Are your Sales and Marketing teams still operating in silos? The stereotype of Sales and Marketing behaving like rival siblings fighting over your sales pipeline is still as relevant today as it was a decade ago, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

And if you want your business to reach its full potential, it’s time for these two departments to sit down, shake hands, and start working together.

There is no funnel, but there is a sales pipeline

When HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan shared HubSpot’s new flywheel growth model, it effectively killed the traditional marketing funnel analogy forever. RIP funnel, good riddance to closed-marketing systems. What does still exist, however, is the Sales Pipeline.

At the beginning of the sales pipeline are the leads your business receives, and at the end is the number of won deals or new customers you converted. What happens in the middle is usually thought of as the work of Sales alone and involves a lot of phone calls, emails, meetings — and if we’re thinking movie stereotypes — a lot of expensive lunches.

The truth, though, is that Marketing plays two important roles in your pipeline. The first happens at the beginning: Marketing’s prime directive is to bring high-quality leads into your Sales pipeline. How do they do it? Well, if they have an effective inbound strategy, chances are they do a lot of it by producing helpful content that drives organic traffic to your site. Organic traffic consists of folks who Google a question or problem, then click on your site.

We find that new leads from your site’s organic traffic tend to be higher-quality. They’re actively searching for keywords you’re targeting and they’re showing interest by submitting their information on a form on your site. Not getting the numbers you need from organic traffic? Before you ditch content strategy and inbound altogether, try advertising your content. Putting a small budget behind your best content exposes it to more audiences, increasing your website traffic and helping to fill that Sales pipeline.

Not every lead is born ready.

downloaded an ebook a few weeks ago. Confession: I download a lot of premium content pieces. Before the PDF was finished rendering, I had an email from a sales contact at the company. The email was asking for a phone call and demo of the product. I ignored it, because what I wanted to do — what I had expressed a desire to do — was read the guide.

I got two more emails that week from the company, and both were again from the sales department and asked me to schedule a demo. Here’s the problem: I wasn’t ready to convert, and the company didn’t offer me any stepping stones to get from “I just want this ebook” to “Man, I think I should schedule that demo!”

When Sales treats all leads as equals, it does a disservice to both your business and your prospective customers.

Marketing and Sales need to work together to create a hierarchy of leads. The first step is to define them. Here’s a cheat sheet:

Subscribers. These are the folks who subscribe to your blog, newsletter, or podcast. They are not leads at this time, and a percentage of them may never become leads. Your competition may be on this list, as well as admirers of your content who have no need of your product or service. If they take an action, such as downloading a content offer, engaging with your website’s chat function or filling out a form on a landing page, they will become a lead.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs). As a lead moves through their journey, Marketing will be vetting their actions and responses, adding or subtracting value to the lead’s total score. When a lead reaches a threshold score, it is said to have been qualified by Marketing. It is now ready for a Sales handoff.

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). Once Sales has a lead, the vetting process begins again. Sales will engage in conversations with the lead in order to determine if the lead needs more nurturing (handed back to Marketing) or is ready to open up a deal and become an Opportunity.

There are other systems of lead scoring that vary from the one I’ve shared here. This is the model I have learned and that works for my clients. Your Sales and Marketing leadership team should decide on the definitions for your company.

Let’s explore the process in a real-world example. If you publish an ebook and it generates 1,000 downloads, only a percentage of those will fit the bill for Sales and be ready to close a deal. These are Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) – leads that have been vetted by Marketing and are ready for a handoff to Sales. Many of your leads may have some of the Sales criteria but not all. Some may never convert at all. What is more important is that while all of these new contacts have shown interest in your content, they have not yet expressed enough interest in your product or service to move to a Sales conversation.

Once the two departments agree on which leads need to go to Sales, Marketing can step in to nurture the rest. Instead of the cold ask to schedule a demo, Marketing can send a thank you email that shares a follow-up piece of content. A second email might ask the lead to complete a short survey sharing their feedback on the content so far.

Lead nurturing needs to be a collaborative effort

Each new email should offer a new engagement or ask for feedback. Marketing can “warm up” the lead, delivering value and asking for small commitments along the way. When the lead is finally ready, Sales picks up where Marketing left off.

