Building an aligned marketing and sales strategy that can weather the ups-and-downs of a growing business is tough. We know it’s essential, yet alignment continues to be a significant challenge for many companies.
We reached out to some colleagues who know a lot about marketing and sales alignment to get their thoughts on how leaders can lay the foundation for a successful business today – and in the future.
Welcome to this edition of Authentic Brand’s “Virtual Panel” series: Sales and Marketing, Getting to Alignment. This Virtual Panel features a Q&A exchange with four of our Fractional CMOs who have experience in sales and marketing alignment, across a variety of businesses.
Here’s a quick virtual introduction to our panel of experts (subsequently referred to by first name in the conversation that follows):
Q1: How would you define sales and marketing alignment, and why is it important?
(Cathy) Marketing and sales alignment is when the marketing strategy, plan, objectives and tactics are aligned with the revenue goals for the business as well as the sales process used to acquire new customers and keep existing customers coming back for more. It is important to have these two critical functions aligned in a business so that the investment made in marketing is producing the results you want to achieve for the business as a whole, which includes top line growth and superior customer experience.
(Steve) In today’s online world, successful companies do not utilize distinctly separate sales and marketing teams anymore. Rather, there is a unified Go To Market (GTM) team that is responsible for the entire customer journey. Customer relationships are now formed in completely different ways and “selling” often starts asynchronously without face to face contact. Marketing and sales alignment is created by utilizing a GTM process that starts with unknown prospects and finishes with fanatical customers.
(Matt) I define sales and marketing alignment as the two areas working together in collaboration to meet a desired goal(s) and achieve mutual desired outcome(s). Alignment between teams is critical. Marketing’s job is to create demand and fill the funnel; sales is accountable to close those leads in the funnel. And together, marketing and sales help build customer retention and advocacy. In my opinion, the two are counter-productive if not working in concert.
(Kevin) In my humble opinion Sales and Marketing alignment is simply defined as the way Sales and Marketing efforts work together to drive revenue. The most important thing to acknowledge is the active word “effort”. There are many sales and marketing functions that organizations deploy that exist in a vacuum, but true effort comes from the ability to strategically integrate the two efforts around a consistent and focused outcome. Alignment of effort (not tactics) is active and crucial.
Q2: What have you experienced as common obstacles / challenges to sales and marketing alignment?
(Cathy) Common obstacles / challenges to alignment include: marketing is viewed as not strategic and therefore not understood or valued; the desired overall business results are not clear, so marketing and sales are potentially driving toward different goals; salespeople trying to lead and drive marketing, which leads to short-term, random acts of marketing not long-term, strategic, repeatable growth; and systems to track metrics are nonexistent or outdated.
(Steve) The largest obstacle to Sales and Marketing alignment is the difficulty of breaking down the current definitions of department and personnel roles and responsibilities. The excuse of “We have always done things this way before” is completely defenseless given the prospect of what competitors are doing. It has never been easier for competitors to steal away customers, and companies must adapt to a modern go-to-market model.
(Kevin) The most common obstacle comes from not strategically agreeing on roles, accountability, desired outcome. Sales and Marketing = REVENUE EFFORTS. If Sales and Marketing can find alignment – revenue momentum will follow.
(Matt) Lack of collaboration and communication is the biggest challenge I have encountered. Marketing and Sales must openly work in tandem to achieve success. Often leaders and staff in both areas have competing ideas that do not align. Both areas must communicate and compromise, in some cases, to achieve positive, revenue-producing outcomes. Success will not be achieved if this does not happen.
Q3: What strategies have you employed as a marketing leader, to foster sales and marketing alignment and collaboration?
(Steve) I utilize the Customer Journey diagram to show the go to market team members what must be done to find new prospects, engage them, nurture the relationship through relevant and useful content, jump start the buying process with a small offer, work up the product offer ladder, develop customer relationships into client consultant relationships, and create a community of fanatical customers. Then you assign the right people to the parts of the Customer Journey they do extremely well. To tie everything together, each person who owns a different part of the GTM process should have negotiated service level agreements with the owners of each other area that describes accountabilities and deliverables to each other.
