Helen Edwards
Helen Edwards
A view from Helen Edwards

Helen Edwards on Branding: Chalk and cheese

Rather than pull against each other, marketing and sales teams can benefit from closer working.

When are marketing and sales departments most likely to find themselves at loggerheads? Round about now, halfway through the final quarter of an embattled year, with tough targets to meet.

Whose targets? The sales team's, of course. They are the ones with the quarterly numbers to hit. Marketing is on a much gentler trajectory, with the more diffuse task of improving 'brand equity' metrics.

Let's imagine a situation in which the two might want to reach for their pistols at dawn. Take a food brand - a cheese snack, perhaps - where marketing's long conversation with consumers notes a strengthening of the trend toward healthier eating. This will be enshrined in a brave new 'healthy snack' positioning, with low-fat line extensions, a repackaging exercise, and a fresh communications strategy.

Now, though, one of the big retailers has offered the sales teams a gondola-end co-promotion next to the crisps aisle. For marketing, this is a cynical betrayal of plans in progress. For sales, it's a no-brainer: it will make this quarter's figures.

Enter the chief executive, with the wearisome duty to play referee. Since shareholder pressure also pushes at the three-month door, it's not unlikely that they will give the nod to sales, 'just this once'.

US marketing academic Greg W Marshall has devoted a life of research into this subject, and regards it as the 'last frontier' in the pursuit of a total customer experience.

Sales teams, he confirms, tend toward the short term, with a 'bias to action'. Marketing has its eye on future trends and displays a 'bias to analysis'.

So what should marketers do to persuade sales to take the longer-term view? We should get our own house in order first. Marketing needs to question its own metrics and methods, and ask why our discipline is content to promise jam tomorrow when there is hunger for revenue today.

This does not mean we abdicate our responsibility for long-term development of the brand, its meaning and innovation strategy. Without that, tomorrow's salespeople will be selling air.

What it means is that we devise sensible short-term tactics as we manipulate future strategy, and that we stop seeing them as mutually incompatible.

How might that work in practice? Go back to the cheese-snack example. The research was with consumers. Marketers should also talk to trade buyers, using in-depth interviews. This will help unlock tactical opportunities today that might presage the longer-term strategy.

Sales people could be invited into the process early on, perhaps even attending groups to help give them a feel for where the brand is headed. This won't take their sights off the quarter-end figures, but it might provide the resolve to lobby for a more appropriate gondola end.

Above all, though, it is about metrics. Marketers are rightly rewarded on brand-equity scores, but should have some stake in the quarterly sales figures. If nothing else, it would encourage marketing to move at something faster than the speed of rock-erosion, and deter the endless 'refinement' of brand models.

Greg Marshall has his own ideas (see '30 seconds on ...', below). You may not agree with them all, but at the very least it should get you thinking - and, counter-intuitive though it may be for a marketer, acting.

Helen Edwards, PPA Columnist of the Year (Business Media), has a PhD in marketing and an MBA from London Business School and is a partner at Passionbrand, where she works with some of the world's biggest advertisers


Greg W Marshall is the Charles Harwood professor of marketing and strategy, Crummer Graduate School of Business, Rollins College, Florida, and professor of marketing and strategy at the Aston Business School in Birmingham. He has spent years researching the interface between sales and marketing and is an advocate of integration and mutual understanding. His research, and the work of others in the area, suggest the following general principles:

- Cross-functional exchange programme: ensure that marketing people spend time in the field every year and invite sales people to focus groups or ad agency meetings.

- Overlapping metrics: have at least one or two KPIs that apply to both functions.

- Sales advisory council: to keep marketers and their agencies up to date on what the trade is thinking, and to share their own direct consumer experience.

- Jointly develop and own the value proposition: traditionally the remit of marketing, input from sales in the early stages of development could not only provide valuable insights but also a sense of shared ownership and commitment to making it work.

- Communication and fun: do more to ensure regular communication through conferences and planning sessions. Have some fun together.