It would be hard to find anyone prepared to argue against the benefits of sales and marketing alignment. It’s a proven fact (we’ll come on to the results in a moment) that well-aligned organisations grow revenues faster. So, if alignment is such a good thing, why is it so difficult to achieve?
I’d like to share some of my conclusions about why alignment often proves difficult – and offer you some ideas that could help you improve it.

Why bother getting aligned?

According to the Aberdeen Group, the top reasons for improving sales and marketing alignment are – in ascending order – to improve forecast accuracy, to increase conversion rates, to shorten sales cycle and, most important of all, to increase top line revenues.
According to the same report, the benefits are often profound: in well-aligned organisations marketing generates 3 times the pipeline value compared to laggards. Perhaps even more convincing, revenue growth in these well-aligned organisations is on average 39% faster than in laggards.

What’s holding you back?

But there’s a problem: in most organisations, sales and marketing simply don’t get on. Eloqua found that 85% of the language used by sales and marketing when talking about each other was negative. Some have fatuously suggested that this is because “sales is from Mars, but marketing is from Venus”.
There is clearly an issue: at the risk of over-simplifying, when you ask marketing what they want from sales, it’s often to be treated with respect. Ask sales the same question, and many will say that they simply want marketing to do what sales wants – and stop all of that fluffy branding nonsense.
In fact, there are good reasons to suggest that branding should not be marketing’s top priority. The Corporate Executive Board found that branding, the product and pricing, even when combined together, were less important in influencing B2B buying behaviour than the quality of the sales experience.

Bringing sales and marketing together

Here’s what I recommend you do: get your smartest sales and marketing brains together in a room with copious supplies of coffee, flipchart paper and marker pens, and don’t let them out until they have agreed on three things:
  • What do our ideal customers look like? Don’t, whatever you do, accept a flimsy response based on traditional demographic thinking (size, sector, location). These factors are close to useless for this purpose. Insist that you brains trust really digs into the detail and identifies the structural, behavioural and situational factors that really separate your most promising prospects from the also-rans
  • Which roles are involved in the decision process? Most complex high-value B2B sales environments involve multiple stakeholders from operational, technical and commercial backgrounds. What are their likely titles, responsibilities, issues, concerns and motivations? What questions are they likely to want answered during the buying process? What questions from us would we like them to answer?
  • What are your most valuable capabilities? You can probably brainstorm dozens of potential issues. But only a few are likely to have such significant consequences that they force the pace of change. And even fewer lead directly to a unique capability that elevates your solution above all options open to the prospect. Those are the issues you need to invest in.

Don’t fool yourselves

Your teams’ conclusions about ideal customers, key stakeholders and key issues, consequences and capabilities may sound very credible. Your sales and marketing teams may even achieve a consensus about them. But they are no more than theories – hypotheses to be tested.
So the next and critical stage in alignment is to make sure that your internal perceptions are tested with a cross section of the people and organisations that represent what looks like your ideal customers and key stakeholders.

The only alignment that really matters

Because at the end of the day, the only alignment that really matters is that your sales and marketing organisations are jointly focused and completely aligned around a common shared understanding of who your most valuable customers are, what really matters to them, and how and why they choose to buy. Only then can you claim to be fully aligned.
So – I’m curious: how truly aligned are your sales and marketing organisations today? Are you confident that they are up there with those best-in-class companies? And if not, how much revenue might you be leaving on the table every month that passes by – and what are you going to do about it?

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Bob Apollo is the Managing Partner of Inflexion-Point, and an accredited Funnel Coach. To read more of his insights, go to the Inflexion-Point blog.