Marketing and Sales alignment continues to remain a hot topic in research and conferences. Why? Because in the words of Mary Shea, principal analyst for Forrester, “After years of acknowledging their issues with each other, many B2B marketing and sales teams continue to be at odds.”
Most of the recommendations for improving the condition revolve around how these two organizations need to work together. Recommendations range from improving the lines of communication, to creating service level agreements, being more buyer centric, and promoting education.
Companies attempting to resolve the issue often try to address the problem by tightening the alignment of Marketing activities within the sales cycle, improving coordination around lead generation, and increasing Sales force participation in the Marketing process. However, despite all these adjustments, the problem persists.
We can find some clues into how to improve alignment by examining the structure of emergency response teams and the branches of the armed forces. Clearly, when these organizations operate out of sync the results can be far worse then a missed sales forecast. But note: These teams are not aligned to each other. While each branch of the US military must work together, each has a unique mission within the overall mission of U.S. security and peace; each branch serves a very specific purpose, has its own specialties, main areas of focus, and methods of operation. They are well trained and disciplined. They are aligned to the mission. The mission is their joint focus and their joint purpose.
If we delve into the world of the dynamics of these teams, we can tease out three takeaways that any business can employ to improve alignment.
3 Keys to Achieving Successful Alignment Stop trying to align Marketing and Sales to each other.
1. Stop trying to align Marketing and Sales to each other. Align both to the mission. This is what emergency response teams and different branches of the armed forces do. Your business has a mission and purpose. Each function within your business, including the Marketing and Sales functions, exist to serve this mission. The better your Marketing and Sales are aligned to this mission, the more likely each of these functions can positively affect the Demand variable of the equation (Supply being the other variable in the equation).
Why It Matters
"The better your Marketing and Sales are aligned to a mission, the more likely each of these functions can positively affect the Demand variable of the equation (Supply being the other variable in the equation)."
I recall my early days when we were building a microcontroller business. The mission was clear – convert the world from 4-bit to 8-bit microcontrollers and dominate in four markets: transportation, computing, consumer electronics, and communications. Every team, regardless of function, understood the mission and their purpose and role in achieving the mission.
2. Create and optimize your operations to address the external scenario.
In business, the external scenario is the market and the customer. Taking an outside-in view improves alignment by shifting Marketing and Sales from being focused on activity to being focused on which market and customer segments offer the best opportunities and deserve the highest priorities.
Companies focused on activity tend to take a transactional approach to the business. This typically translates into Marketing generating qualified leads that Sales then brings to a close. Why is this a problem? Here’s what often happens when the emphasis is on activity. “More,” not “better,” becomes the mode of operating. Sales immerses itself in the latest training and engages in calling on more customers while Marketing focuses on implementing and coordinating more campaigns and tactics.
Shift your view to market and customers and landscape changes. The perspective moves the point of view of the customer, what they want from you, what they expect from you and what they can count on from you. An outside-in view forces a move away from a myopic selling perspective to a broader customer relationship lifecycle perspective.
The customer relationship lifecycle begins the moment a customer appears on the radar screen, moves into the opportunity management funnel, emerges as a customer, and engages in a variety of experiences that result in your customers becoming an advocate for your company. The customer relationship lifecycle yields insight into which customers are the greatest lifetime value to your company.
Taking a customer relationship lifecycle approach gives you an avenue for alignment by focusing both the Marketing and Sales organizations on the same set of outcomes – creating, keeping, and increasing the value of customers. Back to my personal example, everyone knew the mission, and as result they also knew who the top 10 customers were overall and for each market and what was needed to acquire, keep, and expand the footprint within each of these customers.
Why it's Important
"Taking a customer relationship lifecycle approach gives you an avenue for alignment by focusing both the Marketing and Sales organizations on the same set of outcomes – creating, keeping, and increasing the value of customers."
Mobilizing around the customer relationship lifecycle made it far easier to establish a common set of priorities and customer metrics, a common customer-oriented vocabulary.
3. Focus on the mission plan.
Emergency response teams create a mission plan from the top down to ensure that every effort is tightly linked to the success of mission. Here’s a quick overview into how they approach the mission plan, which synchronizes efforts and sequences the related operations to achieve decisive strategic effect.
- The commander (CEO) determines the layout of the operational environment, and provides direction, vision, and guidance to staffs and subordinates to drive planning and execution.
- The commander develops a “vision” for mobilizing his organization and their interrelationships that provides a “design” for the mission.
- The staff (functional leaders) conduct the mission analysis, develop estimates, develop a strategic concept, and construct supporting plans. It is top down. No function develops their plan without knowing the overall mission plan.
It's important Because
"If you take a bottom-up approach to planning, both Sales and Marketing tend to develop programs and plans based on they have done before or what they know best. As a result, these programs may be only loosely connected, if at all, to the business."
If you take a bottom-up approach to planning, both Sales and Marketing tend to develop programs and plans based on they have done before or what they know best. As a result, these programs may be only loosely connected, if at all, to the business. The metrics of success become coupled to the program rather than the broader mission. Consequently, quantifying the value of the program to the business becomes hazy. An outcome-based approach to alignment flips this problem on its head, creating a top-down perspective. Want to embrace the concept? Start with the business’ success factors and work down the ladder. This process reveals what Marketing and Sales must each do to support the business.
Taking the First Step to Tackle Your Alignment
How do you know if you need to tackle alignment? Your first clue is to determine if the work within the functions is directly linked to the mission and business outcomes. If you think you need to improve your alignment, then the most important next step is to choose a method that will visually convey the connection between the role of each function and business results and provide insight into selecting outcome-based performance metrics. Take the next step.
About Laura Patterson
Laura is a recognized expert in proving and improving the value of Marketing and an authority in Marketing Performance Management with global customer engagement expertise within the technology, financial services, life sciences, and manufacturing industries. Patterson is the founder of Vision Edge Marketing.