COVER STORY: Are CRM and Marketing tech driving sales and

Organisational change and culture are core to the success of many transformational projects, but does it work the other way around?

In some organisations. sales and marketing operates as a single unit, reporting to one executive, but even in these instances, the individual functions are largely separate.

But with the rise of customer relationship management and marketing technology the line has become blurred and the two are beginning to intersect. At the very least, alignment is easier to achieve, according to the executives Digital Nation spoke with in preparation for this cover story.

CRM software has broken down these age-old silos which has led to greater collaboration between the two former rivals. This begs the question: will these two departments merge?

We spoke to leaders from within the sales and marketing space to see how the emergence of CRM platforms and marketing technology has impacted the relationship between sales and marketing and the extent to which platforms are forcing the two disciplines together.

Jeffrey L. Cohen, director analyst at Gartner for marketing leaders said the changes in the relationship between marketing and sales depends on the organisation.

“Traditionally, these two functions performed their jobs in siloes, especially in B2B companies. However, some amount of collaboration now occurs between the two,” he explained.

“Whether it’s a CMO who knows the importance of driving revenue or a sales leader who understands that aligning with marketing can improve the performance of their entire organisation, many organisations are working together in meaningful ways.”

In a post, Cohen explains that now more than ever, sales and marketing teams need to break free from their siloed ways and collaborate across a series of revenue-generating activities.

He said, “CSOs and CMOs play separate roles and focus on distinct results in the revenue life cycle, but they must collaborate across a series of revenue-generating activities to meet their goals. Alignment is not a status to achieve; it is a continuous path of collaboration.”

Ljubica Radoicic, marketing and customer success director APAC at Autodesk said she is seeing the departments come closer together, but there is no chance of a merger between the two departments as each performs a distinct role.

“The alignment is getting closer and marketing as an operation is evolving into a revenue marketing function, where marketing is becoming more responsible for driving a significant pipeline of the revenue and showcasing the ROI and impact on the bottom line,” she said.

“As part of that revenue marketing being all about the development of repeatable prospecting programs where marketing is focused driving ROI and responding to the pain points of customers and driving value.”

Breaking down silos

Historically, in large enterprises, sales and marketing departments are kept separate for a number of reasons according to Gavin Heaton, founder and co-CEO at Disruptors Co.

“It is largely to do with allowing each of those departments to focus on different parts of that customer journey,” he explained.

“What we’ve seen more recently is that connection between the two and a much stronger interlock starting to take place. Often with a bridge called sales enablement and there’s a way of finding a connection between the sales teams and the marketing teams that uses a common language.”

From a sales and marketing function, Scott Rigby, chief technology advisor and principal product manager at Adobe said what he is seeing is a breaking down of old silos in organisations.

He told Digital Nation Australia that when a problem arises organisations should begin to bring together individuals from sales, marketing and product departments.  

“How do we bring individuals from multiple groups together to be able to address that problem rather than trying to operate in silos to address it? And be able to respond in real-time as customers have short attention spans, businesses have to be able to work to meet their expectations, otherwise, they’ll just turn to another brand,” he explained.

 “Businesses have to become more agile and that means breaking down silos and putting groups of people together.”

The digital factor

CRM software is not something that would cause marketing and sales to merge, but it is a tool that can help them work better together, Cohen at Gartner explained.

He said, “For example, one of the challenges the two functions face when reporting their successes and meeting their individual team goals is that they are often looking at different metrics in different systems.

“When CRM software acts as the system of record, this allows both department leaders to review an agreed-upon set of metrics in a common dashboard. And that single set of metrics helps marketing and sales teams achieve the same goals.”

Max Nirenberg, chief revenue officer and managing director of North America at Commit said CRM technology has provided clarity to the marketing and sales funnel like never before.

He said, “Using a really robust CRM, with accompanying intent and engagement tools, has the ability to show both the marketing and sales department where to focus their energies, as well as the visibility to celebrate success.

“The only caveat is that there may have been too many enhancements in adtech and martech that have driven the focus on attribution instead of revenue. In the end, CRM technology provides the tools for you to measure what you consider to be critical to business success. But it’s still up to executives to determine where their key focus areas should be. Otherwise, it’s just a tool that adds unnecessary noise and eats up time.”

A business’s ability to use a CRM well in many cases remains independent of how closely they decide their sales or marketing functions should be operating, according to Dai Williams, chief growth officer, at SiteMinder.

“Rather, understanding the journeys of their potential customers, and how both teams can work together most effectively to provide a simple and streamlined buying experience, should be the focus,” he said.  

