Sounds familiar? Yet, those aren’t lines from the latest romcom on Netflix. This is what most salespeople and marketers think about one another. Sales and marketing alignment, also called SMarketing, may sound like the obvious path to a healthy company with happy customers. But while the virtues of such a union are praised by many, only few companies manage to make it work.
Pragmatism and Attentions
As a consultant working in a company that focuses on sales and marketing integration, I am convinced that there can be a “happily ever after” for both departments. But as in any relationship, it takes a lot of work and compromises from both sides.
Through observation, research, and A LOT of trial and error both ‘in-house’ and in an agency, I’ve reached the conclusion that sales and marketing alignment resembles marriage in its slightest details: you need a proof of your commitment (a “contract”, if you will) AND you need the nice little attentions (what I call the “gestures of goodwill”) that will make sure all needs are met and everybody is happy.
Like many of you, I’ve always thought it a bit tedious to talk about contracts when you’re primarily concerned with relationships. But perhaps we should rather see it as an exercise of honesty that helps to keep confusion at bay. And business relationships, too, can benefit from that approach.
When it comes to sales and marketing, we are often under the false impression that our goals are radically different. Yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth: we’re both targeting the same people, and we’re both selling the same products and services. We’re just concentrating on different parts of the sales funnel, that’s all.
The contract aims to set in stone the rules that will make the transition from marketing lead to sales opportunity as smooth as possible. Sure, having written rules won’t prevent all frictions. But at least both parties will have that framework to go back to when things are beginning to go off the rails.
So how to get started? Of course, every business is unique, as will be your contract. But there are some ground rules:
“I promise to always have an outcome-based approach”
Both sales and marketing departments should have measurable goals. But what’s even more important, is that these goals work well for the business as a whole. One of the most famous sticking points I’ve seen between sales and marketing is lead generation. Here is how the story usually goes:
Marketing generates leads just for the sake of it or to reach KPIs which, maybe, were not that well-thought-out to begin with. But he doesn’t really care. He pats himself on the back, victorious, because ‘it was a hell of a good campaign, look at how many leads we have generated!’. Yet, at the sales’ great disappointment, those leads never or rarely convert. ‘Thanks for…nothing’, she said.
Point being: the ultimate purpose of generating leads is to eventually close deals. Make sure to clarify together from the beginning what criteria make for a good lead. Only after that you can work at measurable goals that will pave the way for (common) desired results.
“I shall always refer to our mutually agreed upon SLA”
This plays a crucial role at the “handoff” moment, that is the transition from marketing lead to sales opportunity. Both departments should agree on a service-level agreement that reflects their common vision of the sales funnel. That’s when teams should ask themselves the annoying but necessary questions: What are the sales activities that should follow/support marketing activities? Who qualifies the leads? How much time do we wait until the sales follow up? Who should be the lead’s main point of contact? And so on, and so on.
“I pledge faithfulness to my sales/marketing counterpart”
This point is, admittedly, very much tied with your company size and the structure of its product portfolio.
Still, it is essential that roles and team structures be defined.
Whether you should organize teams around product lines, target segments or around specific sales approaches, will depend heavily on the kind of products/services your company sells. However, no matter how your teams are organized, they should ALWAYS be diverse, i.e. with marketing AND sales (AND presales) people in them. This will ensure you all work towards a common goal.
The Gestures of Goodwill
Now we have our contract, and that’s great. But that’s not enough: what would be the point of having rules that nobody can be bothered to look at? When two departments decide to commit to a common project, they should both adopt behaviours that will ‘keep the flame alive’. And as in any relationship, when you make promises, you’re supposed to keep them.
The recipe for success here is to show mutual understanding and monitor our behaviours so that the SMarketing relationship remains healthy and provides results. Some may call that ‘soft skills’, others ‘attentions’. I call it ‘gestures of goodwill’.
Put water in your KPI wine
I mentioned measurable goals in the contract part, and that’s tremendously important. The thing is, some companies (e.g. global with a strong hierarchy) don’t give you a lot of leeway when it comes to KPIs – to the point of sometimes having marketing and sales KPIs that cancel each other out. If that’s the case and you’ve exhausted all possible ways to change that internally, I would suggest taking some distance: discuss KPIs one by one with the rest of your (DIVERSE) team and decide together which ones you are willing to score less on, so that you achieve the best results for your clients and your business. In the end, reality is expressed through the market you’re serving, not through an abstract concept that companies try to put a figure on.
Put yourself in their shoes
What often causes tensions between sales and marketing people is a deep misunderstanding about what their respective jobs entail. Salespeople tend to live ‘quarter by quarter’ and want high-quality leads that convert fast. Marketing people work on campaigns that spread over a longer period of time and feel that they don’t get the recognition they deserve for handing in leads to sales. But they are also often out of touch with market realities. As Frank mentioned in his article ‘the adventures of a desk marketeer in the real world‘, marketers can hugely benefit from meeting clients in real life. And conversely, salespeople should be open and curious about the upper part of the funnel. That way they can offer a relevant and integrated experience to clients, who won’t feel any more like they’re being spammed from all sides at the same time.
See each other as equals
What I often see in companies is either marketers worshipping salespeople or the other way around. Being submissive with other departments will hardly achieve anything, because it tears apart the very foundations of teamwork. Don’t exaggerate or undermine the other department’s powers; rather, recognize that you are equals, each with specific qualities that can be leveraged to the benefit of the whole business.
Sales and marketing got married and lived happily ever after. Was that easy? Probably not, and that’s mainly because it all revolves around people. But that’s also what makes it so exciting. And with the right rules and some nice little attentions to keep the flame alive, there is no reason your own sales and marketing marriage won’t be a happy one.
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