SALES or MARKETING – The Customer Doesn’t Care!


Last month, this picture put up by Anup Soans on his Facebook (FB) page elicited 215 ‘likes’, 361 ‘shares’ and 76 comments (as on Dec 2nd). The popularity of this post intrigued me not because it was something that had never happened earlier – Anup is quite popular on social media – but since it quickly assumed an accusatory tone and one of grievance.

Although I have no way to ascertain it, I am sure the cartoonist meant the picture to be something else before another creative person labeled the drummer as the ‘CEO’, the workers on the train cart as ‘head office managers’ and the lone person pulling the train cart with its heavy load of people as the ‘field managers’.  

While the picture is a bit exaggerated, the way it was perceived on the FB post seemed to turn the entire concept of teamwork on its head. Despite a little prodding by the author, not one person looked at this as representing teamwork. It did not occur to anyone that the CEO seemed to be making an effort to keep the functions of the organization (if we assume the train cart to be one) in a smooth rhythm so that efficiency increases – a concept best demonstrated by the famous Kerala boat races. No one thought it was fantastic that all ‘head office managers’ worked as one team towards furthering the objectives of the organization without pushing individual agenda. The red-faced lone ‘field manager’ who pulled the cart didn’t seem to convey to anyone that while it was his job to further the organization towards its planned goal, it could well be a rotating assignment and when he pulled the cart up to a certain point – or goal – he could then hop on board the cart and begin to assist the other ‘head office managers’ with their work while someone on board took up the task of pulling the cart.

I found it very interesting that most people who commented seemed to do so in a pattern. The pattern was that sales and marketing are not two arms of the organization but are different silos. Marketing personnel know little about what sales personnel do and more often than not ‘force’ their ideas on them. A few other gentlemen, who tried to support the marketing function, did so either feebly or their arguments were quickly drowned out. I was reminded of the ongoing social media battle between supporters of two major political parties, which could be understood as that of opposing ideologies and goals. In this case however, sales and marketing people seemed to worry more about which function was better, more important or needed more effort and not on how the picture was a symbol of different functions within the organization working in tandem to help it attain its goal.

The ‘war’ between sales and marketing goes back a long time and spans across industries. However, it is also well documented that this lack of alignment ends up hurting organizational performance. Time and again, both groups stumble (and the organization suffers) because they don’t work together. There is no doubt that, when Sales and Marketing work well together, companies see substantial improvement on important performance metrics: Sales cycles are shorter, market-entry costs go down, and the cost of sales is lower.

As the Harvard Business Review says[1], the conflict between Sales and Marketing apart from being economic, is cultural in nature. This is true in part because the two functions attract different types of people. Marketers are deemed to have more formal education than salespeople. They are expected to be highly analytical, data oriented, and project focused, always thinking about building competitive advantage for the future. Sales teams do not appreciate it as much as they should because they perceive it to happen behind a desk in air-conditioned offices rather than out in the field. Salespeople, in contrast, spend their time talking to existing and potential customers. They’re skilled relationship builders; they’re expected to not only be savvy about customers’ willingness to buy but also intuitively know which products will fly and which will die. They want to keep moving. They’re used to rejection, and it doesn’t depress them. They live for closing a sale. It’s hardly surprising that these two groups of people find it difficult to work well together. Yet there is not a more opportune moment to harness the skills of both teams than the current one.

The pharmaceutical industry in India just hiccupped. From the customer facing side, new regulations such as the new pricing policy has just made medicines more affordable. However, a clamp-down on clinical trials has put the launch of new, innovative medicines on the back-burner for the moment. Also, there is no inflow of foreign capital into the sector putting capital expansion plans of companies on hold. Additionally, more and more Indian companies derive their real growth in earnings from serving overseas markets.

In such a scenario, the last thing a customer would appreciate is a chasm between internal departments in an organization that hamper his ability to provide services to his patients. Corporate equity is at potential risk if information flow on products is delayed because the marketing team does not respond to requests from the sales team or if crucial travel information of a KOL traveling to an international conference is withheld.

While I will not attempt to offer solutions or debate them here, I want to leave you with some thoughts. Why is it so difficult for colleagues within the same organization to work together? Isn’t everyone trying to do the same thing i.e. attain market leadership? How does it matter where you work or what you do? Aren’t you proud of what you are doing? Are we getting into the quicksand of wanting to do someone else’s role? At the risk of sounding preachy, I’d like to invoke the Bhagvad Gita here which extols us to merely do our duty and not worry about someone else. Just excelling at what we do helps us to create great value – tangible and otherwise. Cumulatively, this ever expanding pool of excellence is the fuel that propels organizations from being good to becoming great. So instead of worrying about why others fail, let us continue to focus on our own success.

If the red-faced man in the picture didn’t pull the train cart, how would it move forward? If the men on board didn’t tighten the bolts on the track and pat down the stones of the ballast, how would that section of the track become secure? If the CEO didn’t beat the drum to a rhythm, how would the overall efficiency of the team increase and progress be achieved?

Now if the red-faced man was constantly badgered by the ones on board, would he pull the cart? If he stopped pulling the cart, would the whole team (organization) move? Would the CEO then really matter?

As economic growth continues at its anemic pace, we’re all looking for ways to make our operations more productive. Bridging the sales-vs.-marketing divide is a way of achieving this. Let us change our perspective. It will make a positive impact on customers. We know well that customers these days are too mobile, too connected, and too informed to tolerate any gap between what one department says and another does. So, if we allow sales and marketing to operate in silos, at the end of the day, do you really think the customer cares? He would just move on to the next company.

Published in the December 2013 issue of MedicinMan

[1] ‘Ending the War between Sales and Marketing’: Philip Kotler, Neil Rackham, Suj Krishnaswamy; Harvard Business Review July-August 2006.

One thought on “SALES or MARKETING – The Customer Doesn’t Care!

  1. Excellent article Salil…

    I remember Dr. Viraj used to say as follows, including MRD in the troika….



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