Aligning Sales and Marketing 101: Your First Meeting

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Peanut butter and jelly. Yin and yang. Jay-Z and Beyonce. Sales and … marketing?

If you don’t think the latter should be grouped with some of the most successful partnerships of all time, think again.

Despite sales and marketing often operating in silos, research shows that these departments are more successful when they work together.

Case in point: 73% of business with misaligned sales and marketing teams say that their marketing strategies are ineffective.

two coworkers having a meeting across a table

That’s a problem, especially when it comes to customer experience (CX), which is fast becoming one of the biggest advantages for companies looking to outshine competitors. Alignment between sales and marketing plays a pivotal role in implementing and executing a successful CX strategy.

Marketing and sales teams that don’t align on strategy and objectives will struggle to provide a good customer experience and will lose returning customers to companies with a better CX.

But how do you get these teams to play nice?

Historically, sales and marketing operate in silos, and breaking the barrier that keeps these teams operating at arm’s length can be rife with challenges, misunderstandings, and pushback.

The key to aligning sales and marketing? Baby steps.

You won’t align overnight, but starting with the basics, including roles, objectives, and processes, will ease the transition to closer alignment in the long run.

Let’s go through five of the most important agenda items to consider when aligning your sales and marketing teams, as well as the actions you should take to bring alignment to the next level.

5 agenda items to kick-start your sales and marketing alignment

1. Define each team’s roles

Aligning sales and marketing doesn’t mean that each team takes over the other’s roles. It’s about each team being able to define how their roles complement one another.

In theory, marketing and sales are after the same thing: customers. In practice, they function quite differently to get them.

While marketing dangles the bait, it’s the sales team’s job to reel customers in. Marketing roles range from advertising, to email, to SEO, whereas sales can have a variety of roles such as account management or business development.

Getting a better understanding of who is on what team and what everyone does ensures that both teams are on the same page when starting the alignment process. This is also the time and place to break down any department-specific jargon that’s unfamiliar to people outside of a given practice.

It might sound like a no-brainer, but defining these roles outright establishes the framework for how well these teams function together.

 Put it into practice: 

Create an informal (or formal) document that clearly identifies the main points of contact for requests for each team, based on functions within the team and the seniority level of members.

Don’t shy away from getting everyone together in a room to talk out roles and responsibilities, and put it into a document that everyone has access to and can easily reference. Knowing who needs to be looped in and when will ensure that teams are making the most efficient and effective use of their collaborative efforts.

2. Outline common goals

If sales and marketing are aiming at different goal posts, it’s hard for anyone to score. The overarching objective might be the same for both teams, but the steps that lead there can be quite different.

Let’s say that marketing’s biggest goal is brand building. Sales, on the other hand, has goals for revenue generation. Sure, both brand building and revenue generation have the overarching objective of building a bigger customer base. But achieving brand recognition requires vastly different tactics than those mandated by revenue generation.

If marketing is pushing content that drives brand building when sales is expecting warm leads, neither team will see the results they expect. Talking through common goals and strategies before formalizing and distributing them will ensure that both teams are on the same page.

 Put it into practice: 

Get sales and marketing to work together by creating a formal sales enablement strategy. Sales enablement drives alignment when marketing provides the right materials and messaging to allow sales teams to execute on their sales strategies.

Start by having a meeting to talk about which materials sales teams need, and which materials marketing can provide. Once marketing creates the right content, sales teams should get training on how to use it at the most opportune times. Since sales enablement is one of the top trends for CRM in 2019, adopting a sales enablement strategy early will put you ahead of the game compared to competitors.

3. Align processes

Different teams have different ways of doing things. Sales processes include how to find leads, how to identify the best time to reach out, and how to move leads through the sales funnel.

If marketing has no insight into these processes, it could easily prepare the wrong materials for lead generation, outreach, or funnel stages, based on its own assumptions of the sales process.

Making sure that both teams know the status of a lead is especially important. If marketing is reaching out to a lead at the bottom of the funnel with material meant for new customers, the deal could be botched. If sales is unaware of where a customer came from, the deal could fall through.

Without insight into these processes, your sales funnel will look more like a colander. Talking through how each team works and when they connect with customers will help both teams provide a more tailored approach as they move leads smoothly through the funnel.

 Put it into practice: 

Develop a formal service level agreement(SLA) to aligns sales and marketing expectations and goals. According to HubSpot’s “State of Inbound 2018” report, teams with an SLA see higher ROI from inbound marketing than those that have little or no alignment between teams.

An SLA takes into consideration the sales and marketing funnel stages, as well as what a lead looks like during each stage of the funnel, to come up with a formal set of rules and processes. These outline how and when to feed leads through the funnel to provide the best ROI for both teams.

4. Agree on the target customer

Sales and marketing might think they know their customers, but they won’t have a full picture unless they’re working together.

It’s easy to assume who customers are based on a hazy vision of an ideal customer. The reality, however, doesn’t always reflect that image.

Targeting different types of customers can result in marketing sending sales fruitless leads, or in sales approaching leads with the wrong information. It’s important to figure out if each team’s ideal customer matches reality by comparing notes.

Both teams need to be aligned on:

  1. Who they want their customers to be
  2. Who their actual customers are

At this stage, you need agreement on your ideal customer or buyer persona to make sure that both teams are, in fact, targeting the same group.

 Put it into practice: 

Share data across departments to obtain a holistic view of the customer. Each team should prepare a summary of their customer data pulled from their CRM, marketing automation, or data analysis tool.

Get everyone in a room to compare notes on customer behaviors, demographics, and any other info that might inform each department’s view of the customer. Look for similarities and differences between data and agree upon the target consumer. Customer data plays a big role in creating customer personas, which helps both teams align on strategy and messaging.

5. Talk about technology

There’s a reason that marketing and sales technologies are often bundled together. They serve complementary functions and allow for more streamlined processes and data sharing.

Still, many marketing and sales teams are out of the loop when it comes to knowing which software tools the other team is using. It could be that they’re using something specific to their job function, but it’s more likely that teams are doing things manually.

Have a discussion about the tools that each team is using to determine where there might be an overlap with functionality or unmet needs that software might solve.

 Put it into practice: 

Each team should provide a list of which software tools they are using. From there, both teams can see where there are opportunities for integrating tools or even consolidate tools with similar functionality into one suite.

If no one’s committed to using a specific technology, there are plenty of marketing automation tools that offer CRM functionality, especially more established suites. The same brand may have modules for marketing and CRM, meaning you can add what’s needed and ensure a seamless data exchange.

Check the progress of your alignment

Some of these alignment tasks can be pretty arduous, so don’t try to handle all of them in one go.

Take your time to go through each one and ensure that, at the very least, you’ve fleshed out a plan for how to align on each point covered above.

You’ll have successfully made it through the first stage of alignment once you can confidently say that you’ve accomplished these five things:

  • Created a contact list of who does what in each department, and the best point of contact for different asks.

  • Devised a tentative strategy for sales enablement, including the materials that both teams need to make the effort useful.

  • Drafted an SLA that outlines who’s responsible for contacting leads in different stages of the sales cycle.

  • Created a summary of customer data to flesh out your customer personas.

  • Made a list of software options or, at the very least, features that would cater to each department’s needs.

Looking for Marketing Automation software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Marketing Automation software solutions.

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