MarketingBuzz: Close deals faster with marketing and sales alignment

Irving Frydman, Marketing Communications Strategist and Chief Brand Enthusiast

Irving Frydman, Marketing Communications Strategist and Chief Brand Enthusiast

One of the most pressing issues for marketing and sales executives is how to align their Marketing and Sales departments.  Winning companies are experiencing top line revenue growth and faster sales velocity within their pipelines – deals are closing faster. According to a 2011 research study by the Aberdeen Group, “best-in-class” companies exhibiting Marketing and Sales alignment showed an astounding  31.6% average year-over-year annual revenue growth versus a 6.7% average decrease in revenues for “laggard” organizations.  Top companies display a number of key attributes: process and message alignment, common lead definitions, marketing-to-sales cycle unity, and shared Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

For the vast majority of companies there is a long-standing departmental disconnect commonly described as: “Marketing is from Venus, and Sales is from Mars.” What are the reasons for this? For one, Marketing sees the world with broader brush strokes, generally at the market segment level. Sales want to focus on the individual customer value proposition.  Branding and awareness building campaigns are customary functions for Marketers and have longer time horizons, compared to the short-term quarterly quotas of Sales.

Marketers have been hard pressed to show their value, while Sales by nature of their job function generate more observable revenue streams. According to analyst firm IDC, Marketers have historically not demonstrated financial management acumen in budget planning and management, and endured inconsistent processes and a lack of knowledge in Marketing ROI.  Fortunately, this is changing today by growing adoption in a wide array of Marketing Automation platforms, including Marketing Resource Management (MRM) applications for the planning, design, and production of marketing campaigns.  MRM systems also include project and budget management and results tracking.  Marketers can now better demonstrate how they contribute to organizational goals. Well known MRM solution providers include Aprimo (acquired by Teradata) and Assetlink (acquired by SAS).

If we were to identify the number one issue for Marketing and Sales alignment it is the lack of shared processes and goals. Begin by looking at the many campaign ideas and proposals generated within your Sales, Marketing, and Partner ecosystem and put them through a formal vetting and governance process. Marketing and Sales should meet on a regular, weekly basis as part of a “Demand Gen Council’ – this fosters productivity, but more so nourishes relationship building between both groups. Create a “Campaign Approval Form” and have a clear understanding of goals, messaging, target audiences, and budgets.  Once a campaign is approved, the fun begins with content generation and execution (tactics), followed by measuring results and tracking revenues.

Sounds simple enough, but there can also be challenges in the coordination and alignment of the marketing-to-sales lead funnel. Generally, too much emphasis is placed on quantity of leads by Marketing, while Sales is more concerned with quality.  Many Marketers are also guilty of passing along leads (the Sales handoff) too early in the sales funnel, whereas a deeper funnel focus incorporating “lead nurturing” and “lead scoring” would likely produce more conversions and faster sales cycles.  In leading organizations, the ownership of the customer relationship along the entire funnel is shared by Marketing and Sales.

Interestingly, the movement of the prospect through the funnel is not always linear, but in reality can be recycled back into a nurturing mode by Sales at any stage. Marketing then needs to work its magic to nurture the lead again.   Check out Lead Management Automation (LMA) software from companies such as Eloqua, HubSpot, and Marketo.

How do we visualize and improve pipeline performance?  A popular framework is the Demand Creation Waterfall, by analyst-research firm Sirius Decisions.  Begin Marketing and Sales discussions by asking the important question: “What constitutes a lead?”  Expand your definitions and taxonomy to also include:  Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), Sales Accepted Leads (SALs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs).  Before you know it, you will be using demand generation buzz words such as sales enablement, lead acceleration, content marketing, and more.

Once you have a framework and a coordinated marketing-to-sales process in place, concentrate on Sales Enablement: providing the right information to the right person in the right place of the buying cycle.  It’s essentially a content delivery strategy that includes key messaging for creating high value customer conversations – a key imperative for all successful Marketing and Sales organizations.  I’ll delve deeper into Sales Enablement in an upcoming article on the content strategies and tools savvy Marketers are using to accelerate new business.

In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts and experiences in Marketing and Sales alignment.