Working at a marketing agency, I love when I get an opportunity to chat with a client’s sales team. I enjoy talking with salespeople because they accumulate deep insights from helping individual buyers solve problems. And I learn a lot about the customer by understanding the sales process. This type of ongoing knowledge sharing is one prescription for better marketing and sales alignment.
The problem is a breakdown in tactical alignment.
While most people agree that marketing and sales alignment is critical, improving alignment traditionally ranks as the top challenge for organizations trying to increase lead generation and revenue. Why is this? According to research conducted by Forrester for LinkedIn, the real problem lies in a false sense of optimism about how well alignment translates from overall aims to the day-to-day relationship. In other words, strategic intent exists, but alignment breaks down in tactical delivery. There is a lack of operational alignment.
Misalignment slows deals and lowers conversion rates.
Breakdowns in tactical alignment are highly problematic because they don’t simply cause headaches for marketers and salespeople. More significantly, these breakdowns create a disjointed buying experience for customers — slowing deals and lowering conversion rates. Today’s digitally empowered B2B buyer interacts with both marketing and sales throughout the purchase journey. So in order to succeed, sales and marketing must be tightly coordinated to provide a helpful purchase experience.
Imagine the benefits of improved alignment.
Whether you are in marketing or sales, take a moment to think about how improved operational alignment impacts you. Consider the benefits of both teams making decisions together and fully collaborating with defined processes, seamless workflows, and shared resources. According to Forrester research, highly aligned companies grow 19% faster and are 15% more profitable. Aligned teams also have more empathy for and trust in each other, which improves job satisfaction and increases employee retention. Sounds awesome, right?
No matter your rung on the departmental ladder, there are clear steps that you can start taking today to improve marketing and sales alignment. If you can diagnose the symptoms of misalignment, we can prescribe behaviors that will make a meaningful impact.
Misalignment Symptoms and Prescriptions
Symptom: Marketing-generated leads aren’t valued.
One symptom of misalignment is dysfunction related to lead follow-up. Sales communicates that marketing-generated leads aren’t qualified, so lead follow-up is slow or even nonexistent. Sales then prioritizes their own prospecting efforts, so lead conversion rates are poor.
This symptom is the result of stopping at surface-level alignment and infrequent communication. It is typical for organizations to align at a strategic level around targeted industries, job titles, product focus, timing, and budget. Both groups strategically align at the beginning of the planning process but then have infrequent interaction thereafter.
Prescription: Deeper collaboration during planning and execution.
To address this symptom, marketing and sales must collaborate on a deeper level throughout the initiative.
During planning, both groups should work to establish the following:
- Shared terminology and definitions for leads, marketing-qualified leads (MQL), sales-qualified leads (SQL), and opportunities
- Lead scoring criteria
- Lead routing process
- Shared KPIs that ultimately result in opportunities and revenue
- Shared understanding of the sales process
- Contact strategy outlining tactics, messaging, and content utilized across different buyer journey and pipeline stages
After the planning process, regular meetings and communications should be scheduled to keep track of shared goals, discuss workload, address obstacles, and celebrate wins.
Symptom: Chaotic content use.
Another symptom of misalignment is inconsistent and disorganized use of content. One or more of the following problems are present:
- Sales doesn’t use marketing-provided content.
- Sales contradicts marketing-provided content. (“What this slide really means is …”)
- Sales feels compelled to create its own content.
- Confusion exists as to what content is available.
Prescription: Involve sales in the content development process and invite marketing into the sales process.
To improve the use and effectiveness of content, marketing and sales should engage in the following behaviors:
- Brainstorm and plan content together.
- Collect content feedback before and after use.
- Share trends on content consumption and performance.
- Invite marketing to participate in sales demos and ride-a-longs to gain new perspective on target audiences and a day in the life of sales reps.
- Invest in digital asset management and enablement tools that give sales well-organized, up-to-date content.
- Define where, when, and how to use specific types of content.
Symptom: Marketing and sales use separate processes and tools.
A third symptom of misalignment involves siloed processes and tools that are structured around internal teams instead of the customer. Marketing and sales use different tools and processes for managing prospects and customers. Leads are passed over to sales to “take it from there.” Limited visibility may exist across the different systems being used, which can erode trust.
Prescription: Integrate tools and systems around the customer and not the team.
Sharing tools can simplify workflows and improve alignment. As described in a recent article by Gartner, an even better approach is to interconnect new workflows to guide the buyer through the revenue life cycle. In this scenario, processes become focused on the journey and not the team.
Alignment between sales and marketing is a journey and not a destination. The effort isn’t easy, but it is well worth investing the time and energy to make improvements. If you’re toward the top of the departmental ladder, find a champion on the other side and start initiating the above prescriptions based on your symptoms. If you're toward the bottom end of the departmental ladder, have no fear. Find executive sponsors to help you drive change or willing participants who are open to increased collaboration. Start small and merchandise the benefits of increased collaboration to others in your organization.
Of course, sometimes it can be helpful to have a third-party facilitation to help bring both parties together. If you need help driving increased collaboration between marketing and sales, reach out to us for help with go-to-market strategy, campaign planning, content marketing, martech evaluations, and more.