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Building Materials Sales and Marketing Losers

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Building Materials Sales and Marketing Losers

This is a guest post written by David Bernardino.  David is Partner at Ammunition, an advertising agency focused on empowering brands to pursue and win long-term sales opportunities.

David has seen first-hand how sales and marketing often butt heads instead of working together, like boxers duking it out for their share of the glory. And he’s here to give us a better metaphor for the relationship between sales and marketing, one that will help each department achieve more instead of standing in each other’s way.

If you’ve ever resisted the input of your marketing or hesitated to work with an agency, it will pay to take David’s advice.

When sales and marketing don’t work together, no one wins. They are both losers.

Here’s David’s advice on building a better relationship with marketing.


“I know my customer and I don’t see the need to bring an agency in.”

This is an actual quote from a client about the reaction their sales organization may have to the work we were going to share in an upcoming meeting. Throughout my career, I’ve heard these sentiments voiced to me in some way, shape, or form.

For those who’ve worked with me over the years, I’m the marketer who’d rather spend time on the road, meeting with customers, observing the market. Whether it was in Siberia in January, in the slums of Mumbai during the summer monsoon, or sitting in one of the infamous vendor meeting rooms at Walmart’s home office in Bentonville, I’ve always enjoyed those trips. I always tried to show Sales that I wanted to understand, to learn, and to partner with them to grow their businesses, which would always help me grow my brand.

Sometimes, that still didn’t work. Sometimes, Sales still viewed me with suspicion (or at times, with outright contempt). In those situations, I had a simple reply:

“If Sales knew everything about their customer, then why isn’t Brand X the number one brand in the category?”

Some may call this savage. Others would say it’s brutally honest. Either way, it speaks to the old-school belief that Sales and Marketing need to have an adversarial relationship.

I firmly believe this to be false.

I’ve worked at organizations that were Sales-led. At one company, my on-boarding meeting with the GM of the division devolved into a two-hour argument about whether or not marketing was even necessary when expanding the brand into a new category – something that I was hired to do for that company. The “discussion” ended with us agreeing to disagree, but we never got along during my tenure at that organization.

I’ve also worked at companies where the marketers routinely looked down at Sales, believing that having the perfect brand plan was fundamentally better than the perfect in-market execution. At those companies, a rotation in Sales or in Trade Marketing (except on the Walmart team) was viewed as a career-limiting move.

I believe we need to change our paradigm:

Instead of Marketing and Sales fighting each other like they’re in a boxing match, we should think of Marketing and Sales as being in a relay race.

What does this mean?

Go back to your four P’s: product, placement, pricing, and promotion. These are all things that a brand has full control over. However, not one function has total control over each of them.

Think about it:

  • Product – This is typically Marketing-driven, as they take consumer, market, and customer insights and translate them into products that their brand can sell. Sales has input, but what’s launched is ultimately a Marketing call.
  • Placement – This is typically Sales-led. They’re customer-facing, working with distributors, wholesalers, and retailers trying to get more points of distribution, more merchandising. Does Marketing support this? Absolutely, yes. But Sales is ultimately on the hook for this one.
  • Pricing – This is a complicated one, as the retailer / dealer ultimately sets the price that the consumer / shopper pays. That being said, Sales typically leads this, as they work with their customers on setting everyday, promoted, and non-promoted pricing. Can Marketing provide input? Absolutely. But the final decision usually rests with the one that owns the P&L.
  • Promotion – This is all Marketing-driven. Whether it’s advertising, consumer activation, or shopper marketing, this is clearly in Marketing’s purview to lead.

You might be saying, “well that’s the case in a consumer packaged goods context, but what about B2B (or other verticals where the path to purchase is more complicated and convoluted)?” My response is simple: Marketing and Sales each have unique and complementary roles to play. A typical use case is as follows:

  • Marketing – Generates and nurtures leads, converting them into Sales prospects. They use branding, marketing automation, advertising and media, and other tools in the marketing mix to enable this conversion.
  • Sales – Nurtures and converts prospects into customers. They use multiple meetings, proposals, events, and the overall relationship to drive this conversion.

In both cases, Marketing and Sales complement one another, like runners in a relay race. And with tools like Salesforce or other CRM platforms, the way to maximize their utility, in many respects, rests on the fundamental notion of Marketing and Sales working together.

Think about it: your brand might get a new lead at a trade show, like the International Builders Show. That lead gets entered into a CRM system like Salesforce. Drip campaigns, retargeting ads, and other media start to populate that person’s inbox and web experience with relevant content. If handled right, the lead says they want to meet with Sales. The “baton” is passed to them and meetings occur to discuss potential opportunities. Ultimately, a proposal is developed, submitted, and agreed to. Throughout this process, personalized drip campaigns and ads are “aired” based on the prospect’s interactions with the brand, which are all tracked and measured in their CRM system.

Sales and Marketing are equal partners – and should be treated as such. More than ever, brands need to start thinking and acting this way if they want to grow and thrive. Many companies have started to pivot to this philosophy, which we’ve seen to be a competitive advantage. We’ve also seen companies that refuse to invest in these capabilities and have seen them start to fall behind, especially in a world where digital and virtual are the norm, not the exception.

What type of relationship would you rather have between Sales and Marketing? One that’s collaborative, positive, and aligned to the same goal or one that’s constantly adversarial and tense? I don’t know about you, but life’s way too short – I’ll always stick to alignment, collaboration, and positivity.

Thank you David for these very valuable insights. In my experience, in building materials, sales frequently is in charge. Marketing is viewed as a necessary expense rather than a respected partner who can help sales be even more successful.

In this situation, marketing functions as an art studio or creative resource that does what sales tells them to do.

This “sales knows best” approach may have worked in the past. It no longer works as your competitors are becoming better marketers. The old way is also less effective in reaching your customers.

Three Ways Sales Led Companies Can Improve Your Marketing.

  1. Stop telling your marketing department what to do. Instead, tell them your problem or what you are trying to accomplish and ask them to develop a recommendation.
  2. Put them in touch with customers so they develop a better understanding of who they are.
  3. If your agency just does what they are told and doesn’t add value by bringing you better solutions, replace them.

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About The Author

I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers.  As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.

My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.