Why the Last Thing You Want is a Sales-Driven Organisation

Yikes - Salespeople writing marketing copy

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

You know what scares me? Nearly every client I speak with tells me they’re a sales-driven organisation. That’s a big problem if you ask me, especially when you consider my clients work in marketing. I spent five successful years working in direct sales. Trust me when I say the last thing you want is to have your sales department setting the agenda for content marketing.

I cut my marketing teeth when I was working as a salesperson. When I didn’t have the content I needed, I started writing my own. The very last thing a business wants is to have salespeople creating their own content. I could go into the myriad reasons why but that’s another post, if not a whole series. Suffice it to say that even if your salespeople can write, they won’t tell the story that’s going to ensure long-term success and future sales for your company. They’re going to tell the story that gets them to the next sale. It’s quite likely the content they create on their own will be ineffective. In the worst-case scenario, marketing will end up in some sort of damage control when the customer begins to realise they’ve been sold a bill of goods.

Here are 9 reasons why you don’t want a sales-driven organisation:

  1. Marketing becomes reactive. When the sales department is setting the agenda for content, marketing spends all their time reacting – putting out fires, cranking out copy under pressure of deadline and trying to cobble together a story based on a hodgepodge of emergencies.
  2. Salespeople have different goals. Salespeople have very definite goals that almost always revolve around making their own quota. Even if they’re set up to sell a solution or work within a larger team, any good salesperson is going to pull out all the stops to ensure their quota is met as a first priority. If they’re setting the agenda for content, you’re likely only to produce content for the bottom of the funnel even though that’s a disaster for a long-term strategy.
  3. Salespeople don’t like to change when something works. Once a salesperson has had a success, i.e. earned commission from a sale, it’s nearly impossible to get them to change the way they work. They will want you to keep producing the same infographic, video, white paper or case study they think helped them close business. Again, you’ll be chopping and changing tactics with no real strategy behind the effort.
  4. Good salespeople have a narrow focus. Honestly, all they care about is their product. Sure, they’ll give lip service to a broader story within the organisation. But unless they can earn money from it, they’ll push their portfolio at the expense of everything else. Marketing needs to tell the whole story.

    Yes, the sales funnel again, this time colour coded.

    Image courtesy of Jonathan Crossfield and Content Marketing World

  5. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog. Marketing’s job is to create content and messaging that populates a sales funnel and pushes prospects out the bottom as customers. Salespeople are only focused on the bottom of the funnel, and they will consistently insist on content and tactics to address the bottom of the funnel. When marketing is driving things, a lot more activity is coming into the top of the funnel. Content marketing can keep people moving through the funnel and even capture people who want to enter at different stages.
  6. The most successful salesperson gets to set the agenda. When you get to the 3rd quarter of a financial year and the numbers aren’t shaping up, good intentions go out the window and everyone goes into hard sell mode. The most influential people in a sales organisation instantly become the ones who have the best ability to bring in business. Salespeople chasing quota adopt a tunnel-vision approach to getting the sale, and everyone in the organisation is instructed to do whatever it takes to support them. These people will not consider the next quarter, the next year or the next five years when making content demands. Your content marketing takes on a very narrow focus with a short shelf life.
  7. Salespeople are transient. You’re only as good as you next sale and the award-winning hero of the sales department can easily be looking for a job six months later. Good salespeople are huge targets for poaching. Often motivated by money, it doesn’t take a lot to woo them to another company. If the architect of your content marketing is a salesperson, chances are you’ll be constantly changing direction with each new person coming into the department.
  8. When panic sets in, things get ugly – for marketing. When they’re not making their quota, salespeople start trying to place blame and marketing is always first on the list. If you’ve done exactly what they asked and it doesn’t work, you’ll be blamed for not doing your job. And, to be honest, marketers who let sales set the marketing strategy should wear that blame.
  9. Creativity is stifled. The battle cry at Content Marketing World Sydney was “Be creative.” When your sales staff is writing content on the fly to suit a particular sale, I guarantee you they aren’t being creative. They’re churning things out as quickly as possible, probably working late into the night to get it done. At best you can hope for competence in the finished result but I wouldn’t count on it. No matter how earnest their effort, it’s not going to be the kind of content that becomes an asset to your business.

