The Battle Between Sales & marketing

People in Conflict Arguing.jpg


The bigger the firm, the bigger the challenge. The division president of a global pharmaceutical firm was aware of the friction between sales and marketing since the business unit was founded three years before. However, barbs slung across the department transoms were ramping up in frequency and intensity. They were becoming more vitriolic, and the issues rippled as far as the company's European headquarters. The president was concerned about the health and welfare of her employees – no one wants to come to work in a toxic environment. She was also worried about negative implications for the company's reputation in the field among both prescribers and patients.

She asked us to investigate and develop an intervention that would stick.


The problem was authentic but unclear. Without clarity, any intervention we designed would have a high likelihood of failure. We suspected that the underlying issues were real – fact-based – but exacerbated by emotion and subconscious biases.

elephant and rider.jpg

We considered the way Jonathan Haidt, PhD, a professor at New York University, uses the metaphor of the elephant and the rider when it comes to our behaviors. The rider represents our conscious, rational mind. The rider makes careful decisions, plans and receives information thoughtfully. The elephant, on the other hand, represents the emotional and irrational foundation of our actions. It goes where it wants to go when it wants to go there – and it tends to be impulsive.

Whatever solution the solution, we knew it would need to address both the rider and the elephant if it was going to have legs.


We started the process by interviewing executives in both the sales and the marketing departments, one by one. We sat down with the president as well as leaders of departments not directly involved in the sales vs. marketing spats.

Then we went a layer down in the organization and spoke to people who were on the front lines. Sales managers and sales reps were interviewed to understand their perspectives better as were marketing analysts – all one by one. The interviews were often infused with emotional testimony and the voice of the elephant came through loud and clear.

Early in the process, it was clear that data and analytics could help address the rider's logical concerns. Who had access and visibility to the data used in decision making? Did the problems that sales and marketing claimed about each other reveal themselves in the data? Was there a way to use data to reveal the interdepartmental contempt?


Following the interviews, we prepared a summary report and presentation for two audiences: first, we informed the president of our findings and recommendations. Next, we briefed the vice presidents of the sales and marketing departments in a meeting together and with the president at the table.

 They all agreed that the business would benefit from a Red Team workshop to discover first-hand the trials of each department's responsibilities. The term comes from military exercises where a group of soldiers imitates the roles of an opposing force to help plan for and manage battle scenarios. In this case, the strong language used by the military was dialed down and we emphasized "what it is like to walk a mile in the other department's shoes."

The day-and-a-half workshop began on the afternoon of day one with basic team-building exercises to cross-pollinate trust and facilitate physical connections between the two departments. At the end of day one, the participants were handed scenarios to prepare for the next day: the marketing team received simulated data (to appeal to the rider) and a simulated case (to appeal to the elephant) and was told to construct a solution from the sales perspective under the proviso that sales objectives must be met. The sales team was given the same data and case and were told to address it from the marketing perspective under the proviso that marketing objectives must be met.

As they left for the evening, they were instructed to use any resource that would enhance the effectiveness of their solution, which would be presented the following day. 

Day two began with presentations and solutions from each team. Each group presented with greater empathy over their colleagues' issues. We also asked them about their processes: Did the salespeople reach out to their marketing counterparts to gain insights into their solution design? Did the marketing people leverage real stories from the field to enhance their solution? Whom did they seek for counsel?

Finally, near the end of day two, they were challenged with building an Accountability & Resolution Process that would bring each department's needs and wants at the table whenever there was a dispute. It was to leverage both data (to appeal to the rider) and real-world implications (the elephant's story).


The workshop yielded the anticipated results. The logical aspects of making decisions and choosing behavioral paths (the rider) were satisfied as the two departments increased knowledge and awareness of the other side's issues.

 However, Laurie Santos, PhD at Yale University calls this the GI Joe Fallacy. Contrary to what GI Joe says, knowing is NOT half the battle. It's not even close. You must address the elephant to sustain long-term change. The workshop addressed the elephant by requiring each side to address the emotional and challenging case study and then to create an accountable and respectful method for resolving future clashes.  

The fix has been in place for over a year, and it's working. The senior leaders claim the initiative was a success. It has helped keep the business stick to a tremendously steep growth trajectory with anecdotal signs that their prescribers and patients are pleased with the company's performance.