide today, and have you seen it change over your career?

Heiss_headshot Bob Heiss, Sandler Training

A: Traditionally here’s how it works: the company will usually say we are not getting enough sales and there is not enough revenue. Marketing will say we are providing more leads than we possibly can, they are great leads and they are warm, but salespeople do not follow up on them swiftly enough and they can’t sell. The salespeople, of course, say that these leads are not good and if they were worth following, we would follow them—and, by the way, the marketing message is not coherent and not aligned with what we’re tasked to sell.
That’s the traditional struggle.

Q: Do you think this wall is starting to break down?
A: I do, because of the more sophisticated and responsive ways people are marketing now. Content marketing—where people will give their email addresses or phone numbers in exchange for high quality content—has been around for a long time but is being used more intelligently now. Salespeople, in my experience, are also way less critical and way more collaborative. In other words, they are more prone to trying to tweak or improve the process, whereas in the old days it was just complete dismissal.
The better, more responsive, more customizable forms of marketing have changed the salespeople’s perception of marketing.
Q: One trend we’re seeing a lot is that more and more marketing is data-driven now. Is that making a difference to the interactions between marketing and sales teams?
A: It absolutely is. There’s so much data and it’s just now being started to be used by ordinary companies, whereas previously it was a lot more expensive and harder to access and there wasn’t that much expertise to make it available to companies that were not Fortune 100 or 500.
I welcome it. I think it’s a great thing. It really increases the odds of a positive reception to being approached by marketing efforts or salespeople.

Q: What have you seen organizations do right when it comes to helping foster positive interactions between marketing and sales teams? And what have you seen organizations do wrong?
A: I’ve seen various iterations of “who reports to whom.” Does sales report to marketing, or is marketing a function of the sales need? A lot of companies solve that by having a head of marketing and a head of sales, both reporting to the CEO as part of the executive leadership team.
What I see happening now more than ever, though, is those people meeting together and having a common goal—in other words, not two separate business plans trying to force the other one to cooperate. They are working on the company focus as opposed to their own little fiefdoms.
It happens more often in start-up companies because their common interest is to reach an IPO. It’s a common goal.
In the old Fortune 1000 companies, it’s traditionally not been that way. People think nothing is ever going to change and they focus on just doing their jobs to advance their careers and get another job. There’s no need to have that kind of collaboration.

Q: Do you think bigger companies could adopt some of that start-up mentality, it might help break down these barriers?
A: Yes. A lot of them are trying to do that, or do that on a divisional basis.

Q: Do you see a time where we won’t have these divisions anymore, or do they serve a purpose within these organizations?
A: From the philosophical side of things, people are people. They have egos, they are driven by a need for success and, in some ways, that’s never going to go away. It’s how we are wired as human beings.
But I do think that smart leadership will try to get those two divisions to collaborate for a common end. That’s what I see happening more and more. If you get a team that has bought into the company mission and vision, they can do great things.
Ultimately, it’s all about collaboration. If the executive leaders can set up a collaborative relationship, they will have success. If it’s too territorial, you’re not going to have success.
In some companies, this process is working like a finely-tuned car. In other organizations, you would not believe how much of a disaster it is. And this is because they are working in silos. Companies that are working well are not in silos.

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