How to Align Sales and Marketing to Close More Deals

According to John Arnold, Principal Analyst at Forrester, technology and business decision-makers in sales are almost twice as likely as their marketing counterparts to say that marketing teams work independently of other internal functions. Furthermore, a mere 10% of sales and marketing leaders report that their sales reps receive high-quality leads

Unfortunately, the consequences of misalignment between sales and marketing functions go beyond poor employee engagement and job frustration. Harvard Business Review notes that sales-marketing misalignment is estimated to cost companies more than one trillion dollars annually

While the sum may seem staggering, the math does add up. Consider how mistrust and a lack of understanding between sales and marketing functions can make everything more complex and slower. And in a B2B sales landscape where buyers expect a personalized, consultative approach, delayed responses can be interpreted as impersonal and translate into a lost deal.          

Given all the innovations in marketing and sales technology, many of which are designed to centralize marketing and sales data and align processes between the two teams, what continues to cause this misalignment? How can organizations achieve cohesion? 

In this blog post, we’ll examine five common causes of dysfunction and explore sales and marketing alignment best practices.

Sales and Marketing Alignment: Content and Messaging

In a recent LinkedIn survey of sales and marketing professionals, 90% reported misalignment between the two functions in their organizations, and 97% of these professionals cited difficulties with messaging and content. Common themes included marketing messages crafted without sales input, content that spoke to products rather than problems, and content that failed to propel buyers forward in the buying cycle.

To resolve these discrepancies and create better alignment between sales and marketing departments, companies can:

Perform a content audit.

According to research from TrustRadius, today’s buyers are self-sufficient, seeking out self-serve resources such as user reviews, analyst reports, and vendor websites to inform their buying process. Translation: content counts!

Bring your sales and marketing teams together to analyze your sales enablement content. Answer the questions:

  • Which pieces get the most use by each team? Why?
  • Which pieces are outdated?
  • What questions does the sales team field most often? Which piece(s) answer these questions? Does new content need to be created to address these questions?
  • Which personas download each piece of content most often? Is this the desired audience for each piece of content? What changes or new pieces of content need to be created? 
  • Should the sales team be more involved in content ideation and review? What does this process look like?

The answers to these questions should give you an outline for a content creation and publication strategy that meets marketing and sales teams’ expectations.

Invite marketing team members to observe sales calls.

In our experience, companies find that content quality often improves when marketing is regularly invited to attend sales calls. Listening firsthand to client conversations often sparks new ideas and draws attention to common client acronyms or phrases that enable marketing to better communicate “we speak your language” in content and messaging. 

And the benefits go both ways. Marketing teams may have suggestions for content and collateral for sales to send a prospect based on the call and even catch a pain point or value proposition the sales rep missed. 

Note: If attending a live call isn’t feasible, consider inviting marketing to sit on sales call debriefs or reviews.   

Schedule regular brainstorming sessions.

  • A great way to align sales and marketing is to hold regular brainstorming sessions with both teams. The agenda for your brainstorming can range anywhere from ABM campaigns to LinkedIn Live, sales content, and e-book topics. Some possible points of discussion:
  • What are common questions in each stage of the buying cycle?
  •  What questions are challenging to answer? 
  • What prevents prospects from moving forward in the buying cycle?
  • Which email subject lines have the greatest open rates?
  • Which piece of content is most frequently sent in a prospecting email?
  • What content is missing?
  • Which sales pitches and/or value propositions resonate the most with prospects?

Leverage technology to provide the marketing and sales teams with data before each touchpoint.

Using a sales execution platform will ensure that both sales and marketing teams access a single source of truth for all customer information, including insights into each account’s key decision-makers, pain points, value drivers, relationship maps, and trends, so every touchpoint in the buyer’s journey, whether a marketing-driven ABM email campaign or a sales-driven product demo, is meaningful. The technology will also create a central repository for all sales enablement content and collateral and even enable you to build repeatable sales processes with suggested pieces of content for different activities in different stages of the buying cycle.

Likewise, if your organization uses a marketing automation tool, ensure all reps have access to marketing data before a sales call, such as website visits, email opens, and content downloads. Consider setting up a lead scoring and/or alert system, where sales reps receive automated alerts for a prospect’s actions, such as registering for a webinar, watching a video, or downloading an infographic.  

Sales and Marketing Alignment: Goals

An easy way to determine whether marketing and sales are misaligned is to ask each team, “What does success look like?” If you receive different answers, such as, “It looks like closing deals” and “It looks like X number of leads,” the two functions are likely out of alignment.

This dynamic isn’t uncommon. Sales teams are almost always measured on quota achievement, and marketing teams are often measured on metrics like lead generation, website traffic, and content downloads. Neither team has the wrong definition of success, but while the teams are working to achieve multiple goals, they are not aligned on hitting the one goal that matters: net new revenue. 

The way to realign sales teams and marketing teams is to give each team a revenue goal. This is probably already in place for sales, but some adjustments will likely need to be made to KPIs for marketing.  For example, rather than hold marketing accountable for generating X leads, hold the team responsible for X leads that generate revenue. Likewise, rather than ask marketing to generate X number of content downloads, ask them to generate X number of content downloads that lead to closed deals.

Once everyone is on the same page and understands that success is defined as net new revenue, teamwork should improve, and performance against marketing and sales goals will likely improve as well. 

