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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistTue, Apr 17, 2018 25 min read

The 14 Must-Haves For Sales And Marketing Alignment In 2018

sales and marketing alignment

It's No Longer Acceptable To Have Sales And Marketing Running Different Playbooks

ThinkstockPhotos-sb10066898l-001Sales and marketing departments have been separated since the beginning of time. But prospects are now demanding a single buyer experience, and that requires the evolution of revenue generation to match today’s buyer behavior.

One of the most important factors in creating a scalable, repeatable and predictable revenue machine is sales and marketing alignment. The separation between sales and marketing is one of the legacy artifacts that has to be retired.

Not convinced? Take a look at some of the data:

  • Organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing had 36% higher customer retention rates and achieved 38% higher sales win rates (MarketingProfs)
  • Aligned organizations achieved an average of 32% annual revenue growth, while less aligned companies reported an average 7% decline in revenue (Forrester Research)
  • B2B organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing operations achieved 24% faster growth and 27% faster profit growth over a three-year period (SiriusDecisions)

SiriusDecisions poll of 300 sales leaders highlights this: “The top third of the sales cycle has gone away. Salespeople believe that the beginning of the traditional sales process has evaporated and that buyers are self-servicing their needs instead of engaging with salespeople.” Sales needs marketing now more than ever.

Ready to move into the new age of sales and marketing working hand-in-hand to drive revenue for your company? Consider these must-haves if sales and marketing alignment is a priority at your company.

Item #1: A Single Leader

It’s going to feel strange to let your VP of marketing or your VP of sales go and run with a single VP of revenue or, even better, a chief revenue officer. But that is what you should do.

Another option is to take control on your own. Have two VPs (one for marketing and one for sales) and then you, as the CEO, lead the revenue quest. You unite the two teams, you share the single revenue goal, you align the departments around objectives and you make it clear that this is one orchestrated effort with you leading the way. Either way, these two departments can no longer function independently.

Item #2: A Co-Created Revenue Strategy

sales and marketing alignmentIf you’ve never done revenue strategy before, then this may not be what you think. It’s a new blend of marketing and sales strategy designed to do one thing: Clearly set the path for what people in marketing and sales will do to drive revenue.

It starts with an understanding of the target personas. It includes a detailed understanding and map of each target prospects buyer journey. It includes (and this is one of the most important parts) the messages required to get a prospect’s attention, keep it and continue the conversation until that prospect hires your company.

The strategy includes creating what differentiates you from the competition. It also includes the sequences of touch points and influences strategically placed all throughout the prospects buyer journey. This includes both marketing and sales touch points, and ultimately creates a designed experience for each and every prospect who you target or who finds you because they need what you offer.

It’s not easy to do if you’ve never done this before, but it’s critically important in today’s sales environment.

Item #3: Message And Story Assets

What your company says, to whom you say it, how you say it and when your say it, is going to be the difference between hitting your revenue goals and dramatically missing them. Today, this is more complex than ever. Marketing is responsible for delivering these snippets for roughly 75% of the buyer journey, and then sales is responsible for delivering these stories in the remaining 25% of the buyer journey.

This delivery has to be perfectly aligned and seamless to the prospect. Any misalignment or confusion leads to disengagement because the prospect becomes uncertain and anxious. This is further complicated because you’re talking about a variety of delivery vehicles like web, marketing emails, chat and chat bots, phone conversations, sales emails, content delivery, advocacy emails and reviews. They all contribute to a prospect’s perspective on your company.

Managing this, optimizing this and making sure all of these assets perform is challenging. 

Item #4: An Orchestrated Tactic To Work On Together

Sales and marketing alignmentOne of the best practical approaches to moving from misaligned to aligned is to work on a revenue generation tactic together. This means marketing and sales work together on a single, multifaceted tactic. The best option, in our experience, is account-based marketing (ABM).

ABM requires marketing to create targeting, sales to identify targeted accounts, marketing to create the targeting assets and sales to use those assets to drive new contacts, engagement and new sales opportunities. You also need a closed-loop feedback system where sales provides marketing with real-time qualitative feedback on the performance of their assets. Marketing then provides real-time quantitative data on the overall performance of the program.

Both teams share the success or failure of the tactics and designed goals, like contact rate, engagement rate, conversion rate into sales opportunities, sales cycle length, close rate on opportunities and revenue generated.

This tactic specifically is something we’ve seen work extremely well in a number of traditionally misaligned organizations.

Item #5: High-Quality Data

Garbage in usually means garbage out, and its going to be challenging to align sales and marketing if you don’t have access to high-quality data on all aspects of both sales and marketing. It would be like driving to a location you’ve never been to before without GPS. You might never get there, and even if you do, it would take you much longer and cost you significantly more money.

