Sales Marketing Alignment is a hugely (and always) important, yet contentious focus area for Marketers. Sirius Decisions has shown that companies that maintain a focus on company alignment achieve up to 19 percent faster revenue growth, and 15 percent higher profitability than other companies. While it is becoming more prevalent to work on aligning the two functions within a company and is a topic that’s frequently covered at marketing conferences and on webinars, I’m often left unsatisfied with the lack of actionable recommendations to improve alignment. Based on my experience as an adviser and marketer, I have put together some of the techniques I’ve seen drive improved go-to-market alignment within organizations.
The first key to Sales Marketing alignment is communication. Bringing these two functions together will be a continual effort — while there is some foundational work that needs to be done, the players change and the relationship is always evolving. Often the first step is the hardest – reaching out to your counterparts in Sales and starting to engage to figure out how who you need to align with, and on what level. Start with casual conversations between Marketing and Sales leaders (coffee outside the office is always a good option) and then start to formalize the relationship with regularly scheduled check-ins. While it’s crucial that alignment starts at the top, at the exec level, you actually need all levels of the organization to be connected to their colleagues on the other side of the fence. Marketing Ops Analysts need to be connected to Sales Ops Analysts, and so forth.
2. Joint Training
Another method to improve Sales Marketing alignment that isn’t employed nearly enough is combined team training or coaching. It’s best not to do this as a two-hour webinar, but rather in-person interactive group training. As Heidi Bullock, VP of Demand Generation at Marketo, mentions in her webinar ‘Sales and Marketing Alignment Tips’ the amount and type of training you implement is incredibly important. On the webinar she mentions a study where companies that went from two days of training annually to ten plus days annually of combined sales and marketing training saw an increase of 29% more business from new logos for sales. While sales and marketing training alone did have some positive outcomes it wasn’t as effective as combined group training. This just goes to show that jointly investing in your personnel can lead to excellent returns and better alignment.
3. Go To Market Glossary
Another best practice, and one that is rarely done effectively, is aligning around the vernacular of the business by moving from a spoken to written culture. When sales and marketing teams do not speak the exact same language, the amount of misinformation that can flow back and forth is astounding. The solution for this is simple but yet rarely employed: building out a Go-To-Market Glossary. Most organizations spend a lot of time on joint definitions around leads, or they might go a bit further and define all the various funnel stages, but they usually don’t go far enough. What organizations really need is a codex far beyond the formal definition of what qualifies as a lead, and gets in to things like product definitions, explains the acronyms and terminology used by the different teams, the selling motions, etc. This way there is a reference document that can always be referred to and reduce confusion from the respective teams. Some of the things that are difficult to achieve alignment on will surprise you – for instance, I’ve had hours long discussions trying to nail down the difference between ‘inbound’ and ‘outbound’ sales activities. Without common understanding of the key vernacular in the business, you end up wasting so much time and effort (and can even lead to angry conversations) because you are using similar words to refer to different things entirely.
4. Sales Marketing Alignment Metrics
With at least a draft version of your Go-To-Market Glossary in hand, you can really narrow in on the set of common metrics to better align sales and marketing. When creating your shared dashboard, the key thing to focus on is accountability and transparency. As for the actual metrics themselves, it will depend on your business, but some of the most helpful metrics in calculating effectiveness of marketing and sales efforts will be pipeline influence. Pipeline uses the leads generated by marketing and combines it with the estimated value of said lead based on lead close rates and average revenue per sale to give you the potential bookings for a given time period, typically quarterly. However you need to also track leading indicators at the top of the funnel, especially because it can have an impact in future quarters, depending on the length of your Sales cycle. Reach is a metric that is fairly self explanatory but I don’t see it tracked and shared with Sales enough. Reach is the inventory of people you can reach with your marketing such as social media followers, email newsletter subscribers, folks in various funnel stages, free users of your product, etc.
Of course when it comes to quantitative metrics, your key component will be qualified leads, based on the common lead definitions agreed upon between sales and marketing. This must be put on a common dashboard for sales and marketing leaders to review at least weekly, but preferably something update real-time. Ideally you want this to live in your CRM, through dashboards to help everyone easily stay on the same page and up to date with accurate data, but as long as the data is regularly refreshed and available to everyone in sales and marketing, it will be something to align around.
People often ask me, “How do you know when you have achieved Sales Marketing Alignment?” – well the smartass answer is that if Sales and Marketing leaders are meeting every single day and there is nothing to talk about and everything is going perfectly, TA-DA! you have achieved alignment. The reality is that never happens because healthy, growing businesses always have tension in the system, and that’s not a bad thing. What Marketing has to do is embrace the tension and move it forward positively. By focusing on communication, joint training, common written definitions, and shared metrics, you can build a solid relationship and win together. After all, no one is happy and high-fiving if Sales isn’t successful, so it’s up to you to do your part to align with them and ensure that success.