Digital Transformation / Strategic Planning


We’ve talked tangentially about how sales and marketing interact, including the tension that sometimes occurs between departments. However, in too many organizations, sales and marketing have a less than perfect level of coordination. Everybody has ideas about why they can’t get along but few organizations think deeply about solutions to the problem. This is unfortunate because research shows that organizations with well-aligned sales and marketing departments have much higher annual growth than less aligned organizations. For that reason, a major goal of your marketing transformation should be to build an interlocked relationship between the two.

Defining the Marketing Mission

Start off by having your chief executive officer (CEO) define the intended role for each team. Does marketing have its own revenue target? Does marketing primarily exist to fill the pipeline for sales to close? Does marketing need to do both? Depending on which scenario it is, you can tailor your marketing to be optimally aligned to that goal.

The reason why goals are so important is that executing each of these goals requires marketing to behave in a different fashion. Building the pipeline for sellers, for instance, often involves account-based, regionally-segmented, or otherwise tailored marketing where coordination with individual sellers and customization per segment is critical. Marketing created revenue, however, is often focused on acquiring new customers (often called “getting into the white space,” as in the white margins of a page that’s been written on in the middle) with a lower level of tailoring since there is often less knowledge about the target buyers.

Lack of clarity on who does what is a common source of conflict. So, regardless of which marketing mission your organization selects, make sure both sales and marketing are aware of the mission marketing has been given. As part of that conversation, define what the boundaries of the marketing mission entail so there is no sliding down slippery slopes later.

If your leadership somehow doesn’t already have strong views on the marketing mission, you might want to suggest what most organizations follow, namely executing the traditional “marketing fills the sales pipeline” model. You find the idea of “marketing needs to build the sales pipe and create its own revenue” too compelling to pass up but, since you are working on a marketing transformation as well, I suggest you keep your scope to having marketing fill the sales pipeline and then, once that has been sufficiently mastered, add on a marketing-created revenue target.

Know Each Other’s Numbers

Measuring how well your organization is doing in reaching its goals is critical. A great deal of that involves having correct data – and not just for the portion of the buying process that marketing owns. Confirm that marketing has the correct data on such things as average selling price, average rate at which sales closes a sale, and other data that you need to estimate if your marketing funnel is adequate to meet your revenue targets.

A single, end-to-end set of data allows marketing to track its performance properly but it also allows marketing to know when the funnel assumptions are no longer valid. After all, a dip in the average close rate will impact overall revenue just as surely as a lower than expected number of impressions. Of course, this also means that sales will need to know what assumptions they can count on from marketing (i.e., number of validated leads being sent their way each month, etc.).

Any drops below assumed numbers will require the marketing department to notify sales and the executive leadership team that the revenue goal is in jeopardy, which is never pleasant but absolutely necessary so that course corrections can be put in place right away.

Set “Service Level Agreements” Together

We’ve talked previously about how important it is to talk to sales about key definitions from the sales perspective that marketers need to be successful (such as understanding what a well-qualified lead is from the perspective of sales so that marketers can aim to provide just those and not waste time and money on leads that will just be rejected). In the section above, we also talked about how important it is to understand the key data points that “belong” mostly to sales (such as the rate at which sellers close a sale). However, some metrics are so critical to progressing the buyer through the purchasing process that they need to be determined by sales and marketing together.

Marketing has a vested interest in influencing some key elements related to the buyer’s journey, such as the number and type of follow up touches that each lead will get before the seller gives up or how long is too long for a seller to wait to follow up on a lead he has received. The progression from the Exploration stage of the buying cycle to the Selection is typically mapped out by marketing but this progression cannot happen without the seller successfully navigating the hand-off between the two departments. For that reason, I think of these jointly agreed upon numbers almost as negotiated service level agreements between the two departments.

Communicate Constantly

Set up regular touchpoints between sales and marketing to review programs and performance. During the first of these meetings, ensure that you an agreed upon way of measuring lead response time, lead volume handled, and so on. Otherwise, it will always be a “he said, she said” and different versions of the truth. For future meetings, once you’ve reviewed the funnel data and everyone sees the same thing (versus finger pointing based on one team’s data versus the other), coordinate on a plan to attack the problem together. As a side benefit, these regular touchpoints also help you build a generally stronger relationship with sales by sheer frequency of exposure.

Comments are welcome, especially if you have examples of how your organization’s sales and marketing are aligned.

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