Sales and Marketing Alignment: Data

Traditionally, sales and marketing have maintained their data separately despite targeting the same prospects. For example, sales might focus on contact data and firmographics, while marketing might concentrate on event registration data or social media engagement. This disjointed approach results in data silos, duplicate data, poor data sharing, and, ultimately, a lack of understanding of the prospect. And when you don’t understand the prospect, your chances of providing the personalized, consultative buying experience prospects now seek are greatly diminished.

To ensure both teams have the information they need, invest in a sales execution platform and integrate it with your marketing automation technology. With a central, accessible repository for all prospect data, including sales data such as information learned from sales calls and marketing data such as content marketing that receives high traffic levels, you can ensure sales and marketing are each equipped to achieve their KPIs. For example:

  • By marrying firmographic data with website and social media statistics, sales can quickly identify right-fit prospects or uncover opportunities that might otherwise be missed.
  • Shared data and analytics can help account planning. ABM campaign engagement data can help marketing pinpoint which messages resonate most and enable sales to identify which prospects are likely ready to buy.
  • Shared data and analytics can reveal the traits of successful buying cycles, such as sales communication frequency or well-received marketing collateral.

When sales and marketing teams operate from the same data, alignment and collaboration improve, enhancing each team’s outreach and ultimately giving the prospect what it wants: personalized problem-solving. 

Sales and Marketing Alignment: Communication

A critical factor in creating sales and marketing alignment is strong communication practices. Unfortunately, however, most workplace communication practices are complex. From Teams to Slack to Yammer to email, it can be challenging to know which channel is most effective to get the necessary information to the right person at the right time. And with so much noise, many messages are overlooked. In our experience, one of the most significant contributors to sales-marketing misalignment is the miscommunication and information loss that results from a poor communication ecosystem.

To improve communication between the two teams, consider the following best practices:

Schedule frequent meetings.

Frequent meetings will take communication offline, removing some of the abovementioned bottlenecks. Use these meetings to review each team’s activities and provide feedback. For example, marketing can discuss lead generation activities and get input from sales, and sales can review a new go-to-market strategy and get input from marketing.

Build interdepartmental relationships.

In many organizations, problems between sales and marketing are solved at the V.P. level. To make the two teams function as one, it’s essential to eliminate this dynamic. Encourage and reward problem-solving at the source. Frequent meetings will help reinforce this. You can also look for opportunities to bring the two teams together outside of a regular meeting cadence, such as for training or team bonding. Companies with employees in the office on a full-time or hybrid basis may even want to consider mixing the sales and marketing desks to encourage informal communication. Note: some organizations have gone one step further, including implementation and services teams, so sales, marketing, and post-sales roles are all co-located. 

Speak the same language.

Make sure both sales and marketing agree on how a “lead” is defined, how a “marketing qualified lead” is defined, how an “opportunity” is defined, etc. Without consensus on this terminology, you risk creating a dynamic wherein sales reps complain that marketing leads are “bad” and marketing complains that sales reps don’t follow up on leads. To reinforce these definitions, you can create sales and marketing service-level agreements (SLAs) that clearly outline each group’s responsibilities and goals. For example, SLAs might be, “Sales follows up on all marketing qualified leads within 24 hours of notification” or “Marketing will generate X number of marketing qualified leads per rep per month.”

Hold data-based conversations.

In addition to providing qualitative feedback, use data, when possible, to discuss each team’s performance. For example, when the sales team perceives that they are not receiving high-quality leads, use data to support or disprove this theory. Likewise, should marketing feel that sales reps don’t make enough attempts to contact leads, rely on the data to verify this belief. Using data will remove the emotion from the discussion and lay the groundwork for focused conversations about real problems.  

Sales and Marketing Alignment: Lead Management

One way to diagnose misalignment between sales and marketing teams is to observe whether two funnels exist: a marketing funnel for generating pipeline and a sales funnel for managing the buying cycle. When you have two separate funnels, you’ve created an environment where two respective teams work at different paces toward different goals.

To align sales and marketing funnels, you must clearly define your lead management process and automate lead handoffs and lead management processes using an integrated technology stack that includes marketing automation software and a sales execution platform. Be sure to consider:

How do leads flow between marketing and sales?

  • When does a lead go to a sales rep?
  • When does a lead stay with marketing for additional nurturing?
  • Which leads are a priority?
  • Is there a different outreach sequence depending on the lead source? Likewise, is there a different nurture sequence depending on the lead source?

When a lead goes to the sales team, which parts of the outreach process are automated? 

  • On which channels does the outreach occur?
  • What role does marketing play in these automated touches?

A good best practice is to create a matrix that measures lead “fit” versus lead “intent” and then define the roles of sales and marketing appropriately. For example:

  • Low fit/low intent: Marketing and sales teams should spend time elsewhere. Marketing enrolls these leads in a low-touch nurture cycle.
  • High fit/high intent: Sales reps should move quickly with marketing support.
  • Low fit/high intent: Marketing should nurture these leads with high-value content such as white papers to increase the scope of work or “fit.”
  • High fit/low intent: Marketing should engage these leads with top-of-funnel content, and sales should initiate an outreach cadence.

Synchronize your Marketing and Sales Strategy

When sales and marketing teams are aligned, cross-departmental collaboration is normalized, work processes are streamlined, and outcomes improve—often drastically. While sales and marketing alignment doesn’t happen overnight, you can accelerate the “sync,” so to speak, with the right technology. To learn more about how Revegy’s sales execution platform can help you see the way to win®, request a free demo.

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