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Sales, Marketing

How to align sales and marketing (and leaders viewpoints)

Learn how to align your sales and marketing teams in our ultimate alignment guide.

Jon Davis · September 4, 2023

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“Sales and marketing teams should pull in the same direction and help each other achieve their goals.”

How many times have you heard something like that being bandied around in a meeting with your CEO, business leader, or some sort of motivational speaker?

But you know what the reality really is. Marketing is obsessed with building brand awareness, slowly building their pipeline, and passing down low-quality leads to your sales team. And for the long-suffering Marketing Managers in the back, your sales team is constantly asking you where their leads are.

Both sales and marketing face unique pressures. But, as wishy-washy as this might sound, businesses will only grow when sales and marketing move together as one cohesive unit.

And there’s data to prove it too. There’s a dizzying array of stats on this page from LXAhub but these are the most important:

  • businesses with aligned sales and marketing teams are up to 67% more efficient at closing deals
  • aligned sales and marketing teams can achieve up to 38% win rates

Ready to bring your sales and marketing teams together and crush more deals, and boost your bottom line? We’ll tell you how in this blog post.

Defining sales, marketing and alignment

Let’s clear up exactly what sales and marketing do, how they operate, and what their priorities are. This’ll make it easier to understand where friction might occur, where there’s common ground and how you might be able to bring the two teams together.

Marketing function

A marketing team is a group of individuals responsible for planning, creating and tracking marketing activity across an organization.

Its primary goal is to generate as many sales opportunities as possible. Marketing does this by:

  • making individuals and businesses familiar with your brand name
  • helping people understand the value of your product and service
  • converting these prospects into customers
  • continuing to build long-term relationships with customers.

Sales Opinion

"It's often the case that marketing sees lead generation as a byproduct of good brand, social, and website work. Instead, if they considered reverse engineering what sales really need: What quality does the lead need to be? Which personas are ready to buy? How do we better qualify leads?

Adopting this approach will result in fewer, well-optimized funnels, less work for marketing and better results for sales."

Your marketing team typically oversees activities that promote your products and services to customers and generate brand awareness and leads.

However, responsibilities go further, as marketing also conducts market research, identifies target audiences, identifies leads, and anticipates customer needs.

As Penpoin explains, a marketing team will develop a brand’s unique selling proposition, set pricing and develop product strategies.

Sales function

While marketing generates sales opportunities, the sales team is responsible for actually selling them to the people who may be interested in a product/service.

Core tasks will include vetting leads, educating prospects on the benefits or value of your products or services, and closing deals through persuasion and traditional sales activities.

Sales teams are often under pressure to hit sales targets and ensure sufficient revenue is coming in.

Sales Opinion

"If they are well qualified by marketing (ie. the definition of an MQL is clearly understood by both teams, and stage gates are implemented to block low-quality MQLs from hitting the sales desk), then the process of taking a lead from MQL -> SQL is easier, cheaper, and takes less time.

This impacts all the important marketing performance metrics (which often aren’t even tracked or seen as important by marketing leadership) - CPL, CPA, pipeline velocity (time in stage), conversion rate (MQL -> SQL -> Closed Won rates). Marketing doesn’t think they are responsible for the SQL -> Close rate, but guess what? They are directly responsible for bad rates if they offer up poor quality MQLs to work with."

Marketing Opinion

"In my experience, when I've worked with some sales teams, they haven't been interested in helping set up the process to generate and qualify leads

Many simply want the hot leads that are ready to go because they have a number to hit. This typically reflects the overall approach of the business - quite old school, not particularly tech-savvy, and resistant to change.

It’s my experience that the most rewarding engagements have been with individuals from sales teams. It's much harder to deal with a team or a group. As a marketer, you have to be quite mentally strong to go into that scenario.

Collaboration in most environments I've worked in has been passed to the marketing team to drive - ‘sales have enough on their plate hitting the number without having to drive the process or cultural change.’ That can be frustrating to deal with.”

