January 2, 2018 Katharine Opie

Sales & Marketing – Is there such a thing as functional conflict?

Sales & Marketing - Is there such a thing as functional conflict?

It seems an odd term to use, but there is such a thing as functional conflict, and believe it or not there is an argument for it between sales and marketing to improve overall business performance.

Functional conflict is the creation of healthy and constructive disagreement between departments. It is designed to improve overall business performance through shared goals with an added hint of competition and if executed correctly can have some surprising outcomes.

It has been advocated by some marketing academics and criticised by others. Advocators see functional conflict as the healthy competition that drives a business forward by keeping everyone on their toes.

Advocates see sharper analytical mindsets, the diffusion of tension between team members and a drive for goal completion.

But, functional conflict can be hard to achieve and can very quickly turn sour with just one cog out of place, so how do you create an environment that harnesses the good and leaves the bad at the door?


1. Strict Resource Allocation

It is one of the biggest reasons sales and marketing fight.

Sales want the additional budget to bring on extra sales reps, provide better and more advanced training and provide their team with greater incentives to smash their targets.

But marketing is also on the hunt for a slice of the pie, aiming to use the budget to keep up with competitors and the latest trends to be sweeping the market.

To even begin considering a case for functional conflict, the business has to look at the perception of resource allocation between the departments to see where the not so healthy conflict can arise.

A way to minimise the frustration is to focus on resources that can be of joint use to both departments. A well-maintained CRM system that links both sales and marketing together is a great place to start; all marketing qualified leads should be built and stored until ready to be passed to the sales team.

Resource allocation should also be precise with unambiguous justification for both sides. Tension is less likely to arise if there is clear justification for all resources allocated. Having senior sales managers and senior marketing managers in meetings regarding budget allocation will help create an understanding of the needed resources to sustain both departments.


 2. Firm Role Understanding

There are lots of reasons that both sales and marketing fail to understand each other’s roles. Some can be physical, like being in different geographical locations. Others are slightly more difficult; the two departments tend not to spend that much time together even if they are on opposite sides of the same room, or they have a warped vision that has manifested from Chinese whispers between departments.

This causes the problem of each division not having a full understanding of each others roles, and this quickly turns into:

‘this department is lazy’

‘they don’t understand the customer’

and the classic

‘they’re throwing leads away’

It isn’t unreasonable to suppose that in 2018, sales still think that marketing sit on their high horse and marketing seem to think that sales waste valuable leads that have been carefully crafted for them.

However, we all know that this isn’t true in every sense of the word, it is more down the fact that they don’t understand each others working day.

While each department should be busy with their roles, a flexible boundary will keep communication lines open and will provide understanding between functions.

A great way to keep departments speaking to each other is set a shared vision based on numbers (revenue targets for example), with smaller goals allocated to each unit. Having a numbers target means each department knows where they are and where they’re going and sets a little competition going.

Regular catch-up meetings with an allocated team member from each department with a set agenda will keep everyone on track.

So, there is a case for functional conflict, and a little bit of healthy competition is no bad thing, but it needs to be structured and supported by higher management to really be able to reap the benefits.


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