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Beyond Alignment: 5 Ways to Integrate Sales and Marketing Teams

LisaCannon_headshot-2014Getting sales and marketing teams into alignment is a hot topic lately, and for good reason. According to a study from the Aberdeen Group, highly aligned marketing and sales organizations achieved an average of 32% year over year revenue growth, while their less-aligned competitors saw a seven percent decrease in revenue. And MarketingProfs has found that organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing functions enjoyed 36% higher customer retention rates. So if we all agree that alignment is critical, and the data proves that it provides tangible business benefits, why isn’t everyone doing it?

It’s simple. Making fundamental changes to the way we work can be extremely difficult. But maybe the problem isn’t that sales and marketing aren’t aligned. Maybe the problem is that alignment just isn’t enough.

Recently, Act-On Software’s Rachel Rosin moderated a webinar with Bill Golder, principal and CEO of Slingshot Growth Partners, and renowned sales, marketing, and business coach Jay Hidalgo. During their conversation, they uncovered some of the many challenges marketing and sales teams are facing today, and demonstrated that in order to keep up with the rapid shifts in the marketplace, teams need to move beyond alignment to complete integration.

Here are five of the strategies they outlined that can help sales and marketing teams work better together in order to ensure collaboration and improve every aspect of the selling process.

1. Stop treating marketing like an ATM that dispenses leads

According to Bill Golder, many sales leaders think marketing is there to provide leads to sales on demand – and that’s it. As he puts it, “Marketing is out of sight and out of mind until sales needs more leads to fill the pipeline.” Then, marketing scrambles to keep up with demand and produces massive amounts of leads, but those leads aren’t qualified, and sales complains that they’re not any good. Another problem arises when marketing feels like they do all the work to create tools and collateral to enable sales and get negative feedback or worse, nothing at all. “They send leads or they create content, and then they hear nothing. It's like it goes into a black box,” he says.

2. Start involving sales in the marketing process sooner

Dream-teamAs Jay Hidalgo sees it, salespeople are as frustrated as marketers by the silo mentality. He puts it this way: “Salespeople want winnable opportunities. They want to sell and bring solutions to their clients. They don't want to spend time prospecting. They want to close deals and make their commission.” And the problem is clear. In many organizations, marketers don’t include salespeople in the development of the programs, content, and communications they use to sell. They wait until the last minute to get sales buy-in without getting their input during the entire content development process.

3. Take every aspect of the B2B buyer journey into account

Bill says that in order to overcome these disconnects, it’s important to look at the buyer's journey. “One of the things we've done to hurt our sales both on the sales and marketing side – and I'm a part of the community that does it, frankly – is that we get so academic about this buyer's journey and the buying process,” he says. “We've forgotten how unpredictable people can be. And when an opportunity is created for a salesperson to pursue a sale from start to finish, it typically now involves anywhere from five to six people (buyers).” To overcome the challenge, it’s important to develop a frame of reference of how sales and marketing can support each other and work together throughout every stage of the journey. And of course, to recognize that it’s potentially a messy process with multiple decision-makers. And each of them may be on a different stage of the journey as well.

4. Move from basic alignment to actual integration

Baton-relayJay describes the difference between alignment and integration in terms of a sports analogy. He says alignment is like a baton relay race, while integration is more of a team sport. “Alignment means that once my work is done, I hand it off. Then I can rest and just cheer on the next runner and hope they finish first.” That means marketing generates the lead, hands it off to sales, and sales takes it and runs with it. Integration, he says, is a totally different game – it’s a team sport, like football. Every member of both teams is involved in every play until that ball goes over the goal line. But in order for the team to function effectively, the roles have to be established in advance. “In many respects, when marketing and sales are integrated, each team has a role from the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, bottom of the funnel – that entire transition,” he says.

5. Get leadership on board and start a top-down revolution

Football-teamWhat does it take to redefine roles and integrate teams? According to Jay, there has to be a mindset shift in both marketing and in sales. “The other thing that we have to think about is that we're all part of the revenue-generating team. And this is probably more of a shift for marketing than sales. Marketers have to realize that their job is to generate revenue just as much as sales.”

According to Bill, it’s a process that has to start with leadership: “It's always going to start at the top, whether it's a chief revenue officer or a CEO or the sales and marketing leaders. I think there's still a lot of sort of legacy behavior and preconceptions around the role of marketing, the role of sales, and top of the funnel, bottom of the funnel, and so on.” He says that in order to make this integration happen, it must be viewed like a true change management exercise.

The Results of Integration

Change is difficult, as we said before, especially when it’s a fundamental shift to the way entire teams work together. But the benefits are tangible – and they don’t take long to materialize.

One organization Jay worked with was doing pretty well – or so it seemed. After two quarters, they’d generated 2,200 net new inquiries and yielded, as a result, four closed deals. As Jay says, “This company had an average sales price of about $250,000 – a quarter of a million dollars. And so with this activity the marketing team generated a million dollars' worth of business.”

It sounded good on paper, but there was a huge disconnect between marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads. Marketing thought leads were qualified, but they misunderstood who the buyer truly was. Meanwhile, sales was getting leads they simply couldn’t reach. Working together, the marketing and sales teams were able to identify and fix problems at the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel.

Six months later, they generated 90 percent fewer inquiries. That’s a huge decrease – and it’s a good thing. It removed a lot of junk leads that salespeople were wasting their time on, and made the team much more productive. Best of all, they tripled sales in those two quarters from Q2 versus Q4. Jay puts it this way: “Does it take work? Absolutely. Does it take effort and time? Yes. Is this a silver bullet? No. It's not at all. It's a planned mindset shift that brings everybody together. Over time, however, is when you'll see the results start to come about.”


Be sure to watch the webinar with Rachel Rosin, Bill Golder, and Jay Hidalgo to learn how sales and marketing can go beyond basic alignment to complete integration.

Lisa Cannon is a senior writer with Act-On Software, Inc., the leading marketing automation provider for small and mid-size companies.

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