Sales and marketing alignment

According to an article for HubSpot, sales and marketing alignment, or “smarketing”, is a shared framework of strategies and goals for the sales and marketing departments.

Alignment is characterized by continuous communication between the two departments, as well as a joint effort to work towards shared objectives and provide assistance to one another.

The primary basis for alignment between sales and marketing is their shared goals of attracting customers, generating revenue and achieving profitability.

Sales and Marketing Opinion

Both Steve and Dan think that for sales and marketing alignment to be most effective, there needs to be more than just one meeting a month, with both teams owning the agenda and contributing to it.

Dan found that ABM campaigns are usually the best way to earn sales and marketing alignment, because of the buy-in required from both teams and potential deal value.

Why sales and marketing should work together

For businesses to invest the necessary time and effort into aligning sales and marketing, stepping back to and fully understanding why alignment is valuable. Similarly, given that each department faces its own pressures, leaders must also understand why alignment is so valuable and the strategic benefits it can bring.

Research is clear on the issue of alignment. Studies carried out by Marketing Profs show that organizations that achieve sales and marketing alignment enjoy 38% higher win rates and 36% higher customer retention rates. Conversely, misalignment is worth at least a 10% hit to annual revenue.

Sales Opinion

"Win rate, higher customer retention rate and revenue loss - these are typically performance metrics that the sales leader is responsible for. Sales heads roll when win rates dip, customers churn, and revenue targets aren’t met.

My view is that these stats clearly show that marketing is equally culpable and should be equally responsible for helping sales achieve those goals. Many marketing leaders say they want these metrics to grow, but are they willing to put their job on the line for it?

In my experience, marketing leaders don’t want to be measured on anything beyond mid-funnel, therefore, they aren’t willing to commit to revenue, profit, or CSAT KPIs.

If we want to all achieve the same results, put your money where your mouth is. Didn’t hit revenue this quarter? Look further up the funnel than the sales-owned processes to see if the top-of-funnel metrics were sufficient to support a successful sales quarter."

The Moments of Trust report published by LinkedIn found that 87% of sales and marketing leaders say collaboration between both teams is key to business growth, while 85% say this is the single biggest opportunity for businesses looking to improve performance.

90% believe aligning sales and marketing messages and initiatives positively impacts the customer experience too.

Marketing Opinion

"I’ve found that the alignment on messaging doesn’t quite happen. For example, it usually gets handled within the marketing team, or outsourced to an agency.

Also, timing is often key. Strategy reviews within marketing often happen in isolation, and aside from the initial situational analysis don’t take an outward view.

There needs to be a collaboration with sales at this point to be truly strategic."

Although sales and marketing are responsible for different parts of the sales funnel, they both ultimately want the same outcomes: more sales, more revenue, more profit, higher customer satisfaction levels, higher retention of existing customers, more referrals from satisfied customers, and greater business growth. For these reasons, it makes sense that the two departments should be aligned.

Also, there’s a significant crossover between the two departments’ responsibilities and activities. For instance, in most modern sales organizations, responsibility for generating leads is shared between the two departments, rather than the sole responsibility of one or the other.

How alignment benefits marketing

One of the biggest ways alignment helps marketing is centered around content production. Many organizations don’t realize the value or importance of content.

It can be used at the top of the funnel to attract and encourage prospective customers to engage with your organization. And for the bottom of the funnel, content is essential to help sales executives close deals.

According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, 60 to 80% of all marketing content generated for sales teams ultimately goes unused.

Marketing Opinion

"I'd also say that a lot of the data generated from lead gen can also go unused if it's not handled in a transparent way. Many, many instances of passing data over for opens and clicks, and no tangible way of measuring follow-up. This is where tech comes in."

Often this is because of misalignment between sales and marketing, and a poor understanding of content marketing, as well as sales requirements.

Sales and marketing alignment can reduce the time wasted by marketing on unused content. Improvements to communication can prevent instances where sales teams are unaware of content, while sales teams can also communicate their own needs more effectively.

