Sales and marketing need to work together, yet they often struggle to play well together. Below, we’ll share six common sales and marketing alignment mistakes and potential solutions.
1) The Marketing Expertise Trap
One common mistake is also the most insidious: your marketing expertise. You are a marketing professional, dedicated to the art and science of marketing. That’s a strength! If you push that strength too far, then you may end up losing alignment with your sales team.
As a marketer using Eloqua or other sophisticated marketing automation tools, you naturally take pride in your expertise. You’ve run events with hundreds or thousands of attendees, delivered hundreds of amazing drip and nurture campaigns while earning plenty of certifications. You even have a copy of the classic “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins in your office. But don’t fall into the expertise trap.
When you speak with sales, you’re probably out of your domain. More likely, your marketing expertise may appear as trying to “educate” sales, dazzle them with the technical sophistication and automation employed in your marketing campaigns — all to produce your growing list of MQLs. Occasionally, you will work with sales leaders or teams who are curious enough to study what you’re saying. Or they may have a background in marketing before moving to sales. However, unless you communicate using terms and priorities relevant to salespeople, that demonstrate your domain expertise in 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 and how it can inform and improve your work. 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” (marketing qualified leads) 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 (e.g., number of calls), and other interactions with prospects. From that perspective, if you share marketing metrics like page views, unique visitors, and time on the website, marketing will 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 – a lead is qualified for sales after they engage in three activities (e.g., content downloads, open email newsletters or comment on content). 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, lacking a budget, authority, need, and correct timing. After all, Vice-Presidents will often delegate the responsibility for researching vendors and their solutions to a manager or analyst rather than doing the work themselves.
Collaborate with sales and map your KPIs to the entire customer journey. Don’t just focus on the top of funnel KPIs like the number of webinar registrations. Instead, ask your sales staff about their experience referencing webinar material and blog posts in outreach. Ask sales about 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 live in a world of website traffic, event attendance, touchpoints, asset downloads, and customer journeys and will often equate those metrics with leads. A salesperson, on the other hand, lives in a very different world where the only numbers that count are achieving quota and accelerators.
If Marketing puts on a great webinar (event) and a lot of people attend, are those attendees/registrants leads? From a Marketing perspective, the answer may be yes. However, from a sales perspective, they are not leads. If sales feel like they already have too many low-quality leads, they will try to cherry-pick low hanging fruit, e.g. companies or prospects that look interesting or with a higher potential to close. If a Salesperson is going to invest their time, they will prioritize the contacts with the best possible outcomes. However, this can potentially leave a lot of business on the table.
Establish a clear lead definition, designed and approved by both Sales and Marketing. Use marketing automation tools like Eloqua to prioritize via lead scoring and nurturing. If a prospect doesn’t meet the MQL threshold, then they are nurtured until they do. Sales will focus on the most qualified MQLs and will trust Marketing to continue engaging until they qualify. This shift requires recalibration as “lead” volume will often decrease; however, 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. The solution to this problem? 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 3-5 questions so you can make the most of the meeting. Ask them about the current sales quarters, patterns in customer questions and which marketing materials have been most useful, or 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.
If you see sales enablement and automation technologies as an opportunity, then you are more likely to improve marketing results. 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. This improvement
Jointly discuss current and proposed software tools sales and marketing will use. By better understanding the tools used by each department, you may find new opportunities for integration and better alignment with sales.
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 sales own 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 were marketing an enterprise software product, you might explore looking at the number of software demos booked, 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 counterpart 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 prevent comments like “marketing is out of touch” and related complaints. 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.
About 4Thought Marketing
4Thought Marketing is a product innovator specializing in the Oracle Marketing Cloud. We help customers translate business objectives into strategies that produce results. Our services include Marketing Automation and Compliance Consulting, Marketing Technology Best Practices, Oracle Eloqua Cloud Apps and Add-ons, Integrations, Campaign Services, Staff Augmentation, Data Management, and Eloqua Implementations.