The Complete Guide to B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment
- The shift of sales and marketing from standalone departments to integrated partners pursuing shared goals improves lead conversions, sales conversions, and revenue growth by double digits.
- There is a mostly hidden but significant downside of perpetuating these two groups as independent siloes. IDC research shows that this misalignment cost companies 10 percent or more of annual revenue.
- On a better note, analyst research shows the benefits of tightly aligned sales and marketing include 32 percent annual revenue growth, 24 percent faster revenue growth and 27 percent faster profit growth over a three-year period.
B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment
B2B sales and marketing alignment create a synergistic relationship among the company's two top revenue contributors by defining an orchestrated effort toward a mutual goal. That effort is built on shared strategies, integrated processes, common technologies, and joint success measures.
But B2B sales and marketing alignment doesn't happen by chance. It only occurs pursuant to a plan that solves important problems and delivers a payback. In this post I'll share the biggest problem, the financial payback and a 5-step plan to align marketing and sales and realize proven benefits such as 32 percent revenue growth.
The Underlying Problem
Most marketing and sales groups are misaligned.
In a Forrester report, titled Master the Mechanics of Analytics for Revenue Growth, the analyst firm advised that only 30 percent of marketers believe marketing and sales goals are aligned.
That finding was echoed in an Aberdeen research report, that advised "Over 80 percent of B2B organizations struggle with a lack of synergy between the marketing and sales."
And to add to the consensus, SiriusDecisions Alignment and Efficiency survey found that 58 percent of business leaders rated their marketing and sales alignment as poor.
That misalignment comes with serious costs, including fewer sales leads, more lead leakage, longer sales cycles, smaller pipelines, lower sales win rates and serious headwinds for revenue growth. In fact, according to research from analyst firm IDC, "B2B companies' inability to align sales and marketing costs 10 percent or more of annual revenue." That's a significant and often hidden revenue loss.
Sometimes the challenge stems from poor or isolated relationships. In helping client companies accelerate their revenue growth, I've met with many companies where there's an underlying cultural divide or tension that discourages cross-departmental reliance and cooperation.
Many times, the problem stems from ill-defined roles, cross departmental separation or just a lack of understanding in how each side can help the other achieve its goals.
Other times, the two groups harbor a level of animosity. I've heard comments from marketers that claim salespeople are the folks who work the least and get paid the most, and from salespeople who suggest marketers are essentially their arts and crafts department.
Left unmanaged, the problem is exacerbated. When the two are not integrated and co-contributing to a shared revenue goal, neither will be as successful and the company loses. That's why this is a problem worth fixing.
Okay, so B2B sales and marketing alignment sounds like a good idea. But good ideas are a dime a dozen. And no good idea is sustainable unless it delivers a significant payback.
Fortunately, there is broad research-based consensus that demonstrates a powerful financial return.
- Forrester Research reports that companies with aligned sales and marketing groups achieved an average of 32 percent annual revenue growth while less aligned companies reported an average 7 percent revenue decline.
- According to Forrester's marketing experts at Sirius Decisions, when marketing and sales are aligned, they achieve 24 percent faster revenue growth and 27 percent faster profit growth over a three-year period.
- MarketingProfs has also done extensive research on this topic and reports that companies with tightly-aligned marketing and sales achieve 38 percent higher sales win rates and 36 percent higher customer retention rates.
The final perspective I'll share is from an Aberdeen research report titled, What's in It for Sales In Achieving Strong Alignment With Marketing, and demonstrated the measurable differences among aligned and misaligned groups:
- The aligned groups achieved 97 percent higher annual growth in team quota achievement (8.36% compared to 4.25%), and
- Aligned groups realized 3.4 times faster-moving sales cycles year-over-year (0.88 decrease compared to 0.26% increase).
And beyond the financial upside, recognize that this alignment reduces friction between cross-departmental staff and improves the customer experience across the customers' buy cycle.
A B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment Framework
Once the problem and payback are understood, action can follow.
But even when business leaders know they need alignment, few have a proven process to make it happen. The Johnny Grow B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment Framework is a 5-step process that has been successfully used for over a decade.
Start with Joint Planning
Alignment starts with collaboration and planning. SeriusDecisions reports that "Only 14 percent of survey respondents advised that their companies have integrated marketing and sales planning processes."
Planning should begin by recognizing the other departments performance measures and priorities and then finding aligned goals. For most companies, a shared revenue target will be the most important goal.
Once the shared goals are identified, each group can commit to their contribution and both groups can coordinate a plan, budget, reporting and periodic reviews.
Mutual goals can also be reinforced with shared incentives. Collaboration and coordinated execution are significantly improved when incentive compensation is tied to shared goals.
In fact, if the plan is properly designed, it should be near impossible for one side to be successful and the other not, as that would suggest the two groups are not aligned to mutual success measures or the company's primary success measure (revenue growth).
Integrate the Revenue Funnel
Marketers normally manage a lead funnel that begins with newly acquired leads and finishes when the leads are transferred to sales. Sales normally manages a funnel that begins with qualified leads and ends with sales wins or losses.
