I recently joined in a debate on LinkedIn about who owns Sales and Marketing alignment. My answer: um, Sales and Marketing do. Many argued the CEO must. But I disagree.

The question was posed by Dan McDade on LinkedIn, and in full, Dan asked:

“When sales and marketing are not on the same page (market definition, criteria for leads, definition of success / metrics), who owns the fix?”

The arguments that the CEO owns this fix are compelling:

  • Marketing lacks the ‘ticker’ to take Sales on (they usually lose)
  • Lack of alignment is caused by disagreement or confusion (and won’t self-solve)
  • Poor alignment is too big an issue to not be on the CEO’s A-list
  • The CEO hired the heads of both departments, so he / she has to fix it
  • The metrics are at the root of the issue, and the CEO owns the metrics for the respective leaders.

All of these are legitimate arguments. But the CEO of a well-run business is responsible for the environement in which his / her charges succeed, and can not keep fixing other people’s problems.

When alignment first appeared on the A-list for marketers, it didn’t do so for Sales. Marketing wanted a seat at the table, and sought alignment, but Sales had largely given up on Marketing. So alignment was a one-sided (and very short) conversation. In 2004 this started changing and we decided to dig into the topic a bit. Together with MarketingProfs.com, we did deep-dive surveys with 1390 companies from 84 countries, and learned more than we had hoped. The sales and marketing report is a little dated now, but the summary still makes for good reading. We later published an eBook with Eloqua entitled ‘Give Marketing a Sales Quota’ and have used that title for a couple of webinars since.

Our conclusions at the time were that alignment is not about structure, understanding, or being nice to each other. The ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ argument didn’t stack up. In fact the best-aligned companies (who were putting on 5.4% of growth above their peers – e.g. 15.4% v 10%) saw structure as a very low priority.

Now, back to the CEO. While he or she might see this as an A-priority for the business, ‘gifting’ the heads of Sales and Marketing with the answer won’t help. They need to be jointly held accountable to a select set of funnel metrics top to bottom. Don’t let Sales own revenue and Marketing own leads, or Marketing will give loads of poor quality leads which Sales will ignore. Simple, but go look at the measures you have in place now. Have you inadvertently created exactly this measurement standoff?

Measure Marketing on revenue (from its leads) and measure Sales on early-funnel conversion of those same leads. Get the heads of Sales and Marketing in a room together and don’t let them out until they agree the end to end process for finding, positioning, troubling, translating that to a clear need, proposing, gaining preference and winning.

And if they are going to agree tactics, and objectives, they probably should agree the strategy first (where are we pointing this thing again?) and the measures need to be stage by stage, month by month, and for a long time.

The CEO can’t ‘gift’ this level of detail to the heads of these critical revenue departments. He or she can define what they must agree, and must be responsible for hiring or building leaders capable of reaching this agreement. CEO-as-Superman doesn’t work.