What is sales and marketing alignment?
Alignment is a state of agreement or cooperation, integration, or harmonization of aims and practices within a group. Apply that to Sales & Marketing and the first thing you’ll notice is they should be one group instead of viewed as separate entities as they are within most organizations.
Over the past few years, a new word or movement, smarketing, has been coined to help companies speak about their sales & marketing teams and efforts as one, singular unit working towards a complete vision. Simply put sales and marketing alignment is the process by which sales and marketing teams come together to develop aligned processes across both functions, designed to collectively better achieve business objectives. It covers things like definitions of marketing and sales roles, responsibilities to each other, reporting expectations and feedback processes.
We’ll explore sales and marketing alignment in the latest Lake One guide including topics like why this should be a key priority, key elements to aligning teams, delivering a sales and marketing meeting, measuring sales and marketing alignment and more.
The age old battle between sales & marketing
In every sports-related coming of age tale, there are teammates that come from different walks of life with different communication needs. It seems like they will never get along and be able to come together as a team, much less find any kind of success. In a lot of ways, sales and marketing teams tend to have a similar dynamic.
All too often sales and marketing teams operate completely autonomously, exchanging blame rather than information that could help everyone be more efficient and successful. If numbers are down, sales will complain that marketing isn’t providing enough qualified leads, and marketing will claim they’ve been churning out great leads but sales isn’t following up on them.
Marketing focuses on growth (getting as many potential customers in the funnel as possible) and promotions, while sales hones in on prospecting, evangelizing, and moving customers through the funnel to close as quickly as possible.
It’s all about perspective
Just like for those sports teams, sales and marketing people come from different backgrounds and speak different languages. Marketers come from a data-driven perspective, always compiling and using information to get ahead of customers and guide them to the next step, while salespeople have ears to the ground (or the phones) with customers every day, meeting them right where they are in their customer journey and constantly learning directly from the source. Each group is exposed to different information, each getting one side of a larger story.
Imagine for a second, if one person could only hear while one person could only see, and they’ve happened across a shared experience. If one of the people was trying to explain the experience to you, you’d get a decent understanding of what is accurate to that person. But imagine if both of them could explain their perspectives to you and you could combine the two into a more complete story. Or, even better, they could explain to each other, come up with a combined reality, and share that with you. Which do you think would give you the best idea of what really happened?
This is the same with sales & marketing teams. Marketers rely primarily on visual data: what are customers doing, where are they coming from and going, etc. They see this information on charts and graphs. Conversely, sales people understand reality as what the customers are saying directly to them each day. Both sides have useful information that is accurate and true to them, but when combined, the big picture becomes more complete. Different trends and realities may become visible.
Smarketing for the win
At the end of these inspirational sports sagas, the individuals on the team have learned how to communicate with each other and work together. Their varying perspectives and unique capabilities have made them stronger while they’ve overcome obstacles as a team, ultimately leading to them winning the championship game.
This could literally be the same for divisive sales and marketing teams that are brought together successfully. The marketing team has amazing amounts of data that could help salespeople be better prepared for their conversations with customers, and sales could provide accurate, up-to-date information on what kinds of questions customers are asking to lead marketing’s content and focus. This type of information exchange makes the entire customer journey more clear and eliminates friction between teams and customers.
When it comes down to it, marketing is only successful if sales can close their leads and sales is only successful if marketing provides enough for them to chase after. There is a vested interest from both sides to cooperate and discover the highest possible returns.
With proper sales & marketing alignment, you can hopefully avoid all of the drama and frustration-filled parts of the journey and skip straight to the winning.
The number 1 reason to align your sales & marketing efforts is your customer. Misaligned sales and marketing efforts can lead to a frustrating customer experience. If a new potential customer is receiving separate but simultaneous communication from both sales and marketing, it can be overwhelming and confusing. It can ultimately drive customers away.
Smarketing allows for a streamlined customer journey where the path is clear and communication channels are understood. This type of clarity builds the important trust needed for a customer to take action. “The Trust Factor” study reported that 84% of consumers would not engage with a brand until trust was established.
There are many additional reasons to align your sales and marketing teams that affect both your customers and your internal personnel and culture. Here are just a few to consider.
Avoid potential issues:
- Placing blame – When numbers are down, it’s always going to be somebody else’s fault. If your sales and marketing teams are misaligned, it may actually be extremely difficult to track down which factors are most at fault in order to course correct. Most likely, it’s the misalignment itself that is creating confusion and friction between the teams and for your customers.
- Pricing disconnect – Marketing discounts or promos can be harmful to salespeople who carry quota related goals. Unless it directly helps them sell more, they may ignore those marketing-led initiatives; also, if marketing has a price-motivated initiative, it doesn’t necessarily mean sales will get behind it if it is a difficult product to sell and they are able to sell more of the other products on their lists.
