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12 Strategies for “Magical” Sales and Marketing Alignment

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Last week, I got a marketing email announcing a major promotion (three months free) about a product I had just purchased and paid full price for. When I contacted my Sales rep to ask about the promotion and see if they could grant me the discount, he said he knew nothing about it. Needless to say, this made him look bad in my eyes. I mean, why did I know more about his company than he did? Secondly, when he did speak with Marketing, they informed him this promo was just for prospects, not customers like me. This left a bad taste in my mouth as the company clearly valued new business more than existing customers.

What Happens When Sales and Marketing Are Not Aligned?

In this instance, it was clear to me as the customer that Sales and Marketing were not in alignment. My Sales rep was frustrated, which he shared with me. This further undermined my trust in the company. And Marketing, while trying to do their job, was sending messages that new customers were far more important than existing ones. Not the message, I am sure, they were meaning to send.

When the customer journey isn’t well-orchestrated, Marketing and Sales can do serious damage in the marketplace. But when it is, they are a powerful force for business growth. Here’s a positive example. 

A large healthcare company that I have been working with just dramatically overhauled their Sales and Marketing departments to ensure increased teamwork and better alignment.  By holding them accountable to the same sales goals, the department teams began working together on their strategies.

Here’s how it broke down: Marketing took on the work of buyer personas, lead quality, and better positioning of Sales teams in the marketplace.

Sales took on the role of actually using the information that Marketing provided to close the sale. In addition, they would continually give feedback and ideas to Marketing about what was working for the Sales team and what was not. The result? A thirty-six percent increase in closed won sales in one year. Amazing!

The moral of the story is clear. The path to growth and profitability is through the alignment of your Sales and Marketing teams. Here are six strategies that Marketing can use to get your Sales teams to not only want to work with you, but love you.

RELATED: eBook-Aligning Toward Revenue Efficiency

12 Strategies To Improve Marketing & Sales Alignment

1. Ask For Input 

The role of Marketing is to do the research, study the target market, and create compelling content that helps salespeople sell the products. The problem is, according to The American Marketing Association, over 90% of content created by marketing is never used by salespeople. As Marketing professionals, begin by getting the sales team to buy-in to the content you are creating. After all, what good is great content if no one ever sees it? So before you start building, sit down with your Sales team and ask for their ideas and input. One, you will get their buy-in right off the bat, as the Sales team will support what they help create. And two, you may just get some really good ideas.

2. Step Into Their World 

If you want Sales to respect your role, begin by respecting theirs. There is nothing more powerful for understanding what exactly salespeople do and experience than going on or at least listening to sales calls. As a Marketer, you can gain far better insight as to the customer’s pain points and challenges by listening to them directly then you can from doing research. In addition, going on sales calls will ensure you understand first-hand the challenges the sales team is dealing with, and the experiences they are having. This will broaden your scope of how to use your marketing expertise to overcome these challenges.

RELATED: How VPs of Marketing Can Use Call Recordings to Become a Better Sales Partner

3. Let Them Get Personal

With your content, that is. I know, there is a brand image to protect, and you don’t want the perfect language you have spent hours crafting to go to waste, but you need to allow salespeople to make it their own. If you want them to use your copy, then you need to allow them to make it sound like it is theirs. Remember, salespeople really know your customers, not as a target market, or a collective group, but as individuals. And allowing them to make a comment about a baseball team, or a customer’s favorite restaurant, is not only going to ensure that they use your copy, but it will also make it more effective. So when you create that beautiful piece, let them know you are leaving room for them to personalize and make it more effective.

4. Build A Better Mousetrap

Build a better mousetrap—a better process for lead quality, that is. One of the most valuable functions of Marketing to Sales is lead generation. If you want to transform your relationship with Sales, then get them better leads. And to get a better lead, you need a better mousetrap, i.e. a better buyer persona. While Marketing does the heavy lifting to clearly define who the target should be, it would be wise to get the input of the Sales team. They know the customers, they experience first-hand who is buying and who is not. Using their input to deepen the understanding of the buyer persona will give Marketing the information you need to create more qualified leads.

5. Shine The Spotlight

For the most part, salespeople are good at one thing – selling products and services. What they are not good at it is selling themselves – doing the things they need to be doing to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and highlight the value that they bring to the sale. This is one place Marketing can really gain traction in enhancing the relationship between Sales and Marketing.

Take the time to interview your Sales team, get to know who they are, and the skills and talents they have. Then, use that information to create valuable content they can use for blogs, personalized videos, LinkedIn posts, sales letters, and follow-up strategies to better connect with customers and drive sales. Marketing can help Sales develop their personal brands, that all-important piece that will differentiate them in an overly crowded marketplace, and help them gain a competitive advantage.

6. Invite Them Into Your World

Last but not least, ask them to come and see Sales through your world. Salespeople run hard and fast, moving at rapid speed to get the close. They do not always understand how other departments, especially Marketing, can help them. Once you have followed these other steps and established trust with your Sales team, invite them into your world. Show them, firsthand, the things you can do to help them open more doors and close more sales.

This is one of the most powerful steps Marketing can take to get Sales to love you, but also to create strong alignment and ways of working together. I just spoke at a Sales conference in the Education Materials industry. It was an event focused on the top 600 sales professionals in the country, and sitting right up front was the Marketing department. They were there to get insight into what Sales was celebrating, and where they were headed in the coming year.  It was truly exemplary.

