The always-tricky alignment of sales and marketing

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“Marketers are from Venus and salespeople are from Mars,” according to a popular HubSpot article.  For example – in that same study – 40 percent of marketers admitted not knowing what a sales-qualified lead is, and 59 percent of marketers noted they have no formal agreement with sales in terms of the responsibilities of both teams. 

This is all relevant to the bottom line: Via research from Aberdeen Group, companies with strong sales and marketing alignment achieve a 20 percent annual growth rate. Companies with poor sales and marketing alignment tend to have a 4 percent revenue decline. 

Thus, both (a) sales and marketing are often not aligned, and (b) that impacts the organization’s revenue. 

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So, how do you properly align sales and marketing? How can each team get the other squarely in their corner, with limited miscommunications and misunderstandings? 

Internally, this would be the approach 

Communication: Sales and marketing need to have at least one “all-hands” meeting per month, and possibly even more than that. The meeting should be kept fairly short – 1 hour or less – with three items on the agenda:

  • Key metrics 
  • Airing any process issues in a safe space. Describe the challenges of any process (don’t try to fix challenge right there!! Make it safe and manageable by just listening, and by fixing stuff later)
  • Understanding the vocabulary of both teams

The vocabulary aspect is important because many sales and marketing alignment issues are caused by differing business languages. If these meetings contain a refresher on how sales, talks about concepts vs. how marketing talks about concepts, that can be very beneficial. For example, some in an all-hands meeting may refer to “MQLs” (marketing-qualified leads) and some may refer to “SQLs” (sales-qualified leads). Those can be different in the eyes of each specific organization, but it’s important to get some consistency around what “a lead” is, if nothing else. This can help define disagreements in the future. 

The idea of “key metrics” should be occurring more frequently than just these meetings, and should be bi-directional. Marketing should present leads with some context — how they entered, their current situation, etc. and sales should be evaluating leads back to marketing with an explanation of what worked and what didn’t. 

In the same vein, the all-hands approach needs to have a transparent safe space where each side can air grievances, try to begin to reach a resolution on said grievance, and move forward. 

Feedback Loop: This often goes back to technology – the CRM platform you use, essentially – but the idea is to make sure data is flowing in both directions and the leadership of one side understands what the other side is doing (and vice versa). If you do this in an open, consistent, and transparent way – say, once/twice a week or more – you can reduce the number of problems between the two groups. 

“Consistent” in this context means reporting the same type of data each time (not cherry-picking the best data) and “open” means actively discussing the pros and cons of the current processes and structures.  

Use the Drip: Qualified leads contacted (by sales) still say “No,” and that can happen for a variety of reasons. When a lead says “no,” that doesn’t mean the relationship should be over. Rather, the sales team should consider using the “drip” approach – essentially, they can say to a potential customer, “Well, I understand now isn’t the exact right time. But we’re always finding helpful articles on your area of work. Would it be OK if I sent a few of those along periodically?” 

Drips can take many forms, from thought leadership articles to soft-touch outreaches, but the idea is to keep the relationship alive. Think about it in these terms: few people get married after the first date. You need to nurture along a relationship in many ways. Sales and marketing need to do that as well. 

Resource Alignment: Have one person within sales and one person within marketing tasked with listing all the resources each side has provided to the other – in terms of content, ideas, processes, etc. Refresh this twice a month and re-send to both sides. A salesperson may simply forget about a piece of content; a marketer may simply forget about a use-case checklist. If the refresh is consistent, it can reduce some friction. But keep it small—like 5-10 slides max—or else nobody reads it and the point is defeated.

Adjust Strategy: B2B and B2C are different animals, yes – but Forbes has found that up to 80 percent of B2B purchase cycles occur with no vendor contact. That means buyers are self-educating deeper into the cycle than they did previously (this makes sense, as developments as simple as Google have made this possible). If self-education is becoming more normative, the role of sales thus has to evolve – it can’t just be using technology to interrupt the process even more (lots of emails). Rather, it needs to be more about relationship-building and providing value, which is often influenced by content related to the potential buyer’s industry.

Align on Audience and Value Proposition: Imaging your marketing communication (social media, but also blog articles and landing pages) calls out SME on values like fast and agile but your sales team is expecting leads from Large Enterprises and they are prepared for sales pitches on stability and security. This obviously leads to big confusions among the audience.

Externally, you’d do this

Outsource your sales or lead generation process to someone who knows the area you’re targeting well. This actually saves you money and scales you up faster — although don’t expect miracles overnight. It still takes time, and we as outsourcers still work some of the same steps above that we described internally. But it is one approach that can be very helpful to aligning a sales strategy with marketing functionality.

The bottom line

People enter sales and marketing as careers for different reasons, and because they believe they have different types of strengths. Silos do exist in many organizations, and they can be hard to break down. However, it is not impossible to align functions, especially align sales and marketing – it takes a lot of communication, some technology, some adjusted strategy, and some different viewpoints on business concepts. And if you do it, everyone inside your organization benefits, the bottom line is strong, and your customers benefit too.

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