Aligning sales and marketing departments is the ever-elusive, gold standard for many businesses.

Their harmonious partnership plays a crucial role in generating high-quality leads and sales.

A tightly aligned sales and marketing team are 67% better at closing deals, can increase revenue by 209% and have 36% higher customer retention rates. Their collaboration quite literally has the power to transform your business and bottom line. 

But, despite the many benefits that businesses experience by having a strong sales and marketing relationship, there is still a pervasive disconnect between the two departments. 

So, how can you go about closing this gap?

IMPACT’s VP of Revenue, Melanie Collins says that aligning the two departments starts with doing away with outdated stereotypes and preconceived notions each department has of the other. 

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The role of sales and marketing alignment

My role at IMPACT is as a digital sales and marketing coach

As a consultant that works with inbound marketing agencies, you’d probably assume that all my clients work in marketing departments.

Yet the majority of my time is spent coaching sales teams on the importance of working closely with the marketing department and clarifying their individual responsibility and contribution to the content that we publish in a collaborative effort to drive more sales and revenue for the company. 

This is one of the ways that we address the persistent disconnect between sales and marketing teams across the companies that we work with. 

And it makes sense, because ultimately, sales and marketing should be working towards the same goal. Both sales and marketing use different processes, but both departments should be focused on impacted lead generation and revenue. 

Their roles can be compared to two instruments in a band. Both have their different parts to play, but both are contributing to the same song. Without one, the song is not complete. 

In 2020, the process of buying is no longer quite as linear. 

Traditionally, it would look a little something like this: The marketing team runs a campaign. This attracts a lead. The lead would be contacted by a sales representative. Sales corresponds with the lead to convert them into a paying customer. 

Now, things look a little different.

There are multiple routes, and stages of buyer readiness depending on which marketing channel the potential customer has come through. 

It’s not at all unusual, for example, for a potential client to first speak to a sales rep and then need further marketing such as blogs, videos, or webinars to close the deal

By working closely together, the sales and marketing team can anticipate the needs of leads and figure out how best they can move them through the new buying process regardless of where they start. 

By learning how your business uses inbound marketing and selling techniques, your sales team will stay better connected to your marketing team. 

This relationship has the power to significantly increase conversion rates and revenue. 

The problem is that traditionally, these two departments are completely disparate. 

The number one things sales people are getting wrong about marketing

Sales and marketing tend to run separately; they don’t even talk to each other. In fact, you could go as far to say there is a friendly tension and rivalry between the two. 

But no matter what you call it, all this means is that they are not aligned — and this is a problem for your business. 

But what is causing it? 

The age-old friction between the marketing and sales department is fundamentally seated in the misconceptions and misunderstandings that both sides have about what the other does, and most importantly, doesn’t do. 

We’ve already covered what marketers are getting wrong about their sales team —and it often comes down to misunderstandings around their personal motivations. 

Traditionally, sales teams were commissioned on sales, and as such, there is the perception that they will do anything to close, but that’s not the case anymore. 

Today, sales is driven by inbound selling and solution-based selling. It’s not about just closing the deal, it’s about solving the customer’s problem. 

So, what are your sales teams getting wrong about your marketing department?

If you do a quick survey with your sales team, I’m sure they will be able to present you with a myriad of challenges they are facing. 

Some of these can stem from a misunderstanding of the role and motivations behind the marketing team and essentially all converge into a problem with lead generation. These misconceptions are:

  • Marketing teams focus on vanity metrics
  • Marketing teams want to be creative

Marketing teams focus on vanity metrics

Melanie Collins, thinks there is a lack of understanding in sales teams about the level of pressure that marketing teams are under to perform and deliver leads. 

Every campaign they run can be scrutinized by marketing performance tools in a way that the sales teams performance cannot be. 

But with all this data, are marketers looking at the right metrics?

Many sales folks believe that marketers are only focused on vanity metrics such as traffic and clicks. 

While these metrics might indicate reach and engagement, they aren’t  indicative of how marketing campaigns are affecting the bottom line. And crucially, from the sales perspective they don’t easily translate into sales. 

This doesn’t mean that marketing teams aren’t delivering leads and impacting the company revenue, however. 

Quite the opposite, in fact. 

HubSpot reported that the top priority for marketers is generating leads, but there is a miscommunication in reporting between the sales and marketing teams that can make it appear that marketing isn’t delivering the necessary leads and this leads to a misunderstanding between the two teams.

Marketing teams focus solely on the creative

Very closely linked to this is the traditional perception of marketing as the creative force behind the business. 

This creativity can be taken for lack of commercial drive and revenue-generating activity, but that is not the case. 

67% of marketing teams use lead generation as the sole metric to determine content success. 

Many modern teams may try creative ideas, yes, but they should also be putting in place ways to measure how those ideas are translating into leads and revenue. 

A good marketing team is creative, but uses data to improve and change it to be more effective. They won’t create art just for the sake of creating art. 

Again, while it’s not that the marketing team isn’t generating leads, it comes down to the marketing team sharing accurate measuring and reporting of the leads generated for the campaigns with the sales team. 

This will allow the two teams to be held accountable to each other and demonstrates how the marketing team’s efforts are directly affecting the bottom line. 

