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By Mary Ann Donaghy

I am completely and continually confounded by how, in some organizations and industries, Marketing & Sales are seen as essentially the same thing. That they are interchangeable and that experts in one are experts in the other.

Senior living is no exception. I came into the senior living sector less than 3 years ago with most of my experience in large, consumer-facing companies including AOL, H.J. Heinz, and P&G; organizations where marketing, and the importance of being consumer-centric in decision-making, are the focus of the organizational structure and strategies.

Marketing, in these sectors, is responsible for generating the consumer insights and data that drove the 4 Ps:  Product, Pricing, Promotion, and Place. This includes branding, positioning, target market, and new product development, as well as contributing to overall business strategies.

In these organizations, it is expected that sales and marketing work hand in hand, like two legs helping the body get to the same destination. Marketing drives brand or product awareness, consideration, and adoption while Sales ensures that those who are interested in your product turn consideration into a purchase. Two different skill sets.

The Digital World

This becomes particularly important in the present era of digital marketing, where basic marketing tactics like flyers, print ads, direct mail, and brochures will no longer do the trick. Digital marketing and consumer-informed marketing strategies require much more sophisticated skills and experience.

Yet, we continue to see so many companies with a SVP or VP of Marketing & Sales. My question is this:  Which of those two skill sets are more important for that role in that organization — sales expertise or marketing sophistication? This is a critical question because finding equally deep expertise in both is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Then when you throw in all the other qualities you’re looking for including the ability to collaborate, fit into the culture, lead effectively, and bring the strategic chops to help the organization move from today to tomorrow, the challenge grows exponentially.

There Are Other Options

Each organization and situation is unique, but more recently, we’re seeing innovative organizations installing a Chief Revenue Officer—a role that will have a highly-skilled marketer and a proven sales leader reporting to them. The CRO role drives the joint objectives and vision, then reinforces the importance of full collaboration and cooperation between the Marketing and Sales functions. The CRO becomes the conductor in the orchestra, ensuring everyone does their part to deliver the symphony.

It is their job to make sure there is a continuous feedback and collaboration loop between sales and marketing. Sales must feel comfortable providing feedback to Marketing about how effective their efforts were and Marketing must feel comfortable taking feedback from Sales. Together they have a single goal, achieving revenue objectives. But they have two separate and distinct roles.

What is Most Important?

Alternatively, if the organization accepts that Sales and Marketing are two different areas of expertise and it has or is hiring an executive heading both Sales and Marketing, they must decide which of the two skill sets is most important.

If it’s Marketing, hire a seasoned Sales leader to report into the Marketing executive or consider bringing in specialized training to ensure all community-level Sales or EDs are following the same sales process. A benefit of this is that the Marketing function should not only “own” the brand and positioning, but it also should be responsible for bringing the brand to life through all customer touchpoints, including the selling process. Creating consistency through aligned marketing activities and sales training is critical to building brand equity over time.

Alternatively, if the priority is Sales leadership and expertise, hire a full-time or contracted senior strategic marketer to provide the sophisticated Marketing skills that the Sales expert lacks. As described in the bestseller Good to Great, the best leaders recognize their weaknesses and hire people to fill those gaps in expertise — this reflects strength, not weakness. And delivers better business results.

As senior living moves beyond COVID-19 with the goal of making up census declines, organizational structure, and ROI on marketing spend, internal expertise will be increasingly critical. Getting the right people in the right roles focusing on the right things will be key to getting us there.