Since launching this blog in 2010, I've written about various aspects of sales-marketing alignment 26 times. And I certainly wasn't the first person to address this topic. For more than a decade, most B2B marketing and sales professionals have recognized the need to forge a more productive relationship between marketing and sales, and many B2B companies have been working on sales-marketing alignment for several years.
Yet, sales-marketing alignment remains a hot topic and an ongoing challenge for marketing and sales leaders. Yesterday, I performed a Google search using the term "sales and marketing alignment." My search produced 320,000 results. When I limited the search to the previous year, Google still returned 22 pages of results.
So, as we near the end of 2018, it seems appropriate to ask how much progress has been made toward achieving effective sales-marketing alignment.
Given the continuing interest, it shouldn't be surprising that several research studies performed in 2018 address the topic of sales-marketing alignment. The research indicates that some companies have made meaningful progress in improving the quality of the marketing-sales relationship.
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 68% of sales respondents reported having a good or excellent relationship with their counterparts.
Overall, however, the 2018 research shows that many companies still have work to do to turn their marketing and sales organizations into a cohesive, high-performing demand generation team.
In the InsideView survey discussed above, respondents rated their sales-marketing relationship as weak or very weak on several important demand generation activities, including:
- Defining and executing field programs;
- Sharing knowledge about customer buying processes; and
- Reporting results of joint activity.
In the 2018 State of Pipeline Marketing study by Bizible (and other firms), only 31.2% of survey respondents characterized the sales-marketing relationship in their company as aligned. Another 56.1% of respondents described their sales and marketing teams as being somewhat aligned.
In the 2019 Data-Driven Marketing & Advertising Outlook study conducted by Adweek Branded on behalf of Dun & Bradstreet, only 25% of surveyed B2B marketers said they and their sales counterparts share a full definition of who constitutes a qualified lead. Another 56% of the survey respondents said they and sales have agreed on a limited definition of a qualified lead, but they have no formal documentation of that definition in place.
The growing use of account-based marketing has elevated the importance of - and focused more attention on - building and sustaining a collaborative relationship between sales and marketing. But in the 2018 ABM Benchmark Survey by Demand Gen Report, respondents identified sales and marketing alignment as their second biggest ABM-related challenge (39% of respondents), trailing only proving ROI/attribution (40% of respondents).
Where Do We Stand?
So, where do we really stand with sales-marketing alignment as 2018 draws to a close? Many of the current "best practices" for improving sales-marketing alignment focus on two primary objectives:
- 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, core value propositions, and customer buying processes; and
- Establishing an agreed-upon lead management process (lead stage definitions, lead scoring criteria, etc.).
These objectives are important, but they aren't sufficient to create the level of alignment - or, more accurately, operational integration - that's required for high-performing demand generation in today's business environment.
Over three years ago, Scott Brinker described the situation eloquently when he wrote that the conventional methods for improving sales-marketing alignment weren't "so much a breakthrough in alignment as much as a negotiated peace settlement between two separate countries who share a common border. Trade policy and border control were established, facilitating commerce between them, but they were not one nation under a common flag."
What's Needed in 2019?
To take sales-marketing alignment to the next level in 2019, marketing and sales leaders need to focus on two additional objectives:
Recognized Interdependence - Effective sales-marketing alignment requires a widespread recognition by members of the marketing and sales teams that they need each other, and that an integrated approach to demand generation is essential for success. Therefore, marketing and sales leaders must constantly communicate and reinforce the importance of having marketing and sales work together seamlessly and function as a cohesive team.
Ongoing Collaboration - Effective alignment also requires marketing and sales to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis, and collaboration needs to occur naturally and spontaneously, whenever and wherever it's needed. Therefore, marketing and sales leaders must constantly communicate that informal, self-directed collaboration among marketing and sales team members is not only acceptable, but expected.
Image courtesy of m01229 via Flickr CC.