Aligning Sales and Marketing

One of the biggest barriers to success in companies is the gulf between sales and marketing. It’s existed in some form in every company I’ve worked in.

In some companies, it’s because the objectives of the two groups aren’t aligned. In other companies, it’s because of egos and politics at the executive level. In other companies, it’s a cultural issue deriving from company history. Regardless of the reason, it’s an unnecessary barrier to success,  delaying or extending the sales cycle and opening the door to more nimble competitors who have their act together.

The key question is “How best to get rid of the barriers?”

The simple answer is understanding the reason for the misalignment and eliminate it. Easier said than done, particularly if the problem is cultural or political.

Assuming none of that irrational dysfunction, there is still a task of optimizing the working relationship, and it must be viewed as a relationship, with both teams working together and making accomodations as needed.

Two of the most common complaints from the sales side are poor quality (and often times low quantity) leads and lack of appropriate marketing collateral. In fact, according to a recent CMO Council study, salespeople view as much as 90% of marketing collateral as useless.

From the marketing side, the most common complaints are lack of proper lead followup by sales, misuse of existing marketing materials, and continuous demand for new materials.

You can see where this can end up.

Here are a few things you can do to start closing this gap.

For Marketing:

Understand the selling process: How well do you understand the actual sales process or processes used by the sales team? This is not strictly the sales methodology, but the actual process that sales reps use. What is a “good” lead from their perspective? How do they further qualify leads after they are passed on from Marketing? What are the criteria they use to turn a lead into an opportunity and move that through the funnel?

Map the marketing collateral to the selling process: Have you simply produced the “standard” set of marketing collateral for sales — data sheet, product brief, a few white papers, prospecting guide and a few (old) success stories? Or have you mapped the information needs of the sales team and the prospects at various stages of the sales cycle and created collateral to support that?

Work with Sales on a few deals every quarter: No real insight is gained when you remain arms length from a situation. Make it a requirement that members of the marketing team, not simply Product Marketing Managers, spend some time each quarter working directly with sales reps on some key deals. Not only will this give your team true insights (and perhaps some empathy) into the challenges of the sales process, but it will build relationships between the sales and marketing teams. Spending a few days in a foxhole with someone quickly turns “coworkers” into true colleagues.

For Sales:

Read and understand the marketing collateral: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an inbound question from a sales rep asking for collateral that already existed. Nothing frustrates Marketing more than having to deal with the proverbial “sales droid” who doesn’t even know what tools are available to her.

Rope in the Sales cowboys (and cowgirls): Sales processes exist for a reason. Not only do they help sales teams function and scale efficiently, but they enable other teams such as marketing to integrate into the process more effectively. Having a sales process, but letting individual reps play fast and loose with it helps no one. Manage your sales reps as you need to, but don’t inflict them, and their “special needs and requests” on other teams.  They may deliver numbers, but at what cost?

Understand that Marketing isn’t there simply to cater to your whims: This is part of the cultural problem that exists in many firms, particularly sales driven companies. Sales is used to getting what it wants when it wants, and thus Marketing is forced to cater to them. If your company views Marketing this way, understand that you are losing out, because at some point, the exodus of frustrated marketing staff will cripple your ability to deliver your numbers.  And guess what, you’ll still have to deliver your numbers.

For both Sales and Marketing

Talk to each other regularly: There’s nothing like clear and open communication to make a relationship work. Some companies do this by setting up Sales Advisory Boards where key members of the Sales and Marketing teams meet regularly to discuss issues, set plans and ensure alignment is maintained.

Create common definitions of key entities and objectives: Do Marketing and Sales have the same definition for a lead or a prospect? What is the definition of a qualified lead? Are targets for leads per territory, or per vertical defined and measured or do you simply look at top level inbound inquiries? Remove as much ambiguity as you can from the front end process and you will minimize the common points of confrontation about leads quality and quantity.

Cross-train key people where possible: I heard a wonderful quote a while back. “We get comfort from those with whom we agree and growth from those with whom we don’t”.  While it’s not possible or practical to train every sales rep in lead and demand generation, nor every marketer in the preferred sales methodology, getting key people cross-trained at some level will help bridge conceptual, philosophical or knowledge gaps between the teams. Perhaps anyone who is part of the Sales Advisory Board should be provided with the opportunity to attend a class or conference to help develop understanding.

These are only a few suggestions to help optimize the relationship between the two organizations. What do you think? Do you know of any other ideas or suggestions to minimize the gaps between Sales and Marketing?



3 responses to “Aligning Sales and Marketing

  1. These are great suggestions! I would add two things. First, there needs to be full buy-in from the executives in charge of sales and marketing. They need to agree to these guidelines and ensure their teams cooperate. Second, there needs to be incentives to cooperate. For example, I think that sales should get bonuses based on getting customer references. Conversely, if you want to put marketing people onto sales deals, then they should be entitled to commissions. And what about companies that have a third team that is responsible for account management for existing customers? They need to be part of this process, too.

  2. Excellent post. And common sense but not used near enough. For what seems to be centuries, sales and marketing have not aligned well, even when reporting to the same VP. But those that do in my opinion, always seem to very successful (and relaxed, and happier etc.)

    I would also suggest though, that a tool like our,, makes it much easier to align marketing with sales. I’m sure this blog is familiar with these types of tools as one of you used to work for Eloqua.

    Much of the reason for lack of alignment is that it takes too much time to manage. Scoring, nurturing and routing leads to the right sales person at the right time is very difficult to do. But once it works, sales is very happy with marketing, marketing gets to take credit with management.

    Sales is not happy or doesn’t use much collateral because it cares about closing business, not the latest case study. They don’t care that the case study took 100 hours to produce and get approval for. Give sales what they want (ongoing qualified leads) and less paper, and you’ll have better alignment.

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