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I talk to a lot of clients and hear about their struggles everyday. In my line of work the root cause of most of their issues is lack of alignment. We are talking silos, in 2020, between sales and marketing! Even worse, these are silos with invisible walls. Companies know that seamless, cross team, communication is extremely important. They invest in top of the line CRMs with hopes of breaking down barriers to provide better and faster service to their customers. They have taken down the walls but even after that teams act as if they are still there. If you’re a marketing/sales manager or work in sales enablement like myself, you may have seen or experienced this. So what the heck is going on!? 

Consequences on Misalignment

Let me tell you a little story. I once had this client who had their marketing very well organized. They were using Hubspot’s marketing tools to segment, communicate and convert. They had well defined personas and were doing a great job of targeting them. Just one little problem. Sales wouldn’t work the leads! They prefered sending cold emails to prospects off lists because they claimed the lists had better qualified leads. 

They were leaving thousands of dollars on the table!  

After a little digging it was clear that sales and marketing had different definitions for qualified leads. No wonder the sales team wasn’t working the leads marketing sends over!  They were working off of different customer profiles.

Simply put, when your sales and marketing teams are aligned, your company books more revenue and greatly reduces waste. Don’t take my word for it. Hubspot claims “decreased sales productivity and wasted marketing efforts due to misalignment costs a whopping $1 trillion a year” and they make a pretty good case.

How do we align sales and marketing

Continuing from our example above, it seemed like all we needed to do was fix the customer profile and create definitions for qualified leads to match. Well unfortunately, that’s just treating a symptom rather than the root cause. If we just update the personas and profiles then, given enough time, they will fall out of sync and we will be back where we started.

To fix sales and marketing misalignment you need to force them to communicate.

Get Leadership involved 

Getting these two departments to work together might take a paradigm shift and that needs to start with the leadership. Sales and marketing directors need to make alignment a priority. Metrics must be put in place and factored into performance reviews. When leadership thinks this stuff is important, they show their teams by baking it into the performance structure. Having the leadership on board will make getting buy-in from the team members a lot easier. Especially with sales teams, which tend to be more resistant.

Build in accountability 

A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a good place to start. This SLA should plainly state the roles and responsibilities for both the sales and marketing teams, so everyone knows what they are responsible for. Here you can outline the lead handoff process in detail so you don’t lose good prospects to confusion and miscommunication. The SLA needs to be unique to your business needs but might have something like:“Marketing will provide X number of qualified leads for persona A and Sales will contact those leads within 24 hours. If sales deems a lead unqualified they will select a disqualified reason. Marketing will analyse the disqualified reasons and use that info to better filter out bad fit leads going forward.”It is important that you build your SLA to follow your process and hold your teams accountable for the right things. Here are some items you might include in an SLA.

  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) definitions
  • Percentage of MQLs that must be contacted by sales.
  • How quickly sales should be contacting qualified leads AKA Lead Response Time. 
  • Segmenting rules around which sales team gets assigned leads 
  • Required fields that each contact must have filled in
  • What reports and KPIs are required
  • Post sale handoff procedure to the onboarding team
  • Expected meetings and their cadences
  • Summary of the overall process


Focus on Good Communication

What is good communication in this context? It has to do with being strategic when you create the communication rules for the marketing and sales teams. You’ll need to have standards around documenting sales activities, logging email history, lead management/ownership, active campaigns, social posting schedules and more. There are many types of communication, but let’s look closer at meetings. 

If you are setting up a regular cadence meeting it is important to get the frequency right. If the meetings are too frequent the teams will feel like it is a time waster. It will feel like they are just there to rehash what was discussed at the previous meeting because not enough has happened since then. If the frequency is too far apart people will arrive feeling lost and you will spend the whole meeting trying to get up to speed. No real work will get done. This undercuts what you are trying to do, which is to keep your sales and marketing teams aligned. 

You are shooting for the Goldilocks zone where enough time has passed that new issues have come up that need to be solved but not so much that people forget why they are there. This might seem difficult to suss out, but it really isn’t. I usually start with a weekly cadence and then play it by ear from there. You should look for feedback from the sales and marketing teams to help you adjust this. If they feel like the meetings are productive, you can back off and let them do their thing. 

What are some tactics we can use to align sales and marketing

Now that you understand some of the foundational stuff needed to build marketing and sales alignment around the customer profile, let’s discuss some of the tactical things that can be implemented.

Smarketing Meetings 

These meetings are centered around the sales reps and marketing specialists. It’s purpose is to put them into a room to discuss and solve problems. Since it is so focused on problems you need to give them the space to discuss and hash them out. The presence of executives and directors can hamper doing this because, yes, we all act differently when the boss is in the room. So leave them off the invite. Keep these meetings under 10 people to avoid too many cooks in the kitchen and set an agenda that allows everyone to speak. For more on how to run Smarketing meetings check out this resource here.

Create a Judicial Branch

Above I mentioned the importance of creating a SLA. One thing you can outline in it is the lead handoff process between sales and marketing. Once you are happy with the set of rules the next step would be to set up a team of sales/marketing managers who review leads rejected by the sales team. These aren’t closed lost sales. They are MQLs that were sent to sales and then disqualified. The job of the judicial branch is to look at these leads and decide if there are adjustments that need to be made on either the sales or marketing side. Having a judicial branch puts an end to the finger point that typically happens when leads aren’t being worked.


Build Strong Segmenting Rules

This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to aligning on the customer profile. Marketing and sales need to agree on a set of criteria that defines what qualified leads look like and how they should be routed. It’s a best practice to segment based on at least 4-5 attributes. 

Here are some attributes you might use:

  • Company demographics, like the number of locations, number of employees, revenue, etc.
  • The Competitive landscape, are they researching competitors or they a clients of a competitor
  • Restrictions, regulatory or otherwise, Request For Proposal (RFP) specifications or any other special needs for this client that have to be considered
  • Pain points or issues they need solved
  • A contact’s decision making authority and their level of engagement, like is the decision maker identified, the primary contact, are they engaged, in the loop, etc.
  • Budget identified and feasible, is the budget allocation process known
  • Industry or Vertical
  • Technical landscape. Is their working environment able to successfully adopt and implement your solution
  • Urgency, is their timeline documented 
  • Internal decision making process, are all the key stakeholders known and able to participate and be tracked in the sales process
  • Geography, are you physically able to provide your service to them based on where they are


Summing it all up

Building a strong process and culture around marketing and sales alignment isn’t super straightforward and is a team effort. Whenever you shake up the way things have been done in the past you will get pushback. Being an agent of change isn’t easy so you need to be secure in what you are doing and ready to defend it. So remember, customer profile misalignment between sales and marketing is a common problem, there is a boatload of money being lost because of this problem and if you are using a CRM you most likely already have all the tools you need to fix it. So get out there, build a plan, get buy-in and execute. Or you can always hire us.  

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John Drinane

John Drinane

A marketing geek and entrepreneur, John has spent the last 15 years studying the art of digital marketing and the last 8 in Brazil having a positive impact on several companies. While there, he made his mark at a digital marketing and IT agency and as a partner of 2 different startups. Raised in the snowy rural Vermont, his dream has always been to empower people across the digital world by removing barriers and changing paradigms. Now at Revenue River, his dream is becoming a reality though..

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