As someone who routinely espouses the need for deep alignment between marketing and sales, I’ll go ahead and admit that achieving it isn’t always easy. In fact, realizing a state of true sales and marketing alignment can seem mythical. Poll a roomful of marketers and you’ll find it’s often the stuff of lore.
If the new SiriusDecisions Demand Unit Waterfall is any indication, sales and marketing alignment is more important in an ABM-first world than it ever has been before. Account-based marketing and selling requires an intense level of communication and co-ordination between both teams – so much so that the responsibilities of the two teams are often overlapping and intertwined throughout the buying process.
I’ve been fortunate to work in some highly-evolved marketing and sales organizations (as well as a few hold outs from the Palaeolithic era), so I feel as qualified as anyone to tell you that creating cohesion between these sometimes combative entities is possible – but it does take work.
Sales and marketing alignment doesn’t happen by accident. It is a function of deliberate organizational design and operational discipline. The mandate for cohesion, collaboration, and communication is part of the core DNA and a fundamental operating principle of both teams.
So if you’re struggling to strike a balance between these functions, it most likely comes down to culture. Here are, in my experience, the three keys to aligning like a pro:
1. Make marketing and sales matter to everyone
Get outside your silo
This may sound a little grand, but in places where I have seen the sales and marketing engine really hum, it’s due to a force much bigger than sales and marketing. These are organizations that value communication, collaboration, and transparency across departments. Their leadership teams are tightly aligned and their executives have an appetite for details when it comes to the inner workings of the revenue engine.
Even the more tactical metrics are reported on regularly and broadcasted widely so they are not just the domain of sales and marketing, but true organizational KPIs.
In short, the mandate for interdepartmental cohesion is baked into the very fabric of the organization, so its no surprise that marketing and sales should be expected to work in lock step with each other. But beyond this, there is top-down value placed on the revenue engine as a huge competitive advantage. Even the more tactical sales and marketing metrics are just as important as the product roadmap and revenue goals. They are reported on regularly and broadcasted widely so they are not just the domain of sales and marketing, but true organizational KPIs.
You sometimes hear people refer to an “engineering-led” culture or a “sales-led culture.” This is really code for one department reigning supreme at the expense of others. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to have an organization with a finely-tuned equilibrium where all departments shine and play an equal role in revenue creation and growth, but it is a deliberate choice to hold marketing and sales in high regard and have expectations that follow.
Pro tip: Publishing dashboards with progress against key goals helps to establish the language of marketing and sales as a core part of the organization’s DNA. At PathFactory, we compile all our key performance indicators into a single dashboard so, at a glance, anyone can see how we’re tracking.
We routinely share demand funnel targets and stage definitions at company-wide meetings so the terms and jargon aren’t so jargon-y. We also push many of those KPIs to television screens around our office in Toronto so that there’s no hiding from the data. It’s data we all live by.
2. Have REAL shared goals
Sorry, leads and MQLs don’t count
File this under “the most obvious statement ever written,” but getting marketing and sales on the same page begins (and ends) with shared goals and accountability for revenue. In spite of this truth, many marketers still believe a lead or MQL goal is closely aligned with the goals of their sales counterparts.
At the end of the quarter, your sales team is responsible for posting closed deals and revenue. Their livelihood depends on hitting new business quotas. A lead or even a “marketing qualified lead” is very far from a closed deal. Unless you convert a super-human number of MQLs to opportunities (I think the latest benchmark is a whopping 2-3%), an MQL goal still qualifies as the tippity-top of the funnel.
A lead or even a “marketing qualified lead” is very far from a closed deal. To truly align with sales, marketing needs to own a portion of the pipeline.
To truly align with sales, marketing needs to own a portion of the pipeline. Not only do you need to sign up for a qualified opportunity goal, you need to demonstrate what portion of marketing-sourced ops turn into deals and how much revenue you’re influencing.
And yes, this requires a highly evolved “Lead to Revenue” process where you can track how leads become ops and ops become deals, but it’s a process you can defend. It also demands tight coordination and orchestration between marketing and sales or business development.
Pro tip: Your demand gen function should be in near-constant communication with whichever department handles lead qualification.
At PathFactory, the demand gen, revenue operations and business development leaders meet every Monday to review progress against KPIs, discuss SLA violations, and unpack lead and opportunity acceptance issues. They look for any red flags that our process is breaking down, and come up with strategies to unlock greater efficiency and optimize performance. This goes a long way to keeping everyone aligned.
3. Be ruthless in pursuit of your goal
Help sales sell more, faster
Here’s the deal: there’s a lot of stuff that marketing can do but only a subset they should do. There are countless feel-good, vanity projects, and arts and crafts pursuits we can convince ourselves are important, but there is only one barometer for success. Did we help sales sell more? And did we help them do it faster and more efficiently? If you use this as your prioritization criteria, things become pretty black and white.
Marketing needs to support revenue creation and that also means supporting sales. Before you cry mutiny, hear me out. I’m not saying you should drop everything and spin up that completely unnecessary piece of one-off collateral that your sales rep in Idaho absolutely needs to close a deal. Nor am I saying you should put together that elaborate campaign for that one account in a vertical you have never sold to. In fact, I’m saying the opposite.
There is only one barometer for success. Did we help sales sell more? And did we help them do it faster and more efficiently?
Marketing becomes death by a million paper cuts if you’re not careful. The constant filtering of sales requests and vetting of “amazing ideas” should be an art form, but it’s easy to get into a pattern of saying “no” more than “yes.” Here’s the problem with that: at the end of the day, marketing needs to be a service bureau for sales.
If helping sales sell more stuff faster is your true north, it’s relatively easy to filter out the noise and zero in on the projects and requests that will really move the needle – both the ones you conceive of and the ones your sales team requests. Even the softer side of marketing can map back to this goal, but you need to be honest about your motivations, and smart about your resourcing and prioritization.
Pro tip: A sales team that feels inherently supported by marketing will inevitably bring fewer “amazing ideas” they want you to execute on. Typically, these ideas stem from a lack of support. For sales reps who see little qualified demand coming from marketing, they feel their only choice is to play marketers. But it’s not just about supporting them; you need to make sure you communicate your support. Don’t assume they know all the great stuff marketing is doing to help them be successful – a little internal marketing never hurts.
At PathFactory, we run lots of air cover and account-based marketing programs to heat up the accounts our sales team is trying to penetrate. From point-and-click direct mail door openers, to targeted display and content syndication programs – our reps know that we have a laser-like focus on helping them succeed. Our nurturing programs are extremely successful in cultivating latent demand and filling the funnel, and we take a stage based approach to accelerating demand through the funnel.
For sales reps who see little qualified demand coming from marketing, they feel their only choice is to play marketers.
All of this goes a long way to making our sales team feel like we’ve got their backs. Their confidence in our Lead to Revenue engine means they’re not worried about stuff falling through the cracks.
Wrapping up sales and marketing alignment
I’m not going to say achieving a blissful state of alignment with your sales team is a walk in the park. It takes work, co-ordination, and a whole lot of communication, but once you find this zen-like place, you’ll never look back. You’ll find yourself spending more time zeroing in on and fixing problem areas throughout your funnel, and less on arguing about the basics.