Sales vs. Marketing in Higher Ed

Communication is key to navigating the relationship between marketing and enrollment management.

February 25, 2016

In a typical business organization, the relationship between the “sales” function and the “marketing” function is stormy, and often includes the following tensions:

What’s more important — long-term brand-building or short-term sales growth?

Who controls the message?

Who controls the budget?

In higher ed, this “sales vs. marketing” tension often exists between the Marketing and Enrollment Management offices. Enrollment management is held accountable for meeting annual enrollment objectives, but marketing is accountable for producing unique, compelling, consistently-branded materials. The relationship between these two functions can be even more difficult to navigate in complex higher ed organizations where there’s a lack of clarity around roles, responsibilities and job descriptions.

How can higher ed marketing and enrollment management leaders navigate this relationship? By identifying and understanding roles and communicating clearly and often; and not just by email.

1. Identify the decision-maker.

There’s no one-size fits all answer to the “who’s the decision-maker” question. But without clarity around who the final decision-maker is, teams can spin their wheels, leading to frustration on all sides. Different projects may have different final decision-makers, depending on the purpose of the communication. For every project, it’s important for marketing and enrollment management to agree upfront who the decision-maker will be, and then abide by the agreement.

2. Make it clear who will have a voice.

In addition to the decision-maker, it’s also important to identify all of the other stakeholders who will provide input and feedback on the project. I’ve had success with a simple project management tool called a RACI matrix. (RACI stands for “Responsible. Accountable. Consulted. Informed.”) When it’s developed as part of a team exercise, the RACI matrix not only makes roles and responsibilities clear, it also encourages buy-in from the full team of Enrollment Management and Marketing .

3. Be clear on the objectives.

It’s essential to establish clear objectives for whatever you’re doing, whether for a single marketing piece or a campaign. In my experience, many disagreements over a finished marketing piece stem from a lack of shared understanding of the project objectives. Teams should meet in person to discuss and agree to objectives at the start of any project. Having clear written objectives will keep team members honest about what was agreed to, and also help keep the conversation focused. Don’t let team members change the objectives mid-project without agreement from the full team.

4. Over-communicate. In person.

When lines of authority are unclear, it’s essential that the parties meet for open and honest discussion at key points in the projects. Email is not effective at working through issues, because it’s difficult to tell when the issue has actually been resolved. When disagreements arise between the groups, it’s better to schedule time for the two teams to meet to work through issues and make decisions.

5. Establish and communicate clear project plans.

Lack of clarity around process and timelines can further escalate tensions across groups and lead to finger-pointing. Make processes and timelines visible, and make sure that both Marketing and EM know who’s supposed to do what when. Online project management systems, such as Basecamp, can help make timelines and processes more visible and hold people accountable for meeting deadlines.

6. Build the team.

Even organizations that understand the value of team-building fail to encourage team building across functions. Regular team get-togethers with a combination of some learning and some socializing help to build relationships that can weather daily tensions and can get people beyond “us vs. them” mentality.

Deborah Maue is the Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications at Columbia College Chicago, and is a leading voice in higher education marketing.


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