The first sales and marketing department I worked in was broken. Like cats and dogs, we (in the marketing team) hated them (in the sales team) on principal not reason.
It was bred from an unspoken expectation that because the sales team put money on the table, the marketing team would produce anything they required.
The marketing team meanwhile was stubbornly producing material they believed was right, with no thought to the sales team’s life in the field.
Little time was taken to consider what the customer wanted.
We fed our marketing machine with hunches and our sales funnel with false-promises.
Somehow we got by.
A gazillion years later and here we are, a little after the dawn of The Human – that moment we realised we’re selling to ourselves – and finally we understand if we don’t like the sales and marketing techniques we endure, why would anyone else?
Thank god for HubSpot. And Twitter. And Google, who has penalised us all beyond recognition until now, at last, we give our buyers what they need.
Ironically, this has forced the marketing cats and sales dogs into close proximity and they simply must get on. A marketing department that spares no thought for its sales team, or a sales team that operates in isolation, drives poorly qualified leads and disgruntled customers.
Do you believe your company knows how to align sales and marketing with cohesive teams? It is a rare thing and a coveted dream. So, let’s figure out why.
Why is it so darn hard to align these peas in their pod (because they do a very similar job, don’t they?). Why is it so important and what can we do about it?
I’ll take you through the signs, why, what and finally the ‘how’ of how to align sales and marketing - the three cornerstones and 17 steps.
Four Signs Your Sales and Marketing Department is Not Aligned
Even if you’re department feels more aligned than Mr and Mrs Obama, these tricksy symptoms can pop up at any time. It pays to remain vigilant.
We’ve all got that one manager who inspired the shit out of us.
Mine was the one who said, ‘My job is to help you do the best job you can.’ I saw her repeatedly crap-block distractions and compromises from above, protect us from wrath when we made mistakes, while pulling us ever-higher in our abilities and achievements. She was accountable. And accountability is a sign of leadership.
But blame…that’s team spirit in the doldrums. A game of ‘she said, he said’ is a sign no one is owning their role, helping others or looking out for the true champion of this game – the customer.
If your sales team blames your marketing team for their inability to close leads, if your marketing team blames your sales team for their misguided communications, you’ve got misalignment. Oust that disease.
It’s not just sales and marketing teams that suffer from a lack of structure. All businesses need systems and processes to function and scale. But in a department built on communication that is so resource-rich, a lack of structure is a red flag for leaders looking to align their teams.
The symptoms to watch out for are inconsistent messages and branding, confused customer enquiries, an inability to track success. Campaigns might be created in isolation or sales initiatives may occur without team-wide inclusion. All are an indication that something needs to change.
“It’s PR not ER” they used to cry.
But it feels like ER when you’re not prepared. Marketing always has an element of spontaneity about it. There’s nothing better (smugger?) than hitting a journalist with the perfect quote, or creating a too-good-to-be-true advert about dunking the dark when there’s a power cut. And let’s be honest, we creative types love thinking on our feet.
But there’s reacting in line with your brand goals, and reacting because you missed an opportunity and found out about it late - rushing to attend a trade show or meet a print deadline for example. This is connected to structure and culture. Fail to share either and you’re likely to spend hours being reactive not proactive.
I know you’re not surprised at this one. An ill-aligned team sends confused communications (probably a bit late), conversations lack authority and accountability, and service is bottom of the list.
This presents in complaints, poor conversion rates, leaks in the funnel, low satisfaction scores and negative social comments. And these things are, of course, most important of all. Power is firmly with the people.
Why is there a problem with alignment?
My career spans 25 years in design, production, sales and marketing. I’ve seen a lot of things change. Here’s my take on it:
Sales has long been a game of hunting and farming. For the hunters, marketing teams crafted the spears, nets and camouflage that enticed our worthy prey.
For the farmers, marketing supported the communications needed to upsell opportunities in the fields.
Out in the fields, sales people were living by their wits, experience and intuition – skills learned through doing not telling.
These two outfits demanded different cultures. The sales dogs worked alone or in bravo-wielding packs. The marketing cats manipulated a sprawling network of skillsets to deliver what they needed. And in short, they didn’t communicate. They were speaking different languages.
