How to align sales and marketing

6 min read

In a perfect world, you would align sales and marketing so your teams become a Voltron of customer acquisition.

More often, organizations struggle to align sales and marketing. Rather than a powerful robot, they’re more like two rival teams in a petty tug-of-war match.

If you can align sales and marketing and get your teams pointing in the same direction, you’ve got a chance to build a strong, sustainable business. The first step to solving the problem is asking why the misalignment is happening in the first place.

Why are sales and marketing misaligned?

The origin of the difficulty companies have in trying to align sales and marketing can be summed up in one word: silos. Too often, different teams in an organization isolate themselves, focusing only on their immediate goals and losing sight of the bigger picture. 
Sales and marketing are no different. They often work on different timelines, have different incentives, and use different metrics to measure success. 
Recognizing this divide, and the policies and processes that enforce it, is the first step to bringing these functions into alignment.

Break the silos to align sales and marketing

Silos, and the lack of sales and marketing alignment they reflect, are a problem in many organizations. So how do we break them up? How do we increase communication and collaboration among teams with different functions?

Meet regularly

No one likes unnecessary meetings. And meeting with people who aren’t even on your team can sometimes feel like a waste of time. But getting your sales and marketing teams together—in person or virtually, through technology like video calls—can make a big difference.
Meeting to talk about common challenges can help people see beyond their individual roles. Coming together can help your sales and marketing teams appreciate the fundamental truth—they need each other. The better they understand one another’s perspective, the more aligned they can be. And that leads to a stronger organization with better client acquisition metrics.
If you want to go further, you might even try to give the sales and marketing teams opportunities to socialize and build stronger relationships with an occasional retreat or offsite day.

Shared communications channels

Chances are, your sales and marketing teams already have some kind of communications channels to coordinate internally. This might be an email group or a channel on a messaging application like Slack or Anywhere Works. 

Consider setting up a shared channel for all your sales and marketing folks to use. Just having an easy way to communicate can increase collaboration and transparency between different teams.

Shared assets

Your sales team is a great source of insight into your prospects. Sales people talk to prospects every day, and they know better than anyone what your customers-to-be want, need, and worry about. You can use these insights in your marketing—if you’re paying attention to them.

Sales people can also be the face of your company, talking it up on social media, in blog posts, and so on. While marketers may actually create some of this content, sales has a key role to play in inspiring and distributing it. 

Collect your sales enablement resources in one place, where both sales and marketing staff can access and iterate on it. When both teams see this material as a collaborative project that benefits everyone, success isn’t far behind.

Collaborative research

Marketing and sales teams have a lot to teach one another. Too often, marketing teams broadcast a message, but don’t take the opportunity to listen to the response. That response happens when the sales team actually connects with prospects on a call.

Listen to sales calls

If your sales calls are recorded, they can be a valuable resource for marketers in their efforts to align with sales. Your marketing team can get insights from these recordings about what leads care about. Then, they can tailor future marketing campaigns to speak to those concerns.

Train sales teams on new features

Just as marketers can learn a lot from the conversations salespeople have with leads, they can teach sales teams something, too.
Marketing teams are good at creating content to promote new features and services your company may introduce. In addition to putting this content into the world where leads can find it, they can use it to keep sales teams up to date on the latest offerings.

Sales Development Representatives

A sales development representative sits between your marketing and sales teams. This role can function as a connector, making both sales and marketing more effective and helping everyone focus on the common goal.

Sales development representatives primarily qualify leads, helping to move them through your sales pipeline. This allows your primary sales team to concentrate on closing deals with the prospects who are most ready to buy or sign up.
Sales development representatives typically receive leads from marketing and reach out to them to determine what they need and when they need it. They pass the hottest leads on to your sales team, and slot the rest into the most appropriate pipeline stage for the moment.

Who is your prospect?

Understanding your prospects is key to a successful sales and marketing operation. If your marketing and sales teams work in silos, each with their own idea of the ideal lead, you’re in trouble.
Shared models of your idea customers, often called personas, can help. Get your sales and marketing teams together to agree on the typical job titles, ages, work responsibilities, and goals of the people you’re trying to engage. 

