Why Executives Should Care About Sales and Marketing Alignment

Alignment provides an understanding of what is happening throughout the sales and marketing process, how it affects revenue today, and how it will impact revenue in the long term.

There is no doubt that marketing people are a hardworking bunch. Over the past decade marketing functions responsibilities have grown while staff levels have mostly stayed consistent or even been reduced. At the same time, sales teams continue to see expected growth year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter. All involved in either function will acknowledge there must be a better way to reach their goals and, most likely, it involves the use of some sort of technology.

There are four key areas companies must address with technology:

  1. prospect and account management
  2. the timing of when leads are received
  3. giving the sales team the right materials with which to sell
  4. measurement

Prospect and account management has been addressed for many years through CRM systems. Most companies in the U.S. are using some type of technology to manage their prospects, opportunities, and active accounts. How thoroughly they are using these systems differs from company to company. I would argue these systems are the cornerstone of other technologies. They are not only used by the sales team to track leads and opportunities, but also by senior management, who may review reports that provide measurement on the current sales process, as well as the sales forecast. Executives need to not only focus on today's revenue, but also on what is coming in future quarters. This foresight into what is coming months down the road, or what isn't on the path yet, is a key driver of the call to align sales and marketing.

Clearly, the current trend of marketing trying to force a "better" process, or alignment, onto the sales function isn't working. This is because many solutions that claim to bring the two functions into alignment, thus make them collectively more efficient and productive, ignore what should be obvious facts. For example, if one department is dictating the process, it is more than likely this new process will primarily serve that department's view of the world.

This means if a marketing department is primarily focused on producing leads, its version of alignment will be focused on the tactical steps in obtaining and distributing leads. Although this is important, it is a small portion of what needs to be addressed. Today, there are so many solution providers focused on scoring and sending leads to sales representatives, the question is finding the one that best fits your sales approach and sales team. There are a few simple, but necessary, questions when assessing these technologies:

  • How easy or hard will it be to configure?
  • Does it operate with a separate database, and if so, does that work with your sales process?
  • Does it integrate with your CRM system?
  • How will you measure if it is successful?

Why should companies care about having alignment of sales and marketing functions at the field level as a goal? And if this is a worthy goal, what are the key components in reaching it?

IDC has research addressing this. IDC's 80/20 Rule and the 50/50 Rule research shows that up to 80 percent of the content that marketing generates is not used by sales, even though a lot of it is specifically created for sales and channel enablement. Additionally, customers say that sales reps are insufficiently prepared for their initial meeting 50 percent of the time. Clearly a massive disconnect is at work.

Marketers need to see what is happening in the field. Going on sales calls will definitely help. In addition, systems need to be put in place that ensure the people in the field - the ones who are interacting with customers and prospects regularly - have more say in the marketing happening in their territories.

Marketing shouldn't be directing all communications to customers and prospects without the input of the most natural subject matter expert, the sales rep or channel partner in the field. At the same time, putting full control of field marketing into the local salesperson's hands could result in marketing communications that don't agree with the company's positioning and strategy delivered in poor-quality marketing materials.

In addition, most companies have beautiful marketing collateral at headquarters. In fact, there are probably shelves of it available. It looks great. These materials are beautifully designed, have what was considered when they were produced the best messaging, and were very expensive. Unfortunately, as stated above, there is a good possibility they won't be used. Meanwhile, in the field, where the selling actually occurs, the marketing materials often look like they were produced by someone who is not a marketing expert or graphic designer. The quality may be very poor and the corporate brand guidelines may not have been followed.

The only answer is to align through a system that gives sales the flexibility to personalize or localize marketing, while enabling the marketing people to approve customized marketing materials and offers. Fortunately, technology has caught up with the modern company's need to address this.

First, with an extended sales team and channel partners, the best approach is SaaS-based. This will enable nearly 24/7 access to the system, which is necessary for remote users in multiple regions. SaaS-based solutions also offer scalability to grow and usually include regular system updates.

Next, a system with remote users should be extremely easy to use. If it isn't intuitive for the end user, the rate of adoption will lag. Finally, exactly what should be in a system that aligns selling in the field with the overall corporate sales approach? The system must enable companies to walk the line between empowering their field to personalize or localize their marketing and sales support materials and making sure they adhere to brand and messaging guidelines.

What is needed is a centrally-managed sales and marketing platform where highly customized templates can be accessed anywhere. A simple central database is not enough. With limited visibility into the field, the added control of version management and automatic updates when templates are changed should be a requirement. When all these parts are in operation, marketing materials move from being sales support to key components in programs that drive new sales.

Having said this, empowerment does not equal autonomy. Customizations from the field should be looped back to marketing headquarters for final approval. This may not be desired in every situation, but some marketers may find that the added control provides additional comfort.

What technology will deliver true alignment

Although we would all like a one-stop solution for all our technology needs, the reality is there isn't one. In fact, with such different needs, expecting one company to address the needs of multiple function areas is unrealistic. Without a doubt, a cocktail of multiple platforms and technologies is needed. Integration between technologies is necessary for: collaborating through multiple departments, channels, and locations; implementing at headquarters and through multiple channels; and accurately measuring what is working and what is not.

The good news is, because of technical developments of the past few years and improvements that are sure to come soon, efficient sales and marketing alignment is possible. Also, because we are at the point where it is assumed that good technology integrates, tracking and measurement can be more accurate today than at any time previously. Executives can now see a clear understanding of what is happening throughout their sales and marketing process, how it is affecting revenue today, and how it will impact revenue for quarters to come.

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About the Author: Kristof Vereenooghe is CEO of Luma International. Follow him on Twitter at @kristofsaas.