- Lack of communication – Without alignment, sales wont’ know what kind of content marketing is putting out unless they go looking for it or they hear about it from a customer. Furthermore, there is no way for salespeople to provide feedback to marketing about how their content is actually landing with customers. Most often, sales doesn’t utilize marketing content and even worse, sometimes they create their own based on customer requests and that takes away from their ability to focus on their primary goal of selling.
Reap the rewards:
- Marketing campaigns will be well-targeted and more successful because they have insight from sales about what kind of information customers are seeking and where they’d like to be able to find it.
- Sales will have more well-qualified, actual sales-ready leads which will allow them to close more sales while also increasing the velocity at which customers travel through the sales funnel.
- The company will see revenue increases directly related to the cohesiveness and influence of the smarketing efforts.
- Communication channels will remain open which will allow for adaptations when necessary as well as continuous improvement in processes.
There are many gears and moving parts that make up a great smarketing strategy. Here are a few to be sure you have from the beginning.
1. Clear, agreed-upon definition of a “qualified” lead.
61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales; however, only 27% of those leads will actually be qualified. This leads to frustrated salespeople because they will waste time reaching out to people that don’t want to be contacted or aren’t a good fit. This is a sure way to lose trust between the teams and have sales begin to ignore the leads marketing sends over.
In a smarketing strategy, there should be two definitions of qualified leads: a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). An MQL is a lead that has met specific criteria from the marketing side and is deemed ready to send over to sales. An SQL is an MQL that has been vetted by sales to ensure the potential customer has a need and that their need is a fit for an available solution.
2. Agreement on and full understanding of target persona(s)
A target persona is essentially the ideal customer for any given product or solution your company offers. If you have a wide variety of solutions, you may have a few different target personas.
The best way to create the most comprehensive picture of your target persona is to combine data from marketing as well as real-time information from sales, look at your current customers, and have your analytics team look for trends around certain attributes. Attributes might be things like demographics, online behavior, engagement with marketing materials, and more. It will take a little science and psychology to choose the best attributes to look into, but once you have them, you’ll assign a certain value to each one in order to start lead scoring.
Lead scoring is a data-backed way to target the types of people that are most likely to become customers. As new leads come in, they will be given a lead score for how likely they are to become a customer based on how closely their attributes match with your current customer base.
3. A freshly-minted smarketing funnel
Your funnel should include a well-defined lead nurturing strategy (marketing should handle this) and predefined hand-off points (where sales takes over and drives a lead to close). According to Marketo, “Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost.” Marketing is typically responsible for lead nurturing, meaning they will continue to move a lead along the sales funnel to spur engagement if they aren’t ready to purchase.
Sales and marketing should be working off of the same smarketing funnel and there should be several predefined conversion points, or points where the customer has moved on to the next step in their purchasing journey. Each conversion point will have an owner, the person responsible for following-up and seeing the customer reaches the next conversion point.
For optimum results, have both teams be involved in deciding what this funnel will look like and who will be responsible for which conversion points. Where will the handoff from marketing to sales happen? How can sales hand a lead back for further nurturing if they find the customer isn’t ready yet? Try to get ahead of any potential friction points, but allow people to bring feedback and be adaptable to necessary changes.
4. The sales & marketing SLA
Once you have everything above decided, it’s time to put it in writing. When working with a marketing agency, it is absolutely necessary to complete a Service Level Agreement, or SLA, prior to work starting. You can learn more about Lake One’s approach to a sales and marketing SLA here. An SLA is essentially a commitment between parties around agreed-upon services, processes, and standards, defined goals & metrics, and roles of each party throughout the length of the agreement. This is also a good practice between internal teams that are coming together for the first time. Have everyone agree on the terms with their signature.
The first smarketing meeting you have should actually be between management for both teams and the CEO. This is where initiatives are decided, goals are set, and agreement across the department management is solidified. It’s important with an initiative as big as this that the message come from the very top down and that it is the same message no matter who an employee goes to with questions.
Next is to have your sales & marketing alignment team meeting, or your smarketing kickoff. This meeting is important because it is going to either get everyone really excited about moving forward as one big team, or if done incorrectly, it could leave people walking away feeling confused, frustrated, or unheard. You’ll want to get this one right the first time with these smarketing kickoff meeting tips:
Make it exciting – If you pull everyone into a conference room and berate them about how results have been terrible and everyone is mandated to do things a new way from here on out, you’ll probably end up with some people feeling pretty defeated and not exactly enthusiastic about the new strategy. However, if you focus on highlighting how amazing the potential results could be in the future with proper alignment of the two teams, outline what that alignment looks like and how it benefits everyone and makes each person’s job a little easier, you’ll have people heading back to their desks excitedly chatting about this new, weird smarketing thing. If done right, smarketing should be a new buzzword around the office. The other teams should be curious about what’s going on with sales & marketing, why are they all of a sudden getting along so well?
