“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” – Rudyard Kipling

In a recent blog, Forrester Principal Analyst James McQuivey, argued that calls for alignment generally come from powerful parties looking to control weaker organizations.  Alignment is presented as a Machiavellian call for submission by a leader who is stronger or believes that he or she can out-negotiate his or her peers.  McQuivey calls alignment a wolf in sheep’s clothing:

When someone invites you to be aligned with them, they think they are saying, “let’s be on the same side,” “let’s have a shared perspective,” or “let’s not seem like we’re in disagreement here.” All of those meanings sound good — we are teammates, we collaborate, we know how to work across silos! But none of them are what people really mean when, in an interdepartmental meeting someone says, “We need to make sure that we’re in alignment on this.”

What they truly mean is, “I’ve listened to you blather on long enough. You are wrong and I am right and you need to start pretending that you agree with me or we’re going to have real problems here.”


McQuivey assumes that executive intentions are malign.  Perhaps I’m naïve, but calls for interdepartmental cooperation are not simply corporate power politics.  Yes, there are risks involved in change and cooperation, as there are in any process changes, but assuming that department heads should retain atomized fiefdoms with limited cooperation is the road to business stagnation.

And I’ve been there.  Atomized organisations are dreadful places to work.  Workers are advised to volunteer little information at interdepartmental meetings, agree to nothing, and then report back to their department heads.  Instead of worrying about competition, technological change, and how to grow revenue and develop a strategic advantage, bosses focus on internal politics and penalize their employees with more open minded views about cooperation.  Firms like this operate with a bunker mentality where the only people you can trust are those to the left and right of you.  There is no strategy at atomised organisations, just the tactics required for survival.  And honestly, it sucks.

To be fair to McQuivey, he recommends a Reaganesque “trust but verify” approach to appeals for alignment.  Instead of simply dismissing calls for alignment, a flexible manager can say,

“Those are very interesting competing theories. I’ve decided to pick theory A, and here’s why [insert rational, customer-focused explanation here]. But I want to test the viability of theory B because I agree that this situation is more richly nuanced than I can sort through on my own. How do you recommend we test theory B?”

This at least provides a path forward.  It guards against malignant actors and provides time to build trust and test new ideas.  It recognizes that there are disagreements between departments, and asks the party calling for alignment to define objectives, justify their logic, and propose how to move forward.  It is a temporary cessation of internecine hostilities.

Sales vs. Marketing

Unfortunately, B2B sales and marketing operate in separate universes.  They have different goals, have different compensation metrics, and use different platforms.  What’s more, they are dismissive of each other.  Marketing is frustrated that so few of their hard-earned leads turn into sales, while sales reps dismiss marketing’s leads out of hand.  Dysfunction is rife between the sales and marketing departments and communication is strained.

A clear example of departmental disconnection is the terminology and platforms employed.  Marketing views the world through the prism of individual actors.  Leads are people matching specific personas, but these personas are often little more than caricatures used to define targets and associated collateral.  Leads become marketing qualified when one of these actors takes a positive action such as downloading a whitepaper.   If sufficient interest is shown, then the lead is marketing qualified.

I hear an objection coming from marketing that I am employing a caricature of their activities – but that is my point – for all the complexity build into the demand generation process, leads tend not to be of sufficient quality that sales reps value them.

A lead is stored as an individual within the marketing automation platform.  Firmographic information may be sparse.  But when a lead hits the CRM, it can remain a lead or be converted to account and contact records.  It is at this lead-to-account conversion point that the sales rep believes the lead is actionable and the contacts are credible actors.

B2B sales reps view their universe as one of accounts with buying committees.  Sales reps work to build relationships with accounts, close an initial deal, and then expand their footprint across the organisation.

Sales reps are compensated for closing deals.  As such, they are very bottom-line oriented.  If a marketing qualified lead does not have face validity (i.e. a mid to high-level job function at a large company in their target verticals), it will be ignored.  And here is where I’m reducing sales reps to a caricature.  But, underlying these caricatures is a breakdown in the process between the two key departments responsible for driving organisational revenue.

Today, marketing views the world at the atomic level (leads) and sales views the world at the molecular level (accounts) with accounts made up of many atoms (contacts).  This is a basic disconnect between the organisations.  One of the appeals of Account Based Marketing (ABM) is that it encourages cooperation between the departments and fosters sales and marketing alignment as a by-product.  The good news is that ABM has a lot of buzz so arguing for an ABM test (perhaps for a specific vertical) allows both sides to come together on an experiment.  Furthermore, its name marries Accounts (sales) with Marketing so is seen by both parties as neutral.  When running your test, look at platforms such as Sparklane which support both departments.

It is not foretold that East and West shall never meet.  Constructive engagement is possible.  In next month’s blog, I will provide specific suggestions around implementing an ABM strategy and fostering sales and marketing alignment.