Research continues to show that marketing-sales alignment remains a significant challenge for many companies. Earlier this year, for example, InsideView published The State of Sales & Marketing Alignment in 2018, which was based on a survey of more than 500 sales and marketing professionals.
In this survey, 75% of marketing respondents, and 63% of sales respondents reported having a good or excellent relationship with their counterparts. However, respondents also rated the marketing-sales relationship as weak or very weak on several vital demand generation activities.
Many B2B companies have been trying to crack the code on sales-marketing alignment for more than a decade. So why has this task proven to be so difficult? Part of the reason success has been elusive is that most companies have focused on only one piece of the alignment puzzle.
Shared Understanding Isn't Enough
Many of the "best practices" for achieving sales-marketing alignment are intended to create a shared understanding among marketing and sales professionals regarding the critical components of the company's demand generation strategy and process, some of which include:
- The definition of the target market, and the characteristics of the ideal customer (the "Ideal Customer Profile")
- Core value propositions
- Customer buying processes
- Lead management processes (lead stage definitions, scoring criteria, etc.)
Clearly, marketing and sales can't be aligned if they aren't "on the same page" regarding these vital aspects of demand generation. But such shared understanding alone won't automatically create the level of alignment - or, more accurately, operational integration - that's necessary for high performance demand generation.
Even with such shared understanding, marketing and sales can easily continue to operate without the required level of ongoing collaboration and coordinated effort. So, what else is needed to produce the quality of alignment that most B2B company want?
The Other Pieces of the Alignment Puzzle
Marketing-sales alignment that is highly effective requires two things in addition to shared understanding. First, there must be a widespread recognition among marketing and sales professionals that the two functions are now deeply interdependent. In other words, marketers and sales professionals must recognize that they need each other, and that an integrated approach to demand generation is essential for success.
Second, effective alignment requires marketing and sales to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis. In organizations with a high level of sales-marketing alignment, this collaboration occurs naturally and spontaneously, whenever it is needed, and it takes place at all levels of both functions. In other words, working collaboratively becomes the normal way that things get done.
How Leaders Nurture Alignment
Achieving effective sales-marketing alignment 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 alignment effort on a day-to-day basis. In addition to implementing the mechanisms designed to develop shared understanding, CMO's and CSO's need to take three other steps.
Reinforce the Aligning Narrative - The CMO and the CSO must constantly communicate the importance of having marketing and sales work together seamlessly - that the company's demand generation efforts can't produce maximum results unless marketing and sales function as a cohesive team. In addition, CMO's and CSO's should communicate that informal, self-directed collaboration among marketing and sales professionals is not only acceptable, but expected. This aligning narrative needs to be reinforced every day in some way.
Conduct Regular Sales-Marketing Forums - CMO's and CSO's 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 in most companies. The primary objective of these forums is to provide a venue for marketing and sales personnel 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 wouldn't otherwise 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 effective sales-marketing alignment is ultimately an exercise in team building. It's essential for marketing and sales professionals to have a shared understanding regarding the major components of demand generation strategy. But shared understanding alone isn't sufficient to create the level of alignment that's necessary for high performance demand generation. In addition, marketing and sales leaders must nurture a "culture of collaboration" that transforms marketing and sales into a true team of teams.
Illustration courtesy of Olga Berrios via Flickr CC.