Five Tips to Improve Sales and Marketing Alignment

Posted: Jul 01, 2017

Over the course of my career, I’ve worked for start-ups, small-and mid-sized companies and large, global corporations. Across all of these organizations, there has been one common thread: various stages of sales and marketing alignment.

Historically these two groups haven’t played well together. Much of the discontent derives from the fact that both groups think that they are THE critical factor to success. Really, both are critical – marketing generates and develops leads, and sales closes those leads. A key reason behind the misalignment is misconceptions and misunderstandings of one another’s role and value. For example, sales views marketers as slow, too strategic in their movement, and aren’t action-oriented. Marketers often criticize sales saying that they aren’t thinking things through, are reactive or chasing the “next shinny ball.” The truth is, they are both right. Marketers are in it for the long-haul. They look to attract, educate and nurture a lead over the course of a buyer’s journey, and that may take time. Sales teams have immediate monthly and quarterly sales quotas to meet, so they are moving fast; talking to every customer or prospect, seeking out up- and cross-sell opportunities, and closing deals quickly. Sometimes it feels like each group is not even running in the same direction; however they are running the same race.

Breaking down these barriers can be tough, but organizations that are helping sales and marketing to understand one another, their roles and their expectations are seeing higher quality leads, reduced sales cycles and more revenue. Marketing and sales alignment isn’t easy, but it can be done, and it has a big payoff, for both the business and its people. Below are some tried and true tips, which have been successful for me, to help you get started.

1. Sales and Marketing Executives Set the Tone.
Executives, including the C-suite, set the tone for how their teams will work together. Marketing and sales leaders should work together in forming goals, communicating how teams engage with one another, and who’s responsible for what. Define the swim lanes…together. When teams see that senior management are aligned, they are more likely to follow suit.

2. Create Strategic Marketing and Sales Plans Together.
By creating plans together, the teams begin to better understand the processes, requirements and thinking of the other group.

Executive Alignment is Key!
Marketing and Sales;    together at last!

For example, sales may not understand that there are production lead times required for certain assets; or marketing may learn that during certain times of year a vertical market accelerates its buying. This is also the time to talk content planning. Although content is developed all year, during planning sessions the teams can agree on initial content for each stage of the buying cycle. Finally, as plans evolve, facilitate ongoing alignment by encouraging teams to regularly share how plans are tactically coming to life. And, how it’s working. If for some reason teams can’t do sales and marketing planning regularly, at minimum provide an opportunity for feedback before the plan is set into motion and executed.

3. Agree on Metrics and Document!
Success or failure can only be measured by the metric put in place to measure it. It’s not a gut feeling. During planning sessions, make sure the teams agree on what success looks like and the required metric(s). This may include, what constitute a Marketing or Sales Accepted Lead (lead scoring), the Return on Investment (ROI) – is it 10:1 or 20:1- acceptable conversion rates, etc. Also, don’t forget about Service-Level Agreements (SLAs). Agree on reasonable turn-around and response times, how quickly will leads be accepted or denied (based on the lead definitions and scoring), how often will you meet to review results, and so on. When the metric or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are defined, document, document document. This will save time and possible arguments if there is a “pocket veto” later. For example, a conversation like this:

M: “Why did you reject this lead?”
S: “It was a bad lead.”
M: “No it isn’t. They’ve scored to where they are ready to make a decision.”
S: “They’re not ready for a PO.”

And so on…When documentation is available, it’s easier to close out the conversation with something like:
M: “According to our agreed upon lead scoring definitions from last quarter (or half/year ago), it meets the criteria. I’ll send you the document where we discussed and agreed on leads. If we need to adjust the parameters, let’s have that discussion with the entire team. Based on the current criteria, it’s a good lead and can be followed-up on.”

We’ve all been a part of an “I didn’t agree to that” conversation. When metrics, KPIs, and SLAs are agreed upon up front and documented, fires are usually extinguished quickly. Having documented processes is never a bad thing.

Analyze ROI, tie to lead gen.
Analyze ROI, tie to lead gen.

4. Tie ROI to Revenue
Sales creates sales. Marketing creates…? Historically it has been difficult to tie marketing ROI to revenue. However, with marketing and sales automation tools and advanced business intelligence, marketing is no longer just an art. It’s a science too. When ROI is tied to revenue, opportunities or opportunities influenced, it demonstrates to sales that marketing has a vested interest, which boosts trust. Additionally, it makes it much easier to see what tactic/content/programs are or are not working the field, which maximizes sales’ time. Finally, these metrics provide sound data for marketers to demonstrate contribution and justify requests for additional budgets.

5. Meet Regularly.
When sales and marketing teams meet regularly, the benefits are exactly what you might think. Greater trust, improved communication and engagement and, yes, even solidarity. No one likes to have more meetings on their calendar, but this is one meeting that shouldn’t be ignored. Regularly scheduled meetings or calls allow the two groups to hear how marketing’s efforts are helping sales with regard to quota, content or other support. And, it allows sales to better understand how marketing is tracking to the plan, analyze conversion, review BI metrics, and revenue contribution. It also offers a time for brainstorming, bringing up recommendations or calling out successes or challenges. To help ensure engagement from the beginning, when new marketing or sales people join the team, have them join these meetings as a part of their onboading. Then, out of the gate, they are clear that there is a strong marketing + sales partnership.

When I’ve talking to my marketing peers or other leaders, they’ve often asked what I’m passionate about when it comes to marketing. Sales and Marketing alignment is number one. At the end of the day, sales is the gateway to the customer; they know what the customers wants and what they don’t, what makes them buy more, and how they tick. If I, as a marketer, don’t have a solid relationship with the sales team, I’m missing out on one of the most critical aspects of the business: the customer voice. And, when the sale team feels like I hear their issues, am trying to support them, and create programs that drive business, trust builds and a cohesive partnership is formed. One where I have their back and they have mine. Most importunity, along the way I meet and have fun with thoughtful, smart and interesting people who are working together and in the same direction…a direction that grows the business and keeps customers happy.

What has worked for you to improve sales and marketing alignment?

Good marketing,