Aligning Marketing and Sales

The issue of strategic and operational alignment between sales and marketing is not a new topic in the B2B realm, and most organizations agree on its importance, at least in theory. Why, then, is it so challenging to achieve that alignment in practice?

As a recent survey by Demand Gen Report points out, the lack of alignment between sales and marketing is frequently lamented but rarely addressed. In fact, the survey, which was conducted for InsideView, a provider of business intelligence to sales and marketing teams, concluded that “lack of alignment is actually becoming a bigger problem today, and the disconnect is having a direct effect on top- and bottom-line performance.”

Internal politics becomes an issue when sales and marketing are not properly aligned, which can result in battling between the two sides for financial resources rather than working together to maximize their collective budget, says Mike Weir, senior director of the technology industry vertical at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. Sales teams are less productive when they don’t have all the information needed for client conversations, and misalignment can lead to angry customers.

“I’ve heard too many horror stories of marketing promotions or promises being pushed in campaigns, only to have clients call sales about the offers and sales having no idea what the client is asking about,” Weir relates. “That kind of negative word-of-mouth spreads quickly, and it has financial repercussions. Marketing then has to spend even more budget to placate or reacquire an angry client or prospect.”

Softening the Disconnect

On the positive side, Demand Gen’s research also uncovered areas where the disconnect between sales and marketing is softening and trust between the two groups is strengthening. It confirmed that B2B companies doing the best job of addressing misalignment between sales and marketing gain a competitive edge, and that the tools and best practices they are using can be learned and adopted by other B2B organizations.

Solving the sales/marketing alignment puzzle is important to the success of B2B companies. “If sales and marketing aren’t aligned on goals and objectives, the leads generated for sales won’t be relevant or qualified,” says Robb Hecht, an adjunct professor of marketing at Baruch College. “From messaging to offers, marketers build campaigns to generate sales leads. Sales must work closely with marketing strategy to ensure that alignment to the target audience is established up front.”

For the medical technology provider Siemens Healthineers, the importance of sales and marketing alignment to the company’s success revolves around “keeping the customer at the center,” says Linda Brunner, VP of digital engagement. “Marketing and sales alignment is required to deliver an optimal user experience, ensuring that the full customer lifecycle remains seamless, from the top of the funnel through to purchase.”

The benefits that flow from strong sales/marketing alignment include increased productivity, improved efficiencies, better marketing ROI, and “overall business growth due to better understanding of the customer and deeper customer relationships,” Brunner says. When misalignment occurs, it can lead to redundant efforts, pipeline gaps, overall process inefficiencies, lost opportunities, missed revenue targets, customer dissatisfaction, and wins by competitors.

Hecht says he has experienced tensions between sales and marketing throughout his career in marketing and advertising. A briefing report from MC2, a brand experience agency, says such tensions can reach extreme levels. It cites research showing that:

  •     87 percent of the terms used by sales and marketing teams to describe members of the other team are negative.
  •     75 percent of sales departments never or only occasionally use what they get from marketing.
  •     Sales teams spend 50 percent of their time on unproductive prospecting, while simultaneously ignoring 80 percent of marketing’s leads.
  •     58 percent of marketing content is not relevant to potential buyers, thus reducing the chances of closing a sale by 45 percent.

Tensions between sales and marketing can result in confusion and incorrect or irrelevant messaging reaching customers. “If marketing and sales don’t align, things get lost in the cracks,” Hecht says, adding that faulty or inadequate communication between sales and marketing is often the crux of the problem.

While sales-side dissatisfaction with the volume, type, and/or quality of leads generated by the marketing side is often cited as a major contributor to misalignment, the Demand Gen survey supports Hecht’s contention that communication is the leading culprit. In its survey of an almost even split of about 1,000 U.S. sales and marketing professionals across a wide range of industries, 49 percent singled out communication as the biggest challenge to alignment.

Broken or flawed practices were another common complaint, mentioned by 42 percent of survey respondents, as were the use of different metrics to measure success (40 percent), lack of accurate data on target accounts (39 percent), reporting challenges (27 percent), lack of common prospect and customer data (27 percent), and lack of accountability on both sides (36 percent).

