Posted by: communicationcloud | March 19, 2010

Why can’t marketing & support be friends?

In many of the places I’ve worked, there’s a tension between support teams and marketing teams. Happily, at Red Gate – unlike other places I’ve worked – this tension hasn’t developed into hostilities. But it still emerges sometimes – especially around the subject of the website, which is a key public contact-point for both teams.

A few examples of these tension pints:

  • telling people about bugs
  • promoting content we want people to find vs. what they think they’re looking for
  • describing all the features of the product in the help system (effectively, creating a detailed features list) vs. optimising help content to support users

Part of my job is to get the website working the best we can to contribute to a fantastic customer experience, so I’d like to understand where the tension comes from…

So what’s the problem?

I asked around. Here’s what a couple of people told me:

“They’re 2 different beasts by nature. Marketing = creative people with egos. Support = functional & factual. They always have different business objectives” – Bryan Lade, 3di

“There could be conflicts if one is a profit centre and the other is a cost centre – e.g. marketing as profit; support as cost” – Ken Davies

So, marketing and support are different animals with different bases of support within the business. That certainly explains why they find it difficult to communicate.

Different objectives

In my own experience, the business-objective aspect is a pretty important one. Put simply, marketing exist to persuade; support exist to enable.

Marketing – persuade Support – enable
Our company is great

Our products are great

Our products will fulfil your need

Download a trial



Solve a problem

Explore the product

Upgrade to the latest version

Contact for more help

These do look like very different purposes – which certainly helps explain some of the conflicts. For example, if marketing want to give the message that the products are great, they probably don’t want support to be publicising too clearly how to solve a problem or work around a bug. If the product is that great, there are no bugs or problems, right?

Another viewpoint

Jason Fried of 37signals looks at this differently; he sees support as much more closely related to marketing:

“The customer service department has some of the most important marketing people… Their impact is marginalized, when actually they have a huge impact.”

This leads to an interesting way of looking at the objectives of persuading vs. enabling: perhaps they’re not so far apart after all. What if people are persuaded by being enabled? I.e. helping them get up and running – or even making it clear that there are good resources available to help get them up and running – could be part of what persuades them that the company is great and they should buy the product.

Persuading by enabling

This is closely related to an idea that Red Gate have applied in some parts of the business already. “Ingeniously simple” is at the heart of the company’s aims, because of an underlying belief that making things easy for people will impress them.

We invest a lot of time and effort into designing our software so that it enables people to do what they need to do, simply. Customers are impressed with how easy it is to complete their tasks during the trial, so they buy the software.

Applying a similar approach to the website – and all the touch-points that customers have with us for that matter – could do a lot to add to how impressed customers are by the company and products.

Finding this common goal between marketing and support might also be the key to easing that tension, so everyone can be friends.



  1. Rahel:

    I’ve worked in companies with that kind of tension between marketing and other departments. One of the tools marketing uses to persuade customers are case studies. Would it be possible do a case study where the support, help, or docs really impressed a customer? This would not only be a tool for marketing the product, it might help convince the marketing folks themselves that the support services are important in keeping their customers happy.

  2. This kind of approach feels like it could be increasingly common as companies move toward a more mature market, too. More pragmatic buyers, and particularly enterprise customers are likely to be highly unforgiving of something that doesn’t JustWork™, and isn’t easy to get started with, at the same time as being hugely reassured by a strong, visible support infrastructure.

    This is one of the reasons we’re becoming so interested in the kind of “third category” content. A marketing message might be “Look at our awesome features!”. A support message may be: “Here’s how to use feature X”. Then there’s a whole raft of – usually missing – information that says “This is how our product solves your business problem”, without lies, florid prose, or obfuscation.

    It’s increasingly important, and to create it well this type of content requires input from both marketing and support people.

  3. I too have seen the tension between Marketing and Support, and I too find it strange that they can’t be friends.

    In a fundamental sense, both organizations have the same objectives: Inform customers and potential customers about the products; engender and sustain customer goodwill.

    The difference is that Marketing content is designed to be consumed by the customer before the buy decision is made; Support content is designed to be consumed after. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be common ground between the two. But it does mean that people in the two camps don’t often look for that common ground.

    If the two parties aren’t talking with each other, it’s probably because they’re seeing the differences and missing out on what they share in common.

  4. Gut reaction from someone in the middle of project management studies: isn’t this about leadership and communication? There is so much they can learn from each other / teach each other. That can only benefit everyone. Better planning and a clearer strategy in the company! 🙂

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