Reaching B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment
The Jets and the Sharks. The Montagues and the Capulets. B2B sales and marketing teams.
Ok, hopefully there’s no knife fights happening between the sales and marketing departments—more likely just competitive banter and gripes (think, “You don’t pick up the phone when leads call,” and “The leads you send are crap.“)
While banter and competition can be great, the days of incompatible sales and marketing teams are over. Too many marketers have lost sight of their support role for sales teams and too many sales teams distance themselves from marketers. The result? It’s more difficult for everyone to properly inspire and engage target audiences.
A tale of two teams
Historically, sales and marketing teams have been viewed as separate entities: the marketing team responsible for generating awareness for the brand, its products or services, and the sales team responsible for translating that awareness into customer relationships and closing the deal.
Both teams have the same goal—converting audiences into potential customers and potential customers into successful sales. But while the two teams have been siloed in the past, successful businesses today know it’s not a strong strategy. Instead, embracing the natural overlap improves efficiencies across the board.
If sales and marketing teams were working so well before as separate departments, why are the lines between the two blurring in modern B2B businesses?
The short answer: the linear customer acquisition journey is simply no more. Today, brands engage with prospects much earlier than in the past, and far longer after the sale is complete. Customers are more educated during the buying process and prospect nurturing happens through a wider range of marketing tactics. Long gone are the days when leads only connected with a single sales agent when making a purchasing decision.
Before we can understand how to better align sales and marketing teams, we need to understand how technology has changed the game for B2B sales and marketing professionals.
How have sales and marketing teams changed with the digital age?
The shift to the digital age changed the entire customer journey—and as customers gained access to more information and options than ever before, sales and marketing teams have had to adjust.
Marketing teams used to be exclusively responsible for putting the brand out into the world. Once consumers interacted with the brand, it was up to the sales team to take the lead in nurturing the prospects and informing them about how the business could alleviate a pain point.
Thanks to digital platforms and marketing automation, marketers today can reach consumers through a wider range of mediums and around the clock. The roles and responsibilities of the marketing team as they relate to the customer journey have changed.
- Closer, two-way relationships with prospects – Marketers now rarely engage in one-way conversations with prospects. Modern marketing tactics elicit responses and how prospects engage with a piece of marketing collateral will dictate what future marketing tactics will be used to nurture them. This creates a two-way relationship between marketers and new customers.
- A larger focus on nurturing – While the sales team might still be responsible for nurturing leads and prospects, the marketing team is often able to reach leads quicker and through multiple mediums. The job of creating an informed prospect and nurturing to the point of generating an inbound lead opportunity is typically in the hands of marketing teams—a vast difference from traditional advertising teams of the past.
- Responsible for post-sale relationships – Marketers have access to clients and consumers post-sale, too, through digital and direct marketing mediums, so many marketing teams have taken ownership of post-sale client relationships. While monthly check-in calls from sales representatives can still provide value, today’s customers expect to receive marketing materials that reassure them of their purchase and thought leadership, and other pieces that build loyalty.
While sales reps are still responsible for closing the deal, the biggest change for the sales team has been the informed customer. B2B businesses rarely come across a customer who is completely uninformed about the company or industry. Today’s B2B buyers do most of their discovery work on their own through search engines and social media. Have a challenge? Take it to Google to find a blog post or ask your peers on LinkedIn.
This process generates more informed customers and more sales-ready leads, as well as the possibility of more competition, as prospects have likely already scoped out several options. But that’s not all that’s changed.
- The end of cold leads – Since customers can easily do their own research on solutions to business problems, sales reps today spend less time creating and calling cold lead lists and more time nurturing qualified leads brought in from the marketing team.
- A shift to inbound leads – Sales teams used to focus almost exclusively on outbound sales. With the informed customer also comes inbound leads, where a customer contacts a company about a product or service on their own. Inbound leads are typically well nurtured and mitigate the need for long informative periods in the sales funnel. Today, the number of qualified inbound leads is the gold standard for measuring the success of B2B marketing teams.
- Shorter engagements and shorter sales cycles – For B2B services, typical contractual engagements are much shorter than they were a couple decades ago. Ten-year deals have been reduced to one-to-three-year deals as businesses have more info available to them and are more willing to test the marketplace for new providers. With that, many B2B sales cycles have also shortened.
Making the case for sales and marketing alignment
As the lines between sales and marketing teams have blurred, alignment has become increasingly important—and not just for team bonding.
Companies with strong sales and marketing alignment are 67% better at closing sales, according to Marketo. They also achieve 36% higher customer retention rates, according to Marketing Profs.
But wanting to align your sales and marketing departments and actually achieving it are two different things.
Here’s how to get started.
