Should salespeople drive marketing, or should marketing drive sales? Who should be at the wheel?


Dave Brock (President and CEO, Partners In EXCELLENCE)
Great question Fred, it's changing so radically. The sales and marketing processes are becoming hopelessly intertwined. It's no longer possible to think of a sequential flow starting with marketing focusing on awareness, demand generation, marketing qualified leads; then handing off to sales.

Since the processes are so co-mingled, thinking as one function driving the other no longer makes sense, but it has to be a collaborative effort with sale and marketign aligning around objectives, priorities, programs, roles/responsibilities, and metrics.

Thanks for the great question!
17 Additional Answers
Carlos Hidalgo (CEO, The Annuitas Group)
Fred: Great questions and great answer by David Brock. David once said something that I have used repeatedly regarding at what group is driving whom and that is that both marketing and sales need to align and drive around the customer. As he stated this is not a one or the other, but a true collaboration and partnership to ensure the goals and objectives are being met. If a company is focused on their customer this means that both departments will transform the way they interact internally (processes, measurement, goals) and how they engage with their customers (demand generation strategy, sales approach, etc.)

Carlos Hidalgo
Matt Heinz (President, Heinz Marketing Inc)
What if you treated your annual marketing planning process as if it were a proposal to a customer?

Marketing doesn’t work for sales, but in many companies the primary “customer” for marketing is in fact the sales organization. So if that’s the case, it seems appropriate that the marketing plan each year should at minimum be reviewed and “accepted” by sales leadership as sufficient to help them achieve their own 2012 growth objectives.

This doesn’t mean that sales has complete veto power over strategies and tactics. The “means” by which marketing achieves collective goals agreed to by sales & marketing together should continue to be, ultimately, up to the marketing team.

But before the marketing plan is finalized, it stands to reason that it should be presented to the sales team for review and comment. At minimum, both teams should agree on the overall objectives and measures of success. Ideally, there’s also alignment in how and where marketing is focusing their finite resources and budget to drive new sales leads, market demand, and category leadership – all of which support and accelerate velocity for the sales team to achieve and exceed their own goals.

I’m less worried about how each individual organization goes about this. If you want to create a specific approval process between marketing and sales, fine. It doesn’t have to be that formal. But it should be more than just a courtesy overview to the sales organization after the plan has been finalized.
Gurhan Demirkan (Founder, Internet Marketing Company LLC)
We also have to look at this from two different perspectives:

1. Are we talking about existing products/services?
2. Are we talking about new products/service about to be put to the market?

If you are talking about who should be in the driver seat for your existing products/services, the best feedback your marketing team will get will be your sales team. Let's face it, market demand constantly changes, and (to my experience) sales people never stop asking (or complaining) for some type of a modification, or addition to your products/services to be able to sell more. This always signals the strengths and weaknesses of your products/services against your competitors. So, your marketing team should actually use this feedback to position your products/services in the market by creating a successful strategy to help your sales team.

But if you are putting out new product/service to the market, where your sales people have no experience (or feedback to bring back from the market), then your marketing team should position your new product/service in the market by using their experience, where your sales team should follow the lead.

This doesn't mean that anybody should be in the driver seat. As Dave Brock mentioned it; '...the processes are so co-mingled, thinking as one function driving the other no longer makes sense...'. Nevertheless, depending on your product (whether existing or new), I would say one should be considered little bit more heavily then the other to achieve the company goal...which is 'more sales!'
Lynn Maria Thompson (President, Thompson Writing & Editing, Inc.)
They must collaborate, and keep their focus on the customer. I'll give you an example. When I used to work for a yellow pages publisher as YP headings manager, it was my job to decide which new categories got approved for inclusion in our directories. The product was quite mature at the time, and the system in place was that a sales rep would call on a customer and that customer would say, 'Hey, if you had a heading for XYZ, I'd buy an ad under it.' The sales rep would fill out a heading request form and forward it to a regional headings coordinator, who would research the proposed heading and determine whether it had merit for their state. If so, that person would forward the request to the headings manager in Marketing at HQ (me) who would further research it in terms of its impact on our entire operating region. If it had merit, it would then be voted on by the headings committee, made up of all the regional coordinators and the headings manager, in a quarterly meeting. If approved, the customer could buy an ad under it in the following year's campaign, so that no customer would be given a competitive advantage by being offered a heading that was not available to all customers in that market.