Some of my best friends are salespeople

Does it sound like I’m being hard on salespeople? Not at all. I know these things are true because I’ve done that job. I know what it takes to make quota and nothing, especially the marketing department, could stand in the way of a goal-oriented salesperson. (If they’re not goal oriented, you probably need to start looking for a replacement. #justsaying) In most sales organisations, if you underperform you’re not going to have a job for very long so these people are often working under immense pressure.

Strategy is the only key to success

The only way to get out of the reactive cycle created by a sales-driven culture is to change to a marketing-driven organisation. Content marketing implemented with a sound strategy is the perfect foil. Mark Schaefer spoke about how to do this recently in Sydney in his Content Marketing World keynote address. He believes content can be the centre of power for an organisation. Likewise, Robert Rose has introduced the idea of a Content Creation Management (CCM). He envisions CCM operating as a corporate group responsible for the company story and guiding all other content including sales collateral, PR and training. When content is at the centre of an organisation, the sales department have a lot more time to focus on selling and less time trying to concoct a story they think will get them to quota.

The mandate has to come from the top

I’m not in any way claiming this is an easy shift. In fact, it’s quite likely a hard slog requiring many skirmishes if not downright power struggles. It’s vital the C-Suite supports and endorses a content strategy or you might as well sharpen your pencils in anticipation of the next content demand from the sales department. Jonathan Crossfield frequently writes and speaks on how to win the C-Suite over to content marketing. I recommend you get in touch with him for advice on what to do and what to avoid doing.

What marketers have in common with the tortoise

If you haven’t already figured it out, this is a story about the tortoise and the hare. Sales is a sprint and good sale people want all obstacles removed from their path. Marketing, on the other hand, is a marathon. Careful preparation and a strong content strategy is the best way to guarantee success and pave the way for sales. You can’t have sales drive marketing any more than you can take a sprinter’s approach to a marathon. Marketing needs to drive the organisation. When that happens, there’s not a salesperson that complains about it.

What do you think? Should sales drive an organisation?

  • Pingback: BNR 8: In-house content marketing and thought leadership - Lush - The Content Agency()

  • Hi Tom,

    You’ve made a good point about marketing’s responsibility in an organisation. Too often marketers aren’t respected or even understood. And, plenty of marketers don’t understand their role as an essential role in the sales process.

    But no amount of great marketing can make a business, either. The company must have good products and services to sell. They should be in business for the right reasons – because they truly love what they’re doing and/or making. (For more on this, read the brilliant Bernadette Jiwa; her Story of Telling blog is fantastic as are her books.

    When marketing is taking the lead to drive sales, everyone wins.

  • Dara, this comparison is so brilliant. Great clients and high-margin sales are the effects of good marketing, engaged and talented people, the market’s trust of the company and several other factors.

    It’s like oxygen. We need it but we also need a “system” that makes it possible to breathe and utilise the oxygen. Pumping oxygen into a corpse can’t revive it, and as a former embalmer’s assistant I dare to insist on this statement.

    Yes, a business needs to makes sales, but first it has to create the right conditions for sales to take place. But I may be totally wrong.

    Still, it’s a great article.

  • Hi Dara,

    I’m not sure I agree with you. Sales is more than a demonstration of merit; it’s the lifeblood of any business large or small. If you don’t make sales, there is no business.

  • This post has a point. Sales must never be the boss of any organisation. It is more of an inspiration, a guideline in which both marketers and the marketing groups must hold onto. Sales can be compared to a medal, a certificate or an incentive. It is a merit of the things you have created and have worked so hard for.