You can also nurture through paid advertising. If you’re promoting a piece of ungated, high-performing content, like a YouTube video or blog, you can remarket to this audience with follow-up content. Repeat the process as many times as needed to qualify a lead for the handoff, then advertise a landing page for them to submit their information.

Sales knows the message that convinces the waffling client to sign, what feature is a dealmaker and what pain point is a deal breaker.

In order to nurture and qualify leads, Marketing needs a robust library of content that matches the pain points of a lead throughout the buyer’s journey. What does that mean? Glad you asked.

A prospective customer goes through three stages on their path to purchase: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. Marketing can create content and messaging that helps a buyer move through these stages by mapping out the buyer’s journey and matching content types to the stage. This is called a personal content matrix.

But, for the Consideration and Decision stage content to be truly effective, Sales ought to be in the brainstorming meeting. Sales knows the message that convinces the waffling client to sign, what feature is a dealmaker and what pain point is a deal breaker. They also have a treasure trove of client anecdotes ripe for case studies.

With a packed persona-oriented content matrix and a strategy to qualify leads from their first marketing touchpoint to their eventual handoff to Sales, your business is already seeing an improvement in the Sales pipeline. The next step is improving efficiency.

Automate the handoff

Still sending each nurturing email manually? Scrambling to assess and rank MQLs so Sales can get on the phone? You need a marketing automation platform and CRM.

We use HubSpot, because it’s user-friendly and built for inbound marketing. As long as your CRM allows you to build workflows — automated actions based on contact criteria or triggered by specific activities — and to automatically “score” a lead based on those criteria and activities, you’re in good shape.

a hubspot nurturing workflow

Workflows should include conditionals for more targeted messaging. If a new lead doesn’t open your nurturing emails, send them a final “stay in touch.” If the lead is opening and clicking on every email, they should proceed through the workflow until they get the invite to talk to Sales.

All of this opening, clicking, responding and engaging is important for qualifying leads. Each action either adds or subtracts points from the lead’s total score. Other criteria can include:

  • Job title
  • Type of company
  • Deal size
  • Email domain
  • And even which pages they’ve visited on your site and which form they filled out

Lead scoring keeps the non-leads, like marketers who are only downloading your guide for inspiration or research, out of the hands of Sales and makes it easier to prioritize the hottest opportunities in the pipeline.

When a prospect reaches a threshold score on the CRM, they are automatically changed from a Lead to an MQL and Sales is notified. Check out the contact’s history and see every page they’ve visited, every blog they’ve liked, and every email they’ve opened. The relationship is already started, now it’s time to close the deal.

Lead scoring is also great for Marketing. If a majority of MQLs are coming back from Sales as lost deals, the trouble may not be with the leads Marketing is bringing in. It may be an issue with the Sales messaging or a gap in service. Dig in and see why those leads didn’t work.

If a lead is kicked back from Sales as “not ready yet,” don’t look at it as a failure. Move that lead to a new nurturing drip campaign. Stay in touch. Invite them to follow you on social media and subscribe to your newsletter. It may take a few months or even a year, but if and when they’re ready, they’ll remember you.

It’s not a handoff; it’s a handshake

Rather than fighting like jealous siblings, Sales and Marketing should be BFFs. The best way to tear down those walls is to start collaborating. That means sitting down regularly to discuss your goals, challenges, and successes.

Review leads together, in a non-judgemental process that seeks to improve the buyer’s journey content and the hand-off:

  • Did this lead come too late?
  • How can we flag deals like this in the future as high priority?
  • Why did this lead fail to close?
  • What can we do differently in the future?

Collaboration starts with shared goals. A shared goal unites your two departments into one powerful team. If Sales has a revenue goal of $2 million dollars for the calendar year, so does Marketing. This insight allows them to work backward toward their own goal: Marketing must produce X leads at a lead-to-deal close ratio of Y% to result in a gross revenue of $2 million.

Aligning Marketing goals to Sales has one other major benefit for Marketing: It is much easier to prove ROI. When your Marketing and Sales team are working together and reporting their efforts effectively, it is easy to see how many leads read a particular blog, or opened an email, or engaged with your social media as they moved through their buyer’s journey.

Marketing can deepen this relationship by sharing which key performance indicators (KPIs) they use to track success for each channel, and then share that indicator data with Sales regularly. Both teams can see how Marketing is moving the needle, and how Sales is bringing home the gold.