Overall, sales thinks marketing is not invested in generating leads

As you could see above, everything comes back to leads and this belief that marketing is not concerned with them, and that is untrue.

Obtaining leads is the core function of the marketing team, but, the problem with vanity metrics and the perception of marketing as the ‘creative’ team, is that it results in sales feeling they are not being delivered the necessary leads. 

15% of salespeople say that they need “more leads,” while 23% say they need most from their marketing team is “better quality leads.” and this requires collaborations between the two departments. 

If this isn’t happening it can facilitate distrust between the two departments and a feeling that the other isn’t delivering.

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How to achieve sales and marketing alignment

The marketing team likely isn’t in the trenches with your customers. 

So naturally, they are less likely to be aware of the kind of questions that your customers continually ask.

The sales team, however, should know these questions like the back of their hand. It, in turn, makes sense that the expertise of the sales team be utilized to help ensure the marketing team is targeting the right customers and creating the right content. 

If the marketing team is left to do this in isolation, then it’s very likely that the campaigns created will attract the wrong type of lead. Not because they are doing anything wrong. But because they are working with incomplete information. 

In order to close the information loop effectively, the sales and marketing team need to be fully aligned and in step with one another. 

So, how can you move towards aligning the marketing and sales team in order to help improve the conversions and sales? There are a couple of practical steps your teams can take:

  • Integrate lead qualification into your process
  • Create a service-level agreement between sales and marketing
  • Facilitate open communication between sales and marketing

1. Integrate lead qualification into your process

It’s not enough to generate any old lead. What the sales team needs is qualified and relevant leads, and this requires collaboration between them and the marketing team. 

Lead qualification needs to be an integral part of the sales and marketing focus. A constant loop of feedback will ensure lead qualification is regularly reviewed and tweaked if necessary so that the marketing team can provide the sales team with the leads they need to close the business. 

This starts with agreed criteria between the sales and marketing departments for what a qualified lead looks and behaves like.

This typically includes factors such as:  

  • Total pages viewed
  • First page viewed
  • Number of downloads
  • Forms completed
  • Campaigns engaged in
  • Engagement in free trial
  • Discovery call requested
  • Emails received, opened and CTR
  • Total contacts from a single organization

2. Create a service-level agreement between sales and marketing

For both the sales and marketing teams to be happy and effective, they need to understand what is expected of themselves and each other. 

Organizations with a service-level agreement (SLA) between the marketing and sales department are three times more likely to successfully work together. Yet still, only 26% of organizations have a formal agreement in place.

A service-level agreement gives each team the confidence to hold themselves, and others accountable. 

Here’s a short list of the contents you should consider for your SLA:

  • Individual responsibility and expectations for each team member
  • A commitment pledge to each other – As a team, what are we here to achieve? How do we work together?
  • An agreement of criteria for qualified leads across the products and services we offer
  • The process for communication between departments for marketing campaigns and how the sales team will be involved
  • Frequency of team meetings, set agendas, and talking points
  • What the sales team needs to know from marketing,  and vice versa
  • Agreed time frame on communication – what are the expectations in responding to requests from each other.
  • How success will be measured – agreed metrics and KPIs
  • A list of required marketing and sales reports

3. Facilitate open communication between sales and marketing

Ultimately sales and marketing alignment requires two-way communication between the departments. 

In most companies, the sales and marketing departments and heads are completely separate, with very little communication. 

For the sake of both marketing and sales, companies need to work to eradicate this disparity and allow both departments to operate in unison by facilitating clear and open communication and feedback.

Here are some ideas that have worked with my clients to improve communication and break down silos between sales and marketing:

  • Agreeing  that the marketing and sales teams are essentially one big team striving towards the same goal – to increase revenue for the organization. 
  • Marketing department spending quality 1:1 time with each member of the sales team to understand their goals, what success looks like to them, and how the marketing department can help them to be successful.
  • Marketing department sending out a short weekly video to showcase new content, where to find it, celebrate the contributors, and provide insights on how marketing is helping to increase sales.
  • Developing and maintaining an asynchronous forum for both sales and marketing teams to communicate with each other – this could be a Slack, Basecamp, or Teams.
  • Increasing knowledge sharing across the teams in terms of what’s working and what’s not – everything from successful email subject lines to sharing wins.

These actionable steps provide a framework for companies to align sales and marketing departments. 

This will help to dispel miscommunications each department holds of the other and move your company towards a more effective revenue team that drives leads and generates profit.

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How to move forward with sales in marketing in 2020

We started by talking about how outdated misconceptions and myths around the role and motivations of marketing could interfere with the ultimate goal of sales and marketing alignment. 

Just like marketing can misunderstand the motivations driving the sales team, we know that sales too are getting things wrong about marketing, but despite these preconceived notions from the sales team, marketing is inherently central to the role of lead generation. 

Sales and marketing are two sides of the same coin. Two integral parts of the same complex process. Both working towards a common goal. 

By understanding that these misconceptions are just that, companies and departments can work towards dispersing the outdated stereotypes and achieving the goal of alignment. 

After all, imagine what your business could achieve if sales and marketing were in partnership instead of competition.

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