We Thought We Were Special Teams. Sales Thought We Were The Cheerleaders.

I was a mid-level marketing manager at a Fortune 100 manufacturing company, with many divisions acting in silos and whose revenue was driven by a highly compensated sales culture. The sales process was consultative, complex and rooted in long-standing customer relationships. We were the dominant player, but the landscape was changing, as competitors were more and more able to offer ‘cheaper-better-faster.’ Enter Marketing, in a relatively new function, who proposed augmenting the sales process with analytics, positioning and customer segmentation so that we could keep or capture share we were losing.

There was resistance from the ‘big dog’ sales guys, the ones who had been there the longest and who were responsible for our largest customers. Their perspective was that relationships drove sales and they responded by suggesting more of what they were used to Marketing provide: golf events, convention sponsorships, high-profile speaker venues and the hospitality invitations that went with them. “Keep strong the relationship and the sale won’t be in jeopardy,” they said. Marketing took the scientific approach: “Segment the market, align the sweet spot based on a variety of metrics (including profitability), win.” Some of our current customers would fall out, several new ones would drop in. The landscape would look much different. So different that people’s paychecks were at stake, egos. Beloved by Sales, the customer events were perceived as bigger wins and relationship gold.

Sales. Marketing. Standoff.

Enter the Division President, a big believer in letting people figure out how to get the ball in play. He blended his background in college football with personal charm to build your confidence and motivate your drive. He seemed to easily dismiss the haters, doubters and non-believers and this was the kind of environment he created for his team. He said that every time he got knocked down on the field, he had to get back up, and it made for good training for his sales career. He led the tightly knit sales team for 15 years and his influence was instrumental in our position as the dominant player. He cared about relationships above all else, but he, like many fine athletes, hating losing, and he knew it was time for the ball to move.

The current market, along with our data, did the convincing I suppose, and we got the greenlight for our approach with some major sales proposals. But it couldn’t be our approach and that’s what the Division President understood: Sales had the years of institutional and customer knowledge, we just had data and science. He implored that we work together. Ugh. We thought we were special teams. Sales thought we were the cheerleaders. Then he said, “You know, working this way is new, but we don’t win ‘em alone and we don’t lose ‘em alone. How you get there, well, you might just want to use your relationships with each other.”

It really doesn’t take a lot of words to build your confidence and motivate your drive, if it’s from someone who cares about building a healthy environment to succeed. So we did, and there were wins and some particularly crushing losses. We continued to get back up, though. Good training for any career.


Susan Kolon is a healthcare communications consultant and wellness coach.