Too often, sales and marketing can feel like they’re dancing to different beats – totally disjointed.
They step on each other’s toes, they battle for worth, and they can’t – or won’t – get in sync.
But, if there’s been one upshot from the “Age of the Customer,” it’s that aligned teams exceed revenue expectations. Research shows that businesses with aligned marketing and sales are up to 67% more efficient at closing deals, and that highly aligned companies are 15% more profitable overall.
The good news is it’s never too late to turn the tide. In this article, we explore why sales and marketing alignment is critical to your revenue functions and the steps you can take to get your departments working like a well-oiled machine – rather than oil and water.
What causes revenue misalignment?
Marketing and sales misalignment is not a new challenge. In 2018, a lack of coordination was estimated to waste an annual $1 trillion in U.S. revenue opportunities.
And yet, 90% of sales and marketing professionals still say they are misaligned across strategy, process, content and culture, according to LinkedIn’s Moments of Trust report.
Sales and marketing have traditionally worked in silos – chasing different metrics that keep them working toward separate outcomes. But, as B2B buyers increase digital and multichannel buying, businesses can no longer afford to rely on traditional outbound practice for customer acquisition. 70-90% of the buyer’s journey is completed prior to engaging a vendor, making brand awareness and thought leadership essential influences on the sales cycle. When you rely that heavily on another vested party, conflict is inevitable – especially when commission is on the line.
Marketers and salespeople are worlds apart personality-wise. Marketers are longer-term focused and largely risk-averse, whereas salespeople tend to still be geared toward transactional selling and an “always be closing” mindset. Where sales sees quota-carrying as a commission opportunity, marketing sees it as a risk – one that causes blind prospecting, content misuse and messaging abandonment. Either way, each group often undervalues the other’s contribution.
Trust is fragile. Since both sales and marketing are now tied to the same outcomes, neither is usually keen to take accountability for revenue shortfalls. In moments of stress, bad behaviors from either division – such as process wandering, hard selling or scattergun marketing — can cause friction and break down collaborative relationships.
Sales professionals often fail to see that there is a direct correlation between sharing digital content and increasing inbound leads. In fact, up to 65% of a marketing team’s digital content never enters the customer’s hands. This misunderstanding of “value” is usually caused by data blindspots. Sales has no visibility into (or influence on) marketing’s content production schedule, and can’t see how buyers interact with these materials – or how they increase the probability of winning a deal.
Salespeople and marketers have always been measured against different KPIs. Sales professionals are paid and rewarded against their bookings, whereas marketing measures itself against lead generation. Now, they are equal contributors and equally accountable for revenue outcomes. Those who continue to separate outcomes based on discipline – rather than sharing them as a unit – see a lack of collaboration or ownership over revenue shortfalls.
Why does revenue growth rely on alignment?
B2B buying no longer plays out in any predictable, linear order – and customers are largely channel-agnostic when seeking business solutions. They no longer gather in the same places. According to McKinsey, B2B customers now regularly switch between ten or more channels in the buying cycle.
As a result, alignment across all revenue functions (in-person and digital) is crucial for supporting customers in the way they actually buy. That means sales’ and marketing’s win records are inherently tied to their ability to work together.
And, if that can’t happen, the biggest impact is usually your bottom line. 52% of leaders attribute low revenue to misaligned sales and marketing functions, according to HubSpot’s 2023 Sales Trend Report.
So, how can alignment accelerate revenue growth and business success?
When sales and marketing teams align, businesses achieve a holistic view of the entire buying journey – making it easier to measure the impact of top- and middle-funnel engagements on bottom-line outcomes. This helps businesses to undertake more precise strategy planning and forecasting.
Lead quality is a notorious friction point for marketing and sales teams. Up to 79% of MQLs never convert into sales, due to a lack of nurturing or qualification. When teams are aligned, they share clear criteria that define what a high-quality lead looks like – making it easier to identify, target and prioritize high-value accounts.
With marketing providing more qualified leads and content that actually support the sales process, the sales cycle is shortened. The buyer has moved through a fully aligned and seamless process between the awareness and decision stages, without distraction or complication. This means faster pipeline velocity and reduced time to revenue.
When sales and marketing teams are held to the same outcomes and share a common objective, it inspires greater team morale and productivity. A harmonized sales and marketing workforce may also exhibit lower attrition rates and reduce employee turnover.
80% of content created by marketing teams is never used in sales, according to LinkedIn. Alignment can improve sales enablement by creating open, collaborative discussions between both divisions, enabling marketing teams to create more proactive and effective content, based on sales’ feedback.
Solving revenue misalignment
When sales and marketing align, businesses optimize their entire customer journey and lifecycle – with some major key benefits.
Businesses who excel at sales and marketing alignment:
But, reaching these heights isn’t going to be a three-step fix for most. To solve misalignment, you need to extract objective evidence, identify performance gaps and create a unique strategy to combine siloed processes. That’s rarely a rinse and repeat from business to business.
That said, there are a few practical steps you can take to drive collaboration and set the pace.
Identify and close gaps
Prior to making process changes, alignment-chasing businesses need to take stock. Every B2B firm will naturally identify gaps in their sales cycle – low MQL conversion rates, clunky lead handoffs, slow pipeline velocity – but, it can be difficult to diagnose the root cause, or where to begin making adjustments.
A business-wide “revenue restructure” isn’t going to happen overnight. Alignment can be a long and complicated journey before results start to take shape, and there’s always a high degree of risk tied to “messing” with revenue functions. Businesses should be strategic about where their time and effort are best placed: Build a roadmap to full alignment and measure the influence of process changes granularly over time to avoid sudden drops in expected pipeline or quota. To do that, you need to first reflect on existing performance and processes: What’s working? And what isn’t?
