Is sales and marketing alignment just a buzzword?

Sales and marketing alignment has been overused because many B2B companies are still operating with an outdated model where marketing builds branding and awareness and sales books appointments. 

Sure, marketing may be generating leads, but because most of them aren’t “sales ready,” they’ll be declared DOA (dead on arrival for those of you that don’t watch detective shows). 

If that describes your company’s current sales and marketing process, then yes, alignment is just a buzzword. 

Alignment means that sales and marketing are truly working together to generate revenue, and that requires a change in behavior and process on both sides. Not cooperating results in that age-old distrust—sales assumes marketing isn’t doing its job, and marketing assumes sales is being picky and demanding. 

The breakdown comes from a lack of lead nurturing

Let’s say you’re a local reporter, and you have been sent to a crime scene to interview witnesses and write a story. Like any journalist, you won’t get paid unless you deliver the story. 

Because you’re on deadline, you going to be singularly focused on finding witnesses that can contribute to the story—talking to anyone else might seem like a waste of time.

Every quota-driven B2B sales team has the same focus—sales reps need to close as many deals as they can to make quota—and they’re simply not interested in engaging with prospects who are not ready to buy.

Most misalignment starts with different definitions of what a qualified lead actually is.

Marketing usually defines a qualified lead as someone that has self-identified as having interest in the product or service by responding digitally to the calls-to-action in:

  • Outbound email campaigns
  • Website downloads
  • Social media follows/responses

Sales defines a qualified lead according to whether or not the prospect has:

  • Budget
  • Authority
  • Need
  • Timeframe 
  • Motivation

It’s easy to see where the disconnect is, because it’s entirely possible for an extremely engaged lead to be an entry-level employee at a resource-strapped startup company—plenty of need, but no budget, no authority, and no timeline. 

To marketing, though, that person looks good enough on paper (or rather, in the CRM) to be designated “marketing-qualified” and handed off to the sales team for follow-up.

When that follow-up actually occurs, it will become clear to sales that the lead is nowhere near purchase-ready, and into the “disqualified” pile it goes.

A highly compensated enterprise sales rep cannot be expected to follow up on marketing qualified leads.  Somebody who downloaded a white paper may not have the budget, timeframe, or commitment to follow through.  They might love their current vendor. But if you ask a sales rep with a high quota to call on that lead, it’s dead. 

Unfortunately, interest does not necessarily equate to sales readiness. 

According to Gleanster, 30 to 50 percent of leads in a pipeline are not ready to buy, and 8 to 10% of ‘not yet ready to buy’ leads will probably convert to a sale over time (others will be lost to the competition or, for whatever reason, decide not to make a purchase.) 

In other words, declaring leads DOA too quickly means you’re leaving money on the table.

For example, that entry-level startup employee may not be ready today, but what if she gets promoted six months from now and finds herself with the budget, authority, and timeline that she didn’t have before? 

If she was outright rejected by sales, rather than kept in the pipeline and fed nurturing content, you will have lost a deal that you otherwise could have closed.

In the same Gleanster report, survey respondents that were using a lead nurturing process indicated that, on average, 15% to 20% of the ‘not yet ready to purchase’ opportunities converted to sales.

To achieve true sales and marketing alignment, your overall process must change and not just by getting on the same page regarding the definition of a qualified lead.  

We need to add a qualification step in the process—the Sales Accepted Lead

Agreeing on terms is critical to changing the sales and marketing process, but cooperation should extend beyond terminology. An inside sales or business development rep should have access to combination of digital (marketing) and human resources to nurture those marketing qualified leads through the process until they are sales qualified and then hand them off to sales. 

Here’s what the whole process should look like: 

1. Marketing-Qualified Lead (MQL)

In our process, an MQL is defined as anyone that demonstrates interest digitally in our content by downloading an infographic, reading a newsletter article, or registering for a webinar. 

That marketing qualified lead, the person who has downloaded the white paper,  is a great lead, and we shouldn’t pretend that it isn’t.  You may actually have somebody interested in your brand engaging and consuming your content, and that’s a very good thing.  

2. Sales-accepted lead (SAL) 

We also shouldn’t also have the expectation that this person is ready to buy now and therefore ready to talk to an expensive sales person. But because you still want to have some human conversations, you need a middle ground: a business development or inside sales function who can readily execute on the high volume, high call and email activity workto nurture marketing qualified leads until they’re sales ready. 

You also need to determine what happens to a lead as it moves through the buying cycle: 

  • If an MQL is rejected by sales, what happens to it? Is that person thrown out altogether or are they maintained in the database as a possibility for the future? 
  • Even better, are they deposited into a workflow that automatically feeds them nurturing content relevant to their demonstrated interests?

When one of those MQLs is finally ready to have a conversation, we call that an SAL. It’s sales accepted—but it’s not an opportunity until sales has done their due diligence. 

3. Sales-qualified lead (SQL)

Usually, this means that sales has not only had the conversation, but determined that the prospect is qualified to go through the sales process. It’s an opportunity now and up to sales to run their process on the prospective client. 

Dogs and cats, living together—mass hysteria!

Like any sibling relationship, the marketing-sales dynamic can be competitive—and even nasty. But with open communication and process agreement, it can be a great example of working successfully toward a common goal.

Marketing needs to understand that their job is to generate leads for sales. They must also have a good understanding of what their internal sales process looks like so they can generate content that enables it.

Sales needs to understand not only how to use the content that marketing has developed to move their sale forward, but also that someone who’s not qualified today may well become a sale tomorrow.

B2B Marketing Zone