sales and marketing alignment

Sales and marketing alignment unifies the macro perspectives of marketers and the direct relationships that sales teams have with customers and prospects. When alignment is solid, marketing and sales processes are positively influenced, with outcomes that include a shared understanding of the expectations and responsibilities of each group throughout the buyer’s journey, continual innovation and collaboration, healthier cultures overall and ultimately, a positive influence on the bottom line.

With B2B leaders everywhere striving for sales and marketing alignment in their organizations, one may wonder how sales and marketing teams become so misaligned in the first place. To investigate and address this common conundrum, we posed four questions to our own sales and marketing alignment experts: Launch Marketing CEO Christa Tuttle, Executive Director of Client Engagements Jeff Raymond and Executive Director of Accounts and Operations Shawna Boyce.

1. What are the main causes of sales and marketing misalignment in B2B organizations?

Shawna: First, a lack of communication can be a big issue. As a specific example, everyone needs to understand what defines a qualified lead and when the lead should be passed off through the different funnel stages. If that criteria isn’t defined and people don’t understand how to handle leads, then the teams won’t work well together.

Jeff: In some ways, sales and marketing are set up to be misaligned because they are typically separate departments, with separate leaders, and often separate individual goals that receive more focus and energy than shared goals. Sales is looking to advance their pipeline and close deals. Marketing, on the other hand, may be focusing on MQL goals and related metrics. Ironically, the two groups often don’t realize just how vital they are to each other.

Christa: Exactly. Most organizations don’t consider how synergistic these two teams can be. When they simply communicate more about what each other is doing, they realize that they’re in this together. So, the misalignment is not unexpected, it’s just that often, as leaders, we may let it happen organically, when it is something that should be actively addressed.

2. How can leaders create common criteria and metrics for their sales processes?

Jeff: Common criteria is a good phrase, because how one organization or individual may define a marketing qualified lead or sales qualified lead may be different from how others view them. These varying views are OK, so long as everyone in your organization is on the same page. If we have a subjective opinion from sales that says “you’re not getting us enough leads,” marketing may argue that “you’re not following up properly on the leads we’re giving you.” That brings emotion into the mix and can further foster misalignment. But, if you have commonly understood criteria and well-defined responsibilities, it eliminates a lot of that emotion and promotes collaboration.

Shawna: I agree. Getting people in a room together and having them really think about what makes a lead “qualified” and understanding what information is needed or important to your organization is vital. This isn’t something that you can just look up online and find the perfect answer for because every organization is different.

Christa: I’ll just add that it’s important to ensure that not only is there agreement on what makes a lead a lead and at what stage of the funnel they should be at based on certain activities, but also in making sure that sales understands why they’re getting passed a marketing qualified lead. Continually communicating about what is and isn’t working helps organizations refine their criteria and processes to create a stronger business development engine.

3. What role does sales and marketing technology play in the alignment process?

Christa: I’d say technology supports the process by being an unemotional tool that can move things along. It’s important, however, that sales and marketing technology be set up and implemented properly to support the process. Technology should support your process, but your process should not be dictated by technology. I’ve seen organizations add sales and marketing technology and adopt the default off-the-shelf settings, rather than taking the time to tailor it to their business.

Jeff: I agree. Most platforms can be customized, whether it be CRM, marketing automation or something else and can be extremely helpful with things such as reminding someone when a lead to be acted on or simply noting milestones that have been reached. Technology also “mitigates manual.” If an opportunity’s been created, that should automatically trigger follow-up communications that are appropriate to where that lead is in the buyer journey. In short, sales and marketing technology should efficiently operate in the background, guiding teams and leads harmoniously through the funnel.

Shawna: Technology also helps protect us from bias or opinion-based actions because it operates purely on rules. With well-defined workflows and approaches such as lead scoring, leads are passed on objectively versus someone just manually calculating things and assessing when it’s time for a lead to be moved to a different stage. Technology also gives you greater visibility into what’s working and what’s not.

4. How do organizations sustain sales and marketing alignment once they initially achieve it?

Shawna: I think this goes back to the importance and discipline of regular communication. Just because you’ve defined the ideal funnel and know at every stage what’s going to happen and who’s going to do what, that doesn’t mean it’s going to always work exactly right. In time, you may discover things like MQLs being passed on a bit too early or technical issues holding things up at certain points. If communication isn’t happening and people continue to keep working as they were, processes and alignment slips.

Jeff: Many organizations adopt Service Level Agreements between sales and marketing that document lead stage criteria and individual responsibilities at each stage. And to Shawna’s point, markets evolve. So these SLAs need to commensurately evolve and the only way that happens is through regular communication and calibration. Even if things are going well, you might want to use that time to consider how things could be even better. How can you bring even more value to your customers and continue to shorten sales cycles?

Christa: I couldn’t agree more. Communication is your number one goal, and your number two goal should be “see goal number one.” Unfortunately, most organizations don’t address sales and marketing alignment until it’s bad, so even when times are good or seemingly good, you need to communicate in preparation for what lies ahead.