That was an insanely outdated method! I set out to change it so that we were being more ahead of the curve, identifying current market trends and new industries, then proactively creating headings or adapting our existing headings to those so that Sales would have them available to them BEFORE they went into a campaign. The first time I went out to cover headings changes with a sales group using this method, I got a standing ovation from them because somebody in Marketing was FINALLY giving them something that would please their customers, while also helping them make more money by selling ads under headings their advertisers would actually want.

But that was a large corporation, and mine was a voice in the wilderness. Most managers in Marketing were more concerned with what they could do to get themselves noticed so they could get promoted. Folks in Sales were just worrying about making their objectives for one campaign before moving on to the next. Even though they were closer to the customers than Marketing, their need for self-preservation had a tendency to win out over customer focus. And that's who got lost in the entire old methodology: the customers. The company was more concerned about its procedures and internal workings than on what its customers needed...those customers being not only advertisers, but the people who used their directories to find the products and services they needed.

Now that directories are online and can be updated in an instant, such procedures from the old print environment seem ancient. But how many large companies are caught up in procedures that have been in place for too long, that need revamping? A constant, open dialog between Sales and Marketing is crucial to any company's success in today's fast-changing marketplace.
carlos Diaz Ruiz (Researcher, Hanken School of Economics)
I believe that there are certain conditions which make either sales, or marketing, to be better suited to lead the commercial effort. These considerations are determined by how value is created.

In industrial markets, where relationships are more important, because orders are placed on a rolling basis for instance, then sales should dominate, and marketing should support the sales person.

On the other hand, in a highly transactional environment, marketing should lead, because product design, retail management, and mass communications gain preeminence. Sales should support marketing managing key intermediaries, but should acknowledge that their 'clients' do not actually buy by themselves, but provision retail points.

In short, my rule of thumb for this question is: if you can name half of your clients (i mean users instead of intermediaries), then sales should lead; if you cant, then marketing should lead.
AJ Perisho
Great answers from everyone!
Ultimately it is a collaborative effort to get your target audience to know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer your company.
The sales and marketing team will have people that excel at different areas at each point along the way.
No fighting, just figure out the best way to succeed at each point on the path.
Don Beam (CEO,CFO,VP,Director, Hall Telecommunications Supply)
Unfortunately .. I am old school and believe that a business has line and staff functions. Sales is line .. Marketing is staff.

Both are integral parts of a business and must work together .. and when that is not working .. then it is management or executives must do their job.

The human body has a left and right arm .. both can work independently and at times .. they should. But when they work together .. there are tremendous gains.

If this is not the case .. then it is Management not doing their job or setting the right objectives for both
David Whipple
There are a couple of gaps in an organization. Try testing your explanation to a sales rep or two that you know and then a marketing person or two and then go back and think it through to what you want to do. Since ultimately..... And by understanding the parties and culture, potential customer, customer, pricing strategy, demand creation concepts, branding strategy, short term messaging, team objectives, competition(vital), and the analytics that drive these ares then one could begin to get a feel for direction. Don't forget the buy-in.
Colin Alexander Taylor (Internet Marketing Consultant | Business Growth Specialist | Author "Moneysworth Marketing, Moneysworth Marketing)
Total disclosure...this is an answer that I shared to a similar question on Linkedin.

I'll try my best to answer your questions directly and provide some insights as well.

a) Is prospecting nowadays, solely the responsibility of sales or is it also a part of marketing? Both, but more importantly it's actually the responsibility of the CEO. What I mean by that is the reality and potential of today's business environment is totally different and brings it's own set of subtle nuances (especially considering new media) that can and will be detrimental to any CEO who isn't willing to embrace an understand them. Because if they don't understand them at least from an opportunity perspective they won't be able to communicate or lead their sales & marketing departments from that understanding.

b) Define 'prospecting', especially in this era of social media and who should be responsible for doing it, your sales staff, your marketing dept. or both? This is a two part question and maybe it would be better to approach this by defining what prospecting is NOT, precisely because of the era we're in. Prospecting is not a linear process because it is subject to the customers' decision making process. Prospecting can still be canvassing, cold calling etc. in the traditional sense. Those things can still be effective and still have their place, but the secret is in understanding the factors that influence buying decisions today and realizing that prospecting is only a small part of a much larger process.