Merging the two departmental funnels into a single integrated revenue funnel creates a closed loop cycle that improves measurability and enables better process automation.
With an end-to-end integrated revenue funnel, sales and marketing leaders can better measure, model and manipulate any factor in the lead-to-revenue cycle. They can forecast results to lead conversions, customer additions and impact to top line revenue. In fact, only with an integrated revenue cycle in place, can managers truly understand how making a change anywhere in the process will impact revenue performance.
An integrated revenue funnel also identifies sales stages and conversion rates for each stage. And while marketing will distribute leads to sales when those leads reach sales-ready scores, it's no longer a linear handoff that relieves one side from accountability or continued contribution.
When leads stall, even after the distribution to sales, marketing may recommend messaging, campaigns, offers or other engagement or action to induce those leads to reengage. Or they can recycle those leads that don't act and are otherwise over-stating the pipeline.
An integrated sales pipeline permits either side to induce action when leads stall, conversions decline or velocity slows. However, a well-defined lead management process is needed to do this in a coordinated manner.
Define the Lead Management Process
There's a lot to say about how to define or optimize a lead management process. So, too skinny it down, here are the most essential steps.
- Simplify, streamline and then define or refine your lead management process. The process must show how leads advance through an integrated revenue funnel. The funnel stages and sequence must be clear. Not all leads will traverse through each stage sequentially, but all leads must be tracked in stages so you can measure progress or the lack thereof to induce action.
- Objectively define a sales-ready lead. Salespeople favor lead quality over quantity. An increased focus on lead quality improves sales productivity and win rates. Marketing must team with the sales force to agree on a common definition for a sales-ready lead. Recognize that the initial definition or lead score is only a starting point and must be updated based on learning over multiple iterations.
- Nurture unqualified leads. Most new leads are only researching. They are effectively in the tire kicking stage and not yet ready to speak with salespeople. Forwarding these leads to the salesforce annoys the buyer, frustrates salespeople and contributes to the oft cited comment, 'marketing leads suck.' It also exacerbates lead leakage, as sales will attribute all leads to be of the same poor quality as the unqualified leads and therefore fail to follow-up with leads timely or at all. Nurture campaigns must cultivate leads with educational and informational content and communication until they become sales-ready.
- Only forward sales-ready leads to the salesforce. Nurture campaigns will maintain top of mind awareness with each buyer until the buyer demonstrates purchase readiness pursuant to a lead score. Only upon that score, or an agreed upon acceleration event, should marketing route leads to the salesforce. Recognize that lead scoring will result in passing fewer but more qualified leads to sales.
- Add a live qualification. Once a lead-score threshold is met, consider an inside sales or Sales Development Representative (SDR) qualification confirmation. These people confirm each leads purchase readiness and willingness to speak with a salesperson. SDRs significantly improve lead quality and the Sales Acceptance Lead (SAL) rate.
- Codify the lead management process responsibilities in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). SiriusDecisions reports that only 43 percent of survey respondents have lead management SLAs in place, and only 11 percent report having jointly managed SLAs. Your lead management process is only as good as its governance. At the minimum, design your sales and marketing service level agreement to require marketing to enforce the quality of leads they forward to sales, and sales to enforce the timeliness of follow-up and follow-through. SLAs should also require that leads forwarded to sales are returned to marketing for continued nurturing if the leads fail to engage or become sale opportunities within a designated period, or if they stall anywhere in the sales cycle.
The number 1 reason SLAs fail is lack of enforcement. The number 2 reason is trying to enforce too much too quickly. A lead management Service Level Agreement best practice is to start small with only a few SLA metrics (lead quality, lead follow-through, lead recycling) in a closely controlled pilot. It's important to clearly state the intended benefits of the SLA program, begin with education and training for the pilot participants, and frequently review progress and reporting. Measurable results will then drive wider adoption.
- Automate with technology. Lead management technologies are needed to automate agreed upon processes and deliver information reporting. Marketing's system of record for leads is the marketing automation platform (MAP). This includes marketing apps such as Adobe or the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
The Salesforce system of record is the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, or more specifically the Sales Force Automation (SFA) module. Syncing the two systems is simple. The issues that will challenge alignment are related to process and data governance, such as the assignment of survivorship rules.
For example, if the salesperson updates a prospect's address in the SFA, and a new marketing list updates the same account's address in the MAP, which system prevails? In this case, it is more likely the SFA system prevails, but there are many updates between synchronized systems that should be considered. It's also helpful to assign data stewards who will be responsible for data quality, updates, and archiving.
- Implement closed-loop reporting. Lead management reporting is needed to show what's working, what's not and what course corrections need to be made to achieve the objectives in the SLA. Marketing should deemphasize activity-based metrics and align on the measures that most directly impact revenue performance. Marketing will still need some tactical campaign, conversion, and engagement metrics, at least as much as they directly algin with revenue results, but even then, these measures should be deprioritized and confined to the marketing department.
