Marketing and sales “alignment” remains a hot topic among B2B marketing and sales professionals. Many people on “both sides of the aisle” now recognize that successfully finding and winning new customers in today’s business environment requires a cohesive and coordinated effort by both marketing and sales.

A growing number of marketing and sales thought leaders are beginning to advocate more dramatic changes in the structure and character of the marketing-sales relationship and/or the techniques used to manage marketing and sales activities. Late last year, the Chartered Institute of Marketing in London published a report arguing that most companies should merge their marketing and sales functions.

Adam Needles, the author of Balancing the Demand Equation, argued in an  article for DemandGen Report that marketing and sales need to be more closely aligned against a strategic lead-to-revenue demand process. Commenting on Adam’s article, Eric Wittlake wrote in his B2B Digital Marketing blog, “The real implication, although Adam doesn’t say it, is that sales and marketing alignment is the wrong objective. Perfectly aligning sales and marketing on either side of the fictitious wall dividing them isn’t the answer. Instead, the wall needs to be torn down and sales and marketing need to be integrated through the entire customer experience.”

Research firm IDC has also entered the discussion. In addition to research, IDC provides marketing and sales advisory services to technology companies and has produced operational-level scorecards for both marketing and sales for several years. Now, IDC has introduced a Customer Creation Scorecard, which IDC describes as, “Operational KPI’s for the Intersection of Sales and Marketing.” The new IDC scorecard contains eight key performance indicators, including the combined sales and marketing budget ratio (marketing and sales spending as a percentage of total revenues), the ratio of sales spending to marketing spending, and the marketing investment per total sales headcount.

While IDC doesn’t expressly advocate that marketing and sales should be merged, these metrics strongly suggest that managers should treat marketing and sales as components of a single “customer creation” process.

Rich Vansil, IDC’s Group Vice President, Executive Advisory Services, has expressed something close to this view. In an article for BtoBOnline, he wrote, “I encourage b2b marketers to think about redefining the footprint of marketing in your organization, and by extension the footprint and impact of the marketing budget. . . Think about the totality of marketing plus sales costs. . . The best opportunity for marketing and sales productivity improvement continues to be at the intersection of these two functions.”

Compared to other major trends in B2B marketing and sales, such as the shift to content marketing, the growing use of inbound marketing, and the implementation of marketing automation technologies, moves to integrate marketing and sales are just barely beginning.

As I noted earlier, most of the focus today is on aligning sales and marketing, and only a few companies have addressed the more controversial issue of marketing-sales integration. This is a touchy political issue, and I don’t pretend to know how it will play out. There is still a significant amount of cultural and political baggage that separates marketing and sales, and there are legitimate issues regarding the consequences (intended and unintended) of integrating marketing and sales. In addition, no single approach to marketing and sales integration will be optimum for all B2B companies. What I do know, however, is that we can no longer afford to treat marketing and sales as completely separate functional silos.