Strategic gaps are outside the control of the salesperson – but have a huge bearing on success. Examine target customer profiles, total addressable markets, messaging and value propositions, enablement tools and industry authority before pointing fingers toward the team. Generally, business-wide revenue underperformance stems from strategy shortcomings rather than individual weaknesses.
Any well-run sales or marketing department should have a rich repository of customer and performance data at their fingertips. Use these performance analytics to identify patterns or trends that are directly relevant to your win/loss ratio. Understand why revenue targets aren’t being met and look for KPIs that are continually falling beneath chosen benchmarks.
Create unified buyer documentation
There is zero value in siloed audience identification. It is essential that sales and marketing teams collaborate to target the same type of lead; otherwise, effort and time are wasted. Miscommunication over – or even abandoning – the outlined ideal customer profile (ICP) or buyer persona can have a severe impact on the top of the funnel, touching everything from lead generation to quota attainment.
Both teams need to feel involved in the buyer identification process – but not just for the sake of morale. Different schools of thought bring different values and insights. Perspective from both sides is always relevant in the alignment conversation.
Marketing data has a place in the ICP identification process. Insight into keyword searches, SEO and buyer intent data solidifies reach, messaging, tonality and targeted advertising processes. Whereas sales will have concise data on deals won, what worked on similar accounts and how customers have moved through the pipeline previously.
Combined, marketing and sales metrics create holistic and heavily sought-after datasets that account for the entire customer journey. This “fuller picture” shouldn’t be swept under the rug for the sake of pride. Collaboration also ensures consistent focus. Salespeople have been known to start at an outlined persona and then wander in chase of quota or commission – leaving both parties firing in completely different directions.
Today’s buyer expects sellers to build rapport quickly and provide value by actively anticipating their needs. Understanding their behavioral patterns and consumer habits is essential to effective segmentation – but 52% of professionals say a lack of sufficient data is a stumbling block. By establishing a defined ICP from minute one, businesses can invest in the right prospect data and effectively segment their audiences for improved targeting and better ROE.
Set shared goals and establish SLAs
Confident marketing and sales alignment nearly always begins with setting the tracks for success between both teams. Without an agreed idea for what success looks like and how it can be measured, there’s no identity for business outcomes.
Fostering better collaboration ensures that both parties are held accountable to the same overarching revenue goals. The only way to achieve that is to satisfy both sides with shared objectives from the onset. Neither team has a greater purpose in the pipeline – both are equally accountable and valuable. Setting expectations early and collaboratively will ensure both teams are pulling in the same direction with the same core targets in mind. There will naturally be sector-specific micro KPIs that don’t align – but these should be known and clearly communicated.
Centralize assets and improve communication
It is impossible to align a sales and marketing operation without good communication. In fact, 49% say communication breakdown is the greatest culprit for misalignment. Better communication starts with working from the same centralized points: Shared documentation, shared buyer personas, one reporting sheet and one goal. Key reporting data and collateral should not be concealed from another vested department for any reason.
Feedback, results and goals should fall under one umbrella. Otherwise, people take personal agendas over combined targets, which are far easier to achieve when teams are aligned. Having shared, centralized assets also boosts transparency across your business, with data to identify pitfalls, understand how they arise, and resolve them without creating conflict. Friction between teams can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary in order to grow. Complacency and acceptance of failing processes dulls your competitive edge.
Accountability, transparency and honesty are too often labeled as “blame culture.” Businesses discourage conflict early for fear of internal politics and high turnover. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with conflict – it just needs to be carried out in a constructive way.
In the case of sales and marketing alignment, failures very rarely fall at the feet of a single individual. If a deal does fall through, both sides have their part to play. If one team’s work isn’t being done to the set standard, it’s equally the other team’s job to recognize this and hold them to account. This should not be seen as adversarial.
Effective conversation allows leaders to diagnose strategy pains early and give feedback without bitterness or gossip. Difficult conversations shouldn’t be snubbed for the sake of respect or acceptance; they should be embraced with an approach that is constructive, respectful and helps both departments move forward – instead of plateauing.
Trust your team to do their job
While there’s a clear advantage to combining the efforts of your sales and marketing teams, the lines shouldn’t blur too closely. Salespeople and marketers hold their titles for a reason.
No one department should lead the show. No one is “in charge” – it’s entirely collective. If one sector is given authority over the other, it can be patronizing. Neither sales nor marketing has greater weight in the pipeline. It’s about creating collaboration, not opposition.
However, it’s equally important that your teams share their insights. If sales reps require knowledge and data from marketing, openly offer it. There’s no reason to hide information from either side for personal pride. Build a culture that dismantles competitiveness between departments.
Salespeople and marketers shouldn’t assume that the information they’re concealing is irreplaceable either. It isn’t. What is irreplaceable is the ability to offer insight across your business on a focused level.
Align for success
Sales relies on marketing as much as marketing relies on sales. Alignment fails when organizations fail to embrace this culture.
The marketing world is forever evolving. Its role in the sales pipeline increases on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean it threatens the sales sector. Marketing will never be able to solve that final piece of the puzzle – but what it can do is shred the time the lead generation process takes and supply high-quality warm leads – ready to be wined, dined and closed. Both sales and marketing need to recognize this in order to establish any stable partnership.
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Take the heavy lift off your team and prevent internal conflict from bottlenecking revenue generation. Contact us today.
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Originally from Iver in the United Kingdom, Christina has 25+ years in sales and operations, the majority of which has been at board level. Those who have met Christina would agree that she strives for operational excellence on a daily basis, consistently working in her role as SVP of Sales Services to develop the individuals and teams as a whole.