Apocalypse Now: The Military Guide to Marketing-Sales Alignment

The struggle for alignment starts with domain. Sales departments sometimes say, “Just get us leads, and we’ll close them”. Sure but, if it’s that simple, anyone can close them–marketing can close them–so why do would it need a sales department? Marketing departments like to say there are best practices for everything marketing-related, so let marketing lead, except revenue has to lead, and it’s the sales team that’s primarily responsible for revenue. We need an analogy that everyone can understand and follow–something ingrained into our video games and Saturday matinee movies. Enter the ground-air assault.

Basics of a Ground Air Assault

The Air Force provides cover, breaking up resistance, and preparing the ground. The Army or Marines (if it’s a beachhead) go in ‘on foot’, dealing with the 1:1 needs on the ground. Either one by itself is ineffective. Together, they’re massively effective, as long as they’re coordinated. You can’t have the ground forces trying to take a certain hill, and the air cover is working a different hill.

This is the layout for a coordinated sales-marketing assault. The sales team sets the targets and overall company initiatives–the sales initiatives. Why? Because they’re the revenue center. That part has to work, or it all goes bust. Those strategic objectives create a mission for the marketing team. The marketing team isn’t supposed to BE the sales team–it’s not extra manpower. Marketing will define its own mission parameters in ALIGNMENT with the sales team. And that’s how you get a coordinated assault.

Military Analogy to Marketing and Sales Alignment

The Bridge Team

Bridging the gap may be a team that is sort of a hybrid between Sales and Marketing–the lead generation team, often called Tier 1 Sales or “Junior Sales”. Most senior sales associates and sales execs can’t be working a giant base of cold contacts–at least not alone. LeadGen will work the lists and do high volume cold outreach and, when a lead is hot, pass it off to the consulting sales team–’the closers‘. LeadGen might also respond to lead lists generated by website trackers, hunting down visitors that come from Marketing’s work in search, search ads, etc. This way you get three ‘phases’ of attack.

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The Crossover Assault

There’s some crossover. Salespeople are front-line marketers too. Salespeople are the natural troops for SOCIAL SELLING initiatives–the more senior, the more so. Likewise, marketing people are prime reinforcements for social selling, serving as ‘brand advocates’. Likewise, PR is a marketing category, but PR depends heavily on the company DOING something. There’s no news that isn’t new. So Sales needs to commit to sales and thought leadership events (and the Product department to providing a roadmap to updates). And someone in the company needs to stay on top of gathering all possible company news (promotions, new hires, new markets, company anniversaries…) In other words, no one operates in a silo.

Getting the Teams Together

In the US, an officer must complete at least one joint tour in another service to reach the level of Flag or General officer. The US and UK have a long tradition of exchange of armed forces, including officers, partly because they have a long tradition of operating side-by-side. The two armed forces undertake training together. Both are committed to interoperability. There’s still friendly competition for bragging rights. The Army-Navy game in US college football fosters understanding between the services while also pricking each one to perform at their best. The US Department of Defense prioritizes a doctrine of joint warfare, prioritizing the integration of service branches into one unified command, rather than planning and executing operations separately from one another. The DOD refers to this as “integrated and synchronized application of all appropriate capabilities”, saying “the synergy that results, maximizes… capability in unified action”.

Alignment and coordinated action are critical to solving the problems Mark Fuller outlines, paraphrasing CEOs in his Fast Company article “Business As War“:

“We have the information in the company. But we don’t seem to get it to the right place.”

“We get the information to the right place. But then we can’t seem to make the choices we should.”

“We’re okay at choosing what to do, but we’re too damned slow. By the time we pull the trigger, the target’s moved.”

“We know what needs to happen. But we never seem to execute. I never see action.”

Those sound like problems of coordination, don’t they?

Coordination Beats Command

If your instinct is to order everyone to work together, think again. We can’t create collaboration by top-down command. General Stanley McChrystal, in his book Team of Teams, says traditional hierarchy and control actually hindered successful conduct of operations in the Iraq War. Al-Qaeda would disrupt the organized American military and win. The solution was to decentralize authority to highly trained and empowered teams and equip all teams with real-time data from a shared/centralized source. An orchestra conductor–sure–can facilitate multi-team engagement. But the solution is not more boss-led meetings; in effect, the boss would be in the way.

The struggle for domain ends when sales departments and marketing collaborate on shared targets, and when each brings it special expertise to bear in a coordinated effort. The result is more leads–not immediately, but with sustained aerial bombardment, and more deals closed–not immediately, but with ground troops making the most of every lead (social selling and just selling). The coordinated ground-air assault is key to achieving the results everyone wants–demonstrable impact on company revenue.

Imagine your sales and marketing teams, going in together, Ride of the Valkyries playing on the loudspeakers. I’m not interested in attacking villages in Southeast Asia. But to carry the analogy, you will “love the smell of napalm in the morning.” This is what MadPipe does–coordinate the opportunities and the campaign, connecting your audience with your company story, so they want to buy.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides leadership in marketing, educational programs, and organizational transformation for brands that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, writes a Forbes column, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, and Success Magazine.

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