If you have spent time in the B2B world recently, you may have noticed a new trend. Sales and marketing teams are finally finding ways to become better aligned and work more closely together. It’s long overdue, too.
With better alignment, team members can work toward the same goals and boost efficiencies throughout the organization — ultimately leading to more closed-won business.
Why sales and marketing struggle to get along
Historically, sales and marketing teams haven’t really worked well together. “We gave you leads,” exclaims marketing. “Why can’t you close the deals?”
“Well,” sales responds. “The leads you sent us were horrible. They were just tire-kickers with no interest.”
And that fight continues until the business folds, or the world stops spinning — whichever comes first. The main reason for the contention is that sales and marketing departments typically have had their own separate goals.
Marketing is usually focused on brand building and lead generation. It has a long-term vision. And most marketers love trial and error — especially when it comes to emerging trends or technology — to see if there’s a way for something new to impact the company in a positive way.
For sales, time is money. Most salespeople are results driven. “Will this effort get me appointments?” is their primary mindset.
Many times, salespeople are aloof to the inner workings of marketing, especially the backend of a website, the behind-the-scenes management of software, or all that goes into content development.
The fastest route between two points is a straight line. Working out the kinks between the sales and marketing can bring positive change.
In particular, it can help both teams agree upon what a “quality” lead actually is, so the sales team is only working the best ones, thus reducing friction and helping close more deals. Collaboration can also shorten the sales cycle since there’s less “drop off” when leads are passed from marketing to sales and more intel on each prospect. Finally, a smoother running partnership can reduce time, effort, and frustration that comes with reporting on different metrics, reporting on the wrong metrics, or managing cross-department communication.
Here are five recommendations on how to improve alignment between sales and marketing.
Start with a service-level agreement
A service-level agreement (SLA) is typically used between seller and buyer. It’s a formal document to outline the expectations of both parties. An SLA is great to use internally, too, and can be used with sales and marketing.
The SLA should outline the roles and responsibilities of each team, what software will be used and how, when those teams will come together and what will be discussed in those meetings, what metrics will be measured, and how often those numbers will be pulled and reviewed.
Overall, it creates buy-in from both teams and holds everyone accountable for their responsibilities to the company and to each other.
The most-important way to promote alignment is through transparency and regular communication. That includes from beginning to end — from strategic planning all the way through to reporting.
There also must be a feedback loop, meaning sales should provide marketing with insight as to the quality of leads, what drove those opportunities, status of opportunities, size of deals, and more. And marketing should allow sales to support their efforts, too.
Here are a few examples of ways to develop more transparency and communication across departments:
• Share strategies: At the beginning of the fiscal year, marketing presents its strategies to the sales team. Additionally, the sales team presents its strategies to the marketing team.
• Share budgets: Make sales and marketing budgets available for the opposite department to see. How much is being spent on tradeshows for sales? How much does marketing have available to spend on Google Ads? Reveal all the line items and encourage discussion on how to best optimize available funds.
• Share processes: Have marketing members regularly join sales calls and presentations to gain deeper insight into the sales process, customer needs and pain points, and how sales is positioning the product. Allow marketing to offer critiques following those calls.
• Share brainstorming: Have salespeople join the marketing team’s brainstorming sessions where campaigns are developed and planned. Salespeople who have a knack for speaking and writing (ideally, all of them) can offer their talents and assist with content development, article writing, or act as video spokespeople.
Plan ongoing scheduled monthly meetings, where teams join together to review dashboards, goal statutes, and milestones, talk through upcoming promotions, events, and offers, and map out a plan to tag-team upcoming projects.
Agree upon key performance indicators (KPIs)
The saying used to be: seven touchpoints to make a sale. Today, that number has risen to 30. To make things worse, many of those touchpoints can’t be digitally tracked. We call this the “dark funnel.”
Consider someone hearing about your brand during a podcast, reading a review on Yelp, or having a friend mention it at an outdoor barbecue.
Marketing and sales must both understand and accept this and agree that not every tactic will lead to immediate results.
