Optimizing sales and marketing alignment

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Optimizing sales and marketing alignment

They’re in the same boat. Here’s how to get them pulling together

Have you ever seen a rowing team in action? They’re a masterpiece of precision. When all of the rowers are perfectly synchronized, the slender boat glides through the water quickly and smoothly. But what if the crew didn’t work together as smoothly? What if they were rowing at different times and cadences? The boat would move slowly or stop in the water.

Sales and marketing teams are much like rowing teams. They share a common mission – to grow the company. They’re all in the same boat, so to speak. But misalignment slows everyone down. It can cause lost sales opportunities, plus countless hours of wasted effort and frustration. Most importantly, it can cause your company’s growth to stall. It can even damage your brand.

During a recent Cultivate webinar, Mike Carroll, founder of Intelligent Conversations, and agency director MaryAnn Long discussed common causes of sales and marketing misalignment. They also outlined steps you can take to ensure that they work smoothly together to accelerate your results.

There’s plenty of incentive for sales and marketing to synchronize their efforts. Well-defined processes, smooth handoffs and effective nurturing naturally lead to more sales and greater customer loyalty. According to Marketo research, companies with strong alignment experience 209% more revenue and are 67% better at closing deals.

Where are the common disconnects between marketing and sales?

It starts at the top of the organization, Carroll asserts. Sales and marketing managers need to realize that they’re members of the leadership team. That means they need to put the organization’s priorities ahead of their own.

Discarded leads are another common problem. Salespeople frequently discount leads coming from the marketing team and don’t follow up on them, assuming that their quality is poor. Conversely, the marketing team sometimes discards feedback and redirects from the sales team. Leads fall through the cracks and opportunities are lost.

Another area where the wheels fall off is in messaging. Marketing develops carefully-crafted messages, often based on extensive market research, and stays with them for the duration of a campaign. In contrast, salespeople tend to evolve their messaging much faster, based on real-time feedback from prospects.

“Salespeople are very good at adapting and adjusting the message as they go,” Carroll explains. “Every time they face an objection, every time they face a challenge question or get pushback from a prospect, they’re constantly honing and refining it.”

In a perfect world, there should be two-way feedback between the marketing and sales teams, so messaging can evolve. “Whether we win together or learn together, we evolve together. That’s the ideal state. But unfortunately, we rarely see that,” he adds.

Carroll and Long agreed that a company selling a product into a new market is a perfect example of a situation where close cooperation between sales and marketing is a must.

“Marketing needs to do a lot of education to build awareness in the marketplace,” Long points out. “But sales also plays a pivotal role in helping the marketing team understand who the right targets are and what problems the product can help them solve.”

Fixing the problem

Fortunately, there are several practical ways to fix sales and marketing misalignment.

First, both teams need to agree on metrics and a common definition of success. Sales tends to focus on new appointments and sales closed. Marketing tends to focus on impressions and click-throughs. Both teams may have metrics that they maintain separately. But they ought to have one or two that they can both agree upon and track together.
The real opportunity, Carroll reveals, is in developing workflows that help to nurture prospects through the middle of their buyer’s journey – when they have a need for a solution but may not be ready to buy yet. During this “no man's land,” leads often fall between the cracks because workflows, hand-offs and next steps aren’t clearly defined.

Both teams should also agree upon a common set of characteristics that describe a qualified sales lead. “Marketing may consider a qualified prospect to be someone who is in the right industry, has the right job title and may have expressed an interest in your product,” Carroll explains. “But when a salesperson hears the word qualified, they may assume that the decision, budget and timeline for implementation have already been explored.”

Long points out that lead scoring in a CRM or marketing automation system can help sales and marketing teams to develop models that help them quantify when a lead is ready to turn over to sales and when it requires further nurturing by the marketing team.

Imagine if everyone was pulling in the same direction

Do you want to perform like an Olympic rowing team? Then everyone needs to pull in the same direction, with a shared sense of mission and an agreed-upon set of workflows to guide everyone’s actions. Overall, CEOs ought to demand the same amount of rigor from their sales and marketing teams as they do from the other areas of their business, Long emphasizes.

One key area where sales and marketing need to coordinate much more closely is in setting clear priorities and targets. “I think most sales and marketing teams can easily agree on the types of prospects they should pursue. Where they may not be aligned is in deciding what the proper point of entry ought to be at those accounts,” Carroll warns. “For example, marketing may be aiming its messages at CEOs, but sales may not feel comfortable contacting them:”

Another key is establishing clear rules of engagement. “If I send you a lead, what’s a fair and reasonable expectation of when that lead will be followed up? Can I pull it up in the CRM and see real-time information about its status? Or do I have to chase down salespeople to obtain this information?” Carroll asks. “The longer the gap between contact and follow-up, the less likely prospects are to engage with your company.”

He recommends that sales and marketing develop a service level agreement that spells out workflows, timing and details that need to be captured in the company CRM. This should include commitments to cleaner hand-offs and follow-ups. Long points out that this approach helps to shift conversations from emotions and finger-pointing to logic and true collaboration.

No lead left behind

In closing, Carroll and Long agreed that company leadership must adopt a “no lead left behind” policy. If certain prospects aren’t ready to buy, they should be placed into a communications sequence where marketing can keep them “warm” until they are ready to do so.

They also agreed that sales and marketing teams face big opportunities to jointly identify product and market packages that could be developed to meet specific untapped needs. Ideally, they ought to work together closely to conduct market research, identify prospective customers and develop messaging that resonates with their needs. “Why not zero in on segments where you have an opportunity to grow?” Carroll recommends.

Finally, both departments have a big opportunity to develop a unified idea of what your company’s unique value proposition is. They caution that it may differ based on your prospect’s functional role within their organizations and their roles in the buying process.

“When we position our product from the buyer’s point of view, not our own, that’s when great things happen,” he concludes.


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