How to Achieve Optimum Marketing & Sales Alignment

On August 16, 2021

Salespeople and marketers typically think differently. That can create rifts, hurt sales and generate missed opportunities. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how to achieve better marketing and sales alignment in your company.

The Problem

What’s the problem between the sales and marketing teams? The recurring theme across industries is that there is often a misalignment, and in especially difficult cases, real conflict between the two departments. While this is extremely common, companies with divided sales and marketing teams that function separately are putting themselves at a disadvantage. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Many sales teams and marketing teams can have common points of friction. There is often miscommunication between the teams and each has a differing level of priorities. One obstacle is that when a sales team receives leads from the marketing team, they aren’t doing anything (or enough) with the leads. This can be a nightmare for the company because the leads aren’t getting used to drive revenue and increase sales. Typically this happens because salespeople have concerns about the quality of those leads. Sales teams have also said that only 7% of the leads they received from marketing teams were high quality, but how would marketing teams know this if it weren’t communicated to them or if it were communicated poorly? This adds to friction between the teams, distrust, and significantly hurts the bottom line.

Another issue is that sales teams are relying on marketing to help them shorten the sales cycle and go to market faster, but marketing often isn’t incentivized to produce those results. Often the way that sales teams (and company leadership) look at and measure marketing effectiveness is tied to direct response to purchase. This doesn’t account for the humanity of the customer or their buyer’s journey. People are not purchasing machines. We can’t input advertising and output purchases, that is simply not how people work. Most purchases involve some amount of consideration on the part of the customer. Being able to measure impact in an integrated fashion across all sales and marketing systems is necessary to get a real picture of marketing impact. A person may interact with a brand fifty times before making a purchase; only looking at one of those fifty interactions isn’t a very useful measure of effectiveness.  

Another dilemma is that the marketing strategy needs to be aligned with the sales strategy. Often, sales has very specific goals and timelines tied to those goals. If marketing doesn’t have visibility into those, they’re really doing their work in the dark. Sadly though, most marketing teams are largely unaware of the sales goals and objectives their marketing is tied to, or if they are aware they only have a fraction of the useful information they would need to build effective campaigns.

The problems fall into the following categories:

Poor customer data

Poor customer data leaves both the sales and marketing teams in the dark. A lack of customer data leaves the marketing team unsure of how customers think, act, react, and interact with the brand, and with the marketplace as a whole. The marketing team is expected to create the leads, but poor data tends to mean the quality of the lead is a problem for salespeople. If it is not a viable lead, the sales team becomes frustrated and begins questioning all leads generated by marketing. Good data ensures good leads.

The solution to all of this is to align sales and marketing teams by centralizing technology. Making sure both teams are seeing eye-to-eye and have plenty of good, accurate data helps them send the right message, offer, promotion, or campaign to the right person at the right time. 

Under-utilization of sales content

Now more than ever before, buyers spend additional time researching solutions before talking to sales. That means the company with the most accessible and best quality content is more likely to get the prospect engaged in a sales conversation. Sales and marketing teams must work together to create high-quality content that will raise the consumer’s interest in the company, leading them to talk to the sales team. If the marketing and sales teams are unable to be aligned when it comes to sales content, it can result in underutilized content that doesn’t meet salespeople’s needs.

When done properly, alignment between marketing and sales can lead to the creation of content that addresses sellers’ needs, answers questions, and eliminates objections before they ever talk to a salesperson. 

Ineffective lead handoffs

Tension often arises because there is little agreement on how leads are scored and how fast sales should act on them. Then, to make matters worse, it is often unclear when and how to hand those leads off to sales. Opportunities are missed and people on both sides are increasingly frustrated. 

A simple solution to this would involve creating a uniform plan between the two teams. Having a detailed standard operating procedure in a shared space makes it clear for the marketing team to know when to hand over leads to the sales team, and how to best communicate that handoff. Once the unified team agrees to the process, the smart thing is to have the right technology in place to automate this process so no leads slip through the cracks.

