Tips for Fostering Collaboration Between Marketing & Sales: It Starts at the Top

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Sales and marketing have traditionally operated as two separate entities. While sales involves a direct process that requires one-to-one interaction with customers, marketing drives leads through brand or product awareness with potential customers as a group. They have also historically had different processes and different software — customer relationship managers (CRMs) versus marketing automation platforms (MAPs) — and different goals, resulting in a competitive, rather than collaborative, relationship.

Both entities have much to gain by learning to work together in a cooperative way. After all, both want to increase quality leads, reduce sales cycles to close more leads, and generate more revenue.

While the sales process has not changed significantly over time, marketing methods and channels have evolved dramatically over the last decade. Today’s marketer relies on content marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) ads, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), organic traffic and influencer marketing.

Another significant shift is in the buying process, which has undergone a major transformation. Customers often spend more time educating themselves before purchasing and are looking for more information. According to Forrester, “Today’s business buyers are increasingly self-directed: 60% prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of information; 68% prefer to research on their own, online; and 62% say they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list — based solely on digital content.” This change in the purchase process puts more power in the hands of the buyer, and more weight on marketers to guide the buyer through the buying journey.

Customers don’t care about where marketing and sales begin and end — they expect one seamless experience. This means that the two departments need to foster a parallel relationship where both co-own the lead and the ongoing process to qualify that lead. There is one customer pipeline and it belongs to both marketing and sales.

How do sales and marketing make this push-pull relationship work successfully?
Learning how to communicate is a critical step and the best way to do that is to find common ground and acknowledge what you are both trying to accomplish. Sometimes there are multiple issues at stake, and you have to untangle them one at a time. That may mean putting the other issues on hold until you reach an agreement on one. Then you’ve proven you can work things out, which sets you up to succeed at resolving the next topic.

It’s also important to understand how sales and marketing are going to work together. This starts with determining who they are going to target together and creating a coverage map. If marketing sends leads to follow up on and sales doesn’t act on them, then money has been wasted on leads. You have to create a model together that defines how to cross-sell and up-sell opportunities together, how to acquire new customers together and how to retain your current customers together.

Adding to these complexities is the fact that each department has its own budget. Sales has to meet one key performance indicator (KPI) while marketing has a different KPI, and conflict can arise as a result. Instead of fighting a marketing and sales war, cooler heads are needed to prevail, and that means coming together and establishing an agreement. Reaching an agreement requires a give and take by both parties.

True Collaboration Requires Leadership at the Top

Improving communication, developing a common approach for acquiring and keeping customers, and establishing agreement will help facilitate collaboration. However, most organizations have separate sales and marketing teams with their own leadership and targets. Changing the structure and mindset of those teams requires strong leadership at the top of the organization. Leaders need to set the vision and ensure that the reasons for change are understood by all.

One fundamental step is for sales and marketing to share the priority of putting customers first, which prompts collaboration toward a higher goal. With that priority in place, leadership can encourage an even better working relationship between marketing and sales with these seven tips:

• Know your customer. Knowledge of the customer is critical when recalibration is needed to resolve disputes between marketing and sales. Focus on what is best for the customer, and the way to a solution should become clear.

• Recognize that sales and marketing are equals. Each group has decision-making power based on utilizing their budgets wisely. They will likely have respect for each other if they have respect from a CEO or president who treats them equally.

• Develop a weekly communication plan. Ongoing dialogue is paramount to ensuring everyone is on the same page. Sales and marketing leaders should meet weekly, with the CEO stepping in as needed to be the peacemaker.

• Plan sales and marketing budgets together. Visibility into how and why the other’s budget is constructed helps reinforce the validity of both teams and their missions and demystifies the reasoning behind certain decisions. At the same time, look for ways that sales and marketing KPIs can complement, not contradict, each other.

• Create a customer advisory board. Having a customer advisory board is a great way to receive real-time market feedback. Take it a step further with ongoing meetings and communication between customers, product marketing, marketing and sales to facilitate agile development cycles. Again, keeping the focus on customers can go a long way toward resolving disputes when they arise.

• Allow facts to guide decisions. Does it make sense to do a podcast if podcasts are not among your top 10 lead generators? Should you pay for a booth at a trade show with attendees who don’t match your target audience? Probably not, and company leadership should let the facts steer such decisions.

• Implement a tight reporting system. It’s imperative to hold everyone accountable. Shine the light on revenue numbers, leads generated, leads followed up by sales and lead status in the pipeline. If the numbers are falling short, discuss why, and brainstorm possible solutions together without an accusatory tone.

It’s not always easy, but it’s well worth the effort to get your marketing and sales teams in alignment and working toward a shared goal of customer success. But don’t forget, to be successful, the initiative must begin with — and remain guided by — your company’s leadership.

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