Moving Beyond Mere Sales-Marketing “Alignment”

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In my last post, I discussed some of the findings of a 2019 survey about sales and marketing alignment by LeadMD and Drift. In this survey, over 90% of the respondents described their marketing and sales functions as well aligned or very well aligned. However, 60% of those respondents also reported that their company had not performed well in terms of revenue and pipeline growth.

This research also found a strong correlation between positive perceptions about the quality of sales-marketing alignment and the use of key performance indicators that are shared by marketing and sales. Ironically, the survey found that the mere existence of shared KPIs is sufficient to engender positive feelings about alignment. The survey report states, “It’s critical to note that lack of achievement around these KPIs did not negatively influence alignment perceptions – the presence of the shared KPI was enough.”

This finding helps explain why many companies have found it difficult to create the kind of sales-marketing relationship that will actually drive improved business outcomes. Many of the widely-touted “best practices” for improving sales-marketing alignment focus on three primary objectives:

  1. Creating a shared understanding among marketing and sales team members regarding the key elements of the company’s go-to-market strategy, including the definition of the target market, the ideal customer profile, core value propositions, and customer buying processes;
  2. Establishing an agreed-upon lead management process (“who does what and when”); and
  3. Shared performance measures that collective show how well the company’s revenue generation strategy and processes are performing.
These objectives are certainly important, but they aren’t sufficient to create the kind of sales-marketing alignment that is needed to produce significant improvements in important business outcomes. In fact, the term “alignment” does not adequately capture the real sense of what is required. A better term for what is needed is operational integration. By operational integration, I mean that marketing and sales work as a single, cohesive team on a day-in, day-out basis, even though they are separate functions on the organizational chart.
From Alignment to Operational Integration
To move from conventional “alignment” to operational integration, sales and marketing leaders need to focus on two additional objectives.
Recognized Interdependence – The operational integration of sales and marketing requires a widespread recognition among both marketing and sales professionals that the two functions are now deeply interdependent. In other words, both marketing and sales professionals must recognize that they need each other, and that an integrated approach to revenue generation is essential for success.
Ongoing, Self-Directed Collaboration – Operational integration also requires marketing and sales professionals to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis, and this collaboration needs to occur naturally and spontaneously, at all levels of both functions, whenever and wherever it’s needed. In other words, working collaboratively must become the normal way of getting things done.
How Leaders Nurture Operational Integration
Nurturing operational integration is primarily the responsibility of the chief marketing officer and the chief sales officer. The CEO must be supportive, but the CMO and the CSO must lead the effort on a day-to-day basis. In addition to implementing mechanisms designed to achieve the conventional alignment objectives, CMOs and CSOs need to take three other steps.
Reinforce the Narrative – The CMO and the CSO must constantly communicate the importance of having marketing and sales work together seamlessly – that the company’s revenue generation efforts can’t produce maximum results unless marketing and sales work as a cohesive team. In addition CMOs and CSOs should make it clear that informal, self-directed collaboration among marketing and sales professionals is not only acceptable, but expected. This narrative needs to be reinforced every day in some way.
Conduct Regular Sales-Marketing Forums – CMOs and CSOs should conduct joint sales-marketing forums on a regular basis. The cadence of these forums is determined by individual company needs, but they probably should occur at least monthly at most companies. The primary objective of these forums is to provide a venue for marketing and sales professionals at all levels to interact, exchange information, and discuss problems and opportunities.
Leverage Cross-Functional Teams – The CMO and the CSO should always be looking for opportunities to use cross-functional teams to deal with meaningful problems, challenges, or opportunities. Whenever possible, these teams should be composed of individuals who don’t normally work together. Not only are cross-functional teams usually the best way to address major issues, they also foster the development of personal relationships that span functional and departmental boundaries.
The Bottom Line
Creating a high-performing revenue generation system is ultimately an exercise in team building. It’s essential for marketing and sales professionals to have a shared understanding regarding the major elements of their company’s go-to-market strategy. And they also need an agreed-upon lead management process, and a well-designed set of shared performance measures.
But these factors aren’t sufficient to create the level of sales-marketing cohesiveness and coordination that are needed for high-performance revenue generation. In addition, marketing and sales leaders must nurture a “culture of collaboration” that transforms marketing and sales into a team of teams.
Image courtesy of Tatinauk via Flickr CC.

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