The ancient parable of “The Elephant in the Dark” illustrates the paradigm of sales and marketing alignment. It goes something like this…
Three sages are standing in a dark room. Lights out, each is unaware an elephant stands before them — an animal none of them have ever encountered. The first sage reaches around, finds the elephant’s leg, and announces, “Oh, this must be a tree.”
“It’s most certainly not. It’s a snake,” the second sage decides as it touches the elephant’s trunk.
Putting both hands on the elephant’s belly, the third sage concludes, “No, no. You’re both wrong. We’re simply in a dark room; it’s the walls we’re touching.”
When it comes to sales and marketing teams, sometimes it can feel like you’re in a dark room each with conflicting views of what’s in front of you — when all along you are working towards the same goal.
Now, imagine we can all see the elephant. It doesn’t sound easy. But with specific strategies and an understanding of how we got here in the first place, sales and marketing teams can streamline the sales process, allowing your organization to accelerate revenue growth.
Why Are Sales and Marketing Teams So Misaligned?
How did we get here? Sales and marketing teams have always struggled to maintain alignment.
Traditionally they have been two distinct departments, functioning in two silos, each with their own language, leadership teams, and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Working from opposite ends of the traditional sales funnel, they have butted heads over messaging and delivery with a general distrust of each other’s work. How many times have you heard a salesperson complain about not getting any good leads? And how many times have you heard a marketer lament about sales not following through with leads? The general distrust is just the tip of the iceberg.
In the past, marketing was focused on branding, awareness, and promoting a certain product or service. And traditional sales was very seller-centric — a numbers game, where sellers pitch themselves to a lot of prospects and hope something sticks — abrupt, disruptive, and generally a negative experience for the buyer.
Whereas today, with so much of the B2B buying journey happening digitally, marketing plays a bigger role in the sales process. Buyers are not engaging with salespeople until right before they make their decision, spending only 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers.
This shift in consumer behavior has changed the dynamic between sales and marketing. With there being a wider grey zone of where marketing ends and sales begin. For organizations with good communications between sales and marketing, the transition has been smooth. For those organizations where sales and marketing have been siloed, the pivot can be challenging.
Why Is Sales and Marketing Alignment Important?
The better question may be, “Why is sales and marketing alignment important now?” Some solidarity between the two organizations could have been helpful back five years ago too, but it has never been more important for sales and marketing teams to align in order to hit revenue numbers, gain greater market share, and expand into new markets.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of new business applications skyrocketed in the second half of 2020 and into 2021. Compared to five years earlier, the number of business applications jumped from 252K in September 2016 to 430K in September 2021. That is a 70% increase! Meaning more options for consumers and more competition in the market for everyone.
Think your industry is immune? Think again. The increase in business applications was seen in every sector of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
And consider the global market. Where once consumers preferred a local product or service, today’s consumer knows that there is a global market that’s easily accessible and where their dollar will go further.
This is where the two heads of sales and marketing need to come together to align on everything from ideal customers, market fit, buyer personas, core messaging, and a go-to-market strategy. Having the two teams work together ensures that you are not only going after the right buyers, but you are also speaking the same language throughout the sales process.
Sales enablement is a business function that was born from a growing need for sales and marketing to align and is often owned by both departments. We believe it is the first step for organizations to gain sales and marketing alignment and work together with a common goal.
Signs Your Teams are Misaligned
Here are some tell-tale signs your sales and marketing teams are misaligned:
- Sales and marketing can’t seem to agree on goals, definitions, and data.
- Marketing content is being generated but is unused by sales. Assets don’t answer critical questions prospects have at each stage of the buyer journey.
- Go-to-market strategy is stagnant. Sales and marketing have not agreed on the strategy or the markets.
- Your customer and lead data are a mess. It’s all in different places and doesn’t give any insights.
- Lead handoff is clumsy and creates tension. Sales doesn’t follow through with leads because they think they’re not sales ready.
Sales and Marketing Alignment Best Practices
Align Around a Unified Goal
Without defining a specific goal, sales and marketing might be chasing differing and conflicting objectives. Think about “The Elephant in the Dark” parable — does everyone see that the big object in the room is an elephant? Do you all agree on the same goal?
Marketers are often working on long term projects, looking at metrics, increasing brand awareness, and nurturing leads. On the other hand, salespeople work towards short term goals, meet quarterly quotas, answer questions for prospects, and solve problems to close the deal today.
Technically, sales and marketing teams share the same goal of converting leads into customers. But because of the misperceived lead handoff from marketing to sales derived from the traditional sales funnel, they often function like two independent segments of the buyer journey.
