In their report, B2B Buyers Mandate A New Chart for Marketing and Sales, Forrester Research posited that, “The misalignment between sales and marketing teams continues to be a hot topic, even after a decade of B2B firms trying to solve this problem.” And according to a study by InsideView, alignment matters. The report “The State of Sales & Marketing Alignment in 2018: How Leading B2B Companies Drive Growth by Aligning Go-to-Market Teams,” states that companies that achieve or exceed revenue goals have 2.3 higher levels of sales and marketing alignment than other companies. You would think that since this is so important, we’d have found a way to close the gap by now.

Most recommendations for improving the alignment condition revolve around how Sales and Marketing need to work together. Recommendations range from improving the lines of communication to creating service level agreements, being more buyer centric, and promoting education. That was the premise of the Forrester B2B Marketing & Sales Forum, which explored how to calibrate marketing and sales engagement to the customer.

Marketing and Sales Alignment remains elusive
Despite all this work, the goal of Marketing and Sales alignment remains elusive

We agree – Marketing and Sales should be calibrated around the customer. Many organizations have embarked on customer journey mapping with this goal in mind. Despite all this work, the goal of Marketing and Sales alignment remains elusive. We decided to look outside the world of business to find some clues for how to improve alignment.

When You Share the Mission You’re More Easily Aligned

As we looked for examples, we landed on two organizations that provide some valuable insight: emergency response teams and the branches of the armed forces. Clearly, when these organizations operate out of sync the results can be far worse then a missed sales forecast. As we examined their structure, a very important concept surfaced. These teams are not aligned to each other. While each branch of the US military must work together, each has a unique mission within the overall mission of U.S. security and peace; each branch serves a very specific purpose and has its own specialties, main areas of focus, and methods of operation. They are well trained and disciplined. They are aligned to the mission. The mission is their joint focus and their joint purpose.

Align Sales and Marketing with these 3 steps

3 steps any business can take to improve alignment.

As we delved into the dynamics of these teams, three takeaways emerge that any business can employ to improve alignment.

  1. Forget aligning Marketing and Sales to each other. Instead, follow the example of emergency response teams and the armed forces and align both branches to the mission. Your business has a mission and purpose. Each function within your business, including Marketing and Sales, exists to serve this mission. Therefore, the better you align Marketing and Sales to this mission, the better each of these functions can affect the Demand variable of the equation (Supply being the other variable).I recall my early days when we were building a microcontroller business. We had a very clear mission – convert the world from 4-bit to 8-bit microcontrollers and dominate in four markets: transportation, computing, consumer electronics, and communications. Every team, regardless of function, understood the mission and their team’s purpose and role in achieving the mission.
  1. Optimize your operations to address the external scenario. In business, the external scenario is the market and the customer. Taking an outside-in view improves alignment by shifting Marketing and Sales from focusing on activity to focusing on which market and customer segments offer the best opportunities and deserve the highest priorities.Companies focused on activity tend to take a transactional approach to the business. This typically translates into Marketing generating qualified opportunities that Sales then brings to a close. What happens then? “More,” not “better,” becomes the mode of operating. Sales immerses itself in the latest training and engages in calling on more customers while Marketing focuses on implementing and coordinating more campaigns and tactics.However, if you shift your view to the market and customers, the landscape changes. The perspective moves to the point of view of the customer, what they want from you, what they expect from you and what they can count on from you. An outside-in view forces a move away from a myopic selling perspective to a broader customer relationship lifecycle perspective.The customer relationship lifecycle begins the moment a customer appears on the radar. It continues as the customer moves into the opportunity management funnel and emerges as a customer. Finally, it results in the customer engaging in a variety of experiences that ultimately make the customer an advocate for your company. The customer relationship lifecycle yields insight into which customers are the greatest lifetime value to your company.Taking a customer relationship lifecycle approach gives you an avenue for alignment by focusing both the Marketing and Sales organizations on the same set of outcomes – creating, keeping, and increasing the value of customers. Back to my microcontroller example, in that company everyone knew the mission. As a result, everyone also knew who the top 10 customers were overall and for each market and what was needed to acquire, keep, and expand the footprint within each of these customers.

    Mobilizing around the customer relationship lifecycle made it far easier to establish a common set of priorities and customer metrics, a common customer-oriented vocabulary.

  1. Focus on the mission plan. Emergency response teams create a mission plan from the top down to ensure that every effort is tightly linked to the success of the mission. The mission plan synchronizes efforts and sequences the related operations to achieve decisive strategic effect. Here’s an example:
  • The commander (CEO) determines the layout of the operational environment and provides direction, vision, and guidance to staff members and subordinates to drive planning and execution.
  • The commander develops a “vision” for mobilizing his organization and their interrelationships that provides a “design” for the mission.
  • The staff members (functional leaders) conduct the mission analysis, develop estimates, develop a strategic concept, and construct supporting plans. It is top down. No function develops their plan without knowing the overall mission plan.

If you take a bottom-up approach to planning, both Sales and Marketing tend to develop programs and plans based on they have done before or what they know best. As a result, these programs may be only loosely connected to the business, if at all. The metrics of success become coupled to the program rather than the broader mission. Consequently, quantifying the value of the program to the business becomes hazy. An outcome-based approach to alignment flips this problem on its head, creating a top-down perspective. Want to embrace the concept? Start with the business’ success factors and work down the ladder. This process reveals what Marketing and Sales must each do to support the business.

Everyone wins with Marketing and Sales alignment
Marketing and Sales Alignment is a win for everyone

Time to Tackle Your Alignment

Do you need to tackle alignment? To find out, first determine if the work within the Sales and Marketing functions is directly linked to the mission and business outcomes. If you find that it is not, then the most important next step is to choose a method that will visually convey the connection between the role of each function and business results and provide insight into selecting outcome-based performance metrics. Need a little more guidance in the alignment process? Check out our Pipeline Engineering for Alignment workshop.