Turn Sales & Marketing Into a High-Impact Team

In the traditional transactional sales-driven organization, Sales complains that Marketing cares more about pretty, creative bric-a-brac and strategy than today’s hard results. Marketing complains that Sales doesn’t do enough to close most of the leads Marketing passes on.

But there is lots of research that shows that Sales and Marketing don’t have to be like cats and dogs. The research also indicates that the organizations that weld the two into a collaborative pairing through a set of appropriate integration tools and techniques achieve better results.

What we have to confront here is the question of how you get Sales and Marketing to align in a way that delivers results beyond the typical transactional pipeline. This means truly aligning in a way that goes far beyond shared process and even shared metrics and achieves extraordinary results. This involves teaming up so effectively that all members of the group have each other’s back and work together for each individual’s success and ultimately the group’s success.

The landmark study by Ken Le Meunier-FitzHugh and Nigel Piercy of the University of London and University of Warwick, respectively, is just one of many that have demonstrated the link “between increased collaboration between Sales and Marketing and improved business performance.”

It’s proven– like Newton’s Third Law–and there’s no margin in questioning it for most organizations.

Let’s get started. Oh, You Already Have

It turns out you’re already partway there, as we discussed in the last section about learning to focus on building relationships with customers for long-lasting sales success. When Sales and Marketing collaboratively solve a problem of aligning to a strategic goal, you’ve taken a critical step toward the mission of getting them to work together more effectively.

Ferrazzi Greenlight has studied the techniques of all kinds of teams and groups to find the universal pieces that work, the ones that succeed in many contexts. The successes range from the executive support group Vistage (consulting) to peer-group support at the University of Phoenix (academic) and the Young President’s Organization (community of practice) to Weight Watchers (for-profit). If you want or think you need more of the background, check out a copy of the book by Ferrazzi Greenlight founder Keith Ferrazzi, Who’s Got Your Back, which is all about building trusting relationships that create success. Ferrazi Greenlight has successfully applied those principles in a technique we call high-impact teams for a number of Global 500 organizations that we’d be happy to share with you if you ask us at info@ferrazzigreenlight.com.  What follows are high-impact principles in a nutshell.

The Principles Behind Forging a High Impact Sales and Marketing Team

The identical principles of generosity, intimacy, candor and accountability that we’ve just discussed for customer relationship-building are just as effective for bonding the Sales and Marketing team, as well

The most effective learning results from doing important work differently and experiencing the benefits of change in real-time.

Bingo! That’s what Sales and Marketing do as they switch to a relational approach to selling.

It begins working right away because they see their own relationship scores improve, they watch revenue swell. One team at a major consulting company we coached through the transition was in its first few relational “missions” when it scored a genuine three-quarter-million-dollar deal by applying the warm-introduction principle to go outside their regular network.

It’s also no surprise that constructing and owning knowledge as a community increases team engagement levels and powers the team to transcend the kinds of results you can achieve in a classroom.

What works is experiential learning, solving real business problems with the immediate feedback of success.

Where do You Start? With This Well-Tested Methodology

First, you open the conversation and set the tone: We recommend establishing the team’s safe haven for candor and risk taking by hosting a long, slow dinner focused around the leader’s sharing of vulnerability (e.g., “The higher -ups are really asking me to do a big number and I’m not sure we’re going to make it”) and an exchange of similar personal stories. The candor and risk-taking behavior of the leader amplifies communication and changes the interpersonal algebra in ways that promote mutual trust. Doing this gives permission to the people who work with the leader showing vulnerability to share theirs honestly, too.

Might that be hard in your organization? Maybe. No matter how proven the results, trust-building like this can be alien to your workplace.

Only 18% of employees work in organizations that foster social bonding in the workplace. Some companies even carry on campaigns against fraternizing between hierarchical levels or even with peers. More workplaces do not consciously dissuade teamwork; but they have policies or incentive systems or cultures that, as a by-product, make teamwork more difficult. The Gallup Organization has found that people who have a close friend at work have job satisfaction 50% higher than those who don’t. And people who have a best friend at work have seven times the likelihood of being innovators, of collaborating, and sharing bold new ideas. And further, their customers are more likely to be engaged in the company.

Keith Ferrazzi discovered the value of the long, slow dinner from his old boss at Deloitte, Greg Seal. As he says, the essence of the long, slow dinner is to build trust, openness and vulnerability. That way, you can get the meaningful items on the table and then move the more trivial agenda aside.

A long, slow dinner provides an intimacy that eliminates pretension, and allows the participants to look into each other’s souls and share the truth, he said. Only in truth can you put in place an action plan that’s going to be successful. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a dinner; that’s a metaphor for a meeting between you and a person you want on board as a member of your trusted team.

We cannot stress this point enough: This first step is the seed from which everything else will follow. You may have to overcome organizational inertia, but if you don’t build the trust, you won’t reap the rewards.

Next, advance to collaborative problem solving: The very act of openly solving a problem together as a team builds the experience of teamwork and helps people see the strengths of their peers. One great problem to work on is figuring out how to move your old pipeline meetings from a discussion of next transaction step to measuring and being accountable for progress in building a better relationship with the people in a specific key account.

That’s right to the point, engaging the work at hand, but the most important result at this point is getting a successful solution and the experience of teamwork that makes the success. The magnitude of the problem itself is secondary.

Making progress and seeing results build trust and greater mutual commitment. And, yes, the initial bonding over a long, slow dinner happens BEFORE you do that, ideally.

Ultimately, you infuse this collaborative trust into your everyday work. Change your regular pipeline meetings into peer-to-peer accountability sessions that provide feedback and support for the shift to relational selling as a way to create sustainable sales success—provided you’re ready to commit to and sustain the behavior change.

A key to the high-impact drive of this method is that the team owns the application of the knowledge they’ve absorbed about relationship-focused selling. And they each experience powerful real-time feedback as they discover what works best and how to solve tough problems such as transforming a negative relationship into a positive one.

Leadership Needed for Continuous Personal Growth

We’re well aware that Sales and Marketing team members won’t change just because the company tells them to. Leaders need to celebrate relational selling successes for the rest of the team and consider making RQ score improvement a component of compensation for both Sales and Marketing members. Sales will see the benefit through higher sales and resulting commissions, too.

The flip side to feeding the coin-operated nature of the selling profession—and this might seem counter-intuitive at first glance—is to engage the team in a service project. For example, Ferrazzi Greenlight recently helped a team of car company executives become more effective through a project at a Detroit-area high school during which they encouraged at-risk students to share their stories, be proud of who they were and the obstacles they’ve overcome, and to seek out mentors. A service project is an ideal complement to the initial problem-solving meeting we just called for, for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s a very different kind of project (for good, as opposed to for work), so it brings out different abilities as well as different kinds of knowledge and judgment. That will bring out more aspects of contributors’ personalities, let them demonstrate different ways to show knowledge and caring, and give them opportunities to interact together and learn about each other in additional ways.
  • It will drive more meaningful conversations and a more caring mindset that ultimately bring the team closer together. And as the team grows closer, it’s easier to give and earn trust, which makes this a great relationship feedback loop.

Ultimately the team engages in Relationship Action Planning (RAP) to mindfully advance relationships among team members just as they’ve begun to do for customers. The state of the RAP art is an entire practice and more detailed than we can make actionable in the space of a white paper. We do, however, have a quick six-point explanation of the processes that any manager could mold into something appropriate for her team. Get your team to this stage, and they will be an engaged, high-impact team.


Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi


New York Times best-selling author, speaker

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