“One of the reasons sales and marketing fall out of alignment is because they don’t share the same view of the customer and are working in different systems with different data,” says Josh Mueller, global head of marketing at Dun & Bradstreet, a provider of commercial data, analytics, and insights for business. “This can result in a different understanding and, ultimately, disconnected priorities.”

Mueller suggests that standardizing data across all systems organization-wide allows both sales and marketing to always see the same data at the same time about every customer and prospect. “In addition, being able to tie customer data across platforms with a single, unique business identifier allows for more-targeted campaigns and better campaign tracking, which is especially important for ABM (account-based marketing) programs,” he says.

Mutual Understanding of Roles Is Key

Technology can help improve sales/marketing alignment in others ways, as well. A big challenge to synergy is the inability of each side to truly understand the inner mechanisms of the other. An understanding of the intricacies of what the other team does is central to understanding how they can work together to close new business, says Allen Yesilevich, VP of marketing and growth at MC2. Central software platforms such as CRM and ABM can help.

“A CRM will help illustrate the importance of each phase within a sales cycle and mechanically assign attribution along the customer journey,” Yesilevich says. “The handoff of the baton can be executed directly through the CRM, and certain incentives can be tied to the use of the platform.” Technological solutions should be supplemented with frequent in-person gatherings of both teams, which will help overcome challenges by breaking down barriers caused by uncertainty about what the other team does, he adds.
“One of the reasons sales and marketing fall out of alignment is because they don’t share the same view of the customer and are working in different systems with different data.”
— Josh Mueller, global head of marketing at Dun & Bradstreet

“B2B marketing and sales teams are both under pressure to achieve the same goal: generating profitable business,” says Peter Wroblewski, principal and cofounder of The Mx Group, a demand generation and digital agency that helps B2B companies. While marketing and sales should be working synergistically to achieve that goal, they have worked in silos at many B2B companies for years.

“Aligning your marketing and sales teams is the first step toward creating a new paradigm, one that maximizes sales resources and ensures that marketing initiatives contribute directly to the bottom line,” Wroblewski says. The Mx Group has laid out a step-by-step process to achieve that goal in an e-book. Among the tips included:

  •     Eliminate premature distribution of leads. Unqualified leads are the biggest cause of misalignment between marketing and sales.
  •     Establish clearly defined target market criteria covering industries/sectors, locations, company size, key decision-maker and influencer titles, custom attributes, and named accounts.
  •     Replace the use of the generic term “lead” with more-precise language, such as marketing qualified leads (MQLs), sales accepted leads (SALs), and sales qualified leads (SQLs).
  •     Build a lead-scoring model.
  •     Create marketing assets to match every step of the buying funnel.
  •     Close the feedback loop with regular meetings between marketing and sales.

A Continuous Process

Creating effective alignment between sales and marketing is not a one-and-done proposition. Solutions must be identified to forge synergistic relationships between both groups and to nurture them continuously over the long haul. “Some of the biggest challenges and pitfalls are often related to organizational reporting structure, competition for budget, misaligned goals and objectives, or misunderstood roles and responsibilities, and disparate strategies,” Brunner says.

Siemens Healthineers has adopted a wide-ranging set of tactics and strategies to establish alignment between sales and marketing. Both groups are included as part of cross-functional core teams for new product launches, and both are part of the same commercial organization in the regions, zones, and countries where Siemens Healthineers does business. Goals, objectives, and target KPIs for major campaigns and product launches are defined between marketing and sales. In both business areas and regions, marketing, sales operations, and communications are part of the same function and/or organization.

Brunner reports that the most effective strategies for Siemens Healthineers are aligned goals and objectives and KPIs defined up front, as well as organizational and reporting alignment in business areas and regions. The reason they are so effective is because “directives are aligned from the top down, and targets are transparent from the outset,” she says.

To be truly effective, any undertaking to align sales and marketing must be a top-down initiative, Mueller agrees. “Data and technology can certainly enable sales and marketing alignment, but it has to start with leadership working together to define common goals — whether those are revenue goals, retention goals, customer loyalty goals, or something else,” he says. “Those goals will dictate the way the teams use the technology and data, so it’s a critical first step. Without that alignment, teams struggle to identify what data they even need.”

By Michael J. McDermott


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