There’s an endless array of stats documenting the opportunity loss that occurs when sales and marketing aren’t aligned. Leads squandered, time wasted … the list goes on.
But no one talks about loss of revenue.
They should, because research indicates that a lack of sales alignment can lead to an average revenue decrease of 4%.
The good news? Sales and marketing alignment is entirely possible – when you adjust how your teams work together. By following the recommendations in this post, your sales and marketing teams can move from poor alignment to best-in-class.
The 24% revenue swing underscores the importance of sales and marketing alignment
A study conducted by the Aberdeen Group benchmarked the top characteristics of organizations with sales and marketing alignment, and then analyzed what characteristics appeared in companies based on their reported revenues.
They found good news and bad news:
Best-in-class companies reported a 20% average growth (increase) when sales and marketing aligned, as compared to a 4% average decrease among laggard organizations.
That’s a 24% swing – from a 4% revenue loss to a 20% revenue increase!
Now, this study was conducted in 2010 – 12 long years ago. Isn’t that data too old?
Typically, we’d say yes.
But what convinced us to feature this report is that when we reached out to many of today’s top sales and marketing experts and asked them about sales and marketing alignment, their 2022 answers paralleled the 2010 research.
This leads us to believe that this is less an issue about trends and technology and more about organizational and human behavior.
How to align sales and marketing: The experts align with the data
The Aberdeen report includes “required actions” that organizations can take to improve their sales and marketing alignments, based on three different types of organizations: Laggard, Industry Average, and Best-in-Class.
Organizations were divided based on two criteria:
- Percentage of the sales-forecasted pipeline generated by marketing
- Growth (increase or decrease) in company revenue
We’ll start with laggard organizations, then average organizations next, and finally highly-aligned organizations.
With each recommendation, we’ve integrated insights from top experts on why these steps are so important. Let’s get started!
The laggard organizations typically have the worst sales and marketing alignment. If you haven’t begun to integrate your sales and marketing, you should start here.
1. Create a shared definition of a lead
Lots of leads without sales isn’t optimal.
This comment by Damon Pistulka of Exit Your Way sounds like a bit of an understatement, but it’s really the misalignment problem in a nutshell. Marketing generates leads, but sales doesn’t close them. Why? Because sales and marketing can’t agree on what actually constitutes a lead.
According to Adam Beck of CADENAS PARTsolutions, that’s because a key element is missing, specifically:
Shared language and understanding! What’s a SQL vs. MQL? What’s a lead? Why do we create content X? Who’s it for?
Answering those questions helps you set realistic goals for your sales and marketing efforts. It also improves marketing productivity, according to Steve Robinson of Brilliant Metrics:
If marketing knows when they are creating value vs. noise they can double down on audience niches, tactics and strategies that work and pull back on what just makes noise.
2. Establish a formal planning process between sales and marketing
Many companies don’t have a documented sales and marketing strategy, and they certainly don’t have a process to get it rolling.
Winbound’s planning process, for example, starts by reaching out to various people in the organization for their input.
Creating a formal planning process and then executing it will yield three things that Eddie Saunders Jr. of Flex Machine Tools identifies as critical for sales alignment:
3 words: EMPATHY+STRATEGY+DATA
If your process includes internal input and external customer input, you should come away with empathy for your teammates and your customers. You’ll also generate qualitative data and great strategies.
(Here’s an example of how Winbound’s Digital Twin planning process works.)
If sales is part of the planning process, this can also set the stage for how they handle leads. As Andrew Shedden states:
A salesperson who makes assumptions can obliterate any gains made by marketing.
The “Assumptions” Andrew mentions refer to the point where the prospect is ready to engage with sales. If sales and marketing are aligned, the sales team should understand when it’s time to reach out.
Not only that, they’ll be fully versed on who they’re talking to and what challenges they’ll face.
If that happens, the old question a salesperson typically used to start a meeting, “Tell me what keeps you up at night,” will be replaced by “I know what keeps you up at night – here’s how we solve it.”
3. Involve marketing in prospecting activities and communication
We love the idea of marketing people participating in sales calls. With Zoom, it’s a no-brainer. But there’s no substitute for meeting in person with a customer to hear their thoughts.
However, the operational approach should also include sales sharing their experiences with marketing when marketing can’t be there. As Wesleyne of Transformed Sales explains:
Set the stage for cross-functional collaboration between sales and marketing by adding your sales team to weekly marketing meetings and encouraging them to share knowledge and insights gained from sales calls with prospects.
Note the recommendation states you should involve marketing in prospecting “communication.” That means integrating marketing into the in-person deck presentation and other sales collateral.
Next up, the industry-average group. A reminder: Organizations are stratified based on percent of sales pipeline generated by marketing and growth (increase or decrease) in revenue.
1. Align and articulate business and organization goals of both sales and marketing
Having clear, shared business goals is essential to ensure that both sales and marketing efforts are aligned with business growth.
Lindsay Ojeda, who leads the marketing charge at Maysteel, is on the money. But she’d be the first to tell you that this isn’t easy. Not only do you have to agree on what constitutes an actual lead, but you have to carefully construct goals that are realistic and attainable.
Unfortunately, these goals are usually created in sales and marketing silos. As sales guru John McLeod of Sales Growth Solutions explains:
Getting to shared objectives is a process in itself. It does take real commitment to get there.