After the event, I spent some time talking with the Senior Vice President of Marketing, and she shared that part of their success could be directly tied to the constant shadowing the Sales team was doing with Marketing. About a year before, the Marketing department started inviting sales team members into their department once a week to show them what they were working on and how they were focusing on driving sales. This Senior Vice President said the results were magical – better communication, fantastic input, and total buy-in and support with Sales and Marketing.

RELATED: Sales and Marketing Alignment: 3 T’s for a Clear Path to Success

7. Stop talking about MQLs; start talking about MQAs (Marketing Qualified Accounts)

We’ve developed a plethora of acronyms to measure this delivery: MQL, SAL, SQL, and the like. These metrics put a huge amount of priority on casting a wide enough net to reel in as many individual leads as possible, especially through inbound methods.

However, even the best, most optimized lead hand-offs occur between Marketing and an Account Executive — not a Lead Executive. Sales, at the end of the day, closes an account — not a lead. See the problem?

Consider implementing a new metric to move the conversation to a different level — the Marketing Qualified Account (MQA).

So, what is a Marketing Qualified Account?

Our definition for an MQA is:

“A target account (or discrete buying center) that has reached a sufficient level of engagement to indicate possible sales readiness.”

While MQL relates to one lead, the MQA is for entire accounts that are ready to go to sales. Think about the difference between fishing with a net and fishing with a spear.

8. Foster communication with joint office hours and regular meetings

We’ve heard horror stories about management deciding to physically separate Sales and Marketing because they can’t get along, or the ever-present problem of each department talking about each other behind their backs.

Is this middle school? Even the best SLA can’t help a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship.

Maintaining a continuing conversation is a necessary part of ensuring ongoing alignment, because as the market changes, what buyers need changes.

If the wide receiver on your football team never talked to your running back, you’d be in trouble. While the run game is much different than the pass game, if you want to be a real threat on offense, both need to be working together.

9. Hold Marketing accountable for some level of revenue responsibility

We agree with how Matt Heinz (President of Heinz Marketing) puts it:

As he argues, it’s important for marketers to embrace revenue responsibility. What really matters to the organization is the closed deal.

“To change marketers’ objectives, change their compensation. If the sales team is grinding it out to hit their end of month numbers, but the marketing team is already at the bar celebrating because they hit their re-tweet goal, then something’s misaligned.”

10. Document what each team does within the sales process

“If sales doesn’t understand what marketing does all day, and marketing feels the same about sales, the problem is a severe lack of empathy.”

The symptoms of this are broken processes and a critical lack of trust.

By documenting an overview of the sales process, that is, how buyers buy from you, you can help Sales and Marketing gain an understanding of their distinct roles within the a shared framework, and working towards a common goal.

Document the steps in the sales process so it’s clear to each team what needs to happen and when. You must have an integrated plan and a way to get visibility into if that plan is being followed by your people.

11. Set clear and consistent definitions

At the outset of an Account Based Everything program, developing the right criteria for your target accounts is paramount.

This is an ideal test of the current state of your Sales and Marketing alignment, as it dictates whether your teams are on the same page.

Your ability to map out a list of target accounts depends on how each department defines their Ideal Customer Profile. Get this wrong, and nothing else you do with Account Based Everything really matters.

This definition is the foundation for the whole program. If each team has a different perspective, you’ll miss major opportunities, waste resources (time, headcount) on the wrong accounts, or both.

In addition, both parties should be mindful of firmographic and technographic criteria, as well as intent and engagement information to identify in-market and highly engaged accounts.

12. Use the same data and technology

To foster alignment, implement an account-centric data infrastructure, for example lead-to-account matching, which enables leads (historically owned by Marketing) to roll up to accounts (typically owned by sales teams.)

Without this capability, a company could have thousands of individuals within a database who work at target accounts and customer accounts, but have no way of connecting them to the right company.

Leads could get routed to the wrong owner, could be improperly scored or nurtured, and sales’ overall productivity decreases from time spent cleaning up this data problem. There are many tools and technologies to choose from within the Account Based technology market ecosystem.

In addition to the right L2A capabilities, Sales and Marketing teams should model accurate pipeline metrics. For example, to reach a particular pipeline goal, what % needs to come from Marketing?

Your goal should be for Sales and marketing to come to the table knowing exactly what’s expected of them to hit your organization’s revenue goals.

Bonus Tip: Share account-level insights

The entire account-based strategy depends on doing your homework and learning as much as you possibly can about target accounts (and key buyers at those accounts) so you can maximize your relevance and resonance within each.

Marketing teams have always been adept at gathering competitive intelligence. It’s part of our DNA as a function.

They can further help Sales gain a better understanding of particular accounts and the key buyers at the table by following them on social channels, and by engaging influencers at the right times.

This team is also skilled at paying attention to trigger events that could cause a target account to actively seek a solution.

Final Remarks

If you want to drive sales and grow your business, then look at the alignment of your Sales and Marketing teams. Is there room for improvement? Are there things you can do to take it up a notch?

In a perfect world, Sales would respect what Marketing does and would welcome the insight you have to drive sales. But the world is not perfect, and if you want to transform your relationship with Sales, then take the lead, and follow these steps. Then sit back and watch as not only the alignment with sales and marketing increases but so will your bottom line!

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