Tandem bicycles look really neat, but have you ever tried to use one? For a pair of cyclists using one of these contraptions, there no doubt has to be an understanding of each person’s role. The front cyclist’s job is primarily steering, while the rear cyclist, predominantly lends their muscle to moving the bike forward. The same principles apply in companies with any sales and marketing staff.

One Bike; Two People

Tandem bicycleFor the sake of my analogy, I’ll liken Marketing’s job to that of the one steering the bike, with sales providing most of the locomotive power. You might imagine that as marketing rides the bicycle, its chief focus is on where the bike is going, while sales is more interested in how quickly the bike is getting down the road. Marketing is holding a compass, sales is using a stopwatch; no wonder it’s hard for both of them to agree on how well they are achieving their targets.

We can see right away how the relationship can get dysfunctional: if either side starts to argue about who’s in which seat, the bike won’t go anywhere. Neither side is helped by bringing their ego into the argument, because regardless of who wants to steer the bike, the fact of the matter is you can have only one person steering. So with marketing taking the front seat, the hitch is that they are expected to think not only about where they’re taking themselves but also where they’re taking sales.

One of the most important things that marketing can do to be aligned with sales is to understand the economic environment that sales is working in. This becomes critical when we look at how these two groups act when they ride together through the hills and valleys that are the phases of the business cycle [to stretch my metaphor]. The fact is, marketing rarely changes with the business cycle, while sales acts completely differently in good times than they do in tough times. Marketers would be wise to sense which type of economy sales is working in and to react appropriately.

In Good Times and In Bad

Trust_FallIn good times, sales makes a concerted effort to grow new business. During this phase, marketers should support their efforts by cranking up their lead generation programs. Sometimes, the efforts of sales and marketing works so well that sales can’t maintain effective contact with all the leads that are out there. Lead nurturing programs built by marketing, can shore up this deficiency and keep the prospects warm until they are ready to engage with sales and sales has the cycles to engage with them.

Management guru Tom Peters, in his new book, The Little Big Things, says that when business is down 30%, our sales and marketing teams can still bring in revenue by working together. Even in this kind of situation, we should bear in mind that 70% of the customers are still buying from us. Imagine if marketing focuses on increasing the company’s share of each of those customers’ wallets, it wouldn’t take long before the 30% gap is made up.

Another time that sales relies heavily on marketing is when a new product is launched and they are told to focus on a particular part of their product line. If you haven’t been in this position as a sales person, you don’t know how scary it is. Sales people learn quickly to concentrate on the products that they can sell and it’s risky for them to take time away from that to focus on new offerings that they haven’t verified as being a sure-fired way to close sales. Marketing’s job here is to ‘sell’ sales on the product. Marketing not only needs to convince them that there is a need for the product, they need to show them in practical ways how saleable the product is. All the buzz marketing can generate with a product launch is meaningless if they don’t bring sales into the equation.

Reaching the Winner’s Circle Together

So going back to my bicycle built for two metaphor, let’s remember that sales and marketing are dependent on each other. Even though they have two very different functions and that one’s measuring success with a compass and one’s measuring it with a stopwatch. I never expect sales and marketing to be completely aligned, but knowing how the world looks from the other person’s perspective can take us a long way towards working together to achieve our company’s overall goals.

image credit: North West Tandem Racing