In another lifetime while managing the purchasing department at a large home-building company I inherited the task of overseeing the implementation of an online software program that construction managers in the field were to use in scheduling and paying vendors. For 2003 such an application of technology in an industry that’s a slow adopter anyway was considered radical. In theory the software claimed it would reduce build-time and issue checks faster. Reality, however, was another matter. Remember I said I inherited this project. The guy before me was let go, so no pressure.
Naturally the grizzled construction managers who relied on phones and faxes to get homes built blamed the technology. It was too impractical and full of glitches. The contractors were equally distrustful. For them the software doubled scheduled their crews and issued the wrong payment amounts. Since this initiative was dictated by corporate, pulling the plug was not an option, and thus, getting to the root of things fell to me. After digging into the matter I soon discovered that the problem was us and had nothing to do with the software whatsoever.
As a general principle when implementing new technology organizations need to ensure their manual processes are as simple as possible before someone ever clicks on a mouse. This had not previously happened. Our related manual processes were overly complicated and inefficient, and the scheduling software only amplified that dysfunction. It took some time, but once we fixed our broken processes, the construction managers and vendors warmed to the software, and in turn, it yielded the intended results.
The misconception that technology will somehow solve a company’s persistent problems is still prevalent today particularly when it comes to sales and marketing alignment. It’s almost unheard of for a sales-driven organization to function without some form of CRM; at the same time companies have nearly doubled their spend on marketing automation over the past five years and by all indications they will continue to do so in the next five. Yet despite the many benefits these two basic platforms offer, even when integrated together they do not ensure the alignment of the sales and marketing functions, and furthermore, as with my opening example, may even create more problems such as lost sales opportunities, an outcome companies can’t afford to squander.
The flip side of this is that when sales and marketing are truly aligned the outcomes are impressive. The Aberdeen Group’s March 2014 report, Sales and Marketing Alignment: A Primer on Successful Collaboration, found that, of what they classified as “Best-in-Class” companies, 77% had a strong functional relationship between sales and marketing with 99% of those companies reaching their overall sales quota for the year. These companies also reported a 13.1% year-over-year increase in revenue while 33% noted a reduction in the sales cycle compared to the prior year. In another recent study involving over 1,400 participants across 84 countries, MathMarketing found that those businesses with the greatest alignment grew faster than did similar companies within their industry, and they closed 38% more deals while losing 36% fewer customers.
These results make a compelling case for aligning sales and marketing, but for many the question then becomes how exactly to go about getting these two entities in sync. Like with the implementation of the scheduling software a lot of groundwork needs to be covered before companies can ever hope to get the maximum benefit from their CRM and marketing automation tools. Specifically there are four key areas that need to be addressed once you have management’s buy-in.
- Sales and marketing’s efforts both must match to the Buyer’s Journey: This is the starting point. If your marketing team is targeting initiatives at the awareness, consideration, and decision stages of the Buyer’s Journey while your sales team is cold-calling from lists then things are seriously misaligned. Instead, get both parties on the same page and work out who does what and when. Keep in mind the Internet has empowered customers to research and form opinions before making a purchase decision, so early on during the awareness and consideration stages marketing will need to do a lot of work to attract and qualify leads before handing them over for sales to close come time to make a decision. This naturally leads to the next area.
- There must be mutual agreement on key definitions, behaviors, and triggers: Ask someone from your marketing and sales teams to tell you what a lead is and you will get a wide range of answers which becomes the crux of confusion in who is responsible for a lead and when. Clear definitions need to be established for what constitutes a lead, a marketing qualified lead (MQL), and a sales qualified lead (SQL). Much of this will hinge on what actions and behaviors signal a lead’s progression through the Buyer’s Journey or even what disqualifies them as non-prospect. Be precise in defining the triggers that mark the increased fit and interest of a lead and when exactly the handover between marketing and sales should occur. This will require time and regular feedback to refine things. Most software platforms have tools for this such as lead scoring, but defining terms and behaviors needs to be established first before those tools can ever be helpful.
- There should be a single (or limited) point of data entry and a system for closed-loop reporting: Admittedly, this is a bit of personal commentary, but statistically speaking, the more people you have entering data into a system the greater the probability for mistakes. Depending on your setup, if one sale person is entering information one way and another sales person is putting in the same information their own way then it could mess up your reporting. Limiting data entry to a single or minimal points allows for better standardization and, therefore, greater trust in data-based reporting. It’s also easier to manage and stay disciplined in maintaining data over the long term as you track a prospect from lead to client. Identify the entry point(s) early on and as with #2, make sure definitions of the data and how it’s entered are clear.
- Transparency and two-way communication on planning and reporting is essential: The left and right hands definitely need to know what the other is doing on several levels. For starters, sales needs to provide feedback on lead quality while marketing needs to know the questions and concerns qualified leads are mentioning to sales. On another level, marketing should not only be aware of the sales team’s quotas, but should also commit to providing specific numbers of visitors, leads, MQL’s and SQL’s necessary to meet those quotas. Finally, your CRM and marketing automation platforms should be integrated and equally accessible by each department to pull reports that, assuming you followed points 2 and 3, should produce trustworthy data on which solid decisions can be made and both entities can be kept accountable.
Alignment of your sales and marketing teams won’t happen overnight. It will require patience and refinement. However, if you can’t agree on these four areas, then don’t plan on technology saving the day or getting you the results that companies with true alignment are achieving.