Before assuming my current role at Integrate (sales and marketing ops), my career focused strictly on sales and sales management. My journey to ops was a slow evolution, during which I witnessed and learned greatly from the many struggles that typically characterize the sales-marketing relationship: miscommunication, systems limitations, misaligned objectives, and most importantly, inaccurate perceptions of the other side. Without the multi-disciplinary knowledge I’ve acquired, I couldn’t do my job effectively, nor could many of the marketing execs and CMOs who have towed both sales and marketing lines during their careers.
Sales’ perspective of marketing – the worst case scenario
During my time in sales at several companies, I heard mentions of marketing teams, but I was never quite sure what they did. A common, almost rhetorical question often thrown around between sales reps was, “What is it that marketing does?” …as if to imply that they sat around all day doing nothing except maybe trying to come up with a catchy tagline.
Occasionally we sales reps would get lucky enough to receive a marketing-generated lead, only to later complain that it was the worst lead we ever had. If a lead did convert, we certainly thought it had nothing to do with marketing – it was simply sales doing its job well.
Yet, we never provided any comments (in any shape or form) back to management, much less to marketing. We didn’t think it was worth it because we didn’t respect marketing enough to think they’d do anything useful with our feedback.
Fortunately, such a bitter, ignorant perspective of marketing is rare these days. My experiences took place years ago; the sales-marketing relationship in most organizations today is much warmer and more transparent, largely because of communication-enabling technology.
Yet, most sales departments aren’t completely void of such sentiments. This is no longer due to a lack of respect, but because of differing objectives and immediate priorities. In sales, your time is spent focused on booking meetings and progressing your pipeline to hit your monthly or quarterly number. It’s a lot of pressure that makes it hard to focus on working hand-in-hand with marketing to indirectly effect results that you might not see for months. It’s much easier, on the other hand, to work on things that directly, and quickly, influence both your paycheck and your job stability.
Why it matters to marketers
Understanding sales’ priorities, concerns and processes enables you to better work with them to gain actionable information used to build marketing’s business value and boost your career.
Think of the customer acquisition funnel as an Olympic relay team; the team may be made up of four Usain Bolts, but it’s not going to matter much if they can’t figure out how to pass the baton (the customer). Marketing may own 60% of the funnel, but you still need sales to finish the race.
Sales is the lens through which marketing is seen. Sure lead volume is a great metric for marketing’s performance, but if a forecasted number of those leads don’t convert to customers, it’s going to reflect on marketing just as much as sales (possibly even more).
The fact of the matter is that marketing has more accountability than ever before. And with marketing’s value to the business in many ways resting in the hands of sales, you‘re going to want to enable those hands to kick some ass.
Another reason to better align your efforts with sales’: Sales people know people. Networking is what they do. And don’t let anyone fool you, your career is just as much about who you know as it is about what you know. If you work hard to support sales, they’ll return the favor when you’re looking for new career opportunities.
Understanding sales’ objectives, priorities and processes is the first step toward supporting sales. And this step is made much easier with an effective communication strategy and the right mix of technology.
Creating an effective communication strategy with sales
You want a collaborative, bi-directional line of communication between sales and marketing. Marketing should be able to quickly and easily inform sales of all initiatives they’re working on (thought leadership, owned and paid media, sales-enablement, new marketing tech, partnerships, influencer relations, etc.) and even suggest ways in which sales may leverage these initiatives.
On the flip side, marketing benefits greatly from sales feedback. We want quantitative data such as which content or channels are converting at the low end of the funnel. But we also need the qualitative information that we often can only obtain from sales’ direct engagement with prospects and customers.
In my experience, two tactics do a remarkable job in providing the bi-directional communication: (1) weekly sales-marketing calls and (2) periodically including marketing on sales calls with prospects. Of course, larger organizations have more difficulty in executing these tactics. Yet, it’s not impossible, it just requires more discipline and a set agenda for each call. For example, requesting a selected number of sales reps and marketing pros to speak about predetermined topics during each call.
A sample weekly call agenda may include several or all of the following depending on time and size of org:
What sales should cover:
- deals in process
- what’s working and what’s not
- customer/prospect feedback (maybe select a single rep per week to discuss recent experience)
- sales’ needs from marketing
- sales-tech initiatives
What marketing should cover:
- thought leadership projects
- sales-enablement projects
- media coverage
- how sales can help promote content/media coverage
- marketing-tech initiatives
Leveraging technology to align teams
CRM systems have been a primary driver behind better sales-marketing alignment over the last decade. And it’s probably safe to say that most organizations have a CRM at this point. It’s important, however, that such advances in alignment not allow sales and marketing become complacent in their pursuit of a closer relationship.
Marketing and, to a lesser extent, sales technology is proliferating rapidly. One of the greatest benefits of these technologies is greater transparency between the two teams, which is led by CRM and marketing automation systems acting as centralizing hubs of bi-directional data flow.
Yet, if sales and marketing teams don’t continually reassess their respective tech stacks to ensure adequate integration, we risk a reemergence of the siloes of old; after all, technologies influence processes just as much as processes influence the tech we choose. And if we build stacks without consideration for adjacent departments, it won’t be long before each team has unique vocabularies, disconnected systems, and misaligned processes.
When selecting new marketing tech initiatives, it should always be done with a consideration for the ways it affects sales systems and processes. And such effects should be communicated to the sales team. The best way to do this is to create and continually update a marketing tech blueprint, which can be given to all stakeholders within the org.
With the rapid growth marketing is experiencing – proliferation of channels, greater responsibility, larger departments, and substantial tech investments – it’s easy to neglect operations at the bottom of the funnel. But doing so is a mistake. The entire funnel must work if the business is to succeed. And this is accomplished through open communication and shared data.