Sales Team + Lead Gen Alignment: What NOT to Do

Sales and marketing alignment is the buzzword du jour. Every good marketer knows they need it. But what does it actually mean IRL? One thing’s for sure: alignment doesn’t happen by accident. For a lot of companies, the sales and marketing process is broken — and it’s a huge expense. In fact, LinkedIn reports that $1 trillion (yes, trillion) dollars are wasted each year due to a lack of alignment. 

As internal leaders of a company with revenue growth number one on your mind, building and fostering alignment with sales and marketing teams is a big responsibility to ensure your company isn't part of the trillion-dollar loss each year. It takes a lot of work and orchestration, but your sales team should be your marketing team's top customer. Only 12 percent of salespeople report that they value MQLs, so a lot of hard work is being wasted unless you can get everyone rowing together, from marketing to sales. 

While it’s your job to enable alignment, once the right processes are set up, it’s a two-way street and a continued effort by both teams to keep it going. But the potential payoff is big enough to make it worth the work. According to Marketo, companies that are well-aligned see 67 percent higher conversion rates and over 209 percent higher revenue from leads.

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Alignment Is More Important (and Harder) Now Than Ever

Proper alignment bolsters your lead generation efforts from both sides. It supports organically focused inbound marketing as well as targeted outbound cold email strategies. And when you go beyond lead generation, alignment is how you will be able to actually deliver on your sales promises, helping you drive satisfaction and retention.

I talked with Nicole Batiste, Vice President of Commercial Operations at Antidote Technologies, a company that's using technology with a human touch to fill clinical trials faster. With data-driven patient recruiting and a search site to match patients to trials, they're helping their clients bring life-saving treatments and vaccines to market. As an operations leader, Nicole sits between sales and marketing, relying on both to deliver the best possible experience.

“Communication and documentation are key. Sales and marketing must be crystal clear on our delivery capabilities, past successes, and lessons learned in order to position us appropriately in the market and ensure that pitches are directly aligned with our ability to execute. I need to ensure that the sales team is accurately representing what we deliver, and that we are set up for success in delivery and execution.”

But I think we're all finding that it might be even harder to align these teams now than ever before (another thing to thank 2020 for). Last year led to an unprecedented and virtually overnight switch to remote work for most companies. While your teams probably did at least some remote work before, last year likely pushed that to its limits. Everyone working from home caused even more divisions among already siloed departments such as marketing and sales. Without clear processes, good communication practices, and technology to enable it all, the realities of never seeing your team in person can hamper even the most well-intentioned coordination efforts.

So how do you break through these challenges to nail marketing and sales alignment? We know you want to build revenue and need to break down internal barriers and silos to do so. Sometimes learning what not to do can bring about the best change.

 

Working on Sales and Marketing Alignment? Don’t Do These 5 Things:

How can you enable alignment for your brand? And how do you even know once you’ve achieved it? Let’s start by looking at what NOT to do:

#1: Don’t Assume Existing Sales Processes Are “Good to Go”

Now is the time to test your sales processes for gaps and flaws. Work collaboratively with your sales leadership to refine (or maybe even define) your process. You need clear, agreed-on, and documented definitions for key terms like MQL. If you’re thinking, “Oh, everyone in our org knows this,” you might want to start asking around. You may be surprised by what you find. 

Document how you define a lead versus an MQL: Do your definitions differ for inbound and outbound? Are you basing triggers on lead score, demo requests, or something else? What about an SQL? Are they created when a sales call is scheduled? Make sure you document each stage’s definition and the trigger that’s required to advance to the next stage.

Then you’ll want to consider technology to automate everything. There’s a reason HubSpot is investing in sales and marketing alignment as a core part of their feature set. With their shift to the flywheel, they clearly understand that customers experience your brand holistically and that all departments need to be working together to build momentum and reduce friction.

Your CRM should make the sales job easier (think: automating email cadences, tracking lead interactions, surfacing customer and prospect insights, recording sales conversations and touchpoints). And it should be closely integrated with your marketing automation platform to ensure that both teams are looking at the same data and have access to the same customer or lead history.

As you move toward a tech-driven sales and marketing process, take the time to deliver tailored, role-specific training programs if you're using a new software. Clear training and documentation delivered with proof of the tech’s value (what’s in it for your salespeople?) will encourage adoption.

#2: Don’t Neglect the Sales Relationship

Like any relationship, sales and marketing alignment will fail if you don’t give it some love. You need to foster a close and collaborative partnership across teams, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. Here are some tips to help:

  • Find champions. Just like you’d look for a champion in a target account to help you get in the door, find the people in your sales team who are more interested (and willing to participate) in the marketing process. Work with your champion to trial new ideas or test out campaigns. Once the other salespeople start to see your champion’s success, they’ll be more likely to play along.

  • Understand the history. You may be facing legacy issues from the way the relationship worked in the past. I once inherited an existing process for sales reporting, but quickly discovered that the reports weren’t delivering value. Worse, they were actually irritating the sales team, who had gotten so used to useless info that they lost confidence in marketing.

