Sales and marketing. Cats and dogs. Chalk and cheese. Oil and water.

For as long as there have been sales teams and marketing departments, there’s been friction. And yet, there’s magic in a simple vinaigrette, Vouvray and an aged chevre, even a cross-species best friendship. The same kind of synergy can and should exist between sales and marketing.

So why do they seem further apart than ever before?

Two words: technology distraction. The hundreds, even thousands of technology tools that are supposed to make the work of selling and marketing easier are driving a wedge between the two, not bringing them together.

Do any of these conversations sound familiar?

Sales: Why are these random names appearing in my pipeline?
Marketing: They’re marketing qualified leads.
Sales: What exactly makes them “qualified”?
Marketing: Well, they opened eight emails, clicked on three of them, downloaded a whitepaper, and joined a webinar in our six-week campaign.
Sales: So how do we know they’re actually ready to buy?
Marketing: That’s your job.
Marketing: Hey, you didn’t give us any attribution for that big deal you just closed. We gave you leads on that one. What’s up?
Sales: We knew everybody who had a role in making that decision and none of them were the names you gave us.
Marketing: Yeah, but we still had an influence on the outcome.
Sales: (silence)
Sales: Hey, I’ve got this deal I’d really like to accelerate and close. What can you tell me about key messages and conversations that will help?
Marketing: Well, we can tell you what pages on our website people from that company domain have visited in the last month.
Sales: Guess that’s better than nothing.
Marketing: Hi, can you put me in touch with a senior contact in your customer organization? We want to put together a case study on their use of our new offering.
Sales: Uh…now’s not really a good time. The relationship is a little sensitive at the moment. Come back to me in a few weeks.
(Three weeks later)
Marketing: Hi again! So, I can see in the system that all of the trouble tickets seem to have been cleared in your customer account. Can you put me in touch?
Sales: Yeah, sure. Let me get back to you on that. I’ve got a bunch of meetings today.
Marketing: (to voicemail) Me again…I’ve left you a bunch of messages and sent emails, but haven’t heard anything back. Can you please, please, please give me a contact in your customer account for a case study??
The problem here isn’t (necessarily) the technology. It’s the fact that we’ve lost sight of what really matters. We’ve been way too distracted by gaming the system and creating new metrics. Marketing is off doing one thing while sales is focused on another. Meanwhile, customer service is busy dealing with the everyday realities of customer issues.

Where do we go from here? The key is to focus on the most important fundamental of all: understanding customers.

The relationships and handoffs between marketing, sales, and customer service can be much smoother and more effective if everyone shares a clear, coherent understanding of customers. Truly understanding them means knowing who they are (organizations and individuals), their priorities, their competitors, their motivations and obstacles, where they are, how they think, and how they make decisions. Whether they’re current customers, dormant customers, or potential ones. It means knowing them well enough to anticipate their needs, sometimes even before they do themselves.

Customer Understanding

So what exactly is Customer Understanding?

As a concept, it is the construct behind an integrated, cohesive, holistic, and shared view of customers. This shared view of customers supports marketing, sales, and customer service, as well as strategy and product/offering development. Ultimately, it feeds into almost every aspect of a business.

Why do we need this concept? Because to really engage customers, we need to more clearly recognize that there are multiple elements to the customer relationship, and that they change over time. While this is equally true for both consumer and enterprise customers, the relationship elements and how they change can differ significantly.

In principle, Customer Understanding encompasses all of aspects of customer interaction. It also incorporates insights—both quantitative and qualitative—that build a clearer picture of customer priorities, needs, and preferences.

Building that understanding requires input from across all customer interactions. Using that understanding to best effect means creating feedback loops that inform how marketing, sales, and customer service operate. That includes inputting to strategy and product or offering development.

If Customer Experience describes the relationship from the customer’s perspective, Customer Understanding describes the flip side of the coin—the cross-enterprise experience of the same relationship.

CRM, customer engagement, sales effectiveness, customer service, and field service are critical elements of generating Customer Understanding and delivering Customer Experience. So is the ability to aggregate and analyze data from all of these different sources, as well as from customers themselves. Customer Understanding informs each of these areas and more. It is the unifying concept that determines the appropriate responsibilities and activities across the enterprise. It defines the criteria to design effective processes and make effective technology investments.

Done well, a shared Customer Understanding ensures offerings that meet customer needs, compelling messages delivered when customers are receptive to hearing them, and little or no friction in the sales process. It translates into happier, more loyal customers. It goes a long way toward bridging the gap between sales and marketing, too.

With thanks, and apologies, to Geoffrey Moore