Marketing teams should do more to educate sales teams on the importance and value of content marketing, and how it can be used as a tool to generate leads.

Learning what works and does not work for sales teams can also help marketing teams to tweak their messaging, based on real-world responses.

Sales and Marketing Opinion

Steve and Dan think this is important and something that both sales and marketing functions do poorly.

Steve: "I think sales are guilty of not recording customer feedback in a format that’s useful for marketing, or not recording it at all. Let's face it: most CRM opportunity records don't even have the right close dates and deal values, let alone detailed customer insight/feedback that can help marketing refine their messaging."

Dan: "Marketing is often guilty of doing their value prop research and messaging work in complete isolation, or are scared to get involved in customer relationships in case they cause churn.

This means their view of the customer challenges/needs is misaligned with the reality of what sales reps hear on the phone every day, and the content marketing produces isn't compelling enough to attract the most engaged leads.”

How alignment benefits sales

Sales teams benefit significantly from alignment with the marketing department. By working closely with the marketing team, sales reps can gain a better understanding of who they should be targeting efforts towards and what messages they should be using to maximize success.

Through close communication, marketing teams can better understand some of the challenges that sales reps face on a day-to-day basis. This allows marketing to work on the kinds of content that will help sales teams to close more deals.

In many cases, marketing departments gain valuable information about leads that the sales team could really benefit from. Therefore, a process needs to be in place so that this information can be passed along before a sales rep makes their pitch.

Marketing Opinion

"I think it’s important to add here, the ‘how’ you share information, and the process you decide on, is extremely important.

Many salespeople that I’ve worked with have distinct routines and have specific way of tackling their leads. You have to remember to be tactful, considerate of their needs and deploy the right approach to get them to really buy into the information-sharing process, but crucially, not a big drain on their time and easy to do."

For example, marketing teams may know how a lead ended up on the company website, or what problem they are trying to solve. They may also know about the lead’s preference, like how they should be contacted and at what times.

Aligned teams share this kind of information, and this enables sales teams to tailor their strategy and messaging accordingly, resulting in more deals closing.

Why do sales and marketing become misaligned?

Lack of communication is at the heart of misaligned sales and marketing teams. If the two departments aren’t in constant communication and if they do not take an active interest in one another’s success, they are quickly going to find themselves going in different directions.

Marcello Grande points out in an article published on LinkedIn Pulse, that some of the biggest causes of misalignment are because sales and marketing often have different priorities, use different metrics, and have different incentives. This is why strategic alignment is necessary.

Many other alignment problems can be boiled down, to simply that sales and marketing often lack a unified narrative. They don’t share the same vision, or they see the products and services they are selling differently, and this manifests in the way they communicate with existing and potential customers.

Sales Opinion

"Alignment should be owned by the CMO and CRO, but it should be supported by the CEO and the board. This is a major strategic issue for any business, and it needs the full-throated backing of senior leaders across the business for alignment to succeed."

Both departments may provide messaging to leads without consulting with one another and this can result in inconsistencies and confusion.

For example, marketing may promote a product or service in one way, and then sales may try to close the deal by using entirely different messaging.

The outcome of this could be that a prospect becomes confused about exactly what they’re buying and backs out of the deal. If messaging was unified, the deal would have closed.

Sales Opinion

"I don't necessarily agree that if messaging was unified a deal would have closed. The reason this happens is that marketing is broadcasting, sales are consultative.

I think It's ok for marketing to use one message in their campaigns, and for sales to change tact further down the funnel. The reason they are changing tact is that sales can question and adapt their messaging to the customer's needs.

The important thing is the feedback loop. If sales find that 90% of the leads are actually in need of a different product/service, and this info is fed back to marketing, then marketing can adapt their messaging. Even better, marketing can create funnels that are adaptive to lead-generated information. Eg. Choose your own adventure-style marketing that ascertains the lead's needs before presenting any solutions. These will be much more qualified and likely to close when they hit the sales desk further down the funnel."

