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Talking with an Indiana commercial corn and soybean producer recently, the challenges of coordinating sales and marketing activities were front and center. Over a period of two days, this 3,000+ acre producer had received three phone calls on behalf of an agricultural input firm. Two of the calls were from two different representatives of a consulting telemarketer that the firm had hired to collect information and one was from a database firm who had also been hired for (evidently) a similar purpose.

Making this annoying for the producer was that one month earlier, he had met a sales rep for this firm at a farm show, had given the rep all his contact information, and had not received any follow-up from him.

In relating the story to me, the producer indicated that what seems like a good idea at the strategic level — to intensively canvass a market using multiple hits — might actually backfire because people like him are just inundated. Additionally, he said the firm looked out of control, not coordinated, and working hard, but not efficiently.

Of course, the sales rep looked bad — even if the rep had passed the producer's data back to the company, it looked like he had just dropped the ball. This is definitely not the first impression any sales organization wants to make. The producer asked an interesting question: "I wonder if the Marketing or Sales VP of this firm knows about this circus atmosphere at the field level?"

Being compared to a circus is not what most agribusiness firms are aiming for in their sales, marketing, and or CRM efforts. Yet, when database technology, leaner organizations, outsourcing strategies, organizational silos, and firms in transition come together, you do have the potential for a "3-ringer." How do we avoid this situation?

Getting at why the seeming chaos is a starter. Maybe this is an isolated incident, and not the norm. But, if such fumbles are more frequent than you would like, it is time to dig deeper. Take a look at the way sales and marketing activities are organized in your firm. Are the two groups integrated into one seamless, revenue-generating and key account management machine, or do they feud like the Hatfield's and McCoy's over everything from budget to what customers really need?

Probably you are somewhere between these two extremes. If there is room for improvement in how sales and marketing work together in your organization, take a look at the July-August 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review. Philip Kotler, Neil Rackham, and Suj Krishnaswamy offer a thoughtful article entitled, "Ending the War between Sales and Marketing." In the article they provide an excellent questionnaire you can complete to take stock of just where your organization is with respect to integrating the sales and marketing functions. Based on where you are now, the article offers some useful insights for moving forward. Some of their thoughts are:

Encourage disciplined communication — consider how your sales and marketing groups communicate now, and take steps to be more intentional and systematic about how they will communicate in the future. Regular meetings, with purposeful agendas, aimed at addressing significant issues are the order of the day here. The point: not more communication, better communication, between the two groups.

Create joint assignments - a simple, but powerful idea. Get marketing staff out on sales calls and into customer meetings. Have them help brainstorm key account solutions. Engage salespeople in ad and sales promotion reviews. You get the idea: each group can bring powerful perspectives to the other — encourage it to happen.

Appoint a 'marketing liaison' for the sales force. This person can serve as a bridge between the two groups, bringing broader market info into the sales discussions, and taking a field level perspective back to marketing conversations.

House sales and marketing staffs together. Of course, this is not always possible given that marketing departments tend to be centralized and sales staff geographically dispersed. But, when possible, there is no substitute for "water cooler" time and bumping into people in the hallway to facilitate informal communication.

Enhance sales force feedback. Take a very close look at how you integrate information from the sales force into marketing activities now. What is required? Does it get done? Is it useful? Scrap the reports that no one uses and start a conversation involving sales and marketing that defines what high impact sales force intelligence would look like.

Taking a close look at some of the thinking offered up by Kotler, Rackam, and Krishnaswamy may help you move toward a more powerful circus metaphor: that of a composed ringmaster orchestrating multiple acts, all with the intent of delighting a (paying) audience.

Dr. Jay Akridge is a professor and director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Economics at Purdue University. He can be reached at

Strategic Agrimarketing

October 23-27, 2006

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