Both teams need to agree on their contributions to the B2B buyer journey: sales supplies marketing with the intel around the customer journey, and marketing delivers valuable content that helps the prospect move through the funnel.
Goals will change, that is to be expected. But it is important to get aligned around your quarterly metrics.
Agree on Lead Qualification
Lead qualification is a major part of sales and marketing alignment. Both teams need to have a shared understanding of what a qualified lead is. Only 44% of companies have formally agreed on the definition of a qualified lead between sales and marketing. Causing tension and frustration for both teams.
Marketers can get obsessed with top of funnel growth, and when sales accept their leads, they are hands off — whether or not they turn into pipeline. If organizations can align on lead qualification, marketing and sales teams can start to gain confidence in pipeline growth. Marketing can generate leads their sales teams can close into customers, and sales can have confidence in the leads that are passed from marketing.
Both teams need to come together and put some serious thought into what makes a lead sales-ready, and they need to agree on this definition. What makes someone a good fit for your product? Which specific actions show that someone is sales ready? What qualifications must be met to become a customer?
Using a lead qualification matrix is one strategy to bring focus for identifying and agreeing on fit and sales readiness in your prospects. It is a reliable model based on stats and assumptions that organizes prospects into buckets of good/poor fit and ready/unready based on the mutually agreed upon definitions. This allows sales teams to prioritize leads, but also gives marketers specific demographic, firmographic, and actions for “sales ready” leads.
Without getting into too much detail, lead scoring should aim to put leads into one of 6 buckets. Demographic and firmographic information will often determine a good fit or bad fit for a prospect. And their actions will dictate whether they are unready for sales, sales-ready, or hand raisers. If your organization can agree on these 6 buckets of prospect, you’re well on your way to sales and marketing bliss!
Align Your Teams with Shared Technology
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the sales process, especially with COVID-19 pushing 90% of B2B sales to digital channels. Not only is tool adoption critical to staying relevant in a digital buyer journey, done right, it’s also an opportunity to nurture sales and marketing alignment.
Tools create a central axis around which both teams can come together to streamline the sales process: finding better leads, nurturing sales qualified leads (SQLs), measuring sales performance, and enabling customer success.
In misaligned teams, these processes are often inconsistent and drain valuable resources. Have you heard of individual salespeople tweaking their decks to be more relevant for pitches and sales calls? How about sales and marketing teams maintaining separate customer information databases and using different metrics to define success?
Tools empower sellers and marketers with the resources and processes they need to find the right buyers and sell at a higher velocity.
- Content management systems (CMSs) allow access to digital assets across both teams improving workflows and productivity
- Marketing automation and sales outreach tools can alleviate most of the manual and repetitive work so both teams can spend more time on higher value tasks
- Customer support and customer relationship management (CRM) tools track customer interactions, shorted the sales cycle, and provide data and insights into your sales process
Here are some popular tools in the sales and marketing technology stack:
|Main purpose||Sales and marketing tools|
Enable Your Teams
The final piece to sales and marketing alignment is facilitating a sales enablement function within your organization.
Sales enablement acts as a stake that anchors sales and marketing teams. It is a function that sits between both teams, helping to create alignment and efficiency between them. Most B2B organizations spend resources on sales enablement to some degree but do not have a defined role or team responsible for it.
Enablement is often owned by both sales and marketing teams, but it can also be a neutral stakeholder between sales and marketing. For example, a sales enablement team can make sure that salespeople are trained before they use any assets — ensuring that content is used properly and effectively.
Another important function of sales enablement can be to maintain and manage a content library. This involves coordinating with the marketing team for content production, compiling data and insights from sales, and managing it all in a content orchestration platform.
Often sales teams edit assets on the fly, which can lead to multiple versions of similar content stored in several different places. Effective sales enablement strategies can help streamline this process by pre-approving edits, properly storing assets, and collecting metrics on how to improve future content creation.
Sales and marketing professionals face numerous challenges and opportunities to build trust and deliver value. And while it’s true that these teams have a reputation of not seeing eye-to-eye, there is hope. In the end, sales and marketing have always wanted the same thing but have had different strategies to get there.
By aligning around the new B2B buyer journey, agreeing on lead qualification, using shared tools, and implementing a cross-functional sales enablement team, sales and marketing teams will be on track to win together.
Bring Your Teams into Alignment
Are your sales and marketing teams misaligned on ideal customer profiles, customer fit, or simply need help executing your vision? TPM works with both sales and marketing teams to streamline the entire buyer journey — from marketing consulting, strategy, content development, to sales enablement services. Contact us today.