Have you heard of “flat” organizational structures? These structures remove layers of hierarchy in an organization. Some may even merge sales and marketing departments.

While this might sound appealing at first, a flat organization isn’t always the way to go. Sales and marketing should collaborate, not integrate.

Think of your business as an orchestra. Despite having separate songsheets, all the musicians play in unison. Their unity doesn’t happen by chance in the middle of a performance. Rather, they train for years and have concert rehearsals months in advance. Plus, they are directed by a skilled conductor. The music the audience hears is the conductor’s pitch-perfect vision.

How do you create this level of harmony in your business?

Why sales and marketing alignment is necessary

Like an orchestra, your team needs preparation and rehearsal to find alignment. B2B research shows that aligned organizations achieve 19 percent faster growth and 15 percent higher profitability.

The average listener doesn’t want to know how an orchestra works. They want beautiful music. In a business sense, your consumer doesn’t want the extra follow-ups, delays, rushed work, or miscommunications caused by misalignment. Eighty-nine percent of consumers become frustrated when they have to talk to more than one person from a company during the buying process.

However, your team won’t move together all on its own. It needs a conductor — your CEO — to provide direction. What sort of conductor would you be? A successful conductor commands the respect of their musicians. Do you inspire confidence and loyalty, or are you just a well-dressed metronome?

Mistakes from lack of alignment result in disharmony, and over time, a smaller audience. When faced with alignment issues, how can you help your team create unity? How did Steve Jobs win accolades for bringing Apple into harmony?

How to find out if sales and marketing are out of tune

Rushes, delays, or getting off schedule

In the ’90s, Apple suffered a few failed product launches. Instead of doing more, working faster, or postponing releases, Steve Jobs slashed and burned. The product lineup was reduced by 70 percent. Jobs let 3,000 employees go. A year later, the company showed a profit of $309 million.

What does this example illustrate? The best directions are simple. Jobs, maestro of sales, marketing, and design, focused on and emphasized quality over quantity. He noticed poor launches were a symptom of a deeper problem and rooted out the cause.

How can you bring Jobs’ razor-sharp direction to your ensemble?

People often forget that creating harmony is all about timing. First, make sure your team has space and freedom to produce quality. Then, analyze if your processes are simple enough to avoid rush jobs. Are the competitors beating you? Why? What do they have that you don’t?

Regularly check in on your team’s progress. Those who have learned to play a musical instrument know you have to practice every day to stay sharp and the same goes for the team members in your organization.

Poor communication

Only 35 percent of sales and marketing companies have all marketing leads followed up on by sales. Equally surprising, 26 percent of companies don’t know whether leads are followed up on at all. Mission statements and communication policies don’t prevent such errors. Action is needed.

Be vigilant about sticking to your mission. Falling into toxic, unproductive, and detrimental communication habits is easy to do. However, if leaders are to succeed in today’s complex economy, they need to watch out for any emerging communication barriers.

Most people know good communication is essential in sales and marketing. What most people don’t know is that good communication is much more than saying “Hi” in the break room or hitting “Reply all.” Talking and writing are not the same as having strong communication with your team.

Most communication is nonverbal. Transmission of a message includes not only words and symbols but the medium, tone, timing, pitch, gestures, and body language.

To be effective at internal communications, you need to listen. You need to know where others are coming from before providing your own view.

Moreover, to fully execute alignment, you need a proven communication strategy:

  • Practice interpreting nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions. Perhaps tape and review your presentations and speeches.
  • Avoid talking about what people already know or what doesn’t matter, such as gratuitous publicity exercises.
  • Survey your team and ask what they want to hear. Crowdsource solutions instead of going alone.
  • Aim to speak less and listen more. Be clear and concise.

Unused content

Unused marketing content is a sure sign that your business lacks direction. By some estimates, up to 80 percent of content created by marketing goes unused by sales. This, in turn, ramps up unnecessary pressure. Marketing gets frustrated. Stressed sales reps create their own content. To prevent content overspill, you need to find out what your audience does and doesn’t want.

First, though, what does “your audience” actually mean? To improve symphony ticket sales, consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that organizations needed to segment the audience. They needed to identify specific groups of buyers rather than imagining an average ticket holder. Similarly, how granular can you be when analyzing your customers?

Blaming others for mistakes

Sales and marketing have always blamed each other for revenue slumps. Consider these examples from the last 20 years:

“The sales-marketing interface, whilst strongly interdependent, is reported as neither collaborative or harmonious… the relationship is characterized by a lack of cohesion, poor coordination, conflict, non-cooperation, distrust, dissatisfaction and mutual negative stereotyping” — Dewsnap and Jobber, 2000.

“[In] a Fortune 250 B2B company… the product line was priced to grow market share, yet the sales force compensation was structured to encourage salespeople based on profit margin maximization. As a result, the frustrated sales force focused efforts on selling other products in which the goals were more aligned.” — HBR, 2018.

Who is at fault in these examples? Did the marketers get the price wrong? Is the sales team at fault because they didn’t embrace the brand? Did the leader structure sales commissions incorrectly?

When you acknowledge that sales-marketing arguments have always existed, you can free up all parties to look at the problem more objectively.

Poor quota attainment

If your sales and marketing aren’t cooperating, they won’t make their quotas.

Salespeople are driven by results. Because sales reps follow their quota progress closer than you do, look for drops in morale and low retainment of staff.

Once identified, investigate why reps aren’t hitting quota. Do they need a cleaner pipeline with better leads? Is the problem due to time management issues or too many distractions? What about leadership? Is direction not filtering down through team leaders and training?

Senior leadership is responsible for setting the direction

Alignment and clear guidance don’t just happen. Having a charismatic maestro or maestra at the helm can help, but the best conductor in the world can’t create a symphony alone.

To achieve alignment, pay attention to the various elements that can unite your organization:

  • Upper management’s attitudes and actions
  • The existing culture between departments
  • The structure and context of the organization

Companies need leaders who actively reinforce alignment measures. Effective leaders explain their actions, manage perceptions through communication, and track performance. They acknowledge the culture and structure of their company by openly talking about existing issues.

When communication, information, and training are heading in one direction, your business will become more profitable.

Find your direction through leadership

“The most important thing for the conductor is that he or she listens. … If the conductor listens well, the musicians listen to each other better. The conductor can in effect impose a certain kind of listening for everybody.” — Laurence Equilbey, French conductor.

Like musicians of different instruments, your team members have different priorities. Marketers focus on long-term objectives. They take a broad view of market segments and aim for consistent branding. In contrast, sales reps tend to think short-term, focusing on current customer wants and desires. When left without guidance, their differing priorities can cause discord in your business.

You, as a business leader, need to take charge.

Don’t just focus on the individual components of schedules, communications, content, and quotas. Instead, take a lesson from orchestra conductors who direct a large group of musicians to produce a unified, harmonious sound. By paying attention to your organization as a whole, you can also guide your sales and marketing team to alignment and higher profits.