Data becomes significant in two areas in particular. First is the quality of your prospect and customer data in either your CRM or marketing contact database. If this information is accurate, your targeting, nurturing, personalization, segmentation and ongoing communication is going to be highly effective at moving your prospects and customers along in their buyer journey.

If that information is inaccurate, incomplete or not easily accessible, the activities described above are going to be virtually impossible. If you find your company in this situation, make fixing it a high organizational priority. You need to easily get access to high-quality and comprehensive data on both customers and prospects.

The second is performance data. You’re going to need to know in great detail how your marketing tactics and sales execution is performing if you’re working on improving it. Simply put, this means knowing the conversion rates of prospects from click to close. From there you can find additional tactic-specific performance metrics for both sales and marketing. Email performance data, content performance data, advocacy influencer data and other metrics like this are equally important.

Item #6: Sales And Marketing Technology

Yes, its important. You can’t align sales and marketing without a CRM and marketing automation platform. While they don’t have to be the same technology, it certainly makes it easier. No integration is required between HubSpot CRM and its marketing automation product. If you run Marketo and Salesforce, they’ll have to be integrated, and that integration is going to have to be maintained. Keep that in mind as you work to fill in this gap prior to any alignment effort.

A ton of marketing automation and CRM tools are available. Some are free, while some require an investment. Define your requirements first and then match those to the available tools. Make your selection and go all-in. If you make the right selection, it should be easy for your teams to start using the technology and start working differently. If you're looking for more independent, third party reviews, consider sites like G2 Crowd to gain that objective perspective. 

Item #7: A Single Set Of Measurable Goals

Sales and marketing goal settingIf you want to align your teams, you must give them a single set of goals and objectives. You should compensate them as a team on the achievement of that single set of goals (you either win as a team or lose as a team), and that single focus must be revenue.

It can be revenue goal attainment, a percentage increase in revenue, the number of new customers, average revenue per new client or any combination of these. If you want to keep it simple, set a revenue goal for the quarter, create the rewards for goal achievement and then communicate that goal to the new blended sales and marketing team.

Make the objective public, talk about it frequently (weekly at a minimum), make the successes toward the goal public, and provide a lot of rewards and recognition along the way. The more visible it is, the more likely you’ll hit the goal. People don’t want to be publicly embarrassed.

Item #8: Dashboard Of Agreed-On Metrics

While you have your big goal, you’re going to need smaller, more tactical metrics to know exactly what’s working and what could be working better. This is where the quality of data is going to come into play, and how you gain access to that data must be part of your alignment plan.

Today, dashboards, analytics and access to programmatic performance data is easier than ever to get, but what remains elusive are the insights that data presents. Your newly aligned sales and marketing teams need an equally aligned set of tactical dashboards to illustrate performance data in a way that helps you make decisions on what to double down on, what to work on optimizing and what to shutter.

Item #9: A Deep Understanding Of The Prospect Experience

One of the more powerful value propositions our agency brings to our clients is a series of workshops, exercises and tactics that helps our clients “stand in the shoes” of their prospects. This new perspective often breaks open obstacles that have prevented companies from changing the way they market and sell. This understanding allows us to strategically design a new experience for our clients’ prospects that improve all aspects of revenue generation.

You want to look at the 75% of the experience that marketing influences and the 25% of the experience that sales influences. You’re going to want to look at every touch point, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. You’re going to want to look at those touch points from the perspective of your prospects. How could they be better, more differentiating, more educational, more compelling and more disruptive?

Once you crack the code on this work, you’ll see lift in the performance metrics across the entire buyer journey.

Item #10: The Right Support Team

sales and marketing teamsThis is one of the stickier issues. You might have people who are dead set against alignment. You might have people who are outwardly supportive but sabotage the effort behind the scenes. You might have people who have every intention of being helpful, but their behavior paints a different picture. How important is this to your company? Are you willing to make difficult personnel decisions to help this be successful? The answer should be yes.

You might have to let some top performers go, and you might need to bring in some forward-thinking sales and marketing professionals who have experience integrating, aligning and orchestrating marketing and sales. You might need some new roles, like marketing or sales operations, to handle some of the coordination tasks. You might need some data and analytical skill sets added to the team.

In short order, you should have better insight into which salespeople are performing and which ones are not. Often, its easy to let bottom performers go and use that money to add new team members with new skill sets.

Item #11: A Rhythm That Keeps Both Teams Aligned

People are more comfortable with rhythms to their lives. As human beings, we all have biorhythms, and if you can tune into those, you can make better decisions regarding your health and wellness, sleep, and even relationships.

Combining your sales and marketing teams into one single revenue team is going to require a lot of communication, coordination, priority setting, behavior changing, new skill set training and more. In most cases, this is going to be something you’ve never done before, and its certainly something most of your team has never done before.

