I think we can probably all agree by now that Sales and Marketing could be and should be more aligned, more in tune with each other's strategy, messaging and metrics. That's all well and good, but it's kind of like saying football and basketball players should learn to work together. They come from different sides of the tracks with different goals, motives and tactics. Let's explore some of the more challenging obstacles to "alignment" and see what we can do to overcome them.
Everyone wants to make money for the company, but it's not quite that simple. Marketing is trained (and incentivized) to bring in more qualified prospects, while Sales wants to garner more customers and keep them over the long haul. If we look at the differences between those two goals in more depth, we can see they're not necessarily identical.
If you look at buyer personas and the buyer journey in detail, prospects (or leads) are not necessarily the same as customers. This is especially true in the B2B world, where the buyer and the end user may be different. In fact, in many complex sales, the buyer may be an evaluator or executive, while the customer is actually an end-user or group. They may actually have little in common, so marketing, sales and customer service relationships may all be different. This greatly complicates the measurement process and a service level agreement (SLA) between sales and marketing.
I think the key to alignment here is mutually agreed upon goals in the SLA. For example, Marketing is expected to deliver X number of qualified sales leads (SQLs) to Sales each month based on agreed criteria for what constitutes an SQL. Marketing must also provide "buyer insight," as Tony Zambito defines it, to Sales as leads progress through the sales funnel. Sales is expected to reach out to X percent of those leads X number of times and provide feedback to Marketing in the form of closed loop reporting.
Marketing is looking primarily at conversion rates between first-touch leads and bottom-funnel leads that get handed off to sales. Sales doesn't really care so much about the buyer journey (although they should). They want to know what's in the mind of the lead they are talking to right now and figure out the best way to develop them into a customer. By definition, marketing's role is more data-driven, while sales is more concerned with personal relationships. Getting the two parties to understand each other's point of view is one of the big challenges of sales and marketing alignment.
One of the great dangers in modern digital marketing is also its strength—building buyer insights based on BIG DATA and marketing automation. No one can argue that collecting and analyzing more information about potential buyers is a bad thing. The problem is decisions can be made without proper context. Just because a lead shows a lot of interest in your product and pricing pages does not mean he is ready to buy from you now. He may well be collecting data for someone else who will be evaluating multiple options down the road. Making an assumption that there's an imminent sale and alerting the sales team may actually backfire in such a case. These are things that need to be discussed at a visceral level between Sales and Marketing, as well. How do we know when a sale is forthcoming and in need of a high priority? How do we weave gut instinct into our analysis of the data?
This brings us to another common stumbling block to sales and marketing alignment—what actions do we take and when? A simple example of a process gone wrong is a lead that converts on a mid-funnel offer but also triggers a defined "sales-ready" behavior the same day, like filling out a Contact Us form. Marketing automatically sends out a thank you and adds the lead to a new lead nurturing campaign that sends them more marketing emails over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the sales team receives the SQL notice and immediately calls the lead and starts the sales process. If Larry Lead is receiving both marketing and sales messages, and they aren't in sync, the risk of losing that lead skyrockets.
To remedy that kind of potential disaster, Sales and Marketing need to work out very precise rules of engagement and messaging that are consistent and follow a process that anticipates every possible scenario. Marketing automation is certainly the right toolbox for this kind of workflow synchronization, but without rules spelled out in the Sales and Marketing SLA, there is little hope of successful implementation.
Please excuse the slightly misspelled basketball analogy, but what I hope we all gain from these discussions on sales and marketing alignment is a better understanding of what each side brings to the table and the level of commitment we need to overcome their challenges. Getting Sales and Marketing to work together toward common goals, embrace each other's motives and agree on rules of engagement is no piece of cake. It will take a lot of work and quite of bit of diplomacy to achieve this little slice of World Peace.
Photo credit: Keith Allison and LA Lakers
With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. Connect with John via Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Plus.