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How to Avoid the Marketing vs. Sales Trap

Posted July 7, 2021
Kevin Mulrane

How to Avoid a Toxic Culture

Most of us have had the misfortune of living through a tumultuous sales and marketing relationship. Whether it’s the blame game at the end of every rough quarter or only meeting to argue over MQLs, the same symptoms crop up across organizations.
While it’s not impossible to still have an excellent career despite your environment, we spend more waking hours with coworkers than our families. Why settle for a long series of arguments when you can be in a collaborative environment? Kevin has seen the good and the bad, and he’s heard about the worst. When he was looking for his next position, he went to great lengths to land at an organization with a healthy marketing and sales dynamic.

Assess Your Current Environment

Sometimes it’s easier to recognize that we’re miserable than it is to pinpoint what exactly about our environment is bad. Make a list of behaviors that you want to avoid. What doesn’t work for you? What do you not want to be around? Then make a list of good traits. If you haven’t been in a great environment, reach out to your network. when to leave a job “I took a step back, and I was very thoughtful about what I was looking for. The first thing I did was speak to many different people to understand what good looks like. What drives that? How do you build an excellent relationship between sales and marketing?” asked Kevin. This list of positive and negative traits is going to be different for everyone. Kevin wanted to see a leadership team that genuinely respected one another, frequent meetings between organizations, and a cohesive go-to-market strategy. As an operations professional, I would throw in a recognized need for operations and a documented plan to scale operations with the rest of the organization.


Check company rating websites like Glassdoor, but take the ratings with a grain of salt. Like any review site, expect to see only the extremes. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. However, if you see a theme and that theme is on your list of non-negotiable avoidables, run away. An even better way to get a feel for the company culture is to reach out to your network and talk to anyone you know who has spent time in the organization. Be sure to also reach out to people who have left to see why they moved on. Did they enjoy their team but get scouted by a recruiter with an awesome role? Or were they running for the hills?

Ask Pointed Questions

“I met with the CEO and founder, and I had really direct questions about the dynamic between sales and marketing. Then I spoke with a lot of people in the organization. I talked to the head of marketing, people on the marketing team, people on the sales team, and the supporting cast that works with the go-to-market teams to see how the wider organization collaborates across the different departments.” Focus on what you do want to see and how you would like to work together—telling people a horror story about how your last job doesn’t do much to sell people on your ability to fit into the current culture and do the job you want. Dig into their culture by asking pointed questions and make sure the position fits what you are looking for while presenting your best foot forward for the position. sales and marketing should collaborate “The most foundational piece that makes great sales and marketing relationships is alignment on KPIs and numbers. What’s your north star? When you see two different goals and objectives, that’s what creates conflict. Ask ‘How do we know sales is successful? And how do we know marketing is successful?’ You should hear the same numbers. “The next big question was around how the teams collaborate. I want to hear things like:
  • There’s a bi-weekly sales and marketing meeting.
  • We have a sales and marketing unified dashboard.
  • We’re going to sales for content feedback and ideas.
“Then I wasn’t shy about speaking with different members of the team and asking how it was really playing out. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener. I wanted to make sure I dug in a few layers deeper.”

Watch the Language

When you’re asking questions, listen for the type of language they use. Is the person you’ll be working with talking about what “I did” versus “them?” Or are they talking the team speak of “us” and “we”? “It’s the little ways in which they describe things. If there’s a lot of “I-I-I” or “they-they-they,” there’s just too much of an ownership dynamic. If it’s “us, we, the team,” then you get a sense of actual teamwork going on versus pointing fingers or taking credit.

How Can We Improve the Situation We’re In?

You did your best and still landed in an organization where the sales and marketing leaders throw darts at pictures of one another. Uh oh. But just because they don’t get along doesn’t mean you can’t build a stronger collaboration foundation.

Keep the Emotion Out of It

“It’s really easy to point out when something’s broken. It’s difficult to impact change, but there’s absolutely an opportunity to do so. The tension between teams starts at the top though, and I think that’s where finding solutions gets really tricky. Depending on how long you’ve been with the company and your seniority, going to an executive leader and informing them their company culture is toxic probably won’t go over well. If you can position it as, ‘Hey, we can drive better results by [insert solution here], your conversation will gain much more traction. keep emotion out of your argument “If you make the conversation very much results-driven and take the emotion out of it, you may get a more open-minded response. They’ll see that you’re trying to improve the organization. You’re trying to improve the numbers as opposed to falling into the trap of being labeled as emotional. People don’t want to deal with personality conflicts. If it’s positioned as an opportunity to positively impact change, you’ll catch people’s ears more effectively. Put data first. Debate ideas, not people. And come to the table with solutions rather than complaints.