Consider building some rhythms into your process to keep everyone aligned and focused on the tasks at hand. Daily huddles are a wonderful way to keep everyone focused on what they need to do for the day. It quickly allows you or any leader to remove obstacles and ensure alignment. About 15 minutes every day is all it takes.

Weekly departmental updates that are more about process, performance and metrics checks are another way to keep everyone on the same page. These could be 30 minutes if they’re run efficiently, or they might be 60 minutes if you’re going to leave some room for discussions and brainstorming about the challenges facing the team.

If you want to consider leveraging some of the rhythms found in Agile, you can use retrospectives to help the team continuously improve and planning meetings to keep the team focused on the agreed-to priorities. The key is regularity and consistency. 

Item #12: Execution Best Practices

Even the smallest teams (such as one marketing person and three sales reps) are going to require some documentation when you start changing procedures, practices and methodology. Bigger teams are going to feel the pain even worse. As you start to think about improving the alignment between sales and marketing, make sure you’re also thinking about playbooks and documentation to make this new approach scalable and repeatable.

Here’s a great example: How do you hand off a client from marketing to sales? What is the trigger point? In some cases, it might be easy, like a prospect requests to speak with a sales rep. But in other cases, it might not be so easy. Consider the sales organization that wants to contact prospects who download a specific piece of content. That might make perfect sense, but what is the practice for making that initial call?

If you’re doing this correctly, a continuous improvement initiative should be attached to the entire effort. Over time, your key performance indictors (KPIs) should be increasing, and if they’re not, you need to be tweaking and adjusting your processes. These kinds of changes need to be included in your playbooks and best practices documentation.

Item #13: Campaign Communication

Sales and marketing alignmentThis is one of the easier upgrades required for sales and marketing alignment. A variety of ways exist to keep the sales team informed about marketing’s campaigns.

First, simply include sales in everything, as if they were prospects or clients. Put them on the prospect list and give them everything — every email, every invite and every update. This will ensure that sales is aware of everything going out to clients and prospects.

Consider having more formal rollouts where campaigns briefings are proactively shared with sales. Before campaigns are launched, salespeople are clear on the campaign targets, the campaign objectives, the campaign assets, the campaign timing and any involvement required from the salespeople.

Including the entire sales team in the campaign communications is going to bring sales closer to marketing execution, garner feedback before the campaign launches and gives the sales team some advance notice for responding to prospects or clients, if required.

Item #14: Feedback Loops

One of the best and often underused advantages of having marketing and sales aligned closely is the ability for sales to have a direct feedback loop into marketing. If prospects are confused by campaign content, marketing needs to know. If a message isn’t resonating, marketing needs to know. If a script is not evoking enough emotion to move a prospect forward in their buyer journey, marketing needs to know.

On the flip side, if sales is not executing correctly, not telling the right story in the right way or misusing certain content at key stages in the sales cycle, marketing needs to help sales identify those places where process can be tightened up to produce better results. The free flow of feedback from marketing to sales and from sales to marketing is critical to failing fast, making agile adjustments on the fly and producing better results in a shorter amount of time.

Bonus Item: Advanced Suggestion For Service-Level Agreements (SLAs)

Service Level Agreements for Sales and MarketingI wanted to include something a little more advanced, and service-level agreements (SLAs) are a tactic that is a better fit for more advanced organizations. SLAs between sales and marketing specify in writing what’s expected of both and clearly define the agreed-on levels of performance.

For example, marketing should be delivering a certain amount of prospect value. Each type of conversion offers different values. The earlier in the buyer journey, the lower the value, because the likelihood of it closing is still low. The later in the buyer journey, the higher the value, for the same reasons.

A new blog subscriber might be work $1, but a person requesting a call with a sales rep through a lead capture form on the website might be worth $100. If marketing has to deliver $10,000 worth of prospect value each month, you know they’ll be focusing on lead gen and specifically leads at the back end of the buyer journey, because its easier to get to their SLA numbers with 1,000 prospects worth $100 than 100,000 prospects worth $1.

For sales, SLAs might include commitments on follow-up, reporting, documentation agreements and closing metrics. When you combine these two sets of contractual agreements, you have clear terms that both teams are working on, and both clearly align with the combined team’s revenue targets.

The combative nature between sales and marketing is a little like the Kentucky-West Virginia border clash between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Its been going on for centuries, and no one knows exactly how it started. Getting this to change is easier said than done. You can also see from the items identified here that a ton of work needs to be done. Its highly unlikely that you’ll make the announcement on Friday and have everyone working together in the new way on Monday.

Instead, it’s going to take some planning, strategy, communication and ongoing management to make this all work out positively. 

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.