Harvard Business review

Are Your Marketing and Sales Teams on the Same Page?

Sales-marketing misalignment is estimated to cost businesses more than $1 trillion each year. When sales and marketing teams are aligned, not only will the company perform better, but these teams will notice an increased speed of change, more creative problem-solving, and better employee retention. The author identifies how to spot misalignment between sales and marketing teams, and suggests the following strategies to get them on the same page: 1) Audit the content you have to enable revenue generation; 2) Have marketing team members shadow sales calls; 3) Hold regular brainstorming sessions with sales and marketing team members; and 4) Provide the sales team with knowledge about prospects for their sales calls.

Throughout the pandemic, businesses have needed to continuously adapt as customer needs and preferences evolve. But that quick adaptation is difficult when the business lacks alignment between the departments that most frequently speak to potential customers: sales and marketing.

When sales and marketing teams aren’t aligned, both suffer: In fact, sales-marketing misalignment is estimated to cost businesses more than $1 trillion each year. Why? This misalignment can lead to a lack of trust and understanding between the two departments, which makes every step of working together more difficult and, therefore, slower.

When businesses need to adapt their sales or marketing efforts quickly, misalignment that costs the company a day or two can mean big changes to business outcomes, like fewer sales and lost revenue.

Identifying Alignment and Misalignment

Because of the potential impacts on revenue, it’s important for business leaders to recognize what functional and dysfunctional sales-marketing alignment look like in practice.

Let’s start by looking at misalignment around objectives. Imagine a company’s salespeople are having conversations with leads that enlighten them about their buyers’ changing business operations — and the new needs that are resulting — but they aren’t sharing this information quickly with the marketing team. If the marketing team doesn’t know about prospective customers’ changing needs, they can’t create content or campaigns to address these updated pain points. That means all the sales collateral is outdated.

Misalignment can stem just as easily from the marketing side of the equation. For example, a marketing team might have noticed that the website’s blog posts addressing certain buyer pain points are spiking in traffic as people search for solutions online. But if they aren’t communicating these trends to the sales team, the salespeople taking calls might not know to mention solutions for those fresh pain points — potentially losing buyers.

In both examples, the lack of communication and an effective feedback loop is causing both teams to lose opportunities — leading to fewer sales and less revenue for the organization.

When sales and marketing teams have a system for proper alignment, though, the company will notice a few key benefits:

  • Increased speed of change: When two teams are aligned and collaborating regularly, it’s easier to make strategic changes quickly. A consistent feedback loop means that both teams have all the necessary context to hit the ground running on conversations about what they need from each other.
  • Creative problem-solving: Often, people in sales and marketing roles have different perspectives and ways of thinking. When they are aligned on objectives, they’ll contribute those different perspectives to help solve any problems that might arise, which can lead to more creative solutions.
  • Employee retention: Salespeople don’t want to work where they lack support from marketing; they view that support as necessary to succeed in their roles. And marketers don’t want to work where they don’t receive respect from the sales team or where their hard work doesn’t result in closed sales. Ensuring alignment, trust, and respect between these two departments makes it more likely that employees will want to continue working together.

Aligning Marketing and Sales

A whopping 90% of sales and marketing professionals report misalignment in terms of strategy, process, culture, and content in their organizations, and nearly all respondents of the same survey believe this harms the business and its customers. What’s more, 97% of those same respondents reported difficulties with messaging and content in particular; the top complaints included content created by marketing without the sales team’s input, content focused on pushing products rather than solving leads’ problems, and content that doesn’t move prospects through the buyer’s journey.

To combat these problems, companies can ensure the sales and marketing teams become (and remain) aligned on their shared objectives — and that marketing collateral supports the sales team’s efforts — by implementing the following strategies.

1. Audit the content you have to enable revenue generation.

The pandemic has changed B2B buyers’ behavior, with one third of buyers spending more time on pre-purchase research but one quarter of buyers spending less time talking with vendors. Sales and marketing teams need to think more strategically about the content they’re sending B2B buyers about products and services because buyers are relying more heavily on written information in their decision-making.

The first step in strategizing is to audit available sales enablement content and how it’s being used. First, take an inventory of your content stock so you can avoid duplicating efforts. Make a note of what collateral you have and what content you lack by having your marketing and sales teams work together to answer the following questions:

  • What content do you have now that does the heavy lifting in terms of sales enablement?
  • What content is outdated and requires revisions?
  • What questions do prospects and leads frequently ask the sales team?
  • Who’s reading the content currently — and who should be reading it? What content can you create to attract that desired audience?
  • Should the sales team be more involved in lending their insights for content?

The goal is to map your content to your objectives so you can see what’s being used well, what’s underused, and what content may not be meeting expectations so you can determine whether your sales and marketing teams need to realign their content strategy.

2. Have marketing team members shadow sales calls.

Cross-department shadowing, such as having marketing team members periodically shadow sales calls, can ensure that your sales and marketing teams are aligned. It can also spark topic ideas for great sales enablement content.

Here’s how you can implement this in your company:

  • Ask marketing team members to listen to sales calls on a regular cadence, like once a month.
  • Invite the marketing team to the sales team’s sales call debrief meetings or other sales-related hangouts.
  • Include sales call shadowing in your training processes for new marketing hires.

Not only does this help the marketing team learn how they can best create campaigns to aid the sales team; it also allows sales teams to gain an outside perspective on their everyday work. The marketing team might be able to suggest more relevant sales collateral to send leads, uncover gaps in the sales process, and even detect customer pain points the sales team hadn’t considered. All of those insights can lead to a more streamlined sales process.

3. Hold regular brainstorming sessions with sales and marketing team members.

Another way to get sales and marketing into the same room is to schedule recurring brainstorming sessions. The brainstorming goal could be to discuss prospects, shore up gaps in the sales process, or develop topics for white papers or webinars. Regardless, set an agenda ahead of time so both teams can prepare and bring relevant data points. During the sessions, you might discuss questions like:

  • What common questions do prospects ask during the sales process?
  • What sales-related questions are time-consuming to answer?
  • What are the common barriers to prospects moving forward in the sales process?
  • What’s the most common piece of content salespeople email to leads? What does the subject line say?
  • What kind of content do salespeople search for in our vault but fail to find?
  • What verbiage has the sales team used about the company, product, or service that resonated with prospects?

The goal of these brainstorming sessions is to uncover insights that can help replicate wins and shake loose content ideas that will support future sales.

4. Provide the sales team with knowledge about prospects for their sales calls.

If your marketing team uses marketing automation software, they likely have a lot of information on prospective buyers that the sales team lacks. Create a process to allow the sales team to access key background information on the people they’ve booked phone calls with. The marketing team probably has information on leads that a salesperson would find valuable, including:

  • How the lead learned about the company. Website form submissions often include this question, so it’s a matter of extracting this information from the marketing automation software. Alternately, the sales team could see how the lead first arrived on the company’s website (e.g., organic search, direct traffic, or a referral link). The source will shed light on the lead’s intent and possible readiness to buy.
  • What content the lead engaged with on your site before filling out a contact form or downloading a piece of content. This can tell the sales team what solutions the prospect is most interested in and what topics they’re already educated on so the salesperson can prepare for the sales call accordingly.
  • What information the lead provided in a contact form. This could include title, available budget, and company size.

Ultimately, getting sales and marketing aligned starts with instilling a shared culture of cooperation by creating processes that remind the teams of their shared objectives and encourage mutual feedback. With that, you can avoid the sales-marketing misalignment that plagues so many organizations and forces them to leave so much money on the table.

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