Sales and marketing need to work together. Unfortunately, this is far easier said than done. Below, we’ll look at six common sales and marketing alignment mistakes and several potential solutions.
1) The Marketing Expertise Trap
You are a marketing professional, dedicated to the art and science of marketing. A copy of Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising sits in a prominent place on your office bookshelf. You use Eloqua and other sophisticated marketing automation tools. You’ve run events with hundreds or thousands of attendees. You’ve delivered hundreds of amazing drip and nurture campaigns. And you did all of that while earning multiple marketing certifications. You’re proud of your accomplishments, and rightly so. But don’t fall into the expertise trap.
When you meet with your sales reps, you’re probably out of your domain. Your marketing expertise may come across as you trying to “educate” sales, dazzle them with the technical sophistication and automation employed in your marketing campaigns — all to produce your growing list of marketing qualified leads (MQLs). Occasionally, you will work with sales leaders or teams who are already familiar with your expertise, or are curious enough to study it on their own. However, unless you communicate using terms and priorities that demonstrate your knowledge of sales, everyone else will likely dismiss you as an out of touch marketing leader who doesn’t understand and won’t work with sales.
Start by learning the terms, metrics, and data points used by your sales teams and focus on those. Engage with your colleagues in sales and work to understand their perspective. Know how these different approaches can inform and improve your work. Finally, avoid using marketing jargon when interacting with sales and other business units.
2) Fighting Over KPIs: Marketing vs. Sales Qualified Leads
Historically, sales and marketing tend to argue over KPIs. Marketing will point out the number of “MQLs” generated last month. On the other hand, the VP of sales points out that marketing leads take weeks longer to close compared to leads sourced through referrals. At the same time, the company’s growth goals suffer while marketing and sales fight it out.
Sales leaders look at metrics like talk time, activity metrics (such as number of calls), and other interactions with prospects. From that perspective, marketing metrics like page views, unique visitors, and time on the website, have less relevance. Emphasizing these will make marketing appear disconnected from what truly matters.
Disagreement over metrics may relate to the technology both departments use. Consider how sales and marketing end users interact with leads in your CRM and marketing platforms. When does a prospect become a lead, ready for sales to start a conversation or make a purchase? Marketing may favor a data-driven approach. For instance, marketers may consider a lead qualified for sales after they engage in three activities (for instance, downloading a promoted piece of content, opening an email newsletter, or interacting on social media).
However, the sales team may push back on this approach because they’ve found that prospects with a high activity level tend not to be BANT qualified. In other words, they lack a budget, authority, need, and/or correct timing. Marketing doesn’t always know how to account for this.
Collaborate with sales and map your KPIs to the entire customer journey. Don’t just focus on the top-of-funnel KPIs like webinar registrations. Instead, ask your sales staff about their experience referencing webinar material and blog posts in outreach. Discuss the most commonly asked questions from customers. With that feedback in hand, you can adjust your marketing program and demonstrate greater alignment with sales at the same time.
3) No Clear Lead Definition
Marketers focus on metrics such as website traffic, event attendance, and asset downloads, and will often equate those metrics with leads. Meanwhile, a salesperson lives in a very different world where the only numbers that count are quota and accelerators.
If the marketing team hosts a great webinar and a lot of people attend, are those attendees/registrants leads? From a marketing perspective, yes, but not from a sales perspective. If the sales team believes they already have too many low-quality leads, they will naturally try to prioritize the contacts with the best possible outcomes. However, this can potentially leave a lot of business on the table.
Have sales and marketing design a clear lead definition together. Use marketing automation tools like Oracle Eloqua to prioritize via lead scoring and nurturing. If a prospect doesn’t meet the MQL threshold, nurture them until they do. Have sales focus on the most qualified MQLs and trust marketing to continue engaging until they qualify. This shift requires recalibration as “lead” volume will often decrease in the short term. However, with time, lead conversion (and hopefully pipeline value) will go up.
4) Not Seeking Feedback from Sales
Without significant sales feedback – formal and informal – marketing is going to struggle to maintain alignment. At the start of the fiscal year, marketing and sales start well. They have compatible goals: winning key accounts, building the brand, and growing market share. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do.
A few months later, each department has gone its own way. Resentment and frustration quietly build on each team. Suspicions start to emerge on who is to blame for missing key sales targets. If left alone for too long, this resentment can hurt long-term performance.
Don’t wait until the end of the quarter or the year to seek feedback from sales. Schedule regular meetings with your peers in sales. Come prepared with questions so you can make the most of the meeting. Discuss the current sales quarters, patterns in customer questions, which marketing materials have been most useful, and what is still needed.
5) Sales and Marketing Technology Frustrates Cooperation
Marketers traditionally own technology platforms like customer relationship management (CRM), email marketing tools like Oracle Eloqua, and databases. That’s starting to change with the rise of sales automation tools like Yesware and Outreach, sales automation solutions that help individual sales representatives improve their prospecting work. These two genres of software seem to be in competition. Should sales take the lead with customer relations, or should marketing?
Instead of viewing sales and marketing softwares as being in conflict, consider how they can work in tandem. View them as opportunities. By better understanding the tools used by each department, you may find new opportunities for integration and better alignment with sales.
For example, compare notes on email deliverability and engagement with sales. You might learn new methods to avoid having your messages filtered into the “Promotions” tab in Gmail.
6) Sales and Marketing Incentives Are Not Aligned
Bonus pay and other incentives have a significant influence on sales and marketing alignment. It’s tempting to have both departments focus on closed-won deals or a revenue metric. However, those measures may not work for each department. Unless you are exclusively using direct response marketing with strong analytical support, it is difficult to attribute all sales to specific marketing campaigns.
Take a balanced approach to incentives. Marketing can’t be held responsible for closing new accounts since the sales team owns that process. However, you can design incentives for the marketing department that combine bottom-line variables (e.g., sales) and traditional marketing metrics. For example, if you are marketing an enterprise software product, analyze the number of scheduled software demos, closed sales, and free trial requests.
Conclusion: Take Ownership of the Alignment Problem
Since marketing owns the top of the customer funnel, it is up to you to develop and maintain your relationship with sales. We recommend two techniques to maintain alignment throughout the year:
- Start with formal alignment techniques such as ironing out complimentary goals and streamlining sales and marketing software.
- Connect with your sales team frequently. Find out how they win and lose and work together on solutions.
By proactively engaging sales, you will realize two benefits. First, you will avoid complaints about the marketing department appearing out of touch with customer relations. Second, you will be better informed to adjust your marketing tactics and methods to suit the needs of sales.
If your sales and marketing teams are struggling to work together, then we invite you to contact us. Let us share our experience working with many sales and marketing teams to work better together and improve sales and marketing outcomes.