At face value, sales and marketing alignment seems like a relatively straightforward concept. 

Marketing brings in highly qualified leads, and lots of them. Qualified leads are efficiently passed to sales for prompt follow-up and conversion. All the while, a constant feedback loop between both teams creates a virtuous cycle that elevates everyone’s game.

Having consulted with numerous midsize companies, however, I’ve realized that sales and marketing alignment isn’t as “straightforward” as it may seem. Organizations that achieve true alignment do so through a well-orchestrated coordination of people, processes, and systems. 

Seeking to dig deeper into the topic of alignment, I recently sat down with Insightly’s CMO, Tony Kavanagh. This article, the first in a multi-part series, recounts a few of the highlights from our conversation.

Variables that impact sales and marketing alignment

Before discussing best practices for sales and marketing alignment, we must first examine the variables that impact it. As Tony Kavanagh pointed out during our discussion, “People, processes, and systems are the fundamental building blocks of alignment.”

Let’s explore each variable in greater detail.

People

Modern, midsize organizations vary greatly in terms of hierarchy and headcount. That being said, there’s usually at least some level of separation between sales and marketing operations. Account executives, outbound sales development reps (SDRs), sales engineers, and inside sales teams play an essential role in building pipeline, converting opportunities to deals, and maximizing customer lifetime value. Content writers, web developers, graphic designers, social media and publicity teams, SEM and SEO experts, and video marketers generate buzz, execute campaigns, and fill the top of the funnel.

Processes

Efficiency-minded marketing teams create standardized procedures that streamline content publication, web page design, video production, and press release approval. Likewise, most sales teams have internal guidelines for making cold calls, updating opportunity records, following up with stale leads, or deleting records entirely. Some processes are formally documented in an internal policy handbook. Others are just understood or implied. The most scalable processes, however, are closely intertwined with our next variable: systems.

Systems

In today’s world of endless SaaS solutions, there’s a tool for just about every need. CRM technology still forms the foundation for most sales activity, supplemented by a myriad of quoting and proposal apps, customer engagement platforms, and sales intelligence systems. Analytics packages, marketing automation software, social media schedulers, ad management platforms, and content management systems are key elements for modern marketing teams.

Common roadblocks to alignment

Dozens of team members operating countless processes across multiple siloed systems can be a recipe for misalignment. True, it’s impossible to align every employee’s actions with the greater good. However, understanding the common roadblocks to alignment is the first step to overcoming them.

“There’s always a natural tension between sales and marketing. But give great people commons goals and objectives and, no matter what team they’re on, they’ll figure out ways to make everything work beautifully,” says Tony.

Inconsistent terminology

What exactly is a “lead”? A marketer (like me!) might argue that a lead is any person who fills out a webform. On the other hand, a sales rep might believe that a prospect should exhibit a minimum threshold of interest prior to being considered a lead. Without agreement on basic terminology, it’s impossible to rally the troops around more complex concepts such as pipeline coverage, campaign conversion rates, and cost of acquisition.

Competing goals & objectives

As a marketer, my natural instinct is to do things that increase web traffic, inbound leads, and on-page engagement. If I’m being honest, I spend most of my day thinking about metrics like pageviews, conversion rate, bounce rate, and session duration. Although these data points certainly have an impact on the pipeline, sales teams might be more concerned with their own set of metrics, such as pipeline value, lead scores, and time to close. Department-level goals are important, but they should flow from the company’s overarching goals — not contradict them. 

Lack of accountability & transparency 

Even after gaining cross-departmental agreement on terminology, goals, and objectives, alignment cannot be achieved without proper accountability controls. Simply having a shared drive that’s full of intricate work instructions and detailed definitions is no guarantee for success. Smart companies find ways to instill accountability and transparency into their systems and processes. (Think automated lead assignment rules instead of manual lead routing, for example.)  

People problems

Relationships are complicated. So is human nature. Some team members are gifted communicators; others… not so much. Team members are constantly being promoted or leaving the company to pursue new opportunities. Frequent changes in management bring new ideas and priorities to the table. In short, midsize companies do not lack for people-related roadblocks to achieving alignment.

Alignment is more important than ever

A rapidly changing competitive landscape has compounded the aforementioned roadblocks to alignment. Big data and cloud technology have leveled the playing field for startups while widening the existing advantage held by massive corporations, leaving midsize companies stuck, well, in the middle.

Key takeaway from Tony is, “Now, more than ever, midsize companies must take almost a military-grade approach to aligning their sales and marketing teams around the processes, systems, and go-to-market programs that bind them, day-to-day.”

I hope you’ll join me as we continue this series and explore best practices for aligning sales and marketing. Stay tuned for our next article that delivers a high impact example of alignment: the sales blitz

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