Document these personas. Keep the profiles in a place where your sales and marketing teams can easily access them. And return to them periodically to iterate. Use what you learn from your pipeline metrics to continually refine the personas. 
Above all, be sure both the sales and marketing sides of your company are on board with this shared view of who your prospects are.

Define qualification criteria

Your sales pipeline will generally have two stages of lead qualification—marketing qualified and sales qualified. 
The two types of lead qualification differ in where they fall in the pipeline, but they need to have at least one thing in common. The criteria for putting a lead in one category or the other has to be based on the lead’s actions.

Marketing qualified leads

Leads considered marketing qualified have set themselves apart from your overall lead pool by doing something. This may be downloading a content resource, visiting certain pages of your site, or signing up for a newsletter. 
Marketing qualified leads are interested in what you have to offer, but they aren’t ready to buy yet. They’re browsing, but they aren’t necessarily headed up to the register with their purchase in hand or calling over your salesperson to ask questions. 

Sales qualified leads

Sales qualified leads, on the other hand, are ready to buy. They know they need what you are selling, and they have the budget to acquire it. They may not be 100% set on choosing you, but they’re seriously considering it. 
Again, your decision to categorize a lead as sales qualified should be based on some concrete action they’ve taken. Maybe they’ve registered on your site, consumed a series of content, or agreed to attend a webinar. Their actions tell you they’re serious and getting close to a decision.

Handling leads

Another important way to keep sales and marketing aligned is to agree on when and how to pass leads from one team to the other. 
You want to have shared criteria on when a marketing qualified lead is passed over to sales, and when a lead you may have thought was ready to buy gets shifted back to marketing for more nurturing. 
Getting to a common understanding of when these transfers should happen will keep your entire team on the same page and moving in the same direction.

Use the right tools

To keep marketing and sales aligned, you need the right processes and attitudes. But that’s not all. You also need the right tools.

How your CRM helps align sales and marketing

When it comes to managing your sales pipeline, a good customer relationship management (CRM) application is probably your most important tool.
Using a CRM shared by both your marketing and sales teams helps you maintain a single source of truth for your information. 
Your CRM also helps you with transparency, since anyone from any team can see where a lead sits in your pipeline at any given time. Sales can see where the leads come from, and marketing can share credit for conversions of the leads they generate.

Follow up with email templates

A solid collection of shared email templates can also help your sales and marketing teams stay on the same page. Putting together your template collection, and keeping it where all team members can review the emails, helps you decide on and execute your strategy.

While templates may not cover every possible situation, you can do a lot to improve your leads’ journey by standardizing these touchpoints.

Create templates for nurturing leads who aren’t ready to buy, so you have a reason to contract them periodically. Over time, you can create more templates for further customization of the journey. This can include emails to address particular obstacles to conversion, emails targeting your customers’ industries, or emails explaining options or add-on features you offer.

Define metrics

As with any project, it’s important to decide how you will measure success in your sales and marketing efforts.

To do that, you need to define your metrics. Here are some of the things you may consider measuring:

  • What portion of your marketing qualified leads go on to become sales qualified?
  • What portion of your sales qualified leads actually convert into customers?
  • How many leads have to go from sales stages of your pipeline back to marketing?
  • What is the average time a lead spends in your pipeline?
  • Where do leads get stuck or eject from the pipeline?

You’ll also want to measure the performance of your campaigns and individual content resources. You can track the items above for each campaign, as well as for your overall pipeline effort.

Maintenance and consistency

Remember, aligning sales and marketing is not something you do in a day or a week. You can’t “set it and forget it”—you need to take a long view, and iterate on what you’re doing for continuous improvement.

When you set up feedback loops and adjust your activities according to what you learn, you’re on the right track.

And don’t forget, your sales and marketing teams have a lot to gain from staying aligned. So keep them involved!

You probably won’t get far trying to impose alignment from above. It’ll only work if everyone’s on board. Review your goals, strategies, and tactics with your teams and invite them to participate in the work. After all, alignment is first and foremost about people. 

Start capturing leads today!