Ellen Valentine, product evangelist at Silverpop and my guest this week on Marketing Smarts, has an interesting perspective on the perennial tension between Marketing and Sales: Technology is to blame!

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Well, to be fair, she didn't quite put it that way. Rather, she pointed out two developments that have changed the dynamic between Sales and Marketing and which cast some light on the source (and possible resolution) of the long-lamented conflict between these important corporate functions.

Buyer Behavior

On the one hand, Ellen cited a survey conducted by the Corporate Executive Board that found "on average, people are 57% of the way through the sales cycle before they're bringing Sales on board."

As she explained it, in the old days Sales was ushering prospects through the funnel from the get-go, which meant that "Sales had the primary responsibility for the early content strategy, and, of course, Marketing produced the materials for sales to take on those calls."

Nowadays, people are educating themselves before ever engaging with Sales, which means that an activity that was once the purview of Sales now falls under the Marketing umbrella. 

"Sales is coming into the equation later in the sales cycle," Ellen explained, "and Marketing has really taken over the very early part of the sales cycle where people are out there researching; they're raising their hands; they might be filling out a landing page to get a whitepaper, but they're not ready to see a Sales resource. In fact, they don't want to see a Sales resource."

The increased ability of companies to produce and distribute a wide variety of content and the readiness of prospective clients to use the Web to investigate their options and get input from peers and others regarding available solutions, has led to this situation. 

And while it may lead to some tension as Sales must give up on client interactions at early stages in the buying cycle (a burden many sales reps would happily relinquish), the upshot is that the leads that Sales ultimately gets have been nurtured "with good content and good materials until they are ready for a face-to-face meeting."

'You Can't Automate Nothing'

Thus, desktop publishing and "click of a button" syndication has proven to be both the cause and the solution of a certain tension between Marketing and Sales. But what about the marketing automation suites that allow for targeted distribution of content and the nurturing that so many leads require?

Again we see that this technology, which ideally results in more qualified leads passed from Marketing to Sales, initially exacerbates tensions. The reason is the simple fact that, as Ellen put it, "You can't automate nothing."

Marketing automation needs something to automate. If the system is going to supply Sales with qualified leads to Sales, for example, then "qualified leads" need to be defined. If they are going to be defined by some sort of lead scoring, then the various scores and stages in the buying process need to be articulated and entered into the system. 

So if you are going to automate something, you need to have a "something" to automate.

"You can't automate a process that doesn't exist," Ellen explains, "so it really requires you to define and develop concrete rules for how leads are going to be routed through the organization."

As companies move to implement marketing automation systems, they discover, Ellen says, that the processes that used to exist were "really sort of an informal 'walk down the hall and have a conversation,' as opposed to a true, watertight process that can happen more mechanically."

Computer systems can't take a walk down the hall to clear things up. They need clear definitions and clear instructions and a clear flow of information and action. If you don't have those elements in place, you end up with tension.

From Chaos Comes Order

As it turns out, achieving that level of clarity can actually help sales and marketing organizations. Therefore, even though a marketing automation system may at first upset the applecart by highlighting the lack of order and clarity within an organization, the chaos it initially produces should be resolved by the process that it ultimately helps the organization define.

The end-state should be one of increased efficiency, better leads, and, ultimately, increasing sales. And though the tensions produced may at first feel uncomfortable, they should produce what salespeople want the most.

And what is that? Well, according to Ellen, salespeople "want tons of leads; they want to be able to cherry-pick the great ones, and they hope they're as close to making a decision as possible so they can get it into this quarter's quota and help them make their numbers."

If marketing automation is done right, if the content produced by Marketing is truly nurturing and the process is generating well-qualified leads, then the salespeople won't have to pick because they will be swimming in cherries!

If if that's not a recipe for decreased organizational tension, I don't know what is! 

If you would like to hear my entire conversation with Ellen, you may listen above or download the mp3 and listen at your leisure. You can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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