CMO

Why sales and marketing alignment is more important than ever

The line between marketing and sales is blurring. We look at what's causing the trend and how you can start to better build better alignment

The notion of sales and marketing as separate entities is fast becoming a thing of a past. But while there are significant benefits in closer alignment, experts agree it will require a radical shift in thinking from the executive suite before B2B businesses have sales and marketing teams that function like a single, well-oiled machine.

Sales and marketing alignment is not a buzzword but a necessity so B2B companies can ensure the full customer lifecycle remains seamless, Marketo APAC senior marketing director, Chris Connell, said. In the past, marketing had been focused on top of funnel activities, and in many cases it was very hard to tie those activities to tangible revenue outcomes.

“Today, the marketing team is directly connected to the customer like never before, and with an increasing focus on the middle and bottom of funnel where the sales team play, but then on through acquisition to the full customer lifecycle,” he said.

“In fact, 89 per cent of CMOs expect to be responsible for customer experience by 2020 according to our research.  And with marketing taking on more responsibility for revenue, and a greater, long-term customer focus, marketing and sales are now a marriage, not a Tinder date.”

CMO of image advertising tech player Gum Gum, Ben Plomion, said buyers are expecting the same level of service and experience from a B2B company that they’re getting with consumer brands, so it’s more important than ever before that sales and marketing work together like a ‘happy couple’.

“They want the same experience from us as they would say, if they were walking into an Apple store - they want amazing service and they want to be treated as a very special guest, more than anything else,” he said. “One of the goals of marketing is to generate qualified leads and ensure sales turns them into customers – so sales and marketing need each other just as much and one cannot function without the other.

“It’s like being a happy couple – you know each other quite well, you know what they’re looking for in the future and what their goals are. It’s essential marketing and sales are well aligned at prospect level and client level.”

CEO of global growth consultancy PENSO, Con Frantzeskos, also stressed how important it is that there is no organisational separation throughout the purchase process. “Every single touchpoint - or moment of truth - has to deliver a seamless, memorable brand experience all linked to driving sales outcomes,” he said.

With the tidal wave of content marketing and lead nurturing initiatives, the seamless handover of leads back and forth between sales and marketing becomes a crucial key to success,” MNF group marketing manager, Maria Wirth, said.

“If marketing sits on nurtured and primed leads too long, the potential customer simply buys elsewhere. Meanwhile, if sales fail to handover a ‘not quite ready to buy’ lead to marketing for further nurturing, that future sale opportunity is also forfeited,” she claimed.  

The concept of SLAs between sales and marketing becomes increasingly important, Wirth continued, adding teams can align their goals and work only if they are in clear agreement over the definitions, processes and inputs required from each.

“Both teams need to agree on and abide by the definitions such as what is a qualified lead ready to be handed from marketing to sales, response times, required number of customer contact attempts are completed, and so on,” she said. “By clearly defining and agreeing on these SLAs, the teams work toward common goals where each pulls their own weight with no room for blame shifting.”

Misalignment and missed opportunities

But while the need for alignment is obvious, a new report shows there is still a long way to go in achieving a radical shift in thinking to achieve a more cohesive function.

Green Hat’s B2B Marketing Research BMR Report 2017 found crossed wires between sales and marketing continue to result in missed quotas, budget shortfalls and organisational tensions. While 90 per cent of respondents felt aligning marketing and sales was significant, only 45 per cent had shared goals and marketing qualified leads (MQLs) regularly passed through from marketing to sales teams. In addition, only 44 per cent of B2B organisations surveyed are getting satisfactory lead follow-up, while a meagre 25 per cent have any plans for sales enablement.

“We’ve been doing research for seven years and we are still seeing a big divide between the management and handling of leads between the two functions,” Green Hat CEO and co-founder, Andrew Haussegger, told CMO. “But customer experience is becoming increasingly important to big businesses, and a 2014 Aberdeen report further found companies with strong sales and marketing alignment achieve 20 per cent annual growth rate."

Sales and marketing teams have interactions with customers at different points of the customer journey. This makes it imperative that there’s consistency in content, message, tone of voice, experience, from the top of the funnel right through to the person becoming a customer.

“Even if you can get a 3 or 4 per cent improvement on your revenue, by addressing the alignment of these two functions, then it will pay itself back, no doubt,” Haussegger said.

Lack of consumer priorities, disjointed perceptions of the brand and product, mismatch of pricing and brand misperceptions can also result from misalignment, Frantzeskos said. “When there is a lack of sales intelligence fed back into the marketing department, you also risk a lack of product evolution, lack of competitive knowledge and an overall lack of shared sense of category reality,” he warned.