For the rest of the touchpoints — the ones that can be measured — it’s important to capture and attribute properly, based on what activities drove (or assisted with) those conversions.
There are lots of terminologies — visitor, lead, MQLs, SQLs, opportunity, closed lost. closed won, customer — when it comes to the lifecycle stages of potential buyers and how to classify them inside of a customer relationship management (CRM) or reporting system.
The best metrics to look at collectively are closed-won business and revenue per sale.
By looking at the end result, it keeps both teams focusing on the bottom line. And it strips away all those time-wasting arguments over the definition of a “quality” lead.
Reporting against revenue helps with data-driven decision-making, too, so marketing can concentrate their efforts on tactics that drive business, rather than just top-of-funnel leads.
Buyer personas and customer insight
About 50-70 percent of a buyer’s research is done before making contact with a brand. Therefore, one could argue that marketing is equally as responsible as sales (if not more) for helping secure a deal.
This truly begs the importance of understanding one’s customers.
For the marketing team, customer insight helps with important decisions: What social media sites to invest in? What targeting can be done within advertising networks? How to organize a website layout? What style, voice, and messaging to focus on with your content?
Sales can also benefit from the data. Pacing, pricing, and packaging can all reflect the needs of the buyer.
Both marketing and sales should develop buyer-personas profiles. By building these profiles together, all team members can weigh in on not only the demographics of buyers, but also what goes into their buying processes.
Forrester Research found that highly aligned companies grow 19 percent faster and are 15 percent more profitable. That alignment certainly comes from better teamwork. But it also comes from unified systems.
There are many software products available to help both marketers and salespeople to do their jobs more efficiently. Start by identifying what tools are needed and how both teams can learn and embrace them as one.
Here are some examples:
• CRM and/or marketing automation: Consider tools like Salesforce, Pardot, and Hubspot. Having a system that has built-in form capture, lead segmentation, email, opportunity management, forecasting, user-behavior tracking, meeting notes, makes it so both teams can access all they need to know about leads and prospects. There is also more transparency on what campaigns are running.
• Lead intelligence: This isn’t limited to just sales use. Think about a tool like Lead Forensics — which identifies businesses who are on your website and their pageview history — or ZoomInfo, which provides intent data — giving you contact information of folks who have recently expressed interest in your industry or product. Think about how marketing can tap into this data for greater market insight, remarketing, or improving conversion rate optimization (CRO).
• Project management: Software, such as Wrike or LiquidPlanner, is great at helping teams create and manage projects and tasks, and also help with internal collaboration. By reducing meeting time and the number of emails — and helping keep conversations aligned to specific projects — it improves organizational efficiency.
• Person gifting: Thanks to modern gifting software, like Sendosa, you can plan to send postcards, direct mail, or personal gifts to prospects in bulk, or based on specific actions they’ve taken on your marketing campaigns. By timing out gift-giving to specific buying stages, it can help nudge a lead closer toward a purchase and develop greater brand loyalty.
• Reporting: Both teams need to report on results. By building dashboards in one single system, there’s greater appreciation for each other’s work and efforts. Use a business-intelligence tool like Google Data Studio, which allows you to integrate with other third-party reports and bring multiple data sets into one interface. Doing so makes it easier for all involved to quickly and easily revisit numbers and hold team members accountable.
Marketing’s main responsibility is still to generate awareness, interest, and demand for a brand and its products. The sales department’s main responsibility is still to forecast, prospect, work deals, and close business.
In silos, major holes can appear that lead to inefficiencies and lost opportunities. With better alignment, efficiencies are added, sales cycles are shortened, there’s less churn, and more closed deals.
What’s the investment?
Patience, collaboration, better tools, and an agreement that both teams will work together to make a greater impact on the business.
You may have heard the term “smarketing.” It was coined to describe cohesion between sales and marketing departments. Organizations that embrace “smarketing” get better results.
It’s not easy. But it’s doable.
Thomas J. Armitage is team lead at New Hartford–based Site-Seeker, Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.