The more closely you align your sales and marketing teams, the better.
When everyone is on the same page — from content marketers and demand gen specialists to BDRs and account executives — lead quality tends to improve, win rates tend to climb, and the business as a whole tends to grow.
So, how do you do it? How do you get all those people — who, on a day-to-day basis, work on an extraordinarily wide range of tasks — to focus on a common goal?
Today, we’ll walk through six best practices for better alignment between sales and marketing.
But first, let’s quickly address an important question:
What does it mean to align sales & marketing?
If you’re reading this blog post, you probably have your own (completely valid) answer to this question — and if that is, in fact, the case, please let us know in the comments section!
Our intention is not to definitively define sales and marketing alignment, but rather to clarify what it is we’re trying to help our readers accomplish with the best practices detailed below.
Aligning sales and marketing means getting your salespeople and marketers to cooperate as if they’re on one team and working towards one goal — to generate and grow revenue over the long term. It means getting everyone to take a step back and think about the big picture.
As a marketer, it can be all too easy to obsess over specific metrics. As useful as these metrics may be, obsessing over them can make you susceptible to subpar decision-making. If, for example, you were obsessed with pageviews, you may decide to publish content that’s not terribly relevant to your target audience. This decision may result in more pageviews, but from a revenue perspective, it won’t accomplish anything — in fact, it may prove detrimental.
The same is true for salespeople. If you were obsessed with booking meetings, you may decide to cold call “prospects” who are outside of your target audience. Will this decision result in more meetings? Maybe. But will it accomplish anything from a revenue perspective? No. And, again, it may even prove detrimental in the long run.
When sales and marketing are aligned, everyone makes better decisions. Marketers focus on generating high-quality leads, and salespeople focus on building high-quality relationships. All the while, communication and support are constantly flowing back and forth. Marketers empower salespeople with the materials they need to win deals, and salespeople empower marketers with the feedback they need to create opportunities.
When sales and marketing are aligned, everyone wins. Now, let’s talk about how you can make it happen within your organization.
6 best practices for better sales & marketing alignment
We’re going to walk through six best practices that truly run the gamut. Some are focused on data and metrics, and others are focused on relationships and empathy. In spite of these fundamental differences, the objective remains the same: to get (and keep) your salespeople and marketers on the same wavelength.
1. Tie marketing channels to revenue
With each marketing channel comes a unique set of metrics. With email comes open rates, click-through rates, and conversions. With social media comes followers, impressions, and likes. With SEO comes traffic, backlinks, and rankings.
As we acknowledged in the previous section, these metrics are useful — remarkably useful, in fact. You can learn a lot about your target audience simply by comparing the open rate of one email to the open rate of another.
But if you’re serious about establishing and maintaining alignment between your sales and marketing teams, we encourage you to take your reporting one step further and — to the best of your ability — tie each channel to revenue.
Of all the marketing-generated leads that have converted into customers, how many have come through email? How many have come through social media? Through organic search?
Answering these questions is not an easy task. Someone could land on your blog via organic search, download a whitepaper, read one of your follow-up emails, click through to your website, request a demo, and sign a contract six months after that initial Google search. Whether you attribute this revenue to SEO or email is a matter of personal philosophy — and a subject too complex for the scope of this blog post — but what’s important is that you’re consistent.
When the effectiveness of each channel is measured, in part, by revenue, marketers are more likely to feel responsible for getting deals in the door — i.e., they’re more likely to align themselves with their colleagues in sales.
Of course, from a revenue perspective, not all channels should be held to the same standards. Typically, organic social does not impact the bottom line to the same extent that paid search does. Establish benchmarks to ensure that everyone is treated and evaluated fairly.
2. Meet regularly
Although it’s undeniable that many conversations are best suited for email or chat, committing to a regular cross-functional meeting is an excellent way to bring salespeople and marketers closer together.
This is true for a number of reasons. For one, face-to-face meetings — even when conducted via Zoom or Microsoft Teams — make it easier for colleagues to connect with one another. Personality doesn’t always translate through the written word, and body language plays a major role in the communication of emotion.
Secondly, cross-functional meetings are helpful when it comes to keeping everyone up-to-date on their colleagues’ priorities. Which deals have progressed to the final stages of the funnel? Which deals have stalled? Are there any new pieces of collateral on the horizon? Any lead gen initiatives getting launched in the coming weeks?
Finally, with each cross-functional meeting comes an opportunity for candor. If, for example, sales reps are starting to feel concerned about lead quality, having built-in facetime with their peers makes it easier to initiate that conversation. For obvious reasons, unintentionally delaying that conversation is the last thing you want to do.
