Marketing and Sales collaboration is called the “trillion-dollar problem” due to the immense impact of the lack of alignment between the two functions. In some organizations, the relationship is poisoned with mistrust, whereas it works flawlessly in other organizations. When trust is lagging, we often hear:
- Sales object that Marketing is developing content that is of little use in sales interactions. It is too focused on branding, instead of pipeline generation, and that the leads passed on are low quality
- Marketing object that Sales is too short-term focused and does not embrace the possibilities that marketing & sales technology offers. They also object that sales reps lack an understanding of how Marketing creates value
Ultimately, it is not so important whether or not any of these objections are true. The real challenge is, that as long as the two functions does not see themselves as being mutually dependent, achieving alignment is nothing more than a pipedream.
For marketing, proving value trumps contracts
Establishing more collaboration and trust goes beyond improving employee satisfaction – research shows that highly aligned commercial functions perform extraordinarily well:
- 24 % higher revenue growth rates
- 27 % higher growth in profitability
- 36 % higher customer retention
- 38 % higher win-rates
But why does alignment start specifically with Marketing and not Sales? Of course, Sales needs to be willing to dance, but Marketing must take the initiative, as Marketing – justified or not – comes from a historical position of less power and lower credibility in many BTB companies.
While top-down, contractual agreements such as Service-Level-Agreements is an excellent start winning the hearts and minds of your colleagues in Sales require proving how indispensable you are to their success. In this article, we list some of the bottom-up initiatives that we have seen work well for BTB marketing teams across Europe.
#1 Go from marketing campaigns to joint Go-To-Market programs
2Too many awareness-centric marketing campaigns are cooked up in an ivory tower with limited involvement of (or anchoring) in Sales. This is a pity, as such approach seriously hampers the performance of commercial organizations.
To counter this tendency, marketing (& sales) organizations should move towards driving shared go-to-market programs, where both work in union towards common goals. These programs should include intensive involvement of the sales, product & marketing organization during design and development, and be holistically executed in terms of how the program is executed, from awareness to all the interactions of a sales process. It should include a joint KPI framework and the steering group should include members from functions. The programs should go beyond target group, communication, and channels but also include thoughts on pricing & payments, sales conversations as well as value propositions.
#2 Implement Account-Based-Marketing
Besides the apparent objections that we previously described as happening across Marketing and Sales, we see the same discrepancies in terms of internal priorities. Marketing spreads its resources out thin across the whole customer universe, whereas Sales often spend most of its time chasing a few high-value opportunities. This fundamental disconnect ultimately creates misalignment in terms of how to work together and foster a symbiotic relationship.
Account-Based-Marketing (or Account-Based-Selling, as we like to call it) provides a potential remedy to this situation, as this approach flips the script by first looking at the potential accounts, and then mobilize resources across Marketing and Sales on how to close these accounts. The consequence is a complete realignment on efforts around specific accounts and very tangible financial outcomes. Also, as digitization brings many new possibilities in terms of targeting, personalization and engagement to the table, a well-orchestrated ABM program can provide a solid platform for Marketing to show explicit contribution to winning deals.
#3 Bring Sales into the marketing strategy and planning cycle
While the marketing strategy, naturally, should be linked to the commercial strategy, which should be linked to the business strategy, this is rarely the case. Too often, the marketing strategy is created as an independent exercise without involvement from any people outside Marketing.
To chain-link the marketing strategy to the commercial strategy, create formal links. Once you have defined the parameters for the marketing strategy, bring Sales – and other dependent functions, – into the strategy planning cycle. This include signing off on the final strategy and adhering to joint KPI’s.
#4 Focus on lead quality instead of quantity
Too many marketing organizations are measured on their ability to generate MQL´s. But in reality, especially in complex BTB industries, only 3 % of your target group is actively in the market for a new solution, according to research by HubSpot. The rest of the leads might tick all the boxes in terms of fit with your Ideal Customer Profile, personas and so on, but nowhere near engaging in a sales process. For Sales to mindlessly calling MQL’s up is a surefire way to create mistrust to Marketing, as the sales reps will fail to get a meeting 10 out of 10 times. While many blog posts have written on the difference between MQL´s and SQL´s, we still see that the lead quality (or lack of) is a huge driver of friction between Marketing & Sales.
Instead, Marketing should take much more ownership of converting the leads to become sales qualified. This include nurturing activities to make sure that customers are moving towards an admitted need or pain. Also, Marketing can take ownership of lead qualification activities, by setting up an inside sales team or implementing lead scoring. And, once the leads are passed on, Marketing should define strict lead routing procedures to ensure leads are matched to specific salespeople instantly and not just released in big batches on a monthly basis. Sales will consequently get much fewer leads, but the leads will have the characteristics and buying-urgency needed to convert to opportunities.
#5 Support all the interactions of the sales process with content & tools
Unfortunately, Marketing often has a simplistic view of the sales process of complex solutions. The consequence is, that sales enablement is reduced to some product launch slides and a corporate PowerPoint deck.
But Marketing can support with content and tools in a more diverse way to foster more value in the interactions. This includes prospecting content, virtual meeting presentations & agendas, social media content, workshop facilitation tools and guides, articles & papers for pre-meeting sharing and outreach, proposal writing templates and support, meeting dialogue techniques, business case calculators, virtual solution simulators, micro event toolboxes and much more. In sum, if Marketing proactively get granular in its support in the sales process, you are also much more likely to create value to the sales reps.
#6 Spend a few days a month on sales activities
We still hear from sales leaders that their colleagues in Marketing are too disconnected from the commercial reality of the company. They argue that Marketing fails to understand how Sales works and how customers buy.
To combat this, Marketing leaders should consider spending as little as 5 % of their time doing actual sales work. While the experience is not bound to unearth game-changing insights, it will show dedication and willingness to listen and empathize. Some of the activities that marketing leaders can take ownership of, are managing a minor account, prepare and participate in some workshops or meetings with customers or drive a proposal creation process.
While Marketing & Sales alignment has been, and will continue to be, a challenge for many organizations, we believe it requires equal measure of top-down structures and bottom-up collaboration to successfully close the gap. This article provides some practical examples of how marketing can kick-start the alignment journey.