Difficulty demonstrating ROI

Working as siloed teams can make demonstrating the ROI for the company difficult. The miscommunication between team members creates a lack of effectiveness in the business model. These pain points can obscure inefficiencies in the business and make it difficult to understand where a company needs to invest its time and money. This way,  alignment ensures credit is given where credit is due, and more importantly, everyone is putting their efforts and energy in the same direction. Making it clear where the ROI can be demonstrated reduces tensions between teams who may feel that one part of the organization is not pulling its weight. It also ensures a more transparent view of how investments are impacting the bottom line.

Stagnant growth

It’s very common to reach a point where sales have flatlined, or growth is at pace with the economy or only slightly above. However, if you’re at pace with the economy you can’t really call that growth. Avoiding stagnancy is always possible with the right people, processes, and platform in place. 

The Solution: Sales and Marketing Alignment

Some people call sales and marketing alignment smarketing. Smarketing is a way of approaching how you integrate sales and marketing into your day-to-day business. Sales and marketing alignment allows for a shared system of communication, strategy, and goals that enable marketing and sales to operate as a unified organization. You can optimize sales and marketing together to build brand awareness, manage public relations and communications, generate demand, and create a more personalized customer experience. Working together, aligned teams can deliver high-impact marketing activities, boost sales effectiveness, and ultimately grow revenue. However, knowledge of the combination of these terms is crucial in the implementation of smarketing.

In order for sales and marketing alignment to work, sales and marketing teams must communicate efficiently. Together they must incorporate managing relationships with customers and prospects, manage the pipeline, target the right market, forecast the market, and generate revenue. A successful organization must approach alignment as a necessary key factor in delivering a seamless customer experience.

When marketing and sales teams unite around a single revenue cycle, they dramatically improve marketing return on investment (ROI), sales productivity, and most importantly, top-line growth. Businesses with strong sales and marketing alignment are 67% more effective at closing deals, 58% more effective at retaining customers, and drive 208% more revenue as a result of their marketing efforts.

What Does Marketing Do for Sales?

Marketing is a key component of sales. Marketing is often the first interaction a customer has with the company and it sees the customer through the first few steps of the customer journey. Marketing allows for companies to pull in customers, creating new leads for the sales team. Marketing supports sales by ensuring buyers are educated, interested, and engaged. However, the work isn’t done with marketing once the customer interacts with the sales team; the marketing team must consistently engage with the customer no matter where they are in the buyer’s journey.

What Does Sales Do for Marketing?

Salespeople get the opportunity to work directly with customers. This provides them a wealth of valuable insight into buyer needs, operational efficiency, and product capabilities. Sales teams should be delivering this intel to marketing departments. In doing so, salespeople are helping the marketing team create a better experience for the customer’s journey and help reach new customers. A tightly aligned sales team ensures marketing is up-to-date for buyer’s pain points and needs.

Best Practices for Sales and Marketing Alignment

The first step to tackling misalignment is to formally recognize the existence of the problem, and agree on shared goals tied to business outcomes. Cross-functional operations can get complicated when first introduced to the business model. 

Encouraging constructive criticism can bring sales and marketing closer together by allowing parties to understand why certain decisions were made. This type of open communication allows teams to make the right decisions despite how challenging they might be. It is important that teams make the right choice to prevent complacency and provide a competitive edge. This type of decision-making should take place using a formalized venue. Formalized venues like a forum or standing critique session can be used to maintain respectful interactions.

Agree on processes

Establishing these elements upfront will streamline collaborative engagements down the line. Marketing and sales managers need to understand that they will be interacting with each other far more often and should create a process that will be easy to repeat throughout the years. This process should also be outlined in a shared space that can be accessed by both teams. Both teams must come together to create an agreeable course of action. 

Centralize communications

You can centralize communications by utilizing a dedicated communications tool. Tools such as Slack have proven to be useful in streamlining communication between departments. Many of these tools have features such as channels and direct messages, ensuring effective and efficient communication.

It’s also important to leverage your CRM as the ONLY central source of accurate data. Individual spreadsheets, analog tools like paper files, and other forms of documentation keep people and processes siloed. This siloed process is no longer effective in keeping track of valuable documentation and files needed to promote organizational growth. Keeping communications and data in platforms accessible to all is essential to success. Shared platforms allow both sales and marketing teams to access important information whenever and wherever they may be. Shared spaces for valuable information encourages teams to check for updates and stay up-to-date with a regular distribution cadence.