“In industries where the human connection between potential customers and the sales organisation is deeply valued and relied upon for example, then marketing and sales will naturally remain more separate, despite the presence of a CRM, in order to create the best possible experience for the end-user.”

Heaton explained that CRM technology is bringing accountability to the sales and marketing teams.

“In many ways it’s making everyone more accountable to each other and that is often an interesting challenge,” he said.

There is also an issue in understanding who owns which part of the customer relationship according to Heaton.

“The handover between sales and marketing used to be quite fraught process, often in the work that I’ve done in the past, where with enterprise software, it was always tricky to figure out when the handover takes place,” he explained.

“We’re seeing these additional roles being created between sales and marketing, like customer success and customer onboarding. These roles are smoothing that process, because they are able to work with the common understanding of where they are, where the customer’s journey is, who is responsible for those cut overs, handovers and the data that helps make life easier.”

Common roadblocks

While the collaboration between sales and marketing is becoming more imminent, there are still some hurdles organisations need to pass to ensure a harmonious relationship between the two.

Cohen at Gartner said there are several factors that could cause some disruption to the sales and marketing relationship.

“Some of the things that prevent marketing and sales from working better together are some of what you would expect: a negative opinion of the other function, territorialism, and resistance to change,” he said.

“Any of these reasons can be overcome if either the CMO or the sales leader reach out to the other in an effort to collaborate. As more of the B2B buying process becomes digital, each team needs the input and partnership of the other to support the changing behaviour of buyers.”

Petra Markova, founder and director at Redvantage, and the former head of marketing at Hitachi  Vantara in Australia and New Zealnd said having KPIs unaligned is also a big hurdle for a partnership between sales and marketing.

“If you don’t have your KPIs aligned, how can you pull in the same direction, it does not help any collaborative efforts. In this case, the responsibility falls to the marketers to breach the gaps and try and understand how their sales organisations work,” she said.

To counteract this hurdle, she recommends marketers take the time to listen and learn from salespeople.

“I highly recommend any young marketers out there to take every opportunity to listen in on customer conversations, join your sales colleagues on sales calls, listen during round tables, start conversations at events, listen on forecast calls, put yourself into your sales colleagues shoes as often as possible and learn.

“That is a great opportunity to study your customer needs and learn how to better support yourselves in helping your customers.”

Markova is sceptical however about the idea that the technology is driving alignment.

“Modern marketers (need) to proactively focus on overall business objectives, align their KPIs with sales and make a commitment to deliver revenue. From my observation, the marketers that do so tend to have a seat at the leadership table. Those who don’t, and are KPI’d on MQLs (marketing qualified leads)  are viewed as a support function. 

“CRM and martech do not have much to do with creating that alignment in my view.  CRM is essential in helping us better understand and serve the customer — having one view of all interactions across the entire organisation (account plans, email exchanges, online and physical engagements, conversations, insights) enables greater collaboration.”

She said a deeper understanding of customer challenges allows marketers to support sales successfully in developing key relationships and helping their customers, resulting in revenue. 

“However, the technology tools are only as good as the effort we make to maintain them. It is not enough to purchase a piece of tech – we need excellent stakeholder management and a well-outlined process, in order to drive the right people behaviours that help us get the most out of the martech or CRM investment.”

Teamwork essential

In a modern organisation, there is an expectation for marketers and salespeople to work closer than ever before.

Gavin Watson, marketing lead at said, “[Organisations] are also expecting the marketing teams to understand how sales teams work and how the sales function works.”

Looking at the different parts of the market out there, if you’re working at an enterprise level, there’s a lot of nurturing that goes into managing those sales cycles, Watson explained.

“Sales teams are expecting marketing to support them in those nurture activities. More content being able to target the right people, doing top-down profiling and account-based marketing. Sales teams are, pushing and wanting that support from marketing at that level,” he said.

“Vice versa, marketing is wanting more input and more visibility as to ‘who are these people that we’re talking to within part of the sales channel?’ We are going after a particular vertical. If it’s at that SMB level or mid-market or enterprise, who are the personas that we need to talk to, because we can’t just do a pray and spray type approach.

“We’ve got to understand, If it’s at mid-market, who are the personas or who is it we need to target? The content needs to be relevant for them, whereas at enterprise it’s obviously different as well. Marketing is hungry for that information from the sales team, and sales teams are happier to share that and bring them into, discussions for them to understand it,” he added.

Petra Markova at Redvantage said the sole purpose of marketing and sales is to successfully collaborate and deliver growth and revenue.

“That is not going to change, that is not going to go anywhere. The technology enables us to collaborate better because you had one view of the customer and all the different parts of the organisation that engage the customer, we have all that information together in one place, that’s really useful,” she ended.