The relationship between Marketing, Sales, and R&D. Asymmetry of knowledge or lack of communication?

In business discussions, the focus often centers around strengthening the relationship between marketing and sales. We will examine the entire chain of relationships within a SaaS company.

As companies evolve and mature, they typically organize their teams by function. However, that may lead to a tendency to become engrossed in the people’s respective duties and goals, leading to a breakdown in the crucial link between technology and product on one side and the customer and market insight on the other.

A noteworthy study, the ‘BCG Most Innovative Companies Report 2020 and 2021; BCG analysis,’ sheds light on this issue. You might think the data is outdated, but given how hot the topic continues to be, we wouldn’t jump to conclusions. The study reveals that nearly a third of participating companies identified suboptimal collaboration between their R&D and sales teams as the primary obstacle to achieving higher innovation output. These results are valid across various industries.

Our experience underscores the significance of open communication between Marketing, Sales, and R&D. This alignment is fundamental for:

  • A precise formulation of your brand message.
  • Effective positioning of your company, products, and services.
  • Establishing ‘product-market’ fit and ‘problem-solution’ fit.

You need (1) a technologically viable product innovation that (2) meets a market need. Experts in marketing or sales should consider how confident they are in their understanding of the product they’re selling. Conversely, for those in R&D, the question is, ‘How familiar are you with strategies to promote and sell the product you are developing?’

Before the sales and marketing teams unleash their storytelling skills, the R&D team should set the stage with their narrative. All three teams should be well-acquainted with the product’s story, its’ benefits, and use cases. Understanding each team’s perspectives is the starting point for aligning their understandings.

The R&D team can initiate by presenting the initial product concept and its developmental stages. Click the links to learn about the product maturity framework and development lifecycle. It is crucial to introduce the overarching mission of the product and its benefits. Then, teams can focus on specific use cases or functionalities for ideal customer profiles.

Sales and marketing experts can connect this newfound knowledge with the existing – addressing pains, needs, challenges, and the competitor landscape.

Here arises an opportunity to restore another missing link: feedback loops. When both sides actively listen and learn from one another, they can overcome blind spots. Once they understand the product-market fit, it’s time for the marketing and sales teams to turn to the R&D department for a reality check.

Of course, the process should be reciprocal. The R&D team can also benefit from market information available to the sales and marketing departments, revealing:

  • The need to upgrade or add new skills to meet emerging market trends.
  • Competitor strengths and weaknesses through customer sentiment.
  • Market preferences for pricing ranges and additional services.

The R&D, Sales, and Marketing teams should collaborate as co-creators of the brand and product storyline.

These indicate effective communication between teams:

  • Proposing a product development roadmap aligned with market needs.
  • Planning for expanding in-house skills based on market trends and competitor research.
  • A shared understanding of the company and product positioning.
  • Coordination of common KPIs.

This teamwork ensures the company’s story is well-received by everyone, forming a cohesive and powerful narrative.

Help Sales, Marketing, and RnD work together

Establish clear communication channels, roles, and responsibilities

Encourage open communication within all three teams. It should be second nature for employees to seek clarification, acquire additional knowledge, or take the time to explain complex situations to each other.

Everything said won’t and can’t be remembered. Documenting information is a practical solution. Teams should establish norms for storing and organizing knowledge. Consider the following questions:

  • How can data be lost?
  • Where could misinformation originate?
  • What risks are associated with duplicated data?
  • Who has permission to upload, edit, and (re)organize?
  • What is the organizational structure of stored information?
  • What might lead each team to hoard data and work independently?
  • How can access to necessary information from stakeholders be guaranteed?
  • How do we ensure everyone is responsible for the outcomes of information collection, storage, and management?

Build a one-team mentality

Foster mutual respect by acknowledging the roles of each party in the cross-company innovation process, where they act as contributors rather than sole drivers.

Establish initial alignment with shared long- and medium-term product development and go-to-market roadmaps. These roadmaps blend R&D’s technical expertise and research with insights into customer needs, the trajectory of competitive products, and market positioning gaps.

To bring R&D, marketing, and sales teams closer, initiate collaboration from the top of the hierarchy. Imagine unit heads collaborating to manage product development and the business pipeline. That entails common KPIs, shared roadmaps, and role models for the teams.