- Perform periodic reviews. Periodic joint reviews will remove impediments, fix problems, adjust priorities and drive continuous process improvement. These meetings do things like refine the sales-ready lead score calculation, review SLA compliance variances, review sales lead conversions and velocity, and measure progress of inter-dependent and shared goals. Joint reviews should adhere to a regular cadence and include marketing and sales leadership. I normally recommend these reviews occur weekly for quick triage and monthly for long-term continuous improvement.
Define Sales Responsibilities
Being a good partner means knowing what the other half expects from the relationship. Here's what marketing wants from the salesforce.
- A thorough understanding of the most important salesforce goals. Not just the period-end revenue goal, but the methods or mechanics of how the salesforce plans to reach its goals.
- Constructive feedback on the quality and quantity of distributed sales leads. When leads are good, marketing wants to know why they were good so that intelligence can be scaled in future prospecting, nurturing, or scoring. When leads are poor, marketing needs to know why so they can adjust.
- Content analysis. Marketing spends a lot of time and money creating assets and content. That investment is lost when salespeople choose not to use those artifacts. Marketing wants to know what content works, what content doesn't and why salespeople choose not use marketing content.
Content must also be easily accessible at the point of applicability. A McKinsey Global Institute report advises that salespeople spend 19 percent of their time searching for information. On the other side, SiriusDecisions reports that 60 to 70 percent of marketing's content goes unused because it's not found. Tying content fit to sales funnel stages and using CRM software to push guided selling content recommendations can fix this problem.
- Marketers also want feedback on their market research, competitor analysis and customer insights.
- Sales win and loss retrospectives. Marketers want to be part of the sales win/loss reviews to understand the factors that contributed or didn't. This allows them to refine or adjust the ideal customer profile (ICP) to better target and acquire leads with a higher propensity to become customers. Successful selling is not just about pitching the best solution and closing the deal. It's also about engaging the right type of customer. Marketing can steer efforts to acquire the right customers.
Define Marketing Responsibilities
On the flip side of this relationship, here is what the salesforce wants from marketing.
- Sales wants qualified leads. Lead quality matters more than quantity.
- When leads are transferred to sales, sales reps want to see the history and behaviors that drove the lead to be designated sales-ready. Transferred leads should display categorized online engagement, all content consumed and other digital footprints that identify each buyer's interest and purchase timing.
- Sales wants marketing campaigns they can launch themselves. They want control of marketing initiatives targeted to their accounts. This includes allowing the salesperson to designate accounts for suppression lists (which remove the accounts from all marketing campaigns). They also want to select middle or bottom of the funnel campaigns for their sale opportunities. They are generally agreeable to return stalled accounts to marketing for continued nurturing.
- Salespeople want customer insights. Sale methodologies such as the Challenger Sale and targeted programs such as Account-Based Selling are dependent on buyer insights. Salespeople don't have the time or budget to perform the market research themselves. Research is marketing's job.
- Salespeople want marketing activities to align and support their account-based sales strategies. They need content that can be applied to accounts in the middle or bottom of the funnel. This may include competitor comparisons, customer case studies, ROI calculators, payback models or the measurable cost or impact of failing to make a purchase decision.
- Sales wants marketing content that can be contextualized for individual accounts and pursuant to their sales win plans. High-level pie in the sky marketing content may help in the early stages of the buy cycle but does not really help advance accounts through the sales pipeline.
To accomplish this, marketing should work closely with sales to find out what types of content move buyers through the sales cycle. There's no better way to do this than have marketing get into the field for some ride a longs, attend some sales presentations or listen in on negotiations.
The Point is This – Separate but Aligned
Mutual reliance does not mean unification.
Despite the sharing of a common revenue objective, it's a mistake to try to merge the two disciplines.
Sales and marketing differ in skills, time horizons and performance measures.
Sales looks at customers individually and excels in building one-to-one relationships and creating a personal rapport with buyers.
Marketing looks at customers by persona or target audience. They excel at customer segmentation, one-to-many communications, and harvesting data to improve communications and engagement for those segments.
Sales is focused on the month or quarter. They are relentless in getting deals done this period.
Marketing looks ahead. They monitor market movements, changing customer demographics and shifting buyer behaviors. They do these things with the intent to promote the brand, align the company's value proposition with buyer demand, and position the company for growth.
The company needs salespeople to get deals done this quarter, and marketers to acquire leads for next quarter. The two roles are aligned but their shared goals span different timelines.
Measuring marketing activities is easy. Measuring their results is harder.
Measuring sales activities is hard. Measuring their results is easy.
Salespeople are celebrated with each successful sale and rewarded with generous incentive compensation.
Marketers are more often the unsung heroes. And that's part of the challenge. When marketing efforts are not attributed to sales results, marketers are relegated to cost center status and their position as second-class citizens. It's critical for marketing to demonstrate their direct contribution to revenue performance and be equally recognized to fulfill the promise of B2B sales and marketing alignment.