Aligning Sales and Marketing – Why It’s Not Working and What to Do About It

B2B Demand Generation | Aligning Sales and Marketing – the Importance of Elephants

Each day I hear the drumbeat…Align sales and marketing for revenue results. One problem: The message is wrong and is not working. Marketing and Sales are as far apart as ever in most firms. At one of Find New Customers clients the marketing team complained about the lack of cooperation from sales.

In the book at left, Chip and Dan Heath share insights on how to effect change when change is hard – like aligning two very different groups in your company.

They feel the tension between emotions and rational thought is illustrated by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt in the book The Happiness Hypothesis where he introduces the analogy of a Rider on an elephant. It looks like the Rider is in charge, tugging on the reins, but when the massive elephant choose his own agenda, there is nothing the Rider can do. The six-ton elephant always gets his way.

In this analogy, the Rider is your conscious effort – willpower, rational thought. The elephant is your emotional and instinctive side.

Your elephant has overpowered your Rider anytime you slept in, over-ate, skipped the gym, said something you regretted, refused to speak up in a meeting, or hit the “snooze” button repeatedly. The elephant thinks short-term – looking for instant gratification. But the elephant is also emotion – love, compassion, sympathy and loyalty. Ironically, the elephant is the one that gets big things done.

To make change happen, you must appeal to both the Rider AND the elephant.  The Rider provides planning and direction, while the elephant provides energy. If you reach Riders only, the listeners have understanding but not motivation. If they reach elephants, but not Riders, they have passion without direction. What most blame on people is a process problem.

Align Sales and Marketing is a message that is squarely directed at Riders. It makes sense. But there is no emotion in it. And it is not specific. It does not give instructions. This is why the drumbeat of “Align Sales and Marketing” accomplishes nothing.

Illustrating the power of the Elephant with Work Gloves

The power of this approach was illustrated by a worker named Jon at a large manufacturing company. Jon believed his company was wasting vast sums of money due to poor purchasing practices. So what did Jon do? Did he create a PowerPoint presentation for his management? No. He knew they would not believe him. He needed a way to illustrate the problem.

With the help of an intern, he collected the work gloves purchased worldwide by his firm. The company used many suppliers and prices were all over the map. He collected these gloves and carefully cataloged them with prices and vendors.

Jon piled all the gloves on a conference room table and called in his management team. He explained that all these gloves were purchased by the firm, but there was no consistency. Here’s how he recalled the scene:

“What they saw was a large expensive table, normally clean or with a few papers, now stacked high with gloves. Each of our executives stared at this display for a minute. Then each said something like “We really buy all these different gloves?” Well, as a matter of fact, we do. “Really?” Yes, really. Then they walked around the table…They could see the prices. They looked at two gloves that looked exactly alike, yet one was marked $3.22 and the other $10.55. It’s a rare event when these people have nothing to say. But that day, they just stood with their mouths gaping.”

The gloves exhibit soon became a traveling road show, visiting dozens of plants. Soon Jon had the mandate he needed. The company changed its purchasing policies and saved millions of dollars.

In this story, Jon appealed not to just the Rider – with cold, hard facts. Instead, he appealed to the elephant – shocking them with the visual display of purchasing inefficiencies.

This, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Sales/Marketing Alignment problem. It appeals only to the Rider. There is no emotional appeal whatsoever.

Another key idea from the book is the idea of specificity. Eat healthy is vague.

  • Do I stop eating meat?
  • What about in a restaurant?
  • Is three meals a day best or do I eat more frequently?

But in the book they illustrate this problem by discussing the massive amount of fat consumed from milk. Skim or 1% milk would greatly reduce the fat consumed, but people use whatever they find in their refrigerator. So we really have a purchasing problem. We need the shopper to reach for skim or 1% milk when she shops.

Changing how people purchase milk using the Elephant

The emotional elephant was addressed by the graphic display of a clear tube filled with fat. It was explained that this was the excess fat in a half-gallon of whole milk.

For two weeks, the researchers ran spots on local media in Virginia. The campaign was punchy and specific. Looking at 8 stores, they found that the marketing share of low-fat milk jumped from 18% to 41%, eventually settling at 35%.

A key point here is specificity. If you want people to change, don’t say “act healthier.” Instead say “Next time you’re in the dairy aisle, reach for a jug of 1% milk rather than whole milk.” Tell them exactly what they need to do.

(Please note that “Align Sales and Marketing” sounds just like “Eat Healthier.”)

The authors share a basic three part framework for change:

  1. Direct the rider. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. Make your directions explicit and clear. “Align sales and marketing” is not explicit and clear.
  2. Motivate the elephant. What looks like laziness of often exhaustion. The rider cannot get his way by force (will-power) for long. You must engage people’s emotional side.
  3. Shape the path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Shaping the path is addressing the overall process. Maybe sales and marketing seem to be at odds, but if you can design processes to help them, engage you are shaping the path.

What do you think? How do you think we can add an emotional (elephant) appeal to the Marketing/Sales Alignment problem? How can we be specific (and direct the Rider?)

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Jeff Ogden (@fearlesscomp) is the President of the B2B lead generation consultancy Find New Customers. Find New Customers helps companies dramatically improve revenue results by transforming the way they attract, engage and win new customers. Contact Find New Customers by calling (516) 495-9350 or sending an email to sales at

“If more companies listened to (Find New Customers) a lot more would be sold.” Dan McDade, Pointclear.

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