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7 Steps to Achieving Sales and Marketing Alignment

Posted in:  Sales and Marketing Management

This post was originally published in June 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Often sought and rarely achieved, alignment is the holy grail of marketing and sales teams everywhere. And it’s no wonder why: Aligned teams work more effectively and perform better. Despite this, many organizations struggle to stay aligned. Distributed workforces, fluctuating market dynamics, and office politics can make working in lockstep difficult. Regardless of the root cause, overcoming sales and marketing misalignment is necessary to securing long-term success.

In this guide, we’ll be breaking down the keys to achieving — and maintaining — real sales and marketing alignment:

  1. What is sales and marketing alignment?
  2. What is smarketing?
  3. What does marketing do for sales?
  4. What does sales do for marketing?
  5. Common problems sales and marketing alignment can solve
  6. Best practices for sales and marketing alignment

What Is Sales and Marketing Alignment?

Sales and marketing alignment is a shared system of communication, strategy, and goals that enable marketing and sales to operate as a unified organization. Working together, aligned teams can deliver high-impact marketing activities, boost sales effectiveness, and ultimately grow revenue.

Historically, sales and marketing have worked in “silos” — that is to say, segmented from one another. Marketing would own the top of the funnel and sales would own the bottom. Once a lead was ready for sales, it could be handed off and, in many cases, would never hear from marketing again.

This linear process is no longer possible in today’s world. Customers are constantly engaging with brands long before they purchase and well after a deal closes. Clunky handoffs and duplicate communications can sour a buyer’s perception of your business — and result in lost revenue. Instead, successful organizations must now approach alignment as a necessary key factor of delivering a seamless customer experience.

The importance of sales and marketing alignment is stressed now more than ever. It was reported as the number one priority for sales leaders in 2023. The reason is clear: In a recent Gartner study, sales organizations that prioritize alignment with marketing are nearly 3x more likely to exceed new customer acquisition targets.

What Is Smarketing?

Smarketing, a portmanteau of sales and marketing, refers to sales and marketing teams that are so aligned they function as one organization. Simply put, it’s a way of approaching how you think about integrating sales and marketing, including which goals, processes, and communications overlap, and how you can optimize them together.

Core Marketing Responsibilities Where Smarketing Happens Core Sales Responsibilities
  • Building brand awareness
  • Managing public relations and communications
  • Generating demand via digital marketing and in-person channels
  • Creating and updating sales content
  • Managing the customer experience
  • Cross-functional input into go-to-market strategies
  • Closed sales content feedback loop
  • Seamless handoff between marketing-generated leads and sales with marketing automation
  • Transparent, shared goals and objectives
  • Consistent customer experience
  • Generating revenue
  • Managing relationships with potential customers and prospects
  • Managing pipeline, territory planning, and forecasting
  • Optimizing sales processes and operations

What Does Marketing Do for Sales?

In a tightly aligned organization, marketing efforts focus on engaging buyers through the early stages of your buyer’s journey in preparation for engagement with sellers later on. Once a deal is closed, many organizations will also continue to market to customers in order to deliver additional solution value.

This means that to support sales, marketing departments must:

  • Educate their buyer personas
  • Nurture and qualify leads
  • Provide competitive intel
  • Provide content at each stage of the sales funnel
  • Influence the market
  • Consistently engage customers

Through these actions, marketing supports sales by ensuring that buyers are educated, interested, and engaged — and more likely to start, or continue, doing business with you.

What Does Sales Do for Marketing?

Sales’ responsibility is, of course, to close deals. But that doesn’t mean that sales doesn’t support the marketing function. Because of their proximity to the customer, sales reps can offer a wealth of valuable insights into buyer needs, operational efficiency, and product capabilities. A tightly aligned sales team should close the feedback loop by sharing:

  • Real-world solution applications
  • Market dynamics
  • Customer health
  • Process efficiency
  • Content validity

By delivering this intel, sales ensures marketing is up-to-date on buyer’s pain points and needs, and therefore better able to execute marketing initiatives.

