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Finding common ground: It’s time to align sales and marketing

looking at sales figures in an office
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Sales and marketing are the ultimate revenue-generating power couple of the business world. Despite plenty of similarities and differences, one cannot exist without the other.  But let’s face it, when you pull back the veneer, you often find that the gaps and misalignment between sales and marketing teams that are hindering business performance.

Both departments have the same goal of driving sales and revenue from new and existing customers, so constant collaboration and keeping in sync should be a daily occurrence. Isn’t it time that sales and marketing teams find their common ground for a higher purpose? A recent SugarCRM survey found more than 1 in 5 (22 percent) sales and marketing professionals own up to their teams being “not aligned”. Poor communication between teams (29 percent), teams being incentivized by different goals (26 percent), and teams not sharing data (21 percent) are cited as the key factors causing the dichotomy.

The issue is exacerbated by business leaders believing that they have done what they need to do to support the two business functions. The budgets for ad spend and marketing collateral have grown, individual targets have been set, and the best people have been hired. However, without truly aligning the two and creating a seamless customer journey, their business simply cannot achieve the success it is aiming for.

The financial and productivity loss endured as a direct result of misalignment between sales and marketing can be rectified through an aligned strategy, a holistic data approach and a clear tunnel for leads. So, how can this be achieved?

The cost of misalignment

The traditional, archaic, model of a sales cycle beginning with accepting a marketing lead or contacting a cold prospect directly results in wasted time and inefficiency. Around 50 percent of sales time is spent on unproductive prospecting, while reps simultaneously ignore 80 percent of marketing leads.

In fact, stats show that when marketing and sales exist as two separate funnels, teams end up working at different paces, towards different goals. It’s estimated that the resulting low sales productivity and wasted marketing budget costs companies at least $1 trillion a year. In short, businesses that empower their teams to switch from funnel to tunnel, operating with the same messaging and towards meeting the same objectives, can see the impact directly on their bottom lines.

Interestingly, the two sides have a very different view of their relationship. Sugar’s survey highlighted that while 20 percent of sales professionals say they are perfectly aligned with marketing, only 2 percent of marketers say they experience perfect alignment; and 40 percent of marketers rate alignment with Sales a 4 on a scale of 1-6.

To close this gap between marketing and sales teams the respondent groups also suggest different approaches. Marketers believe there needs to be a better agreement on joint goals – more than 4 out of 10 marketers feel the root cause of misalignment is from not being incentivized by the same goals – while sales leaders believe improved communication would do the trick. In reality, however, both of these recommendations need to be taken on board.

Clear brand and target

Before the customer sets off on their journey, marketing and sales must agree on a clear brand that can be shared across the two departments. Forrester found that 97 percent of sales and marketing professionals face challenges with alignment on content and messaging. Common issues include marketing creating content without sales’ input, marketing content being too product-led without a focus on the issue the customer is trying to solve, and marketing content not helping the buyer along their buying journey.

With only 36 percent of organizations having fully joined marketing and sales KPIs, it is fundamental that the two come together to specify a target group to build a channel to revenue, alongside shared messaging to ensure consistent communication across all sections of the business.

In order to sync these two funnels, marketing and sales teams need to ensure they plan frequent meetings to stay aligned on their shared goals and communicate work plans, successes, and hurdles. Successful organizations go on to ensure both teams have a say when strategy planning, setting KPIs and developing content, to guarantee an impactful, streamlined path for the customer.

Cross-siloed systems

Once the foundations have been laid, the teams must identify and eliminate any blind spots. Misalignment between sales and marketing can often be narrowed down as a data-driven problem, with inconsistencies in the data shared between departments.

Research by LinkedIn found that 97 percent of sales and marketing professionals report issues with process alignment, including the two business functions not cooperating on pipeline growth, teams planning two different processes for engaging with customers, and their tools and systems not being well integrated.

Although data silos appear overwhelming, an advanced CRM system can act as a functional bridge bringing the two teams together. The key lies in combining all available customer data in one place and using the technology to identify and fill any gaps.

Bridging sales and marketing sets of data will enable a holistic, 360-degree view of the customer, granting both teams the intelligence they need to make vital strategic and tactical decisions.

Process for leads

Alongside integrating an advanced system, businesses must be sure to eradicate the two funnels from an outsider’s perspective and establish a clear process for working with leads.

Nine in ten sales and marketing professionals say they are misaligned across strategy, process, content and culture. In addition, 98 percent of sellers and marketers believe this will negatively impact the business and customer.

Whilst the process does not need to be linear, everything should be tied back to a unified experience, from the awareness stage at the beginning of the customer journey, right down through to the brand loyalty stage. An interwoven process between the two business functions will allow sales teams to utilize marketing data being gathered about a prospect, and seamlessly transform leads into sales opportunities.

Additionally, acknowledging that leads can be captured at every stage of the sales process, and slotting in targeted marketing messages throughout the funnel will further boost the results the aligned teams are able to achieve.

From funnels to tunnel

With ever-growing expectations and pressure from consumers, a disjointed customer journey will leave companies exposed and at risk of losing the customer’s business.

Before looking towards the customer, sales and marketing teams must build a relationship of trust and a close-knit partnership between themselves, taking time to understand how each function complements the other. Once value and trust have been built internally, the tunnel is ready for the customer.

Organizations must be sure to create an engaging, human experience for buyers, tapping into their needs and preferences. Sales and marketing alignment is fundamentally an ongoing process that sees businesses building effective engagement with customers and as a result generating higher revenue.  Let’s put aside the differences and finally, truly, align sales and marketing.

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James Frampton, Senior Vice President and General Manager EMEA, SugarCRM

James Frampton

James Frampton, Senior Vice President and General Manager EMEA, SugarCRM