Sales and marketing alignment in the enterprise space (aka complex sales) is tough to achieve. Yet, organizations that can do that show a whopping 36% higher retention rate(3), and an even higher sales win rates of 38%(4) overall. That’s fascinating. And although this study was not entirely focused on complex B2B sales, these are still meaningful numbers.
However, as any practitioner knows, there are complex factors at play, and many of them are not just about process and data. If it was easy, everyone would do it. So for this post I’m taking a different approach. I’ll highlight what I believe is a fundamental underlying issue and and I’ll show you how to address it without having to boil the ocean.
First, let me come right out with it before we examine the background and strategies to solve the equation.
The secret is … … … during planning, both sales and marketing forget (or ignore) what is bringing home the moolah right now (or soon), and how they can drive it together. We don’t build from the foundations. Instead we dream from the top down.
I’ve been there too.
Here’s how it normally goes down. At the beginning of the year, both sales and marketing agree on how they can work better together. They set lofty goals, agree on what a qualified lead is, and determine what the journey should look like on both sides. They develop key buyer personas and brand messages. They come clean with each other and clear the air on what has happened in the past. And finally someone always sprinkles in some sexy marketing automation pixie dust to top it all off.
Sounds familiar? This strategic planning looks, sounds and feels great. The sales and marketing alignment sessions lead to a spirited launch of a new program. Happy new year everyone!
But then it falls apart. The presentations and journey maps are forgotten, only to be picked up when everyone has less pressing issues at hand (hint: these issues are about making money, exactly the purpose for which the exercise was started).
That’s because we try to start top down. In addition, marketing often think in terms of “changing the conversation”, or are unduly influenced by the promises of database marketing automation that are difficult to achieve (hint: don’t let anyone who hasn’t done it make the plan…e.g. sales people). On the other hand, sales has a different set of challenges. These range from competitive advances, meeting short term targets, aligning multiple client stakeholders, to being able to price and position the product and / or services (hint: same as before but replace sales with marketing).
In the end, this simple but well-intended misalignment ends up with both teams looking to satisfy and meet two different sets of objectives. They seem to be working together, but they actually don’t, and won’t.
I think you will identify with the above. I’ve been through all this countless times. Having played both roles before – as a sales lead and also as a marketing lead – I often successfully managed to ignore this secret myself.
So the secret to sales and marketing alignment that works is….during joint planning, both sales and marketing should not forget (or ignore) what is bringing home the moolah right now, and how they can drive it together.
But what do they do instead: (it’s natural so don’t be embarrassed):
- They focus on what should be, rather than focus on what is and how to expand it. What’s going to bring in the revenue this quarter is not necessarily sexy in the enterprise space
- They try to reach the destination instantly. However, just as it takes time to change gears and client perceptions, it also takes time to modify outreach capabilities, and have conversations differently with (different) clients. Have you ever wondered how the same dated messages get presented even when you have decided to modify them – it’s called inertia and comfort zone of the field.
- Both sides forget that they have have limited time to be integrated, tailored and customized. Regardless of the level of sales and marketing automation you put in, ultimately you need to qualify, pursue, and sell in person. As soon as that deal seems likely, everything else takes a back seat.
And through a thousand such cuts, the sales and marketing alignment ambition gradually takes a backseat. The metrics that each of wants to measure start diverging, and become less and less relevant to the other.
In fact, this is the familiar story of marketing RoI and sales performance.
So here’s an approach that can help you overcome this challenge. First and foremost, analyze the pipeline for deals that have happened, and those that are high on the sales radar in the immediate future. Don’t discount them in favor of the ideal that should be. Acknowledge the client interest in what you have, and all the effort that has gone in to make that happen.
And then focus on improving and expanding. Try to improve the probability of deal conversions, and expand the impact with a defined game plan around client engagement. The Principle of Customer Interaction is a good one to remember – connect your emotional branding with the physical interactions.
Because at the end of the day, sales will always put less(er) emphasis on what can be, versus what will help them close the next couple of quarters positively. And if marketing is focusing only on the big picture, that picture will always remain lopsided. Sales and marketing alignment will remain a dream, propped up by one-off success stories. And long term positioning suffers.
Simply ground your action plan on the following 5 strategies:
- Plug the Gaps: Focus on closing better what sales want to close soon – even if it doesn’t seem sexy. Marketing is best positioned to translate the org strategy and capabilities to support these short term priorities. You’ll be surprised at the number of gaps you will identify that can provide solid air cover – collateral, references, case studies, 3rd party support, pursuit marketing, client showcase, awareness of a specific capability and so on. This applies to new business development too.
- Insert Strategic Objectives: How clients perceive you depends on what you sell to them today, not what you have on your website. So make the current portfolio the starting point of the big picture, and begin the life-cycle of awareness to closure from there, not independently. Ultimately, most stories can be distilled into a problem of cross-sell and up-sell. So translate it that way. It can start with inserting messaging about larger customer’s goals (Principle of External Reinforcement), integrating the value proposition of various parts of your portfolio (Principle of Presenting) , and expanding what you have to offer through your partners (Principle of Completion).
- Live in the Other’s Shoes: Try inserting marketing into the sales machine and vice versa. Take over a couple of key responsibilities and metrics from each other (yes, that’s a part of the deal). What you take over should not just be value additions, but actual, down & dirty tasks that need to get done. For example sales can take a metric on client coverage by touch-points per month, and marketing can take over a metric on producing deal specific material. This can require some trust building, so be prepared to start small and deliver first.
- Prioritize Tactically: Most change fails because people on the ground try to start top down (and often the top has no clue, or are trying to solve different problems). Instead focus on things you can change. Work with the people who want to work with you, and begin to show results in tactical increments. And then amplify the sharing of the results in terms of war stories. Nothing gets more attention than war stories. Slowly you will have a dashboard worth boasting about, and numbers to back them up, with people willing to attest to what’s happening.
- Follow High-Low: Every successful plan needs to be able to scale and grow. The sphere of visibility for both sales and marketing needs to expand. And you can’t do that if you execute only high touch activities in a narrow area. So supplement your plan with low touch activities that can provide continuity and consistency. An example of a high touch activity is a deal specific collateral. An example of a low touch activity is a monthly client update by email, or a case study that can be shared broadly. Be sure to link low touch activities to the pipeline analysis from the first step so they are relevant.
Once you start with the above, everything else will fall in place – brand messaging, your database, the campaigns and the metrics.
In the next planning round, give this approach a shot. I assure you that you will not be disappointed. In fact, as part of one big happy family, you’ll never have to prove marketing ROI again.
First next step:
Now self-assess your sales and marketing alignment on 11 key dimensions here (opens in new window). Scores are instant, and you will get recommendations on every dimension. Be sure to save your results so you can benchmark yourself against your peers, and set goals.
If you take the self-assessment above, you may also get a FREE copy of my book Connected! After all, all your strategies should focus on the client. Without that as the context, everything is just meaningless mechanics.