Marketing Department Interfaces

Each company department carries images or stereotypes of the other departments. Most often they are not flattering. Furthermore, the departments compete for the available resources, each making the case that it can spend the money better. All this interferes with harmonious working relations between departments.

Some members of other departments will stereotype the marketing department as consisting of fast-talking sales people who cajole a large budget from management without providing any evidence of its impact, as con men who snare customers with a dishonest pitch, or as hucksters pressing R&D for new bells and whistles rather than for real product improvements.

One engineer complained that the salespeople are “always protecting the customer and not thinking of the company’s interest!” He also blasted customers for “asking for too much.”

Marketers, in turn, are critical of other departments:
  • Marketers have difficulties with engineers. Engineers tend to be exact in their thinking, seeing black and white and missing shades of gray. They tend to describe the product in highly technical terms rather than in language that most customers would understand. In high-tech companies, the engineers are king. The engineers look askance at any engineers who went into sales, concluding that they must be poorly trained. If they went into customer service, they were really losers.
  • Marketers see their immediate enemy as the finance people who demand that marketers justify each expense item, and who hold back as much funds from marketing as possible. Finance people think mainly of current-period performance and fail to understand that a large part of marketing expenditures are investments, not expenses, that build long-term brand strength. When the company hits a slump, finance people’s first step is to cut the marketing budget, implying that the funds aren’t necessary. The antidote is to work closely with finance to develop financial models of how marketing investments impact revenues, costs, and profits.
  • Marketing people complain about the purchasing people if they buy cheaper inputs that result in the product not having the quality promised in the value proposition. True, the purchasing people must keep input costs low, but controls must be established to ensure sufficient quality. I advise marketers to work more closely with the purchasing people not only to ensure good quality but to learn from them about selling. Purchasing people are experts at what makes good salesmanship. Why? Because purchasing people are approached all day long by salespeople and can tell stories about the difference between effective and poor selling styles. It would be good training for marketers to work in purchasing for a while to learn how to deal with salespeople. General Electric once developed a game to be played between its own purchasing and sales personnel to see who would be more effective. The purchasing people won hands down. GE’s management then said: “If our salespeople cannot sell effectively to our own purchasing people, how can they sell effectively to our customers’ purchasing people?”
  • Marketers have only a few issues with the manufacturing people. They hope that the manufacturing people produce the products at the specified quality level so that the customers aren’t disappointed. They also ask manufacturing to make special short runs or add custom features, but here they encounter some resistance. Manufacturing costs rise when production changes must be frequently made.
  • Marketers find it hard to communicate with information technology (IT) people. The marketers talk sales, market share, and margin, while the IT people talk COBOL, Java, Linus, and tetrabytes. The big mistake is when marketing asks IT to develop a database marketing system, only to regret commissioning it in the first place once it is finished. Yet marketing needs database software and supply chain software if customers are to be served well. Clearly, marketing departments need to add a technical marketer who understands information technology and can mediate between the two groups.
  • Marketers get upset with the credit department when credit refuses to approve a transaction on the grounds that the prospect might default. The salesperson worked hard to get the sale only to find that he or she can’t put it through and get recognition for the sale.
  • Marketers are annoyed with the accountants who are slow in answering customer questions about their invoices. Marketers would also like the accountants to give them better measures of the profitability of different geographical areas, market segments, channels, and individual customers. This information would help marketers allocate their efforts closer to the areas of greater profit.
  • Even within the larger marketing group, there are frictions between marketing, the sales force, and customer service. Marketing began as a function to help the sales force sell better. Marketing helped by getting leads through advertising, brochures, and other communications. Later, marketing gathered information to estimate market potential, assign sales quotas, and develop sales forecasts. Salespeople often have complained about marketing setting sales quotas or company prices too high, saying that more money should go to the sales force (and less to advertising) to raise their compensation or to hire more salespeople. When marketing and sales get into conflict, sales often wins because salespeople are responsible for short-term results. As for customer service, this has typically been treated as less important than getting the sale. When customers complained to customer service, salespeople could resent the watchdog role customer service plays, although good customer service is in their best interest in the long run.

The fact is that these departments are in active competition for a limited budget, each making the case that they can spend the money better. Each department also wants to feel important and respected by the other groups.

The challenge is how to break down departmental walls and harmonize the efforts of different departments to work as a team. Here are two approaches:
  1. Companies would hold meetings of two departments at a time to express their views of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and offer their suggestions for how to improve their relationship.
  2. Companies are increasingly managing processes rather than functions and putting together cross-disciplinary teams to manage these processes. The various members begin to appreciate each other’s point of view, and hopefully this produces better understanding.

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