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A Clash of Intuitions: Understanding the tension between sales & marketing

Last updated on June 29th, 2016 at 12:07 pm

It’s almost an entrenched fact that the relationship between Sales and Marketing will be “bumpy.” What’s notable is how spotty the progress on improving this relationship has been, given the attention it has received and the high stakes involved. It’s clearly time for a new approach to resolving the tension.

The situation calls to mind Mark Twain’s quip: “Everyone talks about the weather—nobody does anything about it.” Except, in this case, plenty of capable people have tried to resolve the dilemma. What’s needed is a totally new way to understand the disagreement between sales and marketing.

Getting the facts on the table and letting the best argument win can solve some disagreements. Once resolved, no one needs to cross that ground again. But then there’s chronic disagreement—and this is the type that I argue afflicts sales and marketing teams.

The foundation of the unresolved tension

Trying to solve chronic disagreements by debate is mental whack-a-mole. For every objection dispatched, another pops up in its place. You’re not dealing with rational disagreement. You’re dealing with a clash of intuitions. And intuitions prescribe the “logical” positions people take. Let me offer a definition of intuitions by way of an example: It’s considered bad form to raise politics or religion at family events and dinner parties. Why? Political and religious views rest on deeply felt intuitions that inspire intractable arguments.

As a first step to untangling this problem, let’s ask ourselves three questions. First, are there differences in intuitions between sales and marketing? Second, is there something organizations are doing today to unintentionally reinforce those differences and effectively undermine synergy between these teams? And third, if that’s the case, is there a way to interrupt that dynamic?

Our research indicates that the answer to all three questions is “Yes.” And what we’ve found is that all of this revolves around the mental model of “the customer.” Differing formal representations of the customer are likely to produce differing intuitions about them. Let me explain further.

Differing views of the customer

The typical situation in large enterprises is that various functional groups adopt a view of “the customer” that corresponds with the nature of their work. These views may be implicit, or they may be formalized as “segments,” “buyer profiles” or “personas.” Either way, it affects intuitions and drives a hidden wedge between functional groups.

For instance,  “Buyer” personas are typical in sales organizations. These typically highlight dimensions (such as organizational role) that are relevant to running the sales playbook. The marketing organization is likely to have “Customer” personas. These support the design of particular experiences—like inbound content and web interactions. Plus the Product organization often has “User” personas to support new product innovation and design.

What’s important here is the recognition that each of these customer views works not just on the rational mind, but on the intuitions as well.

Beyond the status quo

These department-specific customer models are a prescription for a clash of intuitions. They create chronic disagreements on tactical priorities, on the appropriateness of messages, on the projected probability of success of any given new idea, and what kind of experiences will really connect customers with the brand. In other words, the usual stuff.

This must stop. According to our research, only one in 10 organizations today has a common view of the customer that is shared across all business functions. That’s too few, but it’s evidence that it can be done. It’s what organizations need to do if we want to reach the depth of intuitive agreement required to create customer experiences that produce a coherent and differentiated meaning in the mind of customers.


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Glen Drummond
Glen Drummond
Glen Drummond is the CIO of Quarry. He is a veteran in the field of marketing, advertising, digital experience design, new product innovation and brand strategy, Glen has worked with a host of well know brands, mostly in B2B industries, with a consistent emphasis on bringing customer insight to bear upon decisions around brand and customer experience.