Image Credit: Credit: Luke Hejl/Social Factor


I spent most of the last week in Boston at HubSpot’s INBOUND conference – a four-day extravaganza dedicated to inbound marketing in all its forms. I was honored to attend as a speaker (my session: the essential elements of an annual new business plan), but I think I may have absorbed way more information than I imparted.

Among the many take-aways, here’s the one that stood out most dramatically for me: the line that used to separates sales and marketing no longer exists.

You can understand first-hand how the line between sales and marketing is blurring by practicing basic customer relationship management at your own ad agency.

In his keynote, Brian Halligan, co-founder of HubSpot which hosts INBOUND, talked about the growing influence that marketing has in the later stages of the sales funnel – territory that had once been exclusive to sales. According to his research, a decade ago a marketer’s website was used primarily to augment sales; today, as consumers take control of their transactions, sales reps are more likely to augment the website.


A cynic might point out that a conference hosted by HubSpot, a software company that pioneered content marketing automation, would naturally encourage such an idea. But here's more evidence:

A new study by The Economist and Marketo shows a majority of chief marketing officers believe that marketers will own the lion’s share of the sales experience in the next three years. And recent research conducted by The CMO Club in partnership with IBM found that CMOs are shifting budgets away from customer acquisition and towards customer retention and advocacy.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “this all sounds very B2B to me...,” consider recent ad agency reviews for two consumer products companies, Electrolux and J.M. Smucker. Both briefs included CRM as part of the agency's scope of work. 

In the words of Scott Hagedorn, CEO of newly minted agency Hearts & Science (which, incidentally, recently snagged both the P&G and AT&T media accounts, going from $0 to $5 billion in billings in less than 10 months), "[It's about] leaving a mark on the industry and bringing a CRM capability to mass media …” 

This will have an impact, if it hasn’t already, on how your agency goes about attracting and winning new clients.

For some agencies, the blurred line between sales and marketing is not news. For example, HubSpot partner agencies offer services that are almost exclusively focused on lead generation for their clients. These agencies tend to be small (probably a staff of fewer than 40 people) and have come of age alongside inbound marketing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are large global agencies like Omnicom’s RAPP, which evolved from its unsexy direct marketing roots in the 1960’s to “high-precision brand engagement for a digital-smart world” today.

Then there are the agencies in the middle. In particular, the hundreds of small to mid-sized “full-service, integrated” advertising agencies.

So, what’s a full-service, integrated ad agency to do (besides seriously considering narrowing its focus)?

I don’t have the answer.

That is, I don’t have the answer because it depends on your agency. The solution may lie in developing expertise in-house, aligning with a partner, or deciding that’s not an area you want to play in – and being honest about that with your prospects.

But you can understand first-hand how the line between sales and marketing is blurring by practicing basic customer relationship management at your own agency.

Here are three ways:

  1. Clean up your client and prospect lists and import them into a CRM platform like Assign someone to manage it so you can always trust the integrity of the information.
  2. Make a commitment to creating valuable content for your clients and learn how to get that content in front of your clients and contacts, the people in your social networks, and the visitors to your website.
  3. Update your website to include basic lead generation functionality like the option to sign up for a monthly newsletter (of course, don’t neglect to produce and send the newsletter).
  4. Make sure your online content is optimized for search so that your prospects can start to find you instead you chasing them.

From there, try introducing some level of marketing automation or customer segmentation (I’m sure HubSpot would be thrilled to give you a demo of their impressive software). Start supplementing your text-based blog with more video. Maybe even start a podcast or a webinar series.   

In my INBOUND session, I talked about the value of recognizing trends that will impact how your agency needs to stay competitive. For most agencies, the merging of sales and marketing is a trend that shouldn’t go unnoticed. 

Thanks to Luke Hejl, CEO of Social Factor, for allowing me to use his image of the INBOUND topiary.