Aligning Sales and Marketing

7 challenges for aligning sales and marketing (and how they can be overcome)

In recent times there has been much debate about aligning sales and marketing for improved business performance. In a previous blog, we discussed ‘the difference between B2B marketing and sales’, we noted that each function rarely gives due recognition to the role performed by the other. We also highlighted that companies with closely aligned sales and marketing departments are ultimately more competitive and successful.

As discussed in detail by B2B Marketing, Forrester has introduced the world to sales enablement. That being… ‘a strategic ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle in order to optimize the return of investment of the selling system’.

Put simply – sales enablement is helping sales understand and talk to customers; it provides customer-facing employees with information to help them do their job as effectively as possible.

While not solely the responsibility of marketing, a large part of sales enablement is for marketing to provide sales with the right materials, business insights and quality of leads. These closer relationships by default mean looking at ways of aligning sales and marketing.

So, despite all the evidence and good reason as for aligning sales and marketing, why is it such a challenge? And ultimately, how can those challenges be overcome?

1. Visibility

Silos do exist within organisation. The bigger the business, the bigger the silo. Each ‘functional department’ has their own set of responsibilities, and the individuals within it often have specific skill sets which allow them to be successful. Despite the ultimate goal of satisfying customers needs and wants (at a profit), a central focus is often lost. In terms of sales and marketing, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and subsequently becomes sceptical. Greater visibility of activities and results along with combined objectives is needed to support the wider business goals.

2. Time

Marketing takes time. It’s a management process that relies on research, information and testing. It’s a strategic process that works, but not always at the desired speed of a sales person. A sales person often has little interest in the planning and detail of a campaign – they need leads, and they need them now.

3. Qualification

Leads should not be all about quantity. Any marketing department could produce large numbers of leads if they threw enough money at it. That said, setting the criteria for a well-qualified lead takes a two-way discussion to get right. Both sales and marketing need to agree on the appropriate criteria to take a prospect forward and what point the sales team are happy to progress, and if not what gets done with the lead.

4. Terminology

Jargon. We often don’t realise we’re using it, or that it’s open to interpretation. Qualification (above) is a great example – what marketing mean by a ‘qualified lead’ is often hugely different to how sales might define a ‘qualified lead’. Terminology within an organisation doesn’t always translate well to customer-facing activity – so, without being too clichéd, an organisation does need to discuss, agree and ‘all sing from the same hymn sheet’, particularly when aligning sales and marketing.

5. Process

It’s clear to see that several of these challenges are about process. Getting sales and marketing to talk and agree on the steps required to meet objectives, which are then implemented, is critical. In B2B, marketing is often reliant on a sales team to get results, therefore mutual understanding and alignment in working practices is critical. Working practices need to be well explained and uniformly supported across both departments.

6. Feedback

Now teams are talking, they need to keep talking. Time taken by marketing processes can be reduced with good, detailed feedback. Qualification criteria can be refined for enhanced results, with good, detailed feedback. Processes can be improved with good, detailed feedback (get the picture?)!

7. Reporting

Cohesive, supportive working – towards the same goals – will significantly improve business performance. Reporting together (not in those functional silos) against agreed and combined metrics is key – that will really get them talking.

Bringing it all together and aligning sales and marketing

The need for sales and marketing to work hard together really becomes essential when you introduce marketing automation platforms. Often, without even realising it the two sides are literally thrown together as these sophisticated platforms can’t work effectively and deliver the required result without the other party involved.

Suddenly when aligning sales and marketing through the use of technology (and sheer determination), the result is:
– The left hand knows what the right is doing
– Time to create a campaign is faster (and both sides have the ability to do it)
– The terminology used by both is aligned
– New, more effective processes come to the fore
– Qualification criteria for prospects is agreed together
– Both open up and engage in dialogue and give feedback
– Metrics become unified, reporting becomes transparent and ROI rockets


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