The Importance of Aligning Marketing and Sales
There is often tension between marketing and sales in many organizations. But why? Shouldn’t these two functions be closely aligned to most effectively achieve the revenue and ROI goals of the organization? What causes this tension, why is alignment important, and what steps can you take to bring these two important organizational functions closer together?
In a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, “Why Sales and Marketing Don’t Get Along,” authors Andris A. Zoltners, P.K. Sinha, and Sally E. Lorimer write, “Sales-marketing tension can stem from differences in marketers’ and sellers’ perspectives. Marketers think in terms of aggregate customer segments; sellers think in terms of individual customers. Marketers design strategies; sellers implement tactics. Marketers focus on analysis and process; sellers focus on relationships and results. These diverse perspectives often lead to conflict.”
The potential for that conflict is on the rise. The world is changing, and buyer behavior is as well. That was true before the pandemic, but the pandemic has caused buyer behavior to shift enormously, as in-person interactions have been limited or halted entirely. “Today there’s no reason for prospects to speak with sales teams early when all the information they want, need, and crave is just one search away,” says Joshua Feinberg, CEO and co-founder of SP Home Run. The digital environment has had a significant impact on both the sales and marketing roles in organizations, specifically in regard to how they do their work, and on why it’s more important than ever for them to find alignment.
THE BURGEONING IMPORTANCE OF SALES AND MARKETING ALIGNMENT
Doug C. Brown, CEO of Business Success Factors and the author of Win-Win Selling: Unlocking Your Power for Profitability by Resolving Objections, is a nationally recognized business revenue growth expert and consultant who has worked with companies such as CBS Television, Intuit, and Proctor & Gamble. Brown believes that the need for alignment between marketing and sales is higher than ever in the digital environment, where the face-to-face intimacy of communication in traditional sales settings is lacking. “With so many choices and copious amounts of information at one’s fingertips, potential buyers screen information for relevance very quickly,” Brown says. “With marketing and sales aligned, the customer journey is uniform and experienced in a positive way, which keeps sales moving along.” It’s very important, says Feinberg, for marketing and sales to “very aggressively align.” The following sections feature some tips and best practices for making that happen.
SET THE TONE AT THE TOP
“Digital transformation and sales/marketing alignment are inherently people and cultural issues, just as much as content, process, and technology. As a result, it’s critical to get support from the most upper levels of your organization,” Feinberg says. He points to a quote from Warren Buffett: “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
From senior leadership on down, communication needs to be clear about the role that sales and marketing play in the organization, the value of their roles, and how each team’s actions inform and support the other’s. (It’s important to note that sales and marketing don’t exist in a vacuum; there are other teams whose actions impact overall success. In any organization, it truly takes a village to achieve goals and objectives.)
DON’T INTRODUCE ORGANIZATIONAL INEQUITIES
The organizational structure and who reports to whom can serve to create resentments and feelings of inequity between various functions, including sales and marketing. It’s a mistake, says Feinberg, to have marketing report to sales, which is how many companies position the two functions. Why is this a mistake? Because sales teams tend to be focused on getting sales for the current month, while marketing teams are balancing activities for the current month and campaigns that lay the foundation for future growth.
SET THE STAGE FOR COLLABORATION
There are ample opportunities for most organizations to build collaboration into their processes and the relationships between the sales and marketing teams. This can start with strategy, says Lee Frederiksen, managing partner of Hinge, a marketing firm for the professional services industry. This is especially true in the B2B environment, he states. “In B2B or professional services, the best way marketers can ensure they’re synced up with sales is to develop and implement their strategy together. This means collaborating with sales throughout the strategy development and implementation process.” He lists the following steps to make this happen:
Marketing and sales teams must share the same objective view of the marketplace, your target clients, and how you stack up against competitors. Having the process to do the research and share the results frequently will help both teams monitor and respond quickly to marketplace changes and target clients’ evolving needs.
Both teams must agree on how to allocate the company’s resources—or procure what’s needed—to achieve the goals of the shared strategy. Does the company have the right skills, processes, and tools to implement a strategy with a larger digital component than previous strategies? How do you prioritize? How do you resolve any conflicts?
Both teams must agree on the components of the implementation plan. What sales tools, training, metrics, schedule, etc. will help make the strategy happen? This is what true sales enablement looks like.
While marketing has traditionally been tasked with content creation, Feinberg suggests that there is opportunity for collaboration here. “To help sales professionals get out of the vendor box and be seen as subject matter experts, marketers should build a process to make it as easy as possible for sales professionals to have a role in content creation,” he says.
This collaboration can work both ways: “Relatively few sales professionals will want to be investing several hours in something like blogging,” Feinberg shares. He suggests pairing a writer from the marketing team with a sales rep for recurring monthly in-person or virtual meetings during which the sales rep can be interviewed. “With the right mindset, in a 30-minute Zoom call, you can capture an amazing amount of content to produce as video, audio, and text content,” he says. “This will power your email marketing, social media, and blogging for weeks and help your sales professionals be seen as subject matter experts.”
TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP
The right marketing automation can help marketing teams work more effectively with sales and vice versa. According to Mark Cameron, director of business development at LiveHelpNow, “Through tools such as marketing automation, marketing teams can work together with sales insights and marketing’s know-how to automate marketing efforts that will reach a larger audience.” In addition, these tools can help to weed out cold leads—only passing the strongest leads on to the sales team—and more effectively measure campaign performance, he says. Using automation to reach more prospects “creates a larger pipeline for the sales team and drives a much stronger relationship between marketing and sales.”
FOCUS ON THE RIGHT METRICS
Dennis Consorte is a small business consultant and expert at Digital.com. “One way to align goals is to measure success for both teams in terms of return on ad spend, or ROAS,” he says. “This metric is dependent on producing high-quality, low-cost leads that convert well and maximize revenue. If both teams are rewarded for maximizing ROAS, then they will naturally work together to product the best outcomes.” That may not make sense for all companies, but the basic idea is to evaluate how staffers are currently being rewarded to ensure that key performance indicators (KPIs) and incentives are aligned and not working at cross-purposes. Those cross-purposes will naturally lead to frustration and resentment.
As organizations continue to learn from the impacts of the pandemic and consider how they can best move forward in potentially new ways, the sales and marketing functions represent an area of significant adjustment. What steps should your organization be taking to bring these two functions into greater alignment?
(NOTE: This piece previously appeared in Information Today.)
Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.
(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)
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