And then Berners-Lee did one on us and delivered the Web. And wow! Look at us fly! Look at all we can do now to reach, influence and convert more customers than ever before.
One problem though: we’re still talking different languages. And now, we’re using the same net. We’re all holding on to it, pulling it in different directions; everyone is speaking a different language all at the same time. That’s the problem with alignment…in a witty analogy involving nets and the internet. Rather pleased with that one.
Why is it so important?
Because your customers need you. They demand the best and, let’s be honest, they deserve it (and we are them, remember). Our salaries are paid by the customer and the customer knows it.
They also know there’s more choice than ever before, they’re in control and their loyalty and good word is worth more than the money they’re paying for this single, momentary transaction.
And this relationship is no longer transactional. It’s meaningful, made so by the explosion of the Web, and the expansive medium of communication. We now earn favour with tweets, posts, blogs, emails, apps and graphics on top of the traditional handshakes, speeches, letters, launches, coffee shop chats and expensive lunches.
We must be everywhere and we must be as one.
With a sales team running in one direction and a marketing team playing a different tune, we’re delivering a broken, disjointed, ineffective and frustrating customer experience. In a sense, technology has out-run sales and marketing. What can we do to catch up?
Peering into the promised land
Let’s take a moment to get clear about why we want better sales and marketing alignment. Here’s what happens when we get this stuff right.
Your team can communicate effectively with the customer and each other
Because they’re empowered to do so. With a shared message, shared resources and a structure that everyone buys in to, your team can talk honestly, authentically and effectively to any customer, new or old, and deliver the service they need.
When it’s consistent it can also be replicated, plus it extends the ability to introduce multiple touch points because the experience is universal.
When it’s tracked, it can be measured, which empowers us to know precisely what works, when and why. More replicable behaviour.
Superior service. Increased sales.
Through this transparent, open communication your customer receives superior service. They’re getting the right messages from people who understand the product or service and can genuinely influence an outcome for a customer.
And because the customer is content, they buy more, more often and willingly refer. Oh, happy day!
So how do we get there?
Three Cornerstones and 17 Steps to Sales and Marketing Alignment
All those years in marketing have seen some royal screw ups and some mighty achievements. Since 2006 Redfern has been ambitiously evolving into a strategical digital marketing agency built on the firm foundations of superior web design.
As I said, I’ve seen some serious shake ups and makes ups over the years. In my experience, a cohesive team has three cornerstones. This is the milking stool of your department. It’s stabilising your team and allowing them to milk the customer cow effectively (no disrespect to cows or customers). Layered on top are 17 steps – guiding principles for a world of unison and harmony.
Cornerstone 1: Culture
If Maslow had a hierarchy of lead generation needs, culture would be at the top. Leadership is everything and an environment that lends itself to communication, you must get this right.
Lead by example
If you’re blaming, ignoring structures and forgetting to communicate with your team, they’ll follow your example. Be the team leader you always wish you’d had. Set the standard and stick to it. For everything that follows, we need you to take the lead.
Align your goals
Sales and marketing functions exist to make money. We can never forget the bottom line is the bottom line. But…we also exist to make our customers happy. Does your team share this goal? Get everyone on the same page and make them part of the goal setting process to enable buy in. It leads to a cohesive structure, which we'll come on to later.
Bring people with you
I know you’re reading this article because you’re ambitious. Only those who can see a better way of doing things seek to solve a problem like alignment. Take people with you as you begin to improve your team. Inspire them with your vision and unite them with you cause. Do this by sharing and asking for help. Praising and listening.
Transparency creates the trust to break down barriers, open up communication and allow the sales and marketing teams, in all their differences, to find common ground and talk, plan and act as one. This is about inclusive meetings, honesty, no hidden agendas. It’s about authenticity and truth.
Internally ‘selling’ the skills of your team works wonders for morale. We recently showcased a colleague with an internal ‘day in the life’ article. The team went mad. Not only has the featured employee been rewarded for hard work and dedication (in a highly cost-effective manner), her team are 100% behind her and her colleagues have a new-found respect. They’re coming to her department asking how she can help their clients. All with one article.
Externally, showcasing your team’s skills makes your business human. And because we’re selling to other humans this breaks down barriers, builds familiarity and adds personality to the process. Showcasing expertise is a cultural, selling, marketing gem!