A more daring approach involves personnel rotation between Marketing, Sales, and R&D functions, exposing each team to the realities of other business areas and enhancing their skill sets.

From a marketing perspective, this involves:

  • Participation in sales meetings.
  • Developing negotiation skills.
  • Addressing sales pipeline bottlenecks.
  • Preparing offers and discussing contract terms.

From an R&D perspective, this involves:

  • Participating in sales launches.
  • Reflecting on customer feedback.
  • Involvement in product deployment.
  • Participation in customer training sessions.

From a Sales perspective, this involves:

  • Crafting targeted content.
  • Preparing product collaterals.
  • Acquiring technical competencies.
  • Quantifying and communicating product value.

This joint approach heightens awareness of each other’s functions and their contribution to the company, preventing power struggles between teams. Balancing marketing and sales influence ensures that product engineers develop what customers need, avoiding unnecessary experimentation.

In summary, establish several collaboration pillars, including product roadmap reviews, strategic plan presentations, periodic target fulfillment reviews, and presentations of market trends.

Unite the teams around shared goals and KPIs

Are you familiar with the concepts of hard and soft incentives?

Make business unit leaders great role models. Bring them closer and stimulate collaboration between them. Tangible incentives tied to specific targets may support these efforts, extending them to other team members.

Alternatively, emphasize soft incentives to foster cross-functional alignment. This can be achieved by:

  1. Allocating a percentage of one team’s overall corporate budget to another team.
  2. Delegating decision-making authority regarding priorities.

Let them create a shared product vision and roadmap

Each of the three teams has annual plans and goals.

For R&D, the product vision serves as the overarching direction, with the product roadmap as the plan and timeline for product development.

Salespeople set quarterly and annual pipeline projections, aiming for specific pipeline velocity and closed revenue targets.

Meanwhile, the Marketing department sets goals for sourced pipeline, qualified accounts, ensuring product-market fit, and achieving ROI on strategic initiatives.

To ensure alignment of expectations and actions, consistently communicate these plans. We have found that the product roadmap best embodies the company’s strategic vision. However, the challenge lies in communicating and navigating changes without negatively impacting existing product sales. Long-term roadmaps may undergo modifications during execution, and if sales and marketing have already communicated upcoming updates, it can sever the company’s reputation and pipeline volume.

The objective is to maintain sales traction for existing products while presenting future innovations as the next generations of current products. To stay focused, consider:

  • Highlighting key features and their benefits.
  • Clearly outlining the product’s goals and how they align with company objectives.
  • Providing a timeline for the rollout of new features with specific targets tied to them.

Establish cross-functional teams

To form a cross-functional team, the customer should be in focus. Encourage team members to observe and engage with current and potential customers to generate valuable marketing insights. The crucial factor in this process is the relationship between the client and the brand, built over time by salespersons and led by their personalities.

We’ve come across an intriguing thesis:

The ability to cultivate professional and commercial relationships is crucial for sales professionals. Externally, they must construct relationships to create a favorable business scenario, understanding the end customer’s needs and values that bring corporate advantage. Internally, transmitting these value perceptions to the R&D team is essential.

Relationship-building thrives in an environment where professionals have identified and kept in mind strengths and weaknesses, fostering personal development and corporate goals. In my opinion, self-awareness regarding professional attributes is key to an innovation-friendly environment and overall business success.

Begin by creating profiles for your marketing and sales teams, documenting information about their skills, specialized knowledge areas, personalities, motivations, and performance. The objective is to equip them to adapt to diverse market segments, use cases, objections, and competitors.

Next, involve your marketing and sales teams in product feedback and testing. These teams are closest to your customers and can provide valuable insights and suggestions to your R&D team. 

Two prerequisites:

  1. Including representatives from both teams in product demos and beta testing.
  2. Train salespeople to provide feedback with context, the desired solution, and underlying needs. 

This involvement enhances product quality and fit, boosting your sales team’s confidence and engagement.

Ensure effective feedback by training your marketing and sales teams on product features and benefits. They should see product features as the specific attributes and functionalities, while product benefits – outcomes and advantages delivered to customers. Discuss periodic assessments that will validate their competence. Additionally, training and cross-team workshops on articulating product knowledge during client demos and discussions.