Leave your ego at the door

Which brings us swiftly to personality. According to CMO and co-founder of SugarCRM, Clint Oram, when you have a group of leaders more interested in personal agendas and making themselves look good as opposed to driving success and aligned functions, you’re ultimately just “wading through a quagmire of egos”.

“When marketing is claiming they are hitting their numbers by pushing a certain number of leads over to sales, while sales is saying the leads are crap and they not helping me hit my numbers, that’s classic misalignment,” he said.

Yet experts agreed it can be a challenge to push for change when sales tends to have a bigger voice in B2B organisations and the CEO’s ear.

“Where it comes down to investment, there tends to be more in the sales than the marketing function,” Hausseger commented. “But a savvy CMO will be aware B2B buyers are purchasing differently and should be responsible to educate the other executives in the organisation of the changing dynamic nature of the marketplace and how the organisation should change.”

Connell noted most companies spend between 30 to 40 per cent of their revenue on sales and marketing, so it makes sense to optimise this spend and find efficiencies where possible.

“What’s interesting is how often the customer is forgotten in this conversation,” he said. “It’s logical you want to build a revenue funnel that has as little friction as possible to maximise financial returns.”

Already, there are lot of changes taking place across the revenue engines of many organisations, Connell said, with roles such as ‘chief revenue officer’ and ‘chief experience officer’ emerging to reflect the broader responsibilities marketing professionals are taking on.

“The reality is marketers have to be able to engage customers, authentically, personally, at scale,” he said. “Technology like the marketing engagement platform has enabled this to become a reality. That has fundamentally changed the way marketing and sales work together – for the better.

“Today, the sales and marketing teams can work as one to listen and learn first, and act second. This is critical to revenue generation in the engagement economy. Companies like Amazon and Uber have built business models on exactly this premise and thrived as a result.”

Up next: Leveraging technology for success; and tips on how to make alignment stick

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Leveraging technology

Technology can help bridge the gap. When marketing is driving demand-generation activities, and they end up in the CRM system, it’s a golden opportunity to put business rules and workflow processes in place that allow you to orchestrate and streamline a consistent interaction with the customer, Oram said.

Read more: The rise of sales-tech: What you need to know

Read more: What you need to know about account-based marketing

“A good CRM is a great handoff point for the leads to flow between marketing and sales as part of working together like a ‘well-oiled machine’”, he explained. “And as sales people look to their marketing colleagues, they want to know something they didn’t already know from their customer or prospect. For example, what is that customer doing on that website, or what is the campaign they are reacting to? When the sales person is talking to that customer or prospect, they need something of value to have a discussion around. But that’s often lost in cold handoffs.

“So it’s critical to look at the context of the engagement at a marketing level and make it consistent at sales level so it is one consistent and seamless dialogue.”

Seismic A/NZ MD, Andy Pattinson, agreed technology is one of the keys to closer alignment, particularly in businesses that have sales and marketing teams spread out across different departments or geographies.

“Not only is data sharing vital when agreeing next steps about how to move a prospect along the sales funnel, but asset sharing is too,” he said. “Tools that allow disparate teams to collaborate using data and assets are vital to closer alignment, as it empowers marketing to ensure that sales have the most up-to-date and relevant materials, but doesn’t negate the knowledge a salesperson is likely to have of a prospect’s unique needs.”

In addition, businesses can reduce content creation costs by focusing on creating the right marketing content for the sales team based on knowing what works and what doesn't.

“These attractive benefits are typically achieved through many smaller steps however, such as having the ability to tell a more compelling story about your business, providing a good customer experience through the sales funnel, reducing the number of off-brand messages in the marketplace,” Pattinson added. “In addition, having content ready-to-go, based on unique selling situations and buyer personas is a huge time-saver. Technologies can automate a lot of this process.”

How to get alignment

Haussegger offered the following checklist for ensuring sales and marketing teams are functioning seamlessly:

  1. Do your marketing and sales teams have shared KPIs for revenue growth?
  2. Have you jointly defined a lead management flow into CRM?
  3. Is the lead flow into CRM systematic and working to your satisfaction?
  4. How do you rate your sales and marketing alignment overall?

Cylance senior VP of marketing, Shaun Walsh, meanwhile, had three steps to achieving closer alignment between sales and marketing. The first is to gain a deep and detailed understanding of the end-to-end customer journey and selling motion.

“Also, use automated systems, analytics, big data and AI to automate as much of the selling process possible,” he advised.  

“Thirdly, become an expert at good old-fashioned, clear communication. The most dangerous thing in sales and marketing is an assumption.”  

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