(Kevin) Delivering the idea that we are all marketers and we are all salespeople. The restraints of those traditional roles are a crutch. If everyone can shift to think about how sales, marketing, and the integration of the two – have a role in everything we do – every day – that’s a real game changer.
(Matt) The first strategy is to communicate. To achieve success you have to have transparent conversations with candor. Understand all angles of the different ideas people bring to the discussion and see the positive intent in those comments and work to come to alignment, with compromise, if needed. Second is defining what a Sales Qualified Lead is. Be razor sharp on the definition of when a lead is qualified and moved into the sales pipeline. This will significantly cut down or eliminate finger-pointing and false judgment if the leads are not closing like you expect once they enter the pipeline for Sales.
(Cathy) Ensure the CEO understands, values and is a part of developing the marketing strategy for the business. Determine the short- and long-term desired business results and communicate those goals to both the marketing and sales functions. Set up intentional and regular paths of communication between marketing and sales, so that collaboration and trusted relationships form between these two critical functions in the business. Put systems in place to track metrics which create visibility into all marketing and sales efforts and allow teams to constantly adjust and iterate activities to achieve the overall desired results. And lastly, communicate, communicate and communicate some more.
Q4: What benefits can organizations expect from stronger alignment between marketing and sales?
(Kevin) One: Love 🙂 – If we agree that we are headed in the same direction, and we agree that the most efficient way for us to get there is by figuring out how our efforts complement each other to create a sales and marketing brand momentum – we will realize measured, strategic, and scalable growth.
(Matt) As a result of alignment, I’ve seen strong collaboration, teamwork and credibility amongst sales and marketing teams. In addition, measuring the quality of leads is more efficient as everyone knows what a qualified lead looks like. If leads aren’t closing you can look at the sales process, skill-set in place, and if you’re bringing the correct leads to the pipeline and determine if course-correction is needed. During my tenure in past positions, I’ve seen double-digit compounded annual growth rates and I attribute that to marketing and sales alignment.
(Steve) I have seen companies who embrace a Go To Market Team approach dramatically increase their revenues. These companies generate more leads, increase pipeline phase conversion percentages, accelerate stage-to-stage conversion times, and experience a significant improvement in customer satisfaction. Another key area is to develop and communicate an authentic story both to your customers and everyone in the company. It is vital that everyone in the company believes in the story and communicates the same way. Having a compelling and unified story not only aligns sales and marketing, but also the entire company. The adage “everyone is a sales person” is true and that means everyone in the company must tell the same story.
(Cathy) More collaboration and less finger pointing, excitement around the shared vision, delighted customers and ultimately, increased revenue and profitability.
Q5: What advice would you give to business leaders who want to experience more alignment between their sales and marketing teams?
(Cathy) It really has to start at the top, with the CEO being fully invested in the value and benefit of strategic marketing. Then, the leaders of the two functions need to be aligned around that vision and lead by example. The teams that see their leaders collaborating and driving results together will follow suit.
(Kevin) Get in a room and lock the door – Then make decisions on where you are today, where you want to go, how you might get there. You will not have all of the answers, but you should leave the room with decisions on roles, accountability, strategy, action and how the combined revenue efforts (Sales and Marketing) will drive the company forward.
(Matt) Communicate and leave your ego at the door. Listen to the stakeholders in the conversation, consider all ideas, use candor, and pull input out of everyone in the room, not just a vocal few. We win together as a team.
(Steve) I believe that the ideal leadership structure is to have a unified revenue generation team. Then you need to start to ban the terms Marketing and Sales and instead move toward terms like Go To Market, Revenue Generation, and Customer Journey. This implies that the entire process is managed coherently across the company.
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