Make it collaborative – Establish that this is a team effort from the very beginning by allowing voices from all levels on both teams to be heard. If people have questions or concerns, let them speak up and address each point head on. If people have ideas, encourage them to share. Management for both teams need to be present and fully engaged in this conversation, bonus points if your CEO can be involved as well.
Make it crystal clear – This is the part where you lay out exactly what the plan looks like, most importantly, what the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or goals are, how they will be measured, and how this plan is going to allow each person involved to hit their KPIs. KPIs should be multi-level. This means there are 2-3 primary objectives for the entire strategy, and those should then be broken down into actionable KPIs for each team as well as another level for each individual contributor. This multi-tiered approach allows successes and shortcomings to be traced back to the source.
Make it rewarding – Once you have everybody excited about the concept, introduce the specific goals, followed immediately by the attractive incentives for attaining those initiatives. Offer monetary compensation attached to KPIs and come out of the gate with a contest that rewards successful collaboration efforts. If you can get a really big push right away, you’ll have a good foundation to build from moving forward.
Before everyone leaves the room after this meeting, there should be an established ongoing meeting rhythm. You should have calendar invites ready to go into everyone’s inbox. These ongoing meetings will be to reflect on the efforts since the last meeting, evaluate performance (focus on positives), answer questions or hear feedback, and make and communicate any necessary changes to the strategy.
Consumers evolve and their needs change, a successful smarketing effort is able to stay on top of changes and adapt as needed because lines of communication are kept open.
It will be important to outline KPIs in the early stages of your smarketing planning. This should be a combined effort between management of both teams as well as the CEO. Don’t be afraid to gather a little feedback from your reps before landing on the final KPIs. Here are a few we recommend keeping an eye on.
Revenue is the most important metric to track, if you measure nothing else, make sure you at least keep track of revenue. This will be the easiest metric to create incentives for because you will see the money coming in and the teams that contributed will get a cut in their comp plans. You could also keep track of revenue by lead source to see if a specific marketing effort is making a big difference.
MQL-to-SQL conversion rate
This is your primary way to understand the success rate of your marketing team’s leads. Keep track of how many MQL’s are sent over to sales, and how many of those become SQLs meaning they are deemed well-qualified and being actively worked by a member of the sales team. This should help you understand the level of quality of the leads marketing is sending to sales. Another related metric to look at would be how many MQL’s are sent back as unqualified or in need of further nurturing.
SQL (Opportunity)-to-Customer win rate
This metric will allow you to see how successfully your sales team is closing the qualified leads they are receiving. Another thing to keep an eye on within this area would be why highly qualified leads are lost, do they stop responding? Change their mind? Loss reasoning is important so you can identify trends and remedy anything that is within your control. KPI specialists Geckoboard have outlined some benchmark rates if you need an idea where to start.
Sales cycle length
At the kickoff of your smarketing process, figure out your current average sales cycle length. With marketing producing more informed and focused content along with your new massively successful handoff process from marketing to sales, the overall purchase process should begin to shorten.
Content effectiveness & usage (both by customers and sales)
For this you can look at traffic rates for blog posts and landing pages, subscriber growth, search rankings, click-through rates, there are endless metrics to help you understand which content is landing well with consumers and which aren’t. For sales engagement, it will mostly be an ongoing conversation and being open to feedback. They can explain which pieces of content they’ve been utilizing for customers, which ones are working and which aren’t hitting the mark.
The day has finally come, it’s time for your smarketing strategy implementation. What are you forgetting? If you’ve followed along with this guide, you should be pretty well set, but here are a few final recommendations to help you get started on the right foot.
A day in their shoes
Often sales and marketing don’t get along or pass blame because they don’t really understand what the other team is doing. Have each of your reps spend part of a day shadowing someone from the other team in order to learn the finer details about each other’s roles. This allows for a great information exchange, builds relationships and communication channels, and creates empathy for the complexities of “the other side.”
A kickoff happy hour
Some of the best office bonding happens over a cold beer or glass of wine. Show your teams this is as much about them and their success and happiness as it is about the company. Let them out early after your kickoff meeting and head to a happy hour specifically for them to get to know each other better.
Create effective communication channels and strategies
This is extremely important if your smarketing plan is going to work, your teams need to be able to communicate, easily and consistently, in order to successfully collaborate. You can set up a slack channel, assign specific point people on each team for questions, or create a buddy system where every rep is paired with another rep on the other team and encouraged to chat at least once per day. These types of every day efforts should be in addition to your regularly scheduled meetings with the entire team.
Additional Sales and Marketing Alignment Resources
- Download this guide
- SMART goal setting worksheet
- Smarketing Best Practices
- Lake One’s Sales & Marketing SLA Process