Marketing Opinion

"I always get the sense that one department always thinks they can do the other's job. This is of course total nonsense. Making sales is as tough as it gets, and there is way more that goes into messaging and brand development than breaking out the crayons for 30 mins."

Finally, sales and marketing teams may also have to report to different senior executives and this can also lead to issues with alignment.

How to encourage sales and marketing alignment

Below, you’ll find some tips that can help you to keep sales and marketing on the same page.

1. Agree on shared goals, terms and metrics

You should try to agree some shared goals. Try to make these targets as specific as possible and ensure they’re measurable. Sales and marketing should also agree on some shared metrics, while lead scoring needs to be standardized across the two functions, with both teams agreeing on how leads should be scored.

Try to agree on areas for improvement and work together to achieve them. This could be increasing the number of qualified leads generated, or increasing closed deals. Both departments can contribute to achieving these objectives.

Research published by Adobe illustrates that most businesses don’t have a definition of a qualified lead that sales and marketing have formally agreed to. For full alignment, you should define terms like marketing qualified lead, sales qualified lead, etc, so that there’s no room for confusion.

2. Define the roles of sales and marketing

You should clearly define the roles of sales and marketing. Although some degree of overlap is inevitable, in general, marketing should be concerned with activities related to the top of the sales funnel, while sales should be concerned with activities related to the bottom of the sales funnel.

There are some activities that’ll need to be defined more carefully. For instance, who is responsible for lead scoring? How much responsibility, if any, does sales have for content creation?

Knowing exactly what each department is responsible for can help to reduce confusion and tension. It can also decrease the time that’s wasted on activities that have already been carried out by someone else.

3. Collaborate on marketing content creation

Creating sales and marketing content typically falls under the marketing team. However, some of this content should serve the sales team, so working closely with the sales team makes sense.

Marketing teams need to know what messages are successful for sales reps and which messages aren’t working as well. It’s also important for sales to tell marketing the common questions they receive from prospects, because it may be possible to answer these earlier in the process through marketing content.

Creating a unified narrative is important. Both departments should be clear on what’s being sold, what the product or service is intended to do, who can benefit from it, and the overarching brand story to tell leads and existing customers.

4. Make use of cross-departmental shadowing

Another great way to ensure your sales and marketing teams are aligned is to make use of cross-departmental shadowing.

Harvard Business Review outlines, it can be useful for marketing team members to shadow sales calls regularly and even to attend some sales meetings, so that they can understand prospect challenges better.

Shadowing the other department can help teams to understand the challenges they face. In the case of marketing departments, understanding the sales process and the realities of current sales efforts can help with creating sales content.

It also gives marketing an opportunity to provide useful information on the kind of messaging sales reps can use to boost success rates.

5. Commit to sharing progress at meetings

A key part of how to align sales and marketing involves continually sharing progress, insights and analysis. While alignment requires shared goals and objectives, both departments still create their own reports, carry out their own analysis, and have results they can share with the other team.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of constant communication if true alignment is to be achieved and a great way to facilitate this is to commit to regular meetings between senior figures in sales and marketing.

During these meetings, both departments should highlight their results and progress, share any useful insights and analysis, and be clear on any problems they are facing. It is also important for both sales and marketing to be clear if they need something from the other department, or if they feel changes are needed.

Achieving sales and marketing alignment

There are no simple answers for how to align sales and marketing, as alignment is a continuous process. Nevertheless, at the very heart of the issue, communication channels need to be open, the two departments need to be sharing progress, insights and challenges, and there must be shared and agreed goals and metrics.

Click here to learn more about Capsule CRM, which serves as a CRM and project management tool. This can be really useful for sales and marketing alignment, allowing information to be shared more easily while increasing overall transparency. You can get started by accessing a 14-day free trial today.

Sales and marketing alignment: Frequently asked questions