4 ways marketing is different from sales
What does B2B marketing do? And how can marketing make your sales team and revenue growth more efficient?
Marketing gets a bad rap. And that’s partially because it’s incredibly misunderstood. Many founders, sales leaders, product leaders, and even marketers themselves think B2B marketing teams are just a service organization to sales—marketing only exists to generate leads this quarter. This limited view of marketing negatively impacts revenue growth and efficiency—both short and long term.
This view often comes from a lack of understanding of what marketing is capable of doing more often than a desire to stifle the marketing org. This post intends to demystify what’s possible when you let marketing do marketing:
Founders and sales leaders: Get a better sense of how to build a cross-functional GTM team that drives efficient revenue growth—specifically how to avoid scaling GTM headcount linearly with revenue.
Marketers: Get the language (and diagrams) needed to better educate your companies on what marketing can do and what resources you need to do it.
If you’d like to dive deeper on how sales development reps and marketers can work together more effectively and efficiently, I get much more tactical on the topic in my previous newsletter: Why you probably have the wrong ratio of SDRs to Marketers.
How does marketing fit into the overall GTM organization
Note: I’m defining GTM organization as revenue-driving, customer-facing teams (sales, customer success, partnerships, and marketing)
What do B2B marketing teams do?
B2B marketing teams drive growth and efficiency throughout the entire funnel, from building brand awareness to driving new and expansion revenue and creating product and brand champions. B2B marketing teams achieve this by creating value-add “fuel” and building an effective growth “engine” specific to your audience, market, and product.
A bit of a mouthful, but an accurate mouthful I hope.
Marketing and sales should have a checks and balances relationship—you aren’t operating efficiently if they don’t
To build a thriving marketing team and GTM organization you need to understand the differences between marketing and sales. You need to create clear areas of ownership and clear handoffs between teams. You'll know you're successful when the teams operate in a checks and balances fashion. One covers the others blindspots. This is essential for building a GTM machine that’s good at driving efficient growth—this quarter, and a year from now.
Marketing > Sales handoff templates (and lots of other templates) for paid subscribers below.
Marketing is different from sales in four key ways; these differences are a good thing for your business. Marketing needs to:
Focus on the entire funnel: Marketing’s purview should not be limited to top of funnel. They also need to influence conversion throughout the funnel.
Broader set of goals: Not just KPI-focused goals, but measurable project goals to incentivize short and long term thinking, efficiency, and growth.
Own communication channels: Marketing should handle one to many communication and automating communication across multiple channels.
A well-rounded team: The marketing team needs to have the skillsets to build an efficient engine and tell a great story that fuels the engine. They are a multidisciplinary team that needs to be organized to collaborate with sales, customer success and support, product, design, recruiting, finance, etc.
The differences between marketing & sales
Understand and embrace these differences to build strong cross-functional relationships and drive more efficient revenue growth.
1. Marketing focuses on full-funnel, not just top of funnel
The first order of business for building a fully-functioning marketing org is to recognize marketing as a full-funnel job. Yes, marketing spends the majority of their time on driving awareness and leads (orange in the diagram above), but they should also be supporting sales, customer success, and support (neon yellow in the diagram above). When marketing adopts a full-funnel view, they help improve conversion rates throughout the entire funnel and help set you up for long-term success.
Another way to think about this is marketing fuels the funnel. They build the engine for top of funnel through to sales opportunities. Down funnel, sales, customer success, and product build the engines, but marketing is still involved. In addition to engine building, marketing thinks holistically about the company’s overall story (aka fuel). Without this involvement throughout the customer lifecycle, your story and customer experience will be disjointed.
2. Marketing goals: Set more than just short-term MQL goals
Beyond qualified leads
I have a lot of marketing pet peeves, but my biggest one is talking to a marketing team who has a singular goal: “Drive # of MQLs this quarter”
Instead marketing must have goals for:
Hitting metrics today and in the future
Measurable project, experiment, and foundation-based goals to ensure your team takes big bets that can drive step-change growth in the future
Why? Just having a short-term MQL goal in isolation will likely hurt revenue growth over time, positions marketing as a service organization to sales, and demotivates your marketing team—which further hurts your business. This happens a lot. Don’t feel bad if this applies to you, just fix it before next quarter!