Six ways to create alignment between your sales team and marketing team
Focus on communication
Like any relationship, communication is at the core of its success. For many businesses, sales and marketing teams only communicate when there’s a specific need. This means teams aren’t actively aligning goals and tactics or taking the consumer insights gained by the other and applying them elsewhere.
Creating true B2B marketing and sales alignment starts with identifying common goals and internal challenges. Marketing teams have a lot of insights to gain by interviewing their sales reps about lead quality, customer feedback and pain points, and customer personas. On the flip side, the sales team should be well aware of (and actually utilize) marketing’s creative collateral, content and various touchpoints when nurturing prospects.
Establishing regular meetings between sales and marketing leaders helps streamline the feedback loop and present new efficiencies.
Set goals together
A large portion of sales and marketing misalignment happens because of a lack of goal alignment. Both teams share the overarching goal of revenue growth, but the checkpoints to reach that goal are often done independently.
When creating common goals, it’s important that the responsibility for achieving them is shared between both teams. Don’t create goals that one team has no impact on. A good example of a common goal would be creating a more uniform nurturing campaign for prospects at a specific stage of the buying cycle. Steps could include creating universal messaging between the sales and marketing teams, identifying what content speaks to this prospect type, how the content should be delivered, the number of touchpoints from a rep vs. marketing tactics, and so on.
Creating goals that hold each team responsible helps keep teams on the same page.
Use a CRM
One of the best things B2B businesses can do to provide clarity to their selling process is to use customer relationship management (CRM) software. CRMs keep track of prospects in the buying process, create automated prompts at different steps of the process and give insights into each prospect’s journey.
Both marketing and sales teams should have access to the CRM so they can understand what is leading prospects to enter or leave the buying process, discover what is creating traction and identify gaps in communication.
Using totally different metrics to evaluate the marketing and sales teams’ performance makes things difficult. Sales and marketing need to agree upon the key performance indicators (or KPIs) that will be used to hold teams accountable and measure business performance. While there are endless amounts of KPIs, below are a few that are consistent within the B2B space:
- Engagement – Any action that allows a business to collect a potential customer’s contact information. This can include form fills, phone calls, PDF downloads, sales communication, etc.
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) – Any lead that is deemed appropriate to be delivered to the sales team from marketing efforts is classified as an MQL. This prevents marketing teams from taking credit for spam and encourages teams to filter out unqualified opportunities.
- Sales qualified leads (SQLs) – These are any leads that make it to the sales team and are deemed qualified to enter the sales process. SQLs are typically held to a higher qualifying standard than MQLs based on sales experience and history.
Using a CRM to organize all prospects in the sales journey with tags to sort prospects as engagements, MQLs, and SQLs as they move through the funnel is a great way to encourage responsibility from both teams.
Collaborate on audience building
Even when the goal is aligning teams, audiences should still come first.
Both sales and marketing have unique insights into what the ideal customer persona looks like. Sales teams have a unique understanding of existing customers and what makes them tick. Marketers, on the other hand, can clearly show the types of audiences that engage with content and marketing campaigns.
In order to boost sales effectiveness and increase marketing revenue, both teams need to utilize the information the other team has gained from interactions with the customer or prospect.
Using that knowledge to build ideal customer personas and create future marketing audiences will increase the accuracy of targeting and reduce guesswork.
And don’t forget reporting
Aggregating all important data points and trackable KPIs in a shared-team report is key to keeping teams on the same page. Reporting is either often overlooked or siloed among teams. However, standardizing reporting between both teams will give clarity to areas of success or opportunity. It will also drive home the uniform KPIs for measuring success.
When building your first combined sales and marketing team report, we have a few recommendations that should create a smoother process.
Avoid reports that exclusively live in PowerPoint. Manually pulled data and write-ups take extra time to create and even more time to consume. We recommend using a reporting platform that integrates with your existing data sources. We use AgencyAnalytics, but Google Data Studio and Tableau are also both incredibly robust.
When it comes to reporting, less is more. Identifying a small number of needle-moving-metrics to report on make reports easier to digest. Are we doing a good job or a bad job? Where can we improve? A good report can be easily handed off to any team member without context and they still understand the trend direction.
Don’t let attribution get in the way of your success metrics. While it’d be great to know every step a prospect took before converting, the reality is those dreams are fading. Instead, focus on the end goal and measure against that end goal.
Sales and marketing collaboration creates efficiencies
If you can’t tell by now, we’re big fans of teams working together. It creates efficiencies, fills knowledge gaps, and brings more collaboration to the table.
We find this to be even more true in B2B industries because of the long sales cycles. With so many marketing tactics and sales touchpoints leading up to a prospect converting, it takes a village to understand what exactly caused the sale.
When working with our clients, we aim to be a part of their teams. This includes all teams involved with the growth of the business because we firmly believe that each team brings a valuable perspective to what makes their audience tick.
Are you looking for an outsourced team to support your sales and marketing teams? We’d love to help.