Know it’s an ongoing process
Just as websites don’t get delivered and left to die, neither does your culture. This isn’t an occasional thing. Culture is a commitment to yourself, your team and your relationships with each other. It needs to be nurtured. It won’t be perfect straightaway and will evolve over time.
Have fun and get to know each other
Even if you speak different languages, fun always unites sales and marketing teams. Creative, extroverted and optimistic, we people are inclined to have a good time. Find a way to get to know one another and enjoy the work. It isn’t meant to be hard.
Cornerstone 2: Communication
Did you see this one coming? Our jobs are to communicate after all. It’s what we do. But a certain type of communication is required to align a team.
It starts with listening and doesn’t stop
Listen to hear not to reply. When you take your ego out of a conversation (when you stop needing to be right) listening becomes a much quieter practice requiring presence. Listening to your teams, and encouraging them to listen to one another reveals gaps in unity, pain points and power struggles. Like culture, listening deserves daily attention.
Listen to sales calls. Listen to customer service calls. Make yourself available for calls so your team can access your experience and advice and that culture will become ever-stronger.
It doesn’t matter how you meet, but meet you must. It enforces the bond and with a firm agenda is never a waste of time. Each meeting should have purpose and allow both sales and marketing teams to unite in their disparate roles.
Make it easy
Set up an email alias to mass-communicate. Try Slack for channel-based conversations, or task management software to monitor progress. A CRM may unite all three with tasks, chat and emails all in one. It needn’t be complicated. It should always be easy.
Linked to leadership, letting both sides of the department know accountability is key will dissipate blame and build bridges. Ownership is everything. This can be as precise as saying: ‘This role is yours: take it’. Or more subtly returning questions for advice with ‘what would you do?’ answers.
Cornerstone 3: Structure
If I had a favourite stool leg, this would be it. I’m tempted to argue the stuff of structure is foundational but I’d ruin my milking stool analogy and undo my good thoughts about culture. But structure – systems, processes and workflows – this is the stuff that allows us to scale. And that’s exciting.
Creates structures for collaboration.
This could be a habitual structure – a meeting that regularly occurs. Or it could be a workflow process that allows your team to influence a campaign. Key milestones might fencepost opportunity for input, incentives might reward those who get involved. What structures does your organisation have or need for effective collaboration?
Put a content creation process in place
Today, content fuels marketing and sales. Without great content, both sides of the team suffer. A process should begin with goals aligned to your business objectives, consider the audience and assess your products and services. Content should address pains and inspire, engage, nurture and convert customers as per the lifecycle of your business. Sounds complicated, but with the right insight and infrastructure, this can be effortless.
Coordinate content campaigns with sales
The content process and campaigns should always be coordinated with sales. This is their armour; these are their tricks out there in the field. And they might need a different spear or net to the one the marketing team is creating. Share the vision, secure buy in, achieve sales success. Again, an effective workflow will support this.
To escape the fate of ‘12 versions of the same presentation’, streamline and organise your resources. Employ a universal file-naming protocol and create a central repository for all resources. Today, a shared folder on the drive doesn’t cut it. Go to the cloud, where resources of all types and sizes can be safely stored.
Qualify your leads
Marketing qualified leads differ from sales qualified leads. They typically come from different funnels, hit at different stages and require different treatment. Knowing what each looks like is essential so the other department can react appropriately. Share the definitions of these qualifications and keep them front of mind.
Measure what you can
With our world now on the web, it’s easy to monitor and measure success. Today’s most sophisticated systems track the entire conversion process and recommend improvements as you grow. Remember also to measure offline outcomes too. Does the addition of that monthly meeting impact cohesion? Find an indicator relevant to you and observe it over time.
FREE 30 Minute B2B Inbound Marketing Analysis Call
Your curiosity to complete this article earns you one final titbit of advice: seek support. A free 30-minute inbound marketing analysis call is yours to begin the process of sales and marketing alignment for your teams.
Find out from those in the know how to improve team alignment with simple updates to your structure. We’ll discuss:
Professional tips on how to improve your process today
Ways to create a unique and personalised user experience on your website
What your business goals are and if they're a good fit for b2b inbound marketing
Pro tip: Business to business marketing is about delivering high quality content to generate leads and authority in your industry