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You ever go to a horrible family event and everything is tense? And then, at the most random possible moment — like a fork drops — suddenly someone explodes? If you’ve never been to such an event, consider yourself lucky. If you have, and you’ve also worked in a sales and/or marketing role in your career, you might see some parallels.

The relationship between sales and marketing is tense. Always has been. Doesn’t have to be, but always seems to be. It goes something like this:

Sales: “These leads are old and cold! This content doesn’t convert!”

Marketing: “Our content is amazing and speaks to journey! They’re using it wrong!”

And on and on. What now?

How you know “sales vs. marketing” is a thing

Because the industry has created two buzzwords for it:

  • “Sales enablement,” which just means getting the two departments on the same page
  • “Smarketing,” which means the same

When buzzwords are being created and people on LinkedIn are allowed to say they are a “smarketing expert,” that’s when you know we’ve arrived at a place where everyone admits the relationship between sales and marketing isn’t ideal.

The stats on sales vs. marketing

“Marketers are from Venus and salespeople are from Mars,” according to a popular HubSpot article.  For example – in that same study – 40 percent of marketers admitted not knowing what a sales-qualified lead is, and 59 percent of marketers noted they have no formal agreement with sales in terms of the responsibilities of both teams.

Yes, a majority of companies are yet to align sales and marketing. Aaron Ross stated recently: “Marketing’s goal should be to generate leads and $, not build your brand or make you look pretty.” Has this message arrived in all marketing departments yet?

This is all relevant to the bottom line: Via research from Aberdeen Group, companies with strong sales and marketing alignment achieve a 20 percent annual growth rate. Companies with poor sales and marketing alignment tend to have a 4 percent revenue decline.

Similarly: 77% of top-performing companies (by revenue) have reported that their sales and marketing teams have a healthy relationship.

If good money is on the line, why is the relationship unhealthy?

Let’s be honest for a minute: the reason it doesn’t happen is fairly logical. Sales and marketing often have different leaders, different accountability metrics, and different ways of being evaluated. Work evaluations can be subjective as is, and people tend to prioritize what their chain of command is prioritizing. When sales and marketing have different priorities, alignment is very challenging.

That’s the first step — and it’s one that many companies never take. You need to align the priorities and goals of sales with those of marketing. If each silo is chasing its own goals and targets, they will never cohesively align. It’s unfortunately that simple.

So how we could better align sales and marketing teams?

Like most things, it’s going to come back to …

Communication: Sales and marketing need to have at least one “all-hands” meeting per month, and possibly even more than that. The meeting should be kept fairly short – 1 hour or less – with three items on the agenda:

  • Key metrics – set expectations in both directions
  • Airing any process issues in a safe space. Describe the challenges of any process (don’t try to fix challenge right there — make it safe and manageable by just listening, and by fixing stuff later)
  • Understanding the vocabulary of both teams

The vocabulary aspect is important because many sales and marketing alignment issues are caused by differing business languages. If these meetings contain a refresher on how sales, talks about concepts vs. how marketing talks about concepts, that can be very beneficial.

For example, some in an all-hands meeting may refer to “MQLs” (marketing-qualified leads) and some may refer to “SQLs” (sales-qualified leads). Those can be different in the eyes of each specific organization, but it’s important to get some consistency around what “a lead” is, if nothing else. This can help define disagreements in the future.

The idea of “key metrics” should be occurring more frequently than just these meetings, and should be bi-directional. Marketing should present leads with some context — how they entered, their current situation, etc. and sales should be evaluating leads back to marketing with an explanation of what worked and what didn’t.

Some key questions to continually ask

  • How often do marketing and sales meet?
  • Who is the point person for what type of content sales needs?
  • Who is the point person to explain back to marketing what’s working and what’s not?
  • Where are the shared/collaborative areas for content and timelines?
  • How aligned have they been in the past, and what steps are being taken going forward?
  • What are the incentives each department has?

The bottom line on sales vs. marketing

The problem can be solved. Clearly some companies are solving it, and they’re seeing strong revenue growth — as opposed to companies running in circles on the same old BS and seeing 4% revenue drops. Now that you know some of the stats and approaches, next week Martin is going to give some of his first-person viewpoints on the challenges of sales/marketing working together and how he’s seen it resolved in the past.

Ted Bauer
About the author

I help companies to market their content in the most effective way.

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