If you make that commitment, James Roloff of Roloff Consulting says be careful how you assign the goals.
I’ve found that “shared” goals often mean that nobody actually “owns” that goal.
While some goals can be shared and come from a unified business strategy, there are specific functions that should be assigned to sales and marketing. (Example: Attend networking events, create a blog post.) Those goals will need to be individualized.
2. Define roles and responsibilities for lead-management activities
Who generates the lead for the company?
We wish there was a clear-cut path for a customer journey — but it’s more like a series of touchpoints where sales and marketing engage with a customer in different ways.
Nicole Donnelly of the Donnelly Marketing Group suggests sales and marketing should map out touchpoints together, then assign responsibility for moving the customer forward at each juncture.
This and creating a funnel with conversion rates that can be benchmarked and measured against KPI’s over time really helps marketing and sales to quickly see what’s working and what’s not.
This helps improve the overall customer experience, Donnelly notes, which is what truly drives sales and revenue.
3. Have marketing regularly meet and talk with customers
Okay, we’ve talked about marketing listening in on sales calls and meeting with sales to get their input. But what about marketers actually talking directly to customers? Or conducting ongoing customer surveys?
Whatever marketers can do to learn about the customer will help, says Sam Gupta of ElevatIQ.
In my experience, an average marketer doesn’t put enough effort to understand the needs of target customers (the nuances of product, industry).
Sam notes this as the main reason why marketing efforts don’t get traction from sales and why content turns out to be underperforming boilerplate.
At Winbound, when we engage with a client, we ask for permission to conduct three interviews with their clients. We want to hear directly from them their mindset and the challenges they face.
Understanding customers’ needs only makes us better marketers, as Will Healy III of Balluff notes:
Once you really understand your customer through listening and empathy, then you can write with authority and speak with authority.
Will says this will lead to “your marketing messages becoming the phrases salespeople use to win and it becomes the reasons the customers give in a case study.”
The key here is language – it’s their language, not yours. And that’s why they respond to it.
Finally, the steps required by best-in-class organizations (assuming your company has all the characteristics previously mentioned.)
1. Enhance the lead-management process
From spreadsheets to fully integrated CRMs, companies’ lead-management processes vary widely. But what’s important is that you create a system that does more than measure the success of your sales and marketing efforts.
As Steve Rice of Dotcomjungle explains, you should also be focusing on generating data that leads to continuous improvement.
Without fact-based data you are missing the most important benefit of having your marketing teams and sales teams connected at the hip — measuring and gathering feedback in order to get better.
Steve notes that frequent meetings between sales and marketing are great, but they may only yield anecdotal data. You want fact-based data that can yield real insights, and help you get better month after month.
2. Involve sales in listening to voice-of-customer input
It’s great to have the marketing person sit in on a sales call, but top organizations have salespeople listening to voice-of-customer input as well.
“Having both customers listen to customer feedback drives a mutual understanding of the messages and content that resonates and is most valuable,” the Aberdeen report states.
With our Digital Twin approach, we build your content based on input from sales, operations, management, and whoever else has something to share…
…but then we feed information back to the sales team about what’s truly resonating among customers in advertising and organic content. We also conduct one-on-one interviews with customers, and can provide transcripts and recorded interviews.
This leads to alignment on messaging, spoken tone, voice and character — what brand strategist and packaging designer Michele Fraichard calls “the fruit of collaboration”:
Although the sales and marketing communicate differently, the conversation has to FEEL similar enough to create that seamless handoff.
3. Establish a formal debriefing process
Just like a team of doctors will confer on a patient, sales and marketing should be consistently debriefing each other and deciding on the best course of action.
We love that advice from David J.P. Fisher, the LinkedIn training legend, who notes that the key to collaboration is a “process/system vs. something that happens randomly.”
The Aberdeen report backs that up, saying that sales and marketing should be comparing notes and data on respective wins and losses. Such is the case with John Buglino and Dan Bigger, the marketing and sales gurus at Optessa, who talk frequently (like with a phone):
John and I talk on a daily basis/multiple times about many things from branding, messaging, customer experience, outreach, you name it. It is all discussed to fine-tune the message and drive results.
There’s also a very pleasant side effect that results when people collaborate and meet, according to Mary Keough of Gorilla 76.
I have created some GREAT friendships doing this. Doesn’t always have to be about business goals and outcomes. Sometimes, just do stuff because it’s fun and you know your customers will like it. You’ll be surprised at the business results that follow!
We’re all on the same team, folks
It seems like the sales and marketing problem has been with us a long, long time, but solving it is absolutely critical in today’s marketplace.
Gartner research found that customers are 57% through the purchase process before they have the first meaningful contact with a seller. With more and more of the process taking place online, it’s absolutely critical that marketing and sales are aligned.
Ultimately, according to Curt Anderson, manufacturing’s most beloved connector and the owner of B2Btail, the key to sales and marketing alignment is that we have to understand that we’re all in this together, and have empathy for what each other is saying:
It’s the ability to see both sides of the fence and understand that everyone is on the same team.
Collaborating, working together, communicating, sharing goals — all the things mentioned in the article will improve your sales and marketing efforts, and make sure you’re on the positive side of the 24% revenue swing.