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The B2B sales and marketing alignment struggle in the enterprise space (read complex sales) plays out again and again. It’s even more acute for account based marketing (ABM) because they often seem to be sidelined as a good-to-have versus a critical part of the machine.
Generally, at the beginning of the year, both sales and marketing agree on how they can work together better with lofty goals, and alignment on key metrics. They agree on what a qualified lead is, and what the workflow should look like on both sides. They develop and understand the key buyer personas and the brand messages they want to project to clients. They come clean with each other and clear the air on what has happened in the past. Read this nice post by Craig Rosenberg on this problem.
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. It just falls apart.
Even more so for big ticket B2B sales, and when there isn’t a well defined and understood product or service to sell, or when what you offer is highly customized for each client.
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 managed to ignore this secret myself.
So what’s the secret to sales and marketing alignment that works? It’s simple. During planning, both sales and marketing forget (or ignore) what is bringing home the moolah right now.
- 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 what get discussed (unless you’re lucky to have a simple and direct sales process which is not so in the enterprise space)
- They forget about the road-map, and try to reach the destination instantly. It takes times for sales to change gears and have conversations differently with (different) clients. And it takes times for marketing to pivot from what they are doing. 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 at the end of the day, they have have limited time to be integrated, tailored and customized. Regardless of the level of marketing automation you put in, ultimately you need to qualify, pursue, and sell in person. For example, as soon as that deal seems likely, the first thing that goes out the door are the commitments made to marketing.
And through a thousand such cuts, the sales and marketing alignment ambition gradually takes a backseat. The metrics that each of wants to measure diverge, and become less and less relevant to the other.
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 marketing 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 of marketing with a defined game plan around what’s working. 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 because sales will not have time to engage. Sales and marketing alignment will remain a dream, propped up by one-off success stories.
So if you are driving a sales and marketing alignment plan, simply ground it on the following:
- Focus on enabling sales so they close better what they are already closing, or want to close soon – even if it doesn’t seem sexy. Focus on the things that can support these short term priorities. You’ll be surprised at the number of gaps you will identify that can provide solid air cover – 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.
- Make that 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).
- Try inserting marketing into the sales machine by taking over a couple of key responsibilities (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. This can require some trust building, so be prepared to start small and deliver first.
- 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.
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