Invest in sales enablement

Sales enablement can act as a neutral conduit between marketing and sales and ensures the content is used to its utmost effect. More than 75% of respondents from companies using sales enablement tools indicated their sales increased over the past 12 months, with nearly 40% reporting growth of more than 25%. Of respondents using sales enablement tools, 23% reported conversion rate increases of at least 20%. Among respondents from large sales teams, 27% noted conversion rate increases of greater than 30%.

Investing in the creation of an enablement team creates a reliable conduit of information between organizations while also ensuring your team has the right tech and tools to get the job done well.

Lead by example

For both sales and marketing teams to believe their new collaboration will be successful, the leadership team needs to believe in the program and actively participate. Sales enablement isn’t something that some members of the team do, it’s all-in.100% team participation and execution are required for success and that starts at the top.

With leadership actively participating, it places a considerable emphasis on unity and sends a clear message throughout the organization that you mean business. Unity should be seen between those managing the sales and marketing teams in hopes that others will follow. This is especially important in companies where rivalry is clear between the two departments. The executive-level buy-in will help neutralize tensions and ensure that everyone is on the same page, it’s all about leadership leading by example.

Don’t Tie ROI Solely to Sales

Marketing has traditionally been more concerned with bringing in as many leads as possible. Despite the efforts of the marketing team to bring in leads, they often end up not being utilized by the sales team due to a lack of communication. Creating alignment between the two teams means that marketing has to develop strategies with metrics focused on revenue generation. Marketing teams need to shift their focus to key performance indicators to measure the success of their marketing efforts. KPIs such as “deals influenced” or “deals sourced” can be included to help tie in campaigns with bottom-line results.

Implement Strategic Content Creation

Use your sales team to create content and help generate ideas for content created by the marketing team. Your sales team is working directly with customers and knows exactly what they’re looking for as well as what keeps customers coming back. Your sales team can offer advice and feedback on effective marketing tactics. It’s also important to encourage sales reps to write some content themselves. Whether the sales team is helping to write blog posts or create social media content, they have valuable insight that will help generate revenue. 

Lead Quantity and Quality Must Work in Tandem

Optimize your lead generation efforts by finding the right balance between lead quantity and lead quality. Having more leads doesn’t always mean you have valuable, high-quality leads. There’s a happy medium when it comes to the quantity and quality of your leads. The best possible combination will differ depending on the type of company and its industry. There is no one size fits all solution, so a balance needs to be found. To find a balance that works specifically for you, you’ve got to test, test, and test some more. It’s all about trial and error.

It’s important to ask yourself questions such as:

  • Could we improve sales conversion rates if we focus more on the qualification process?
  • Could we increase lead volume if we focused less on the qualification process?
  • Find out how shifting the focus affects ROI to find the best possible practice for your business.

Make Sales-Enablement Resources Easily Accessible

Having documents on hand to provide to customers can help the customer stay engaged with the sales information being presented. Some important documents to provide include brochures, presentations, overviews, and other marketing materials. Having these documents in a shared area such as Google Drive or Dropbox allows the sales team easy access to these resources. In addition, a shared area allows for a seamless flow of information between sales and marketing. 

To ensure meaningful communication between departments, you should include your marketing strategy, campaign calendar, relevant offers, blog posts, and other content tailored for specific customer personas in a shared file. Having these documents readily available for your sales team not only fosters a better understanding of how the marketing team functions, but allows them to demonstrate the buyer experience to customers.

Don’t forget about service

While sales and marketing alignment are essential to growth, your efforts won’t take you far if you forget about service. It’s critical to think about the customer’s experience and the service you provide them. Because of this, revenue operations are becoming the next-level way to understand sales and marketing alignment.

In conclusion

The sales and marketing teams must work together for not only the sake of the company, but the sake of the customer. Ensuring a seamless flow of information, sharing resources, and fostering a better understanding between the departments can bolster both to improve performance. With all organizational changes, however, it’s imperative that leadership from both departments agree to work together and set any differences aside. 

Lisa Stone
Her relentless dedication to research (and her mad coffee skills) means all the content that she creates is fun, engaging, and effective.

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