Dear CMO:

You remember Bobby Riggs — the tennis pro who went on to host the ‘Battle of the Sexes’, losing a tennis match in his 50’s to Billie Jean King? Bobby once told a great story about his life as a tennis hustler. He would play guys while holding a broom under his hitting arm. He used to play with chairs on his side of the net. And he always played for money. When he was asked about his toughest hustle, he said it was the time he had to play with a French Poodle on a leash. Why was the French Poodle the worst? He said, “my opponent was lousy, but that damn dog never knew where to run.”

We’ve all gone on sales calls with that French Poodle. The one who asks the buyer the wrong question. Or interrupts your presentation with an ad hoc, a cappella introduction of his own, which cuts the legs out from under slides 5 through 19. It’s happened to all of us. If that dog only knew its job was to be a doubles partner and not a dog, life would have been simpler. In a perfect world, everyone on your extended team would have an innate understanding of their role, would swim in perfect synchronicity, and would seamlessly integrate their own bits of worth without stepping on each other’s heads to do it.

So if the dog doesn’t know its supposed to be a doubles partner, who’s going to tell it? I’ll do it. And if we can get Bobby and the French Poodle to get along on the court, I’ll bet we can get marketing and sales to figure it out, too.

So what, dear CMO, does marketing do? And what does sales do, for that matter? And where, oh where, do they intersect and hopefully cooperate?

The different tribes of marketers like nothing more than to peck each other to death like chickens. And sales is something else entirely. So, starting from one side of the process and moving to the other, let’s get the dogs separated and hopefully teach them to bark in unison.

Product Management owns the product roadmap and natural lifecycle. Sure, they do competitive intelligence — better to understand the roadmap, how competitive products stack up to their own products, and understand how product families fit with competitive offerings. They are also, hopefully, avid consumers of end user research — again, better to develop the roadmap. They own inventory, pricing and the general ordering of the product’s life from birth to retirement. But it’s all about the product — past, present and future.

Product managers should talk to channel partners if they are explaining a product roadmap or are gathering competitive feedback. The product manager doesn’t ask the buyer if they like the roadmap; the product manager tells the buyer why the product roadmap makes sense. And while we’re on the subject, the product manager doesn’t pre-announce products before the launch date, blithely show prototypes that will end up in competitors’ hands, or generally do anything that isn’t in the first sentence above.

Channel Marketing owns the structural management of the channel and how the company markets through it. Structural is the big word here. Channel Marketing puts structures in place so the channel can be successful — this can be as broadly defined as channel definition and as specific as account-level promotion. Channel Marketers are always in front of channel partners and are the primary marketing face to the client. They are also the primary presenters for product launches when the HQ guns are called upon.

Channel Marketing is not Sales. Nor are they Corporate Marketing. They can use marketing development funds to pay for profitable adventures at the account level, but they look at opportunities like these as ways to promote channels. They may champion extranets and marketing-on-demand activities, but they don’t own the content. They are marketers — their end users are their channels.

Corporate Marketing owns the hearts and minds of the end users. Advertising, PR, the corporate website, packaging, corporate logo’s and other branding elements are all firmly in the hands of this team. Yes, they cooperate and align with others, and yes, they solicit input and take comments, but the Corporate Marketing people own this part of the company’s business. They are heavy users of consumer research and translate this knowledge into the right messaging and branding.

The problem with being a Corporate Marketer is that it’s very difficult to measure the impact of their work in dollars. You can measure the increased consumer attraction to new packaging and see your sell-through results in aggregate, but it’s pretty hard to put your finger on the incremental jump that your new packaging caused (unless you’ve done something pretty special). This is a tough assignment. When money gets cut, it gets cut here, which is too bad.

Which brings us to Sales. Sales owns the relationship between the company and the channel partner. Sales is responsible for turning all of the above stuff into ‘sell-in’, while corporate and channel marketing own ‘sell-through’. Sales makes sure that what needs to be communicated to the account gets communicated correctly, ensures account level inventories are healthy and correct, manages the product mix at the account level, and owns the list/de-list presentations.

Sales is a tough job because you are the instant whipping boy of your channel partners. Everything is your fault. You are put up with. On the other side of the coin, it’s an easy job because your observable output is so easy to measure. See how much I sold? That’s what I did.

The dark side to this ease of measurement is its misleading nature. Sales might be down 25% and you might be doing a terrific job, or your volume might be up 25% when you should be doubling. Know that when Sales touts its primacy, it does so with the sure knowledge that most executives can’t, won’t or don’t peel back the onion enough to know how faulty their logic is. The guys in engineering and manufacturing and operations think that if they didn’t design it, make it, or ship it, we’d all collapse. And there’s a good argument that says if accounts receivable didn’t collect the money, we’d all be out of business. Marketing people don’t get in these discussions too often, for two reasons. First, it’s too difficult to separate the causal threads to know exactly what allotment of the sell-through came through their efforts. The second is because they’re busy fixing the mess that happens when these discussions flair up in the first place.

Listen. I’m a firm believer in One Agenda. There is no ‘sales agenda’ and ‘marketing agenda’. If there is, then you have two problems. The agenda is one consolidated concept, managed by management. Everyone plays a role and each player has specific hand-offs to the others.

If you have a team consisting of players who understand their respective roles and work your opportunities like a team, you have a thing of economic and collective organizational beauty and power.

If you don’t, you’ve got a court full of Poodles. Bring your team to heel. And watch out where you’re stepping.


Copyright (c) 2006 Stephen Denny