Functional Integrity: the Product – Marketing – Sales Relationship

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As a communications consultancy for brands with integrity, we connect multiple meanings with the word ‘integrity’.

Embracing ethical marketing to treat your customers, the market, society and the planet with integrity is one example. But ethical marketing is impossible without one important meaning of ‘integrity’ that regularly gets overlooked: the relationship between Product, Marketing and Sales in the organisation.

At From Scratch, we use the term ‘functional integrity’ to describe a successful relationship between these three areas of business.

Throughout this article I’ll use a few short-hand terms for departments. In my experience, different companies use them in different ways. So let’s start with definitions for a few keywords to help make sure we’re all on the same page.

The meaning of ‘Product’

I use the the word ‘Product’ to refer to product management teams and product owners — people and groups who have power over the direction of your products and services.

What is a sales team?

For the purpose of this article, a sales team includes everyone who

  • generates new revenue,
  • grows existing revenue,
  • looks after customer relationships and partnerships, or
  • renews contracts.

A lot of companies use words like hunters, farmers, new logos, existing logos, SDRs, BDRs, Sales Executives, Account Managers, Customer Success etc. to separate specific functions within their sales department. However, the best way to get to grips with functional integrity is to disregard those distinctions (at least for now).

Where does the marketing function begin and end?

Many people in marketing work within the limited scope of branding, content and campaigns — whether it’s strategic planning for social media, attracting potential customers via a website, or creating video advertisement campaigns.

Our own definition of marketing is much more in line with Seth Godin’s:

The product. The warranty. The team. The color choices. The pricing. The way it feels in your hand. The urgency we have to tell our friends…

And his assertion

If it touches the market, it’s marketing.

For a catchy, jargon-free summary, Allan Dib beautifully sums up the close relationship between Marketing and Sales in his book, The 1-Page Marketing Plan (hat tip to Jeffrey Shiau):

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying “Circus Coming to the Showground Saturday,” that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed and the local newspaper writes a story about it, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations. If the town’s citizens go to the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that’s sales. And if you planned the whole thing, that’s marketing.

A more aligned relationship between separate functions: the final frontier?

In science fiction stories, you’ll sometimes hear about hull integrity. It’s usually during a nail-biting moment in a battle with hostile aliens or villains, when an attack has damaged the ship to the point where the dark, cold and deadly vacuum of space is no longer kept outside. The ship’s hull has lost its integrity. A freezing and suffocating death is the inevitable consequence.

Used in this sense, the word ‘integrity’ doesn’t make a moral judgement, but a purely functional one. It means that materials, structures and components no longer work together to do their job effectively.

In businesses, the absence of functional integrity may appear less dramatic and lethal. But only slightly. Strong collaborative relationships between Product, Marketing and Sales create the materials, structures and components that protect the business. Without such a super-tight working relationship, the business will disintegrate — confusing customers, spouting unclear messages and reducing conversion rates as a result.

In contrast, Brainshark reports that companies that align product, sales and marketing to buyers’ needs can grow their revenue by 25-50% per year.

What’s the current relationship between sales teams, marketing folks and product people?

After working with different types of companies since the early 2000s, here’s the sad truth: We haven’t seen functional integrity as a consistent feature or systematic effort anywhere yet — not even in successful small businesses, where team sizes help create a more closely aligned relationship (at least, in theory).

What are the biggest obstacles to aligning overall marketing and sales functions?

Studies corroborate our personal experience. A 2018 survey by InsideView lists the six biggest obstacles to sales and marketing alignment in B2B as

  • Lack of accurate/shared data on target accounts and prospects (43%)
  • Communication (43%)
  • Lack of shared metrics (41%)
  • Broken/flawed processes (37%)
  • Lack of accountability on both sides (25%)
  • Reporting challenges (21%)

Big headlines like these can distract from the concrete behaviour changes required to create functional integrity in a business. From salespeople to marketing stakeholders and product managers, all three groups of your organisation have the power to compromise the relationship between Product, Marketing and Sales:

  • Time and time again, I’ve seen ambitious sales enablement managers or sales leaders come up with elevator pitch competitions to rephrase the version Marketing had defined for the company. Or individual sales teams decided to ditch central value proposition wording for their own versions because they felt it would sell better. Sometimes, the sales department may even come up with their own pricing. To generate short-term sales, some salespeople focus their pitch on use cases and features that are not considered a priority by the product team — and as a result, not a focus of innovation.
  • Many marketing teams still develop content and campaigns without making Sales, Product or flesh-and-bone customers part of their regular meetings. Consequently, a study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and LinkedIn shows that 80% of content created by marketing goes unused by sales. We see brilliant ads produced by external agencies that don’t increase sales and sometimes even lead to social media outrage — because they don’t accurately reflect the capabilities of the product or the customer experience. In some companies, Marketing deprioritises fundamental customer education and self-qualification, so Sales end up having to educate and qualify prospective customers all alone, which extends the sales cycle.
  • Individual product teams may rework existing personas, messaging and brand attributes created by their company’s marketing function to suit their specific product line. In this process, they lose track of customers experiencing the entire company, not just their specific product niche. This leads to a confusing product/service landscape, so product managers need to step in and help the sales force understand the product and its use cases. More often than not, the more gaps Product has to plug, the more the product itself loses momentum and as a result, the company loses market share.