Because of the online channels available to us now, the nature with which we engage them and the sheer volume of information available, something critical has happened. Customers today make geometric buying decisions. The customers' decision making process as it relates to purchasing has evolved and won't ever be the same again. As simply as possible, it comes down to exposure and influence. Consumers are more exposed and the potential variables that can and do influence their buying decisions are nearly unlimited, thus geometric. The question then is whether or not a company is value visible. And is that value being provided to the customer THROUGHOUT the entire decision making process...throughout those lines by which they're exposed to and influenced by exposure to any given product or solution. For those reasons, if the only two places a customer experiences value from a company is in the 'prospecting' or the actual transaction, eventually they will be put out of business by companies who understand how to leverage the new possibilities.

If we accept that customers make geometric buying decisions, the marketing, prospecting and sales process are very much one and the same and become harder to differentiate today. Not that there isn't a need for marketing & sales departments anymore because there is. But just as fast as companies choose to embrace these new realities they need to make sure that they're able to communicate the distinctions in areas of responsibility to these departments so nobody ends up kicking sand in each others faces. Again, this is why I started out saying that it's the responsibility of the CEO and the leadership team. Success is powered by skill sets and that better be one leaders adopt going forward.

Hope this helps!

In your service,


Almost the context of what's posted above, I believe the MOST important assets you have during this time are your existing and past customers. They'll tell you how they want to be marketed & sold to if you only ask them. We should begin looking to our ideal customers to help us co-create the best solutions for them. Companies that don't embrace this may well end up going out of business sooner than later. But then, that's just my belief.
stan sweeney (President/Creative Director, Sweeney Creative)
Marketing drive sales. Advertising and PR reach customers. Marketing is not advertising
Norbert Laengrich (CEO, Embedded Galaxy)
Perhaps the word 'drive.' should be changed to 'support.' In that context it is a mutual exchange. Marketing supports sales and sales supports marketing.

Perhaps the question is who should drive new product development. In a fast paced market, allowing sales to drive new product development can be dangerous, since by nature they tend to look at the last lost order and tend to want an incremental new product to 'fix' the reason for the lost sale instead of a market breakthrough product that takes revenue to the next level.

In the end, both marketing and sales must support the customer's needs.
Alan Munroe (Sales Strategist & Tactician, Munroe Strategic Selling)
If the marketing is weak or stagnant then sales drives the equation.
In my opinion good marketing is about creating the condition for a sale.
Where as the sales channel make the sale.

Just as I believe for the coming years lead generation should be a function of management NOT sales. It's your money spend it wisely.

At all times sales should be feeding knowledge and insight to marketing to allow marketing to refine and develop to fit the needs of customers hence drive sales by default.

Both groups seem to loose sight of the one principle in marketing, as brought to us by Levitt; 'People do not buy 1/4 inch drill bits, they buy 1/4 inch holes'.
Brent Bonine (Managing Director, Sales Insights)
In my opinion, this question is like asking 'which end of the hot dog should I eat first?' Sales & Marketing need to be aligned around one business objective - customer acquisition. Each plays a complimentary role. Each company is different. The path to maximum profitability is to identify where sales & marketing are most effective in the customer acquisition process and make sure they are maximizing their efforts in those areas.
Natasha M (assistast manager and customer services)
Good question! Marketing and sales are two different things! But Marketing, include and strategies about sales. A salesperson must have a plan about the process of sale, and a marketing plan about target of business. So, i believe marketing could drive a little the salesperson. At the wheel, i believe must be the target of the companies profit, company culture. If salesperson understand that, then could be very succesfull.
Syed Safdar Hussain (CEO, Absolute Solutions Pvt. Ltd. & PDN Pvt. Ltd.)
both are two different domains & they must have a strong & close relationship to build a company offering successfully.
Billy Mitchell (President & Senior Creative Director, MLT Creative, B2B Marketing Specialists)
There are already so many great answers to this interesting question that I will take a different angle on it and speak to the 'who should be at the wheel' part.

Sales and Marketing should should each be at the wheel of their own vehicles but they need to be driving for the same team. They should both be accountable for their own performance but also measured by their ability to collaborate successfully. The tools now exist to help this happen but I'm often amazed at the dysfunction that exists between some sales and marketing departments.
Olayiwola A. Alara (Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, AAGC | AllenalarA Group of Companies.)
Because we live in a world where our professional and personal responsibilities are all different are a particular point in time, I believe both process works interchangeably. While it may be convenient for some to pick up a paper and read an ad that introduces them to something they might need, there are others who do not have such luxury of such time and need to be reminded directly of a service or product that can assists with approaching their goals in life more easily. God bless.
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