Why "Aligning" Sales and Marketing Never Works

Last Updated Nov 22, 2010 6:24 PM EST

Last week, I read I stumbled on yet another magazine article about how to align sales and marketing. My first impression was: "Oh, no! Not more of this horse manure." Then I saw the name of the author of the article. It was me. Yikes!

The funny thing is, I can't remember writing that article, but I'm sure that I did, because just like every other sales and marketing writer over the years, I've written plenty about this time-honored subject. However, I've since come to the conclusion that "alignment" is a red herring.

The best evidence of this is that people (like me) are still writing articles about it. You'd think, if it were possible, "alignment" would have happened by now. But I now believe that it simply can't happen, because the problem is being defined incorrectly.

Almost every article that I've seen treats Sales and Marketing as if they were co-equal functions. Therefore, "alignment" consists of finding compatible goals, working together as a team, measuring the same things, and all that yada-yada-yada.

In other words, the problem is supposedly one of communications and managing goals. I've come to the conclusion that this is simply corporate codswallop. The problem isn't that two co-equal groups need to work together. The problem is that marketing got uppity and forgot its place.

Marketing was originally a service function to Sales. It was a way to help Sales make sales.

For instance, advertising was supposed to create demand... so that somebody could sell something to a customer. Branding was supposed to be a way to make products more attractive... so that somebody could sell something to a customer. And so forth. Marketing was a service organization.

At some point along the line, marketing starting thinking that it was "driving" sales rather than helping Sales. Advertising, branding, channel management turned from service functions into a "strategic leadership" role.

Marketing geeks started showing up in product design meetings, pretending that they understood the customer, when in fact it was, is, and always will be, the people who do the sales function who know what customers want.

This malformed idea was aided and abetted by the business schools whose professors (like Drucker) loved Marketing (because it was "professional" and "academic") and hated Sales (which was neither.) The result was companies where the importance of Marketing was bloated all out of proportion.

In some companies (most of whom went out of business), the Marketing group actually took control of the Sales function. That's incredibly stupid. And here's why.

The entire point of a business is to sell thing to people. There is no function more important than selling. Even the CEO's primary job is to provide a service to the Sales, because if sales don't take place, there's no business to manage.

That's why it's totally ridiculous to "align" Sales and Marketing as if the two group were co-equal. The only real and practical alignment is for Marketing to step back, and respectfully ask the Sales team what they should be doing to help. Submission, not alignment.

However, I have no doubt that, due to the bloating of the importance of marketing, there are still going to be plenty of articles (like the one I wrote) about "alignment." However, there won't be any more coming from me. That, at least, I can promise you.