Monday, March 29, 2010

Beyond Alignment to Collaboration

One of the hot topics today in B2B marketing is the need to create better alignment between marketing and sales.  There is a growing recognition that marketing and sales are out of sync in many B2B companies.  They often have widely different views about such fundamental issues as what kinds of companies make the best prospects and what constitutes a sales-ready lead.  One major objective of improving the alignment between marketing and sales is to develop a common view regarding these basic issues.

Creating better alignment between marketing and sales is certainly important, but "alignment" doesn't adequately describe the kind of relationship that's really needed between marketing and sales.  Today, a growing number of B2B companies realize that both marketing and sales activities are components of a single demand generation process.  And to create and sustain a demand generation process that produces significant revenue growth, what's really needed is an active and close collaboration between marketers and salespeople.

Not that long ago, such active and close collaboration wasn't absolutely essential.  In most B2B companies, the roles and responsibilities of marketing and sales were fairly distinct and independent.  Marketing ran campaigns to raise brand awareness and generate sales leads, produced marketing collateral materials, and coordinated the participation in trade shows.  Leads generated by marketing were passed along to sales and were rarely seen by marketing again.  Salespeople had two basic jobs - to generate leads (prospect) and to take those leads (plus those supplied by marketing) and close sales.

This siloed approach to marketing and sales is simply not effective in today's business environment.  Companies are encountering potential buyers long before they are ready to meet with a salesperson.  So, marketing must play a larger role in nurturing prospects until they are ready to have a meaningful conversation with sales.  And when a prospect does talk with a salesperson, he or she expects the sales rep to build on the existing relationship, not start over from scratch.

A collaborative relationship can help make the transition from marketing to sales nearly seamless, but the benefits of collaboration don't stop there.  Salespeople are talking with prospects and customers every day, and they can provide marketers with real-time input about the issues that prospects are actively thinking about.  Marketers can then use this information to develop new marketing content or modify existing content.  On the flip side, marketers can provide salespeople with information about strategic developments and trends that are affecting potential buyers.

The bottom line is that B2B companies need an effective demand generation process in order to drive consistent revenue growth, and an effective demand generation process requires that marketers and salespeople work as a cohesive team.

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