Should You Create More Interconnection? (Aka What does a product marketer do? — Inhabiting the no-mans-land)

In a 2006 article for Harvard Business Review, Philip Kotler, Neil Rackham and Suj Krishnaswamy analysed common struggles between the marketing function and the sales team. Some of the actions, such as disciplined communication, joint assignments and improving sales force feedback, will help create a more productive relationship for most groups. But appointing a dedicated liaison from marketing to work with the Sales team (or vice versa) requires a certain level of organisational maturity, or companies risk solidifying the problem.

Many problem-aware companies try to manufacture functional integrity by creating border roles that are supposed to connect the silos. Instead of asking Sales, Marketing and Product groups to do the difficult, complex and necessary work of collaborating around core messaging and the customer, they create Product Marketing, Account-Based Marketing and Pre-Sales roles, to name but a few. These roles can be important manifestations and envoys of functional integrity, but launched into the void of missing connectedness, they tend to increase the separation between their parent departments. With the new conduit role in place, it seems less important to share performance metrics, devise shared go-to-market plans or cooperate on strategic planning. It’s easy to adopt a “The product marketers will fix it” mindset. The conduits’ job grows more and more overwhelming as the departments that need connecting drift apart. Accordingly, they are less likely to provide a feedback loop for customer facing teams as a whole. These roles can become the stop gaps for company-wide tension, customer frustration — and as a result, prime burnout candidates.

Collaborative relationships are based on shared resources

A lot of innovative, design-led companies realise that breaking up silos, sharing assets and agreeing on single sources of truth are vital elements to their business success. Applying this to Product, Marketing and Sales creates integrity.

How Product, Marketing and Sales can establish functional integrity

When core teams establish a system of collaboration and respect for each other’s competence domains, they soon discover that solving problems can no longer stop at their own department doors. First and foremost, it means they need to create a shared understanding and expression of what the company stands for, rather than each team formulating their own. This also requires making each team’s research readily available to all others, at the right time — from information about sales cycles and sales playbooks to go-to-market processes. This kind of collaboration requires conscious changes in habit and company culture. Successful product marketing and sales depend on relinquishing siloed control and sharing accountability for the results. Of course, full involvement and buy-in from your executive team and investors is vital, too. This is where thorough research and engaging storytelling come in. These practices support your decisions in a way that ultimately increases your company value and success.

From sales pipelines to the state of product marketing report: interrelated KPIs promote functional integrity

Working with functional integrity means that every touch point with the market needs to be assessed by how well it performs for the entire company.

  • Do marketing team members hit their targets for lead generation, but your BDRs and Account Executives end up disqualifying them because they’re a poor fit for the product or service?
  • Do your salespeople exceed their targets using opportunistic but unsustainable pricing that they made up on the spot? It’s not worth paying commissions to salespeople who use tactics which will hurt your retention rates and frustrate your customer success team.
  • Does your product team launch features and add-ons that suggest you’re not focusing on your core customer personas and their problems? If product management embraces a new customer base without liaising with the wider marketing organization and your sales force, they’ll undo the work of their colleagues and rip your funnels apart.

This exercise will help you more closely align Sales, Marketing and Product

If you want to test your own organisation for functional integrity and see the reality/aspiration gap, try this simple exercise. Get 5 members (all seniority levels) of your sales, marketing and product team in a room. Their task is to write a sentence or two in response to the following questions:

  1. What does our company or organisation do?
  2. What values does our company or organisation stand for?
  3. What value does our company or organisation provide to our market and our customers?

Compare and discuss the results as a group. How do the other versions provide valuable insights to each participant’s area of work?

While there aren’t any shortcuts to functional integrity, accelerators exist

When you set out to improve functional integrity in your organisation, you’ll probably find that you need work more thoroughly. However, the results of your efforts will be more sustainable, too. Achieving consensus and building shared practices may feel like slow drudgery at first. Once established, the fruit of your labour will save you countless hours and resources. What is more, you’ll produce a consistent customer experience, no matter if your customer interacts with your website, emails, calls, sales decks, contracts, technical documentation, events, social media activity, or invoices. Your customers will realise that you care enough to consciously design their experience.

Everything your company does is marketing. So all customer-facing teams need to own it together.

About From Scratch Communications

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