StoneZenThe term sales and marketing alignment is at the top of today’s Business Buzz Words list, as evidenced by the sheer magnitude written on the topic. (A quick search returns over 22 million results. Modify the term slightly and the results become seemingly infinite.)

It’s good news. Most companies are keenly aware that the notorious acrimony between sales and marketing is inhibiting business success. Furthermore, an increasing number of executives are embracing the benefits of bridging this gap – namely, more and better-quality leads, more operational efficiency, and more revenue.

According to a recent MathMarketing study, businesses that enjoy strong sales and marketing alignment are:

  • Outgrowing their competitors by 5.4%
  • 38% better at closing sales
  • Losing 36% fewer customers each year

Rates like that can add up to real competitive advantage and real money … thus the rally cry to “Align!”

But align to what?

It’s a common question posed in business posts and comments. At Act-On, it regularly comes up during webinars and customer calls.

Here’s the answer:

Sales and marketing must align to a single plan that they create together.

It’s a simple, proven concept: Real results come only from real cooperation. The beauty of a single plan is that it forces both sides to put equal skin in the game and take equal responsibility for performance.

Quid pro quo.

If you go back to those 22 million search results, you’ll surely be able to curate multitudes of best practices, step-by-step instructions, and tangential deep dives that can help your teams create a strategic plan. (And I will shamelessly plug our resources at the end of this post.)

Which is precisely why this post is not about the pieces of the plan or the how-to tactics of creating it.

It’s about the pre-work … the “what you need to understand” stuff that comes before the how-to tactical stuff.

So before you jump into the guts of “the plan” (e.g., defining personas, (re)calibrating sales phases, mapping and creating content, assessing tools and technologies, etc.), there are 3 major things you need to be willing to do in order to lay the groundwork for success …

First, Lock Everyone in a Room

Paris_LoveLockOk, you don’t need to actually lock the door, but this idea is more literal than metaphorical. Get your sales and marketing people in a room. Physically if possible. At the same time. On the same day.

The reason: Neither sales nor marketing can build a plan alone, then sail it across the harbor to eager masses who will cheer and applaud when they behold the pretty new boat. (Remember that acrimony thing? This won’t help.)

So you’ve got to bring everyone together, even if it’s just an assemblage of two; e.g., you (the marketer) and Bob (the salesperson).

It’s exceptionally easy to strategize in a silo and justify the behavior by saying everyone is “too busy” or “wears many hats.” Resist. Shared ideas require shared time, and the risks and rewards of NOT collaborating are too high. As a recent CMO Council report says, closing the sales and marketing gap means teams must partner or perish.

Second, Walk a Mile in the Other Team’s Shoes

Mismatched_ShoesThe need to be understood is a common denominator we all share. When we feel someone “gets us”, it’s a game changer. It validates our experience in the eyes of the other person. Mutual understanding of what the other side does is fundamental in creating a single sales and marketing plan.

Here are some things each side can do to gain insight into the other’s experience:

  • Understand the numbers. Marketing and sales need to understand what the other cares about and is beholden to. For example, how much time does the average sales cycle take, in general and per stage? How many marketing touches does it take for a prospect to become a lead? How many marketing-nurtured leads become sales-qualified? How many qualified leads convert to sales? How many leads does sales need to make their quotas? What percentage of revenue is marketing responsible for?
  • Embrace the role of messaging and timing. When it comes to email communications, marketing and sales have very different approaches to effective messaging: marketing-initiated emails tend to be branded and targeted to defined segments, while sales-oriented emails tend to be to-the-point and targeted to individuals. Both serve critical roles depending on where prospects are in the buying journey. It’s imperative to understand – and respect – both types of messages, and use them together optimally, in a mutually agreed-on process.
  • Get the inside scoop of what everyone talks about. Learn as much as you can about the types of conversations and talk tracks salespeople and marketers have amongst themselves as well as with prospects/leads/customers. Opportunities include regularly attending each other’s meetings, listening in on live sales calls, and sharing internal communications such as weekly “field notes” and “campaign alerts.” By doing so, each team will better understand how the other side defines customer wins and losses, and ultimately expand their perspective which, by extension, benefits collaboration efforts.

Third, Define the Same Things the Same Way

SpadeIsSpadeThere’s a saying that goes something like this: If you ask four people the same question, you’ll get five different answers. In order to communicate effectively internally and externally, everyone needs to agree to a common set of business-critical terms and respective definitions.

Here are some to consider:

  • Lead. How are “prospects” different from “leads”? What actions and behaviors do leads exhibit? How are they put into the CRM? Who is responsible for this?
  • Marketing-Qualified Lead (MQL). What actions and behaviors indicate that a lead is ready to be passed to sales? Is there an engagement time frame? A scoring threshold that’s met (if you practice lead scoring)?
  • Sales-Accepted Lead (SAL). What’s the review process? If the lead is accepted, who is responsible for passing it to sales? What happens if an MQL is not accepted?
  • Sales-Qualified Lead (SQL). What actions need to be taken when an SQL is identified? How does sales manage different types of SQLs? Is there a time frame on the sales-nurturing process? What happens if the sale doesn’t close?
  • Contact. When is a contact created? Who creates it?
  • Opportunity. How is an opportunity different from an SQL? What are the stages of an opportunity? Where is the information kept about the record, and who is responsible for keeping it/maintaining it?

Go Forth and Align

Sale and marketing alignment takes commitment, dedication, and patience. But the benefits are worth the effort, as articulated by a recent CMO Council study:

“Synchronized go-to-market campaigns is the most-cited advantage, closely followed by consistent, unified messaging; a more strategically focused and empowered sales team; improved acquisition and retention; higher-quality, better-qualified prospects; and better allocation and use of marketing dollars. In addition … shorter, more successful selling cycles; bigger, more valuable and profitable deals; and greater sell-in/sell-through effectiveness.”

I think that about sums it up.

“Stone Zen” by Pixabay public domain pictures.

“Parisian Love Lock” by Allen Skyy, used under a Creative Commons license.

“Mismatched Shoes” by Anne Jacko, used under a Creative Commons license.

“Spade” by iGarou, used under a Creative Commons license.