From The Editor

Reframing The Relationship Between B2B Sales And Marketing


By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer


Exploring ways to improve the relationship between sales and marketing in B2B businesses is like venturing into the Sahara on foot without water. When I mentioned this idea to a friend, her initial response was, “are you crazy, don’t even go there, what are you thinking?” She was ready to activate an emergency friend intervention.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration! My point is that rarely do business leaders intentionally set out to change marketing and sales operations, to include organizational structure and processes. We too easily retreat to the risk-free zone of “but that’s the way we’ve always done it.” However, the harsh truth is that this modus operandi is fraught with risk.

What is the business-as-usual relationship between sales and marketing?

The relationship between B2B sales and marketing is often defined in unconstructive ways that are out of touch with today’s buyer; sorry for that blunt assessment. I’ve heard it described in the following ways:

  • Sales is marketing’s customer.
  • Marketing creates the plan, and sales executes it.
  • Marketing delivers leads, and sales converts them into customers.
  • Marketing defines the value proposition, and sales delivers it.

There are many more descriptions, some harsh, but I don’t want to reignite a smoldering fire by mentioning them here. However, there is some truth in each of these descriptions. When we try to constructively define the relationship between B2B sales and marketing, the key component we often leave out is the buyer.

Why the need for change?

Change in business can occur for many reasons, and often we humans don’t like it much. Change initiatives can spring from internal sources. Perhaps continuous improvement is a business tenet, or the business has invested in technology that in turn drives process changes. And we’ve all had that new boss who arrives with a ready-made transformation plan; commonly, that is why they were hired.

However, the need to reframe the relationship between B2B sales and marketing is coming from an external source that is vital to the success of your business: your buyers! Your buyers have changed the way they buy, solve problems, and seek solutions. If you’re not keeping pace with what buyers are doing, you will lose market share to those who have already adapted the way they market and sell their products and services, or better stated, solve the buyer’s problems.   

Understanding the Buyer’s Journey

The buyer’s journey should not be confused with the traditional selling process. When asked, most sales professionals will say that their selling process begins when the buyer contacts them about a solution. This mindset greatly disadvantages the seller because the buyer has already completed as much as 70% of their journey. Helping the buyer through all stages of their journey significantly increases the chances you will earn their business.

To learn more about the buyer’s journey, I recommend this article, The Real Buyer’s Journey. If you want even more, I recommend the book, Selling to the C-Suite by Nicholas Read and Stephen Bistritz or you can see my interview with Nicholas Read.

When your intent becomes helping the buyer through all stages of their journey, you cannot help but transform your organizational structure, processes, and how marketing and sales work together.      

Reframing the B2B Sales-Marketing Relationship

There are as many ways to define the relationship between B2B marketing and sales as there are B2B businesses. I don’t intend to share with you a one-size-fits-all descriptive workflow with a line and block chart. However, I would like to offer a start point and some ideas.

Rather than starting by examining your current structures and marketing-sales interoperability, begin with an understanding of the buyer. Most importantly, put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they view you. What does their journey look like, and where do you fit in?

Some buyers are on a continuous journey seeking better solutions that will help them capitalize on unrealized opportunities. Others may have identified a problem they have and are looking for a solution. Either way, the buyer determines when their journey begins, when it is paused, when they are lost and in need of directions, the pace at which they will move, and when they have the clarity to contact a seller.

Buyers view their interactions with sellers as waypoints along their journey. And as mentioned earlier, buyers are hitting up to 70% of those waypoints before they ever reveal themselves to the seller. That means they are anonymously accessing your marketing content for much of their journey.

Is your marketing content helping them with where they are in their journey? Or does a single detected interaction with your content cause marketing to toss the lead over to sales who try to accelerate the buyer on their journey, resulting in being ignored and the sales representative concluding the lead was bad. Here is another important thing to keep in mind: Buyers don’t refer to themselves as leads. That’s something that we marketing and sales professionals do, and it feels pretty callous from the buyer’s perspective.  

As you consider reframing the relationship between your B2B marketing and sales teams, think about your responsibility as helping the buyer along their journey.

Look for our next article in this series that explores the relationship between B2B marketing and sales that is centered on helping the buyer.