For different GTM motions—product-led growth, top-down sales, hybrid approaches—qualified leads have a different definition. But the point remains the same, marketing should own, have goals, and do work beyond just driving qualified leads. Otherwise, marketing can’t do their whole job. They are building an engine with no fuel to power it.
Put another way, with just MQL goals, you don’t have a marketing team; you have a (likely inefficient) demand gen team and nothing else. Demand generation is one part of growth marketing. Growth marketing is one part of overall marketing. If you only focus on MQL goals, you have a demand gen team. You don’t have a marketing team and you’re hampering your ability to grow.
Marketing must focus on conversion too
The other thing that’s missed by just having an MQL goal is a focus on conversion. MQLs isn’t a concrete thing like “meeting happened.” I can drive up MQLs for any business in 5 minutes: I just change the lead scoring criteria and bam, more MQLs. Extreme example aside, typically when you increase the number of people or companies entering any stage of the funnel, the conversion rate to the next stage goes down.
If you have a leaky funnel, you waste a lot of time bringing people into the funnel who just fall right out. Conversion goals are the key to preventing this.
The real measure of success: increase volume into a funnel stage, while maintaining or even improving the conversion rate to the next stage. If the conversion rate slightly dips, you still may drive more people to the next funnel stage. But to really see top of funnel increases that drive revenue growth, you have to maintain those conversion rates.
Never set a volume target for a funnel-stage, without including a conversion rate target. In practice this means metrics or KPI-based goals that look like:
Top Down Sales Model: Increase qualified leads to #, while maintaining x% conversion rate to opportunity
PLG / Freemium / Bottom Up Model: Increase signups to #, while maintaining x% conversion rate to activated product user
Maintaining conversion rates is a good thing, but improving them supercharges your growth. Depending on the planned work for the quarter, you can also set additional focused goals like “Improve conversion rate from activated to upgraded through new email drips and in-product content.”
If your funnel-based goals in marketing don’t look like the examples above, reset them now.
Marketing needs to think beyond the quarter
Hopefully you now realize you need goals beyond MQL targets this quarter. You need conversion rate goals and goals that promote long-term thinking.
This creates tension with sales sometimes—sales doesn’t feel that marketing is doing enough to drive quarterly revenue. But, if marketing only focuses on short-term revenue it will be much harder to hit more aggressive goals six months from now. You have to prime the pump, feed the funnel, set up the bowling pins today to win tomorrow (pick your favorite analogy).
A note on compensation: I think it makes sense that sales earn commission based on quarterly revenue quotas, while marketing does not get a commission. This promotes better business health. You don’t want both teams making sacrifices to hit that quarterly number at all costs, you’ll hurt long term efficiency. You can also hurt your brand, customer experience, and long-term revenue this way too. Embrace the differences.
When goals are set wrong…
Here are a few examples of what happens when marketing’s goals are too short-term focused and don’t account for foundational work and projects:
Incremental web updates: You continue to make optimizations on your homepage to improve your conversion rate, but the page becomes “Frankensteined” together. You’d have much larger conversion improvements in the long-run if you took the time to do a website overhaul that incorporates your learnings over time and makes the story and design cohesive again. Set a project goal around this to ensure you take the time to do it; make this measurable by giving a target conversion rate for the new homepage or site.
End-of-quarter discount/promotion: Sales asks marketing to help them hit a quarterly goal in the last week of September and suggests an email blast to all leads promoting a 20% discount. This may work for this quarter, but next quarter every lead asks for this discount and your ACV goes down.
Diminishing returns on existing channels: Channels that work today for driving inbound and conversion down funnel might not work tomorrow. Marketing needs to be prepared for this by diversifying channels. So even if search is filling the top of funnel today, it still might make sense to set a goal to “Test expanding from SEO & SEM to LinkedIn Paid ads and establish CPA benchmark”
3. Marketing handles 1 to many communication
Marketing is best at communicating with your audience in a one-to-many way and owning your mass communication channels (email, social, web, blog, etc). Marketing is also great at automation, assuming you have the right marketing ops and growth marketing team and tools in place, of course. For one-to-one, hyper-personalized, white glove experience for prospects and customers, other GTM teams (sales, support, and customer success) are better suited to the task.
