There were many benefits to having sales and marketing so, ahem, close. When both are connected by wedding rings, one hand always knows what the other hand is doing. Strategic and tactical initiatives are almost always decided together, and challenges are solved in unison. We ran our company ran like we ran our marriage, with sales and marketing truly and totally aligned.
Or so I thought.
Imagine my surprise when our promoted-from-within director of sales sat in his first executive leadership meeting and identified sales and marketing alignment as the number one challenge he wanted to solve in the first 90 days of his new role.
Yep, that really happened.
Once I got past the obvious embarrassment of not being aligned with the department my husband leads, it was time to get serious. According to Aberdeen Group, companies that optimize the marketing/sales relationship grow 32% faster, while companies who fail to nurture that relationship actually see their business decline.
I realized that I might have been overlooking some of the key elements that make for a beneficial relationship between marketing and sales. Here are a few relationship tips for fostering a better bond between the teams.
Communication is key for sales & marketing alignment
Before we ultimately shifted our strategy, sales and marketing alignment simply meant that both teams knew what the other was doing and were generally in agreement about the best way to move forward. The average exchange between my team and theirs sounded something like this:
Marketing: “I’d like to do another email drop with Acme Advertising Solutions. Seems like we got a good cost per assigned lead last time, and we opened up some solid pipeline from that campaign.”
Sales: “Great, yes, we love those campaigns with Acme! We get lots of fresh leads, and they generally respond to our outreach. Go for it! We’re so happy and supportive of what you are doing! Rainbows! Puppy dogs! Glitter!”
Or, just as commonly:
Sales: “Please give us a new asset so we can address this objection we are hearing.”
Marketing: “Here you go! Presto! Abracadabra! Your wish is our command.”
And that vague communication style wasn’t unique to us. A recent study by Demand Gen found that 49% of respondents on both marketing and sales teams reported that communication was their biggest challenge to alignment. Simply passing off materials between teams without doing a deep dive into what’s working (and what’s not) isn’t necessarily the best way to achieve real alignment, no matter how well your teams get along.
Relationships require teamwork
Which is not to say marketing and sales weren’t working well independently of one another. We were a smart, data-driven organization. Marketing kept tabs on a wide-range of key data and tracked cost per lead, cost per-assigned lead, pipeline generated by campaign source, cost per customer acquisition, and everything in between. In sales, we tracked deal velocity, average sales cycle, closed/lost analysis, closed/won percentages, and every other pipeline stage percentage. Plus lots more. We were swimming in great, useful data.
Of course, you might know the punchline by now. We both had data that was great for running our departments, but we never jointly discussed or analyzed that data in a meaningful way. And we weren’t alone. Many brands face a disconnect when it comes to sharing data between teams.
For example, around 80% of leads generated by marketing are never contacted by a sales rep. That’s a pretty big breakdown in communication. And it’s made even scarier when coupled with the fact that ineffective content marketing results in a loss of $958 million annually.
The key to recouping those losses could be finding ways to combine data and planning together. Studies show that aligning sales and marketing results in a 108% improvement in lead acceptance. Successful alignment means marketing and sales merge teams to make data-driven decisions that benefit everyone.
Commit to diving deeper
During the first months of improving alignment, we tried to move beyond simply promising status updates, or “keeping each team in the loop.”
Instead, we committed to communication on a deeper level to understand what was driving strategies, tactics, and initiatives. We analyzed our department-specific data together to uncover new insights and evaluated the “why” behind everything we did.
Here’s how a new and improved conversation went:
Sales: “Please give us a new asset so we can address this common objection we are hearing.”
Marketing: “Sure, tell me more about what you are experiencing on the phones that make you feel like you need this? What types of buyers are presenting this challenge? What stage of the sales cycle do you experience it? What type of content do you think would help you overcome this well?”
Improved communication led to more effective content. Turns out, a new brochure isn’t always the best solution for a sales challenge. Thinking of marketing and sales as two parts of a healthy, communicative relationship led to a more effective means of problem solving.
Strong sales and marketing alignment = Relationship success!
The outcome of our tighter alliance included some pretty big wins.
When we began measuring more than just pipeline created by campaigns, which had always been a primary indicator of success, we found that some of our “most successful” campaigns were actually duds in terms of new revenue generated.
What’s worse, those “duds” ended up tracking to some of our biggest marketing expenditures. By looking at these measurements from both sides of the marketing and sales coin, we were able to re-allocate significant marketing spend and, by funding the campaigns most likely to deliver actual new customers, we increased our win-rates.
Sometimes even happy relationships require work, and I’m eternally grateful to the sales director who helped us embark on a bit of sales and marketing couples therapy. The result meant higher win rates and more efficient spend. Way better — and more measurable — than a simply “one hand knowing what the other is doing” policy.