Sales and marketing alignment - real or all in our heads?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher December 3, 2019
We talk about sales and marketing alignment constantly, but how much progress have we really made? Barb Mosher Zinck crunches some fresh data from LeadMD and Drift, shedding light on the factors that lead to successful alignment - or not.


I spent some time looking through the LeadMD/Drift Sales and Marketing Alignment, Benchmarking and Insights Report to see what organizations think about the relationship between these two groups.

The report is a combination of a survey and insights from two focus groups: one with Sales leaders and the other with Marketing leaders. It produced some interesting findings, including the idea that alignment and agreement are not equal.

What does alignment really mean?

Meaningful alignment, according to the report, occurs when revenue growth is achieved. And revenue growth is achieved when there are both a healthy pipeline and strong performance.

It’s promising that 53% of respondents said they were very well aligned, and 66% said they were well aligned. But here’s the not so funny thing: some of these respondents showed negative performance and/or pipeline.

The sales and marketing leaders were also asked to rate the importance of 70 factors on the alignment. The five KPIs most commonly cited and correlated to feelings of alignment were:

  1. Sales generated leads
  2. New customer revenue/bookings
  3. Marketing generated leads
  4. Opportunity volume
  5. Profit margin

But then there’s this: they cited these KPIs as important - even when the results of those KPIs were not good.

In the focus groups, sales and marketing executives spoke mostly positive about each group, except a small group of leaders in charge of both sales and marketing, where alignment was not considered good.

What is the point here? Agreement does not equal alignment. It’s great that these two groups are getting along and finding agreement on key KPIs and goals - it’s critical, in fact. But just because they respect each other and what they do, doesn’t mean they are aligned in a way that drives positive business outcomes.

Who’s doing a good job, and why?

The report introduced the SMAX: Sales and Marketing Meaningful Alignment Index that plots operational sales and marketing alignment against a set of benchmarks. What sets the leaders apart from the laggards according to this index and the participants?

Leaders rate very important:

  • upsell and opportunity value KPIs
  • brand awareness
  • regular customer visits/calls at least once per quarter by marketing

Leaders also focus on “intentional internal alignment,” bringing sales and marketing teams together physically and conceptually. Some, according to the report, even collaborate on the creation and management of budget and spending.

Other things leaders do include: joint work on account planning and targeting, or they rely on marketing with strong input from sales.

On the other side, laggards have some issues, particularly around disjointed technology. They don’t have measurement and attribution figured out, account and contact data is owned by marketing alone, as is marketing automation, sales automation ownership is unclear, and lead routing is owned by sales.

How to get sales and marketing aligned?

You don’t have to do account-based marketing to get your sales and marketing teams aligned, although it does help. But you can take a few pages from the ABM playbook and apply it to your other programs.

The most important thing you do is ensure that each team is constantly in communication with the other team. To bridge the silos that are often typical of B2B organizations, you need to find ways that improve communication. It could be as simple as having the teams work in the same location, or have regular weekly or biweekly meetings.

In the webinar, The New Role of B2B Marketing, Jon Miller, CEO of Engagio, said that marketing and sales need to redefine how they work together as a team. So, for example, instead of thinking like a relay team, one team handing the baton to the next, think more like a football or hockey team. Each person on the team has a role to play, but the team works together to find a way to put the ball (or puck) in the net.

He pointed out that marketing is no longer the sole owner of the top of the funnel, but also that it has a bigger role to play later in the journey as well. There are many salespeople working on lead generation strategies that should align with marketing’s lead gen strategies. And, there are many opportunities for marketing to develop campaigns and content that work for much later in the funnel where sales spend the bulk of their time.

Miller suggested the idea of ABM standups where every week or two, the account executive, SDR (Sales development rep), and assigned ABM marketers meet and talk about target accounts, including how to deal with cold accounts, warm ones, and active opportunities. Even if you aren’t following a defined account-based marketing process, you could have this kind of relationship between sales and marketing with demand generation and lead generation programs.

What goes along with improving communications is the sharing of data between teams, and the use of technology that provides data and content that helps sales improve the selling process and helps marketing improve the content and campaigns they develop. The technology includes CRM, marketing automation, and sales engagement software, all working together on the same datasets.

My take

The most successful companies I’ve worked with have recognized the need for tighter alignment between sales and marketing. But how well that alignment was depended a lot on the shared processes and information between the teams.

One client holds regular meetings with sales and marketing together so that both are aware of what the other is doing and how each can provide input into the activities and processes of the other. They also share a common dataset of accounts and contacts, and are working on developing a content inventory that sales can easily leverage in their communications. It wasn’t always this way, it took time and a vision from the marketing leader to make it happen.

As Miller put it, B2B marketers must embrace a new way of working with sales that sees both groups working closely at all stages of the buyer’s journey. That alignment takes more than words of respect for each other, it requires integrated processes and technology, and I expect we’ll see more of both in the next few years.

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