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The Language of Marketing v. Sales

by Hank Barnes  |  August 18, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

This week, I was briefed by an interesting company that has a solution that I should have loved.   They help businesses identify and prioritize segments for B2B Marketing and Sales.  I love segmentation and there was a lot to like about their approach.  They allow analysis of segments by a huge number of parameters.  They supply very specific data about the number of customers in a segment (great for companies that sell to small businesses and need very specific information).  And, they make it easy to identify and prioritize adjacent segments that have similar characteristics.

But one thing really turned me off about their story.  And I am still struggling to get past it.   It was the language they used in their segmentation analysis.   They had four main groupings.  I don’t remember all the labels, but the first two related to the size of the segment and the number of companies in it that had not been touched by a marketing or sales campaign.  Fine so far.

The next two labels were “Wins” and “Losses.”   I naturally thought that Wins would be companies in the segment that had become customers and Losses were those that had not.


In their solution, Wins represented someone in the segment that had responded favorably to a campaign (in marketing terms, converted) or received a proposal or quote.   Losses were people who had not converted.   (Note: They did show the ability to edit the rules, but the default assignments for the demo are clearly the recommended assignmnets).

And that is a problem.   If I, as a marketer, took this to a sales leader and said “We’ve had wins in 10% of this segment already and have not touched another 80%, this is a great segment for growth,” then that sales leader would immediately think that I meant customers.  And, in this case, I would not.  If a deeper discussion ensued, it is likely that my credibility would have been shot.

Businessmen Butting Heads


In something like segmentation, that really needs to be shared discipline between marketing and sales, language is critical.   Calling a conversion a win could be a path to disaster.  It is akin to what my colleague Todd Berkowitz calls “The MQL Trap”–marketing being so focused on generating MQLs that they ignore whether those MQLs result in actual customer wins.

I’m sure others may not have the same visceral reaction to the language of this solution provider, but many will.  And if you are seeking a more customer-centric approach to marketing and sales, then it is a non-starter.   Other, more appropriate labels (e.g. “Conversions”) may not be as sexy, but they would be more authentic.  Or, if you are going to use the term “Wins” make the rule be that they became a customer (not that they responded to a campaign).

While I am not a believer in the idea that every word matters and has to be evaluated carefully (I worked with someone at IBM who obsessed over that–often missing the forest for the trees as a result), but some words—words that convey the value of the solution– matter a lot.  In this case, one choice of word, “Wins”, totally soured me on what was otherwise an interesting, and potentially valuable product.

Watch your words, particularly when working across groups where the meanings can be very different.

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Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: marketing  sales  segmentation  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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