3 Steps to Aligning Marketing and Sales

As B2B buyers leverage Web 2.0 and social media to streamline their purchasing processes, the line between marketing and sales as it relates to prospect interaction becomes blurred. Marketing must take on the early-stage lead/prospect communication that was once the sole responsibility of sales, and frequently the two groups must work together to nurture a buyer from lead to prospect to customer.  While challenging, it is possible to get marketing and sales on the same page.  Below I have outlined three steps that can move your organization towards marketing and sales alignment.

  1. Senior Level Support - It is critical to have senior management support for all joint marketing/sales initiatives.  At a minimum, the executive where marketing and sales meet - CEO, President, Chief Revenue Officer, SVP Sales & Marketing - should believe in the joint initiative and foster an environment of cooperation. There are cases where forward thinking marketing and sales executives “get it”, and start working together for their mutual benefit.  Rather than continuing a culture of bickering and finger pointing, they commit to changing ingrained behaviors and working together for the common good.  This is rare, however, so somebody at the top should set the tone and expectation about what needs to be done, even to the point of putting in joint incentives for the sales and marketing heads.  Obviously, working together should yield better results for each of them, but sometimes you need a specific “carrot” to drive the desired behavior.
  2. Jointly Map the Marketing/Sales Process – The best way to build trust is to work together on a project that will have both an immediate impact and demonstrate how much each group needs the other.  Both teams should get in a room and use a whiteboard to map the process a buyer takes going from lead to satisfied customer.  This should be done from the buyer’s perspective – what do they experience as they make the decision whether or not to buy your product or service?  Doing so will identify the steps in the buyer’s process where marketing and sales must execute smooth hand offs and where both teams need to work together to nurture the prospect.  Once the process is identified, data can be pulled from the marketing and CRM systems to understand the flow of leads and approximate conversion rates at each stage of the process.  The common ground that is established from marketing and sales having a mutual understanding of how buyers interact with your company is invaluable, and forms the basis for on-going cooperation.
  3. Start Streamlining the Marketing/Sales Process – Now that both teams have a clear understanding of how a buyer becomes a customer, it is possible to define a comprehensive program that moves a buyer through that process as efficiently as possible.  It is tempting to try and fix the entire process in one fell swoop.   Don’t do that!  It is better to pick one key area where there is clear interaction between the two groups and optimize it first.  The hand off of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) to sales, for example, is a stage where many companies suffer a great deal of lead leakage. If marketing and sales have different ideas of what constitutes a qualified lead, sales may not follow-up while marketing assumes it no longer has responsibility for nurturing that lead, and the buyer ends up in no man’s land (or worse, as your competitor’s customer).  A simple first step is to agree on the characteristics of a qualified lead that sales will always agree to contact.  Once additional qualifying questions are answered, sales must either accept the lead and actively engage it or send it back to marketing for further nurturing.  This will dramatically reduce lead leakage and lay the foundation for further marketing/sales cooperation on the rest of the overall process.

Getting marketing and sales aligned around a unified buyer engagement process is nirvana for many marketing and sales executives.  Starting small and building on short-term success with visible executive level support will create an environment for long-term cooperation and result in improved sales results.

For more on Sale-Marketing alignment see our Best Practice: Candid Letter from Sales to Marketing.