  • Demonstrate value. You know that your marketing efforts can deliver better quality MQLs that convert to SQLs (and customers) faster. But if your sales team isn’t sold on the value of the leads, you’re not going to succeed. Prove your value through reports that the sales team actually cares about (hint: it isn’t email open rate). We’ll get into this a bit more soon.

  • Gather feedback. This gets at the idea of a two-way street. You need to ask your sales team for feedback on your marketing efforts, and vice versa, and then you actually need to listen and try to enable change where appropriate. Set up a way to gather feedback and hold people accountable on a regular basis, whether that’s in a meeting or via quick surveys or another method. Both sides need to hold up their end of the deal to make alignment happen.

  • Develop an SLA. A service-level agreement is written documentation of how two parties (in this case, two departments) will work together, capturing critical elements of the relationship. As you flesh out what your aligned processes will look like, consider creating a sales and marketing SLA to cover how the relationship will work.

#3: Don’t Pretend Marketing Ends at the Lead Handoff

There was once a time when marketing could generate a warm lead, pass it off to the sales team, dust off their hands, and move on to the next prospect. Well, it’s 2021, and those days are gone. Today’s sales funnel is no longer linear, and while you do still need to have a defined handoff point (typically MQL to SQL), marketing doesn't get to just make an exit.

Your leads may not experience your brand in a straight line from initial research to purchase, but their experience still needs to be seamless. The best brands orchestrate touchpoints, with sales and marketing each taking turns nudging the prospects toward a conversion. Technology helps by giving you a clear view of where each lead is in your funnel and who engaged with them last.

Also, never just assume that the sales team is following up with MQLs. Make sure they have a clear plan for how to nurture warm leads, and then use your tech to confirm that the process is actually being followed. This keeps leads from going cold, and blocks the age-old blame game — you know, hearing the sales team say, “I’m not getting any good leads from marketing.”

#4: Don’t Block Sales from Your Content Strategy

Seriously, you do this at your own peril. Your sales team is your direct line to (and the voice of) your customers. They’re your most valuable source for new marketing content. Interview them, sit in on sales calls and pitches, and hear what they’re hearing every single day from real prospects and customers. It’s the best market research available.

And since sales is marketing's first customer, you need to make sure they have the tools they need to convert all those leads you’re generating. Develop sales tools and messaging (email templates, talking points, datasheets, success stories, demo scripts, etc.) to help them close. Ask them to write down their most common sales objections, and then create content that speaks directly to those concerns. And when you give your sales team a hand in developing content, they’re even more likely to share and promote it, helping you expand your reach (for free!).

#5: Don’t Forget the Data

Okay, before you say, “We’re a tech company — we live and breathe data,” stop and get really honest. Ask yourself if your most important KPIs are actually department-specific (read: siloed) performance and activity reporting. There’s a good chance they are. 

I’ve seen some really data-driven companies fall victim to this conundrum: sales is reporting on X, marketing is reporting on Y, and to top it off, no one is really even sure if the numbers are actually right. I’ve seen marketing leadership (at a SaaS company) be measured by their C-suite on a metric that wasn’t even being tracked reliably by their CRM. Talk about stress!

Remember all that defining and documenting you did earlier? There’s a little more to do: partner with sales to define your shared goals and the metrics and KPIs that measure those goals. Stay away from vanity metrics like click rate, and mosey on down the funnel to MQLs, SQLs, conversion rates, influenced revenue, and attribution reporting to directly tie marketing activity to sales revenue. Capture the goals and KPIs in your sales and marketing SLA.

Once you define exactly what success looks like, build reports and dashboards that let you track it all in real time. You’ll need to make sure that your lead and customer data is consistently formatted and up to date, so reports are accurate. This is when all of those definitions you carefully agreed on are really used. If you’re looking for even more here, check out our resource on how to get started with data-driven marketing.

 

Sales and Marketing Alignment Is Worth the Work

If you think this sounds like a lot, well, it is. But when you achieve alignment, the result feels nothing short of magical. With departmental buy-in, technology used consistently and properly, everyone following defined processes, clear reporting to show results, and a process for gathering feedback and getting better each time, marketing and sales will grow real value together.

What does that look like in action? Let’s check back in with Nicole:

“No pitch leaves our organization without evaluation by operations, marketing, and sales. Anytime a new project is brought on, we hold an internal alignment meeting to get the full scope. And at the end of each project, my team delivers a presentation on the delivery and any lessons learned to ensure we take those discoveries forward in future marketing and sales pitches.”

How will you know it’s working? Your sales team will start looking forward to hearing from marketing. They will be sold on the value marketing delivers, both for the brand and for themselves (commission!). The MQLs generated will go from ignored to coveted and will convert to SQL (and beyond) at a higher rate. The success will reach past lead generation into customer retention and lifetime value. Sales and marketing alignment improves both the process and the results. 

Once you’re aligned, you win, your sales team wins, your brand wins, and ultimately, your customers win, because they will have a better experience. If you’re struggling with how to implement this all in your organization, never fear. Our lead gen experts are here to help.

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