Set Realistic Expectations

Trust is everything. If someone suspects a number is being tinkered with or has raised a concern and feels it was ignored, it gives them a basis to recruit more members on the anti-”them” team. It’s frustrating, but managing suspicion is part of the operations job description. If you find a problem in the data and the fix will impact historical reports, communicate to everyone. When your company adopts an initiative to focus on awareness, make sure sales hears the company’s priorities and understands how that may impact immediate lead generation. Transparency is always the best policy when it comes to combatting suspicion.

Talk to People

Everyone is in sales. I rolled my eyes the first time I heard it, but it’s absolutely true. Not only are we representatives of our company whenever we go to a tradeshow (or even a dinner party), we also are constantly selling our ideas to people internally. If you’re a good seller, you’ll have a much easier time getting your job done. “We’re constantly internally selling. Understand what the person you’re speaking to values. Why should we think about doing things a different way? Why should we change the way we’re doing it today? If I get something out of it, I’ll be more open to it. If it makes their life better, easier—whatever it is—people will be more open to changing their current behavior.” phrase things so you don't alienate people Regularly talk to the leadership team and peers. Get to know people on a personal level. Talk to them about their kids and hobbies. Getting to know you personally will make it harder for them to say no to you, and it will also benefit your career in the long run. It’s easier to move to a dream company if you know people there who are willing to vouch for you. And for goodness sakes, don’t only talk to people when there’s a problem. If you only go to a certain coworker when something blows up, they’ll cringe every time they see you.

Define Who Is Responsible for What

Organizations function better if there are clear roles and responsibilities and we respect them. That doesn’t mean the person in the other department is always right. It does mean we have an obligation to go to them first if you spot an issue and give them an opportunity to fix it. “If the sales leader says, ‘Hey, I really want to have this report.’ Well, then that has to go through the person that owns the data.” They should never ask for someone to pull numbers behind someone else’s back. If they suspect an issue, they should go to the person and have them verify the numbers.

When to Cut Your Losses

Not all of us are lucky enough to land in an awesome environment, but it can look bad if we cut and run, especially if we have a documented history of only staying in one place for a few months at a time. When is it okay to cut and run, and when should we stick it out?

Mental & Physical Health Above All Else

“The first thing I would start with when deciding whether to stay in a position is your own wellbeing. Are you mentally hanging in there? The moment your job is starting to impact your physical health or your mental health, that is a clear sign that it’s time to move on.” We’re all human. Our physical health fluctuates, and so does our mental health. Anyone can be emotionally impacted by a bad environment. “If you don’t feel like you can impact positive change—if you’re not that attached to the organization and don’t have any passion fueling your work, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to your network and finding a position that is a better fit for you.”

Look at the Timeline

Some things get better with time. If your boss promises you’ll get more headcount next quarter, or you enjoy the work you’re doing and believe in the company mission, it may be worth staying on board. “Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Do you believe in the people, the product, and the vision? If there’s something that’s holding you there—if you feel like you are doing great work, then why not stay?” Hiring managers can and do look down on people who move around a lot. Some refuse even to consider the candidate. If you’ve been job hopping, you may need to hunker down for a year unless it’s impacting your health and wellbeing.

Leverage Your Network

Joining online professional communities has a ton of benefits. You can learn best practices from your peers and get ahead of market trends. They can also be a place to seek advice and network. “Building your network is super important. It’s a tough spot to be in sometimes when the position is untenable after six months. That can look horrible on a resume. But if you have a strong network, you have people who can vouch for you and give legitimacy to your need to move out of a position today. a good network is your biggest asset “When a connection can say, ‘Hey, I know this person. I can totally vouch for them and explain a quick move.’ There’s a bit more trust and credibility. I’ve actually changed my perspective from the hiring side of things. A couple of years ago, if I saw someone hopping around a lot, I’d say, ‘Nope. Don’t even talk to them.’ It was a massive red flag. But now I can look past that. If I see some really good things about that resume, I’ll investigate this a bit further. I’m much more willing to give them a shot.” Kevin also acknowledged that too many of us equate our professional success with who we are as a person. “What’s inspiring for me is to see people who view their job as a vehicle for them to live the life they want to live. Some people have adopted the perspective that their job provides them the life they want, and they can tolerate more. They don’t get too drawn into things because the job allows them to do all the other things that they want in their personal life. I think it’s really cool.”
For more around the specifics of interviewing a company for the perfect culture, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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