Since marketing holds the keys to one to many communication channels, and typically has design and copywriting know-how or resources, marketing can help many teams across the company with communications—not only sales. Marketing stepping in as an editor and tactically sending out these communications means consistent messaging and faster learnings. When marketing is planning and setting goals, they should factor in that they will spend some time handling external communications for other teams, like product, recruiting, CS, etc.
Automation to personalization handoff cycle
Your marketing team shouldn’t be creating bespoke copy and materials for sales all day and your sales team shouldn’t be sending email blasts. This is a waste of time on both sides. Play to the team’s strengths instead.
The goal for any GTM team should be to efficiently scale up communication with prospects and customers, without compromising the experience or conversion rate. Teams need to work together to make this happen.
Here’s the most efficient way to handle outreach:
Marketing handles core email nurture flows (these can be text-based and appear to come from a person) across the entire funnel. Note: It’s no longer true that you can’t personalize automated outreach, plenty of tools make this possible.
If a prospect or customer “falls out” of this process or needs white glove treatment, sales or customer success can step in with even more personalized, one-to-one outreach.
If sales or customer success finds specific patterns and processes that work in their individual outreach, those learning can become part of the core outreach flows sent by marketing.
But most companies don’t have the handoffs, revenue ops setup, commission structures, and feedback loops built out to do this. When you don’t get this right, you send overlapping and confusing communications in a scattershot way, creating gaps and overlaps you just don’t need. You need to get this right to build a well-functioning and efficient GTM org.
4. Marketing org charts are complex, but the range of skillsets is necessary
To access a complete B2B marketing org chart in Figma, subscribe to our paid newsletter.
Marketing hiring and sales hiring are really different. Often when recruiters handle marketing recruiting for the first time they are shocked by how many roles there are in marketing. No job description is the same, no role is a copy of another role for a long time.
There are a broad range of skills to cover in marketing across all the sub-functions—from long-form writing to messaging, copywriting, and design, from marketing ops to campaign management, and everything in between. It’s a puzzle that is changing as you are putting it together—so much so that no B2B marketing org ever looks the same. (But, there are patterns, see my newsletter on marketing org charts).
When you limit the scope of the marketing team and don’t hire for all of these roles or skillsets, it’s impossible to get the balance of fuel and engine right. If you only have the growth marketing team, they won’t be able to do the best job they can because they are missing their product marketing, content marketing, and brand counterparts. Your entire marketing team will likely become demotivated and it will be hard to hire and retain marketers.
Sales follow a consistent structure—account executives report to sales leaders, and SDR (or BDR, whatever you prefer to call it) teams report to a manager with dotted-line relationships to the AEs. Sales also usually determine sales headcount by mapping each AE to a set quota. Sales, therefore, grow more linearly with revenue than marketing.
It’s a bit harder to measure if marketers are performing, since as I mentioned they aren’t just trying to hit a quota goal. As I mentioned, one way to measure success is through setting measurable project, experimental, and foundational goals and tracking full funnel conversion rates.
In short, the hiring and performance management processes in marketing can take a bit longer, especially for an inexperienced marketing leader or recruiting team. But, marketing doesn’t need to grow linearly with revenue, which makes up for the additional time spent on building the org.
To build a sustainable business you need both short-term and long-term focus. You need to build an engine and create great fuel. You need both sales and marketing to do this well. If you are only focused on building the short-term engine, you will never get efficiency in your GTM machine and your growth rate will stall over time.
Make sure marketing and sales are doing what they are each best suited to do. Otherwise, you are wasting time and resources.
When done right, marketing isn’t just a service organization to sales. Marketing drives growth, tells your story, and creates efficiencies for your entire business—including your sales team.
Don’t limit marketing—or your company’s—potential.
Special thanks to Katie Mitchell at Sprig, Devon Watts at Anrok, and Kathleen Estreich (the other 1/2 of MKT1) for their help on this newsletter.
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