  • Pingback: Top Marketing Blogs of Australia()

  • Pingback: Episode 8 of Brand Newsroom: In house content marketing and thought leadership today. | Lush Digital()

  • Pingback: B2B Lessons From Content Marketing Heavy Hitters | Lush Digital()

  • Dave

    This is a very good post, Sarah. Like you, I have alternated between sales and marketing. The experience working in both has helped me do each better. Lately, now that I’ve returned to marketing after decades in big-ticket selling, I see marketing mainly for its value in building the sales funnel. I’m impatient marketers who talk too much about building the brand in ways that aren’t measurable. Your comments have moderated my view somewhat. In my experience working with about 20 different companies of widely varying sizes, only one or two companies showed much promise of becoming marketing-driven organizations. In all the others, marketers simply weren’t strong enough to make it happen. Either didn’t know how to be more marketing-drive or they didn’t have the political capital. Far too many marketers operate on the fringes of irrelevance. They are often marginalized. They feel it in their gut, and they see it in the dynamics of corporate meetings. But they don’t know what to do about it. My best advice to them is simple: Get visibly and measurably closer to revenue.

    • I agree, Dave. As soon as marketing starts to attach themselves to incoming revenue, they gain a lot more credibility in the organisation. But you’re also right about marketing often operating on the fringes of irrelevance. It happens for a variety of reasons – the organisation doesn’t understand the role of business or the people in marketing just don’t have enough business acumen. Either way, it’s a shame because when marketing is functioning as the front-end for sales, everyone wins.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your insight.

  • Wholeheartedly agree. Of course any marketing strategy still has to be able to show how it contributes to sales or some other company benefit. Unlike what some marketers would like to believe, this isn’t an excuse to pump out marketing for marketing’s sake – with vague notions such as ‘brand awareness’ and ‘engagement’. Our content needs to join the dots between the top of the funnel where the audience is and the bottom of the funnel where the calls to action and sales team live. And that means having a clear strategy for how each piece of content connects to each other.

    • Hi Kimota,

      That’s exactly why marketers have lost the trust of sales. They can’t see where any of the marketing efforts are actually supporting the funnel. I’ve seen far too much marketing spend dedicated to tchotchke and useless, but flashy, collateral with no consideration for the business goals.

      I don’t blame sales people for taking matters into their own hands in these cases. I was one of those people. But many institutions are doing a disservice to the bottom line when they sideline marketing and let sales call the shots.

  • Great post Sarah although it gave me horrible flashbacks to my last ‘day job’. I was marketing, she was sales and we shared an office.

    I felt I was constantly justifying the long-term brand building activities I was implementing. She wanted to see the numbers and challenged me with ‘what’s the point? where are the sales?’

    The company got the point of marketing – in theory – but there was also a struggle to meet budget each quarter. It was tough for us all but we each had a role to play. I knew that and having to justify my part in the equation was good for me…. in hindsight!

    • Hi Belinda,

      A lot of sales people don’t really understand marketing. We have to wear some of that. If all we do is churn out boring brochures and forget about the real goal of marketing which is to fill a sales funnel, then no wonder sales people are annoyed. (Honestly, I had a marketing director one time that kept purchasing soft toys in bulk as a marketing gimmick. I was selling mainframe software to large financial organisations. What was he thinking?)

      But when sales and marketing are both doing their jobs well, everyone wins. I don’t want sales people making up the story for a company. I want marketing to be creating epic content so the sales people have many great stories to tell. But what I really want them to do is close business. At least until someone can figure out how to write a blog post that converts to a signed contract. We both know that’s not going to happen.

      • Can’t stop laughing about the soft toys. Oh dear.

        • It’s true! I had teddy bears for testing tools complete with a heart that had the name of the product on them. (Entry price was $1 million for the product.) I also got Godzilla soft toys to market the same tools for Y2K. But when we sponsored a major conference with international speakers, I didn’t have a single case study or product brochure – just toys, pens and buttons. You can probably trace my career in marketing to that very conference because it was then I started writing my own content.

  • I once read this very good article that I already forgot but is a core principle in our business in making corporate videos. “Realizing that the win in business should be creating fans not sales” This shatters the old “bottom line” idea. Sales does not drive our business, we win fans and sales, loyalty and fun comes next.