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Hey Marketing: Be Sales’ Wingmen

Let’s cut to the chase – many large and small organizations still have major marketing and sales alignment issues (sometimes called “power struggles”) when it comes to operating philosophies and delivering value as collaborators (1+1 is supposed to equal 3 not just 2). Whether it is because of personality issues (insecurity/egos) or structural challenges (misalignment, varying objectives, no agreement on lead classifications, etc.) clearly the criticality of "being on the same page" and executing in tandem has only grown in this environment.

During my career I’ve routinely heard, “They aren’t doing anything with the leads we give them and here’s a report to prove it!” from marketing execs and on the other side, “You call those leads?” from sales execs. Bottom line: if the products don’t sell people start losing jobs.

My favorite analogy for creating alignment between the two groups is to suggest marketers think of themselves as sales’ Wingmen/Wingwomen/Wingpeople. You can’t deny the relationship between Goose and Maverick “Top Gun”, but Goose dies and that's just sad. More recently, Coors celebrated the oft overlooked wingman role a classic!

Yes, in the traditional sense, the wingman is the guy that goes out with his buddy and tries to help him get action, but stepping away from the literal definition, wouldn’t it be a good thing if marketing and sales were buddies and it was a key marketing objective to get sales some action (seal the deal)? I’m sure many people will say “it is!” but do their actions back up their words? If you are in marketing, does your organization think and act like a wingman?

The idea of marketing being sales’ wingman hit me after I sat through yet another meeting where marketers were complaining about such low pipeline pickup. A product marketer said, “How can we help sales folks pick these up?” Only to have the head of marketing say, “That’s not our job, we gave them X leads. We delivered on our side of the equation; it’s their job to close them.”

Before marketing can become the organization’s opportunity multiplier and deliver so much more value, it must first establish “wingman creditability.” You can bet that marketing reputations grow fastest when sales are supportive. The wingman attracts and identifies solid prospects (as opposed to throwing a laundry list of leads over the fence), improves the image of the salesperson thereby making the prospect feel more comfortable, helps manage the pipeline of opportunities so as to not overload the salesperson and, finally, assists where needed (and plausible) in closing deals. It's about getting sales some action-- making them look good and giving them the tools to seal the deal. Then move on to the next one which their wingman has so generously provided.

I asked a former colleague and now head of sales at a San Francisco technology company what he thought of the wingman analogy. He challenged me by saying that a wingman in the traditional sense can also fly the plane in case something happens to the pilot. Although he doesn’t expect marketing to sell, he was excited by the thought of working closely with marketing people who really understand the sales challenge. It’s a great point – marketers can only further gain creditability and effectiveness by understanding what it’s like on the ground, selling the products they are trying to build pipeline for. How many pitch meetings have you (the marketer) been to? had an article called “Top 10: Traits of a Good Wingman”. I thought that if it was marketing’s mission to apply those top 10 (well, maybe 8 of them) amazing things would happen. Here’s the top ten list as it appears in the article (be sure to substitute “he/she” for “he”):

10 – He understands his mission
9 – He keeps you presentable
8 – He understands your language
7 – He prevents interference
6 – He reads the terrain
5 – He goes kamikaze (hmmm, no one should die in the process – throw out this one.)
4 – He “bigs” up his point man
3 – He takes the ugly friend (he nurtures deals that don’t have a chance for a while)
2 – He goes undercover
1 – He pumps you up

So, at this point you’re either ready to become wingmen or not reading this anymore. If you’re looking to take action (beyond proclaiming your wingman status to sales), I’m a big fan of Christine Crandell’s article “Sales and Marketing Need to Sleep in the Same Bed.” It provides great direction in taking solid steps to becoming a wingman.

Finally, some ground rules about appropriate use of the terms:

Appropriate alternatives to Wingman are: Wingwomen, Wingmen, Sales Caddie, Sales Accomplice, Sales Ally, Sales Buddy, Sales Bro/Sis, Amigo de Sales

Inappropriate alternatives include: Sales Slave, Sales Bitch, Sales Maid, Sales au Pair, Sales Red Headed Stepchild.