Entrepreneur Grow your Business by Kelsey Raymond
Let’s get right down to it: All companies want smoother and more efficient sales cycles. The time it takes to bring high-quality leads from the “just browsing” phase to close directly affects a business‘s success. So how can companies shorten the sales cycle without sacrificing the quality of leads and their experience engaging with your company? Four words: sales and marketing alignment.
LinkedIn‘s research indicates that 87 percent of sales and marketing leaders believe that collaboration between the marketing and sales teams enables business growth, and 85 percent believe that alignment across the sales and marketing teams is the best opportunity they have for improving their business performance. But in reality, 90 percent of marketing and sales professionals admit that the two departments are misaligned across processes, goals, culture and content. That’s a problem.
Sales and marketing teams strive toward the same goal: generating new business. But if the marketing team uses one type of messaging about your product or service and then the sales team employs entirely different messaging with a prospective client, that prospect will probably get a nasty case of customer experience whiplash. The entire buyer’s journey needs to be consistent so that the transition from lead to prospect to customer feels seamless.
That’s why it’s imperative that business leaders ensure their sales and marketing teams are aligned.
What does it mean to be aligned?
Your first question might be, “What does it mean for sales and marketing teams to be aligned?” And that’s a fair question.
Aligned teams focus on the same goals and key performance indicators, meaning they measure their success in the same way, or at least in complementary ways. For example, if your marketing team’s success is measured only by traffic to your website but the sales team’s success is measured by closed new deals, there is a big gap there. Instead, I recommend measuring the marketing team’s success using metrics further down the funnel, such as marketing-qualified leads or sales calls set up from marketing efforts. This way, the teams’ goals are more aligned.
Another indicator that sales and marketing teams are aligned is that they collaborate on content for all stages of the buyer’s journey. At my company, Influence & Co., one of our marketing team’s core functions is to equip the sales team with sales enablement content that helps salespeople build relationships with prospects, answer their burning questions and close sales. And for that strategy to work, the sales team lets the marketing team know what objections and questions they commonly hear on sales calls so marketers can create relevant, helpful sales enablement content.
Does aligning sales and marketing actually make a difference?
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, Okay, aligning sales and marketing teams sounds great, but does it really make a difference? The answer is a resounding “yes.”
For my company’s first six years in business, 10 percent of new sales came from inbound marketing efforts. We closed a lot of business from partner referrals, client referrals and industry events. But two years ago, we made a concrete effort to better align our marketing and sales departments. Now, our revenue generated from our inbound marketing efforts accounts for more than 30 percent of new business. And our close rate for inbound sales increased from about 10 percent in 2019 to 15 percent in 2020.
How companies can encourage sales and marketing alignment
When it comes to aligning sales and marketing teams, there’s no silver bullet or miracle cure. Alignment takes intentional planning, and that starts at the top. Company leaders have to put in the work to make sales and marketing alignment a priority and encourage collaboration.
Here are three ways company leaders can foster alignment between the sales and marketing teams:
1. Address the elephant in the room
Tension between marketing and sales is all too common. It can be easy for salespeople to point to a lack of qualified leads as the reason they aren’t closing new business and for marketers to point to the sales team’s abilities to close deals as the reason they aren’t driving more marketing-generated revenue. This needs to be addressed, not pushed under the rug.
Ensure that no unspoken tension exists between the head of marketing and the head of sales, and make sure the messaging from the top is that these two teams are working together, not against each other.
One way to do that is to align their KPIs and show them the data. This is incredibly important, considering that ReachForce and Marketo discovered that 50 percent of sales time is spent on unproductive prospecting, all while salespeople ignore 80 percent of marketing leads. This loss in productivity and wasted marketing budget costs companies $1 trillion per year. Don’t let misalignment cause your company to leave this money on the table.
2. Create opportunities for collaboration
For marketing and sales teams to align, they have to have opportunities to work together, not just in parallel. This might mean meeting each quarter so the sales team can share common questions or objections they receive on sales calls that could be the basis of good marketing content. Or it might mean creating a chat channel where marketers can pose questions to the sales team and the teams can brainstorm ideas.
At my company, we have monthly meetings at which the sales and marketing teams share issues they’re experiencing. Then, the group chooses one issue from the list to focus on during that meeting and holds a structured brainstorm session to come up with solutions. These collaborative meetings bring our teams closer together and allow salespeople and marketers to feel like they have a stake in the other department’s success.
3. Align sales and marketing incentives.
As I said before, sales and marketing team alignment requires the teams having related KPIs and shared revenue targets. Go one step further and align incentives with those shared targets. For example, make sure the marketing team is motivated to bring in qualified leads, not just new traffic. And watch that the sales team is just as motivated to close marketing-generated leads as leads generated from other sources.
Just look at IBM. According to Harvard Business Review, before IBM’s sales and marketing teams were aligned, salespeople were concerned only with fulfilling product demand, not creating it. And marketers didn’t link advertising costs to actual sales closed, so the sales team couldn’t see the tangible value of marketing’s efforts. But when IBM integrated its sales and marketing teams, sales cycles shortened, market entry costs shrank and the cost of closing sales decreased.
Sales and marketing alignment is often overlooked, but it’s extremely important for companies that want to optimize the sales process. Try these three tips for ensuring that the sales and marketing teams at your company are collaboratively working toward the shared goal of closing more business.
This article was first published in Entrepreneur.