The Silo Issue: How Sales, Marketing and Digital Dysfunction is Dragging You Down

Getting sales and marketing to talk to each other may feel like torture, but it has never been more critical – especially for the more than 5 million mid-market industrial and B2B companies in the U.S.

The digital age and a host of technology developments have exposed four major flaws in traditional B2B marketing practices:

  • Lack of coordination between brand, sales/marketing and digital activities
  • Dedication to sales at the expense of marketing
  • The slowness of firms to focus their online voice
  • Failure to recognize that the internet has changed the sales dynamic

B2B companies are struggling to leverage the internet to sell and grow. Unlike consumer product companies, they’ve been slow off the mark in the digital race due a traditional but flawed rationale that branding and digital communications can’t really help their ‘relationship’ style of selling.

What’s become glaringly obvious is that three core marketing functions – brand, sales/marketing and digital communications – don’t behave as if they have anything in common. Worse, they don’t work together to build equity, share of mind, customer loyalty, or sales for B2B enterprises.

The open secret always was that sales and marketing were never really very integrated. In some firms, they didn’t even like or talk to each other. Not to mention that in many B2B firms, ‘sales and marketing’ actually means ‘sales.’

But because the internet has made company ‘walls’ ever more transparent, there are few secrets. Employees complain, whistle blowers whistle, bloggers gossip, e-mails get forwarded, the news media investigates, and your customers actually know all about you – your product benefits and even your prices – before you ever hit their door. So what are you actually selling?

When a company’s brand, its sales force, and its digital activity aren’t in lockstep, customers notice. At best, customers scratch their heads at this lack of coordination; at worst and more commonly, firms are losing credibility, customer satisfaction and opportunity because they can’t get their act together.

In 2014, Forbes Insights published, Breaking Down Marketing Silos: The Key to Consistently Achieving Customer Satisfaction and Improving Your Bottom Line.

Forbes noted that the challenges with marketing silos mean:

  1. Each silo may have its own brand vision, creating a disjointed experience and message for the customer
  2. Team incentives may motivate some team members to exploit and damage the brand in order to boost short-term sales.
  3. Poorly integrated teams suffer from inadequate cooperation.
  4. Silo interests stand in the way of programs that require scaling.
  5. Key growth areas such as digital are not scaled because they are dispersed across silos.
  6. Success in one silo is leveraged slowly into others, or not at all.

And not listed, but in the mix: Inconsistent customer experience across divisions and functions.

The good news is that with the right market data, the marketing function is uniquely positioned to lead the charge for integration in the name of better service to the customer. Forbes pointed out why marketing is primed for a leadership role in integration:

  1. Marketing brings an outside point of view.
  2. Marketing can articulate the unique truth of the company and what differentiates it within the marketplace.
  3. Marketing can communicate the product and value—why products are relevant to customers in different ways, identifying segmentation in the market.
  4. Marketing creates compelling stories for rallying employees and making an emotional connection with customers.
  5. Marketing is a strategic seat at the table; there is no other department that can see such a company panorama and bring those perspectives together.

To overcome the silo issue, the report concludes by offering best practices for CMO’s:

  1. Replace competition and isolation among silos with communication and cooperation.
  2. Consolidate when necessary.
  3. Act as a facilitator, establishing frameworks, encouraging collaboration through teams and knowledge hubs, and upgrading marketing talent.
  4. Think like a consultant: create company-wide insights, train marketing talent and participate in strategy development.
  5. Secure access to the C-suite. Teradata found that marketers with executive responsibilities are almost twice as likely as others to believe that there are no barriers to interdepartmental integration.
  6. Force integration. In Teradata’s study, marketers say the best way for marketing to become more intertwined with other functions is to set up integrated processes.

For some firms, these are lofty marketing ideals. But there are practical steps smaller companies can take to force different thinking and action. But there are practical steps smaller companies can take to encourage different thinking and action. One is to use research and market data strategically – know the customer better than anyone else. A second step is to stop planning functionally and start planning via a ‘communications & experience canvass.’ What does the customer need to feel, see and hear? How do we ‘behave the brand?’ Who is responsible for delivering that? What are the methods for delivery?

In short, turn the silos sideways. With this framework, suddenly a lot more people see and serve  their responsibility to serve the customer – including functions such as accounting, help desk, order fulfillment and e-commerce managers, and the c-suite.

On September 7th, I-ntellect and Voccii are hosting, “The Digital Accelerator: How to Manage the Collision between Brand, Sales and the Digital World.” They’ll share practical guidance to mid-sized b2b firms to develop, plan and manage the brand, sales and digital functions for measurable results. Click Here to Register for the free event!

Nancy Irwin is the Co-Founder of VOCCII, the Charlotte-based, national firm combining the best of research, strategy and branding to deliver clarity and certainty, making clients smarter and more competitive in their markets. Bernard Lee is the President of I-ntellect, a digital marketing strategy and brand development firm that guarantees you an online voice much larger than your company.


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