3. Establish & track sales enablement KPIs
Sales enablement — much like email, social media, and SEO — doesn’t tend to work very well in the absence of key performance indicators (KPIs). With no way to objectively measure the effectiveness of battlecards, case studies, one-pagers, and other pieces of collateral, there’s a high risk of sales reps and marketers operating on two different wavelengths.
Let’s say, for example, that a handful of marketers put their heads together and build a battlecard. Because they’re thorough with their research, they’re convinced that this piece of competitive collateral will translate into amazing results.
Fast forward a few months and the sales reps for whom this battlecard was built are feeling less than enthusiastic. They embraced the battlecard when it was launched, but at this point, they no longer see a reason to use it. It’s difficult to weave certain insights into the natural flow of conversation, and there’s not much in the way of actionable objection-handling tactics.
If this were a real scenario, the absence of KPIs would make it difficult for the sales reps to make the case for a battlecard overhaul. When all you can say is, “It just doesn’t feel like it’s working,” your odds of initiating change are slim to none.
Alternatively, when marketers and sales reps can come together and — as a unified team — observe the lack of improvement in competitive win rate, there’s a much better chance of strategic action being taken.
And, in case you’re wondering, yes — revenue is the ultimate sales enablement KPI.
4. Conduct shadowing sessions
When trying to align salespeople and marketers, it’s important to ensure that everyone has an appreciation for the work that their colleagues do. Taking one another for granted, in other words, is not an option.
When marketers work together to create a content download, they know it’s going to generate leads for the sales team. But do they know how difficult it is to call up one of those leads and persuade them to take a meeting?
Along the same lines, when sales reps ask their marketing team for a fresh case study, they know it’s going to nudge prospects further down the funnel. But do they know how difficult it is to interview a customer and translate the conversation into a piece of collateral?
Shadowing sessions — exercises in which one person observes another as they go about their everyday tasks — can go a long way towards bringing sales reps and marketers closer together. They don’t need to take place frequently, and they don’t need to be lengthy. What matters is that the end result is a heightened sense of respect for the work that other people do.
There are secondary benefits to shadowing sessions, too. If a marketer shadows a sales call and hears constructive criticism regarding a content download they put together, they’ll be better equipped to create the next one. And if a sales rep shadows a case study interview and hears the customer explore a specific pain point, they’ll be better equipped to connect with prospects the following day.
5. Celebrate wins & analyze losses collectively
Getting a new customer in the door is cause for celebration — especially if you’re in a crowded market with several direct competitors (more on this in a minute). In order to win any given deal, a number of miniature wins need to take place: lead capture, lead nurture, discovery call, demo, negotiation, and so on. Each new customer, in other words, is the culmination of a team effort that involves marketers and sales reps alike — and everyone should celebrate accordingly! Something as simple as an email or a Slack message that acknowledges those who helped to bring a deal in the door can do wonders for morale and alignment.
The flip side, of course, is that losing a prospective customer is cause for scrutiny. In the same way that no single person can take credit for winning a deal, no single person should have to take the blame for losing a deal. This is where the candor of cross-functional meetings really comes into play. Should this lead have been passed to the sales team in the first place? Could marketing have done a better job of supporting the sales rep who owned the lead? Could the sales rep have been more transparent about their need for support?
Only when sales and marketing are aligned can you answer these tough questions. And only when you answer these tough questions can you optimize your processes as needed.
6. Embrace competitive intelligence
Sales and marketing work better together when everyone feels a sense of responsibility for the collection, analysis, and activation of competitive intelligence.
Why? Because, in a crowded market, it’s impossible to consistently grow revenue without a strong sense of who your competitors are and how they’re presenting themselves to prospective buyers. Within any given organization, salespeople and marketers need competitive intelligence in order to effectively communicate the unique value of their product — whether the method of communication is an ad, a product page, an email, or a demo.
Good things happen when marketers consistently deliver CI to their colleagues in sales — and vice versa. Sales reps are less likely to be blind-sided by competitive objections and landmines, and marketers are less likely to blind-sided by shifts in positioning and messaging. Overall, everyone is better equipped to tell a story that resonates with customers and keeps revenue moving through the pipeline.
Here’s the data to back it up: According to the 2021 State of Competitive Intelligence Report, 83% of companies with advanced CI programs — that is, companies where CI is conducted via optimized processes and with the help of technology — have seen revenue growth as a direct result of their CI investment.
Sales & marketing alignment is worth the effort
If aligning sales and marketing were an easy task, everyone would do it. Tying marketing channels to revenue, establishing sales enablement KPIs, conducting win/loss analysis — each of these best practices is a bit of an undertaking.
But none of them, by any stretch of the imagination, is impossible. And when you start to notice upticks in conversion rates, lead quality, win rates, and revenue growth, it will all be worthwhile.
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