Problems Sales and Marketing Alignment Can Solve

Misalignment between sales and marketing can wreak havoc on an organization, especially one that’s looking to grow quickly. Here are some common points of friction between sales and marketing teams and how to resolve them with tighter alignment.

Poor customer data

The trend towards point-solution tech stacks hasn’t just resulted in bloatware — in many cases, organizations now find themselves with a labyrinthian tangle of customer profile data, originating from many different sources like CRMs, customer engagement platforms, as well as integration and automation tools.

Invoca did a recent study and reported that 46% of marketers report that data quality and accuracy negatively impact marketing optimization and 28% say data is siloed and difficult to access. This results in lost sales and decreased customer retention.

Strong alignment between sales and marketing can help surface hidden trends by forcing teams to centralize technology. Forming an operational center of excellence that serves both sales and marketing equally ensures that your technology is integrated and is providing data-driven actions.

Under-utilization of sales content

It’s an oft-quoted statistic that 65% of marketing content goes unused by sales. Poor alignment is frequently a contributing factor. Typically, marketing creates, develops, and delivers sales assets with little to no input from the sellers themselves. As a result, content doesn’t meet salespeoples’ needs or fails to impact deals. Consider having marketing teams sit in on sales calls so that they can understand prospect challenges better and create content that resonates.

With alignment, content marketers and product marketers can create collateral that addresses sellers’ needs effectively — resulting in greater adoption of marketing content and the reduction of wasted hours and one-off requests.

Clunky lead handoffs

Lead handoff can easily become a point of tension between sales and marketing teams. Marketing may generate hundreds of MQLs (marketing qualified lead) through various marketing campaigns, and sales may decide to pursue recycled opportunities instead, complaining that marketing leads aren’t qualified enough to become SQLs (sales qualified lead).

Additionally, in a recent Gartner study, 62% of respondents describe their sales and marketing functions as defining qualified leads differently. This often leads to inefficient and ineffective customer engagement. By agreeing on the lead scoring process and how fast sales should act on them, both teams will be on track to operate more efficiently. This ensures that interested buyers see a timely response and no opportunity is left on the table.

Difficulty demonstrating ROI

Working in silos can make demonstrating ROI difficult. After all, how can marketing prove an asset significantly influenced a deal? These sticking points can obscure inefficiencies in the business and make it difficult to understand where investment is needed.

Here, alignment ensures credit is given where it’s due. This reduces tensions between team members who may feel that one organization is not pulling its weight and ensures a more transparent view of how investments are impacting the bottom line.

Stagnant growth

New product launches or campaigns spur business growth, but these initiatives can eventually become stale as growth plateaus. When buyers aren’t biting, alignment is key to reigniting your go-to-market strategy.

A tightly aligned team will leverage closed-loop feedback to empower leaders from both teams to examine market dynamics and buyer behavior, assess new opportunities, and quickly pivot strategies to go after them effectively.

Best Practices for Sales and Marketing Alignment

Now that you know what great marketing and sales alignment can solve for, let’s take a look at the how.

Share your goals

If you want to tackle misalignment, the first step is formally recognizing that you are all working towards common goals. Whether these objectives are company initiatives (such as doubling revenue growth) or specific (such as successfully launching a new product line), it’s important to agree upon business outcomes.

This is because sales and marketing leaders tend to have “blinders” towards their own operations — marketing is used to seeing objectives in generalizations, like the number of quality leads generated, while sales typically have a more individualistic view, such as a specific account they are trying to close. Uniting these perspectives under an all-up goal deepens sales and marketing’s understanding of how their objectives relate to one another and fosters better collaboration.

Strategize together

Next, it’s imperative that teams stop building go-to-market strategies independently. Sales and marketing leaders should instead schedule regular meetings together to analyze important metrics and topics such as customer journey mapping, lead generation, conversion rates, inbound sales tactics, revenue goals, win rates, key performance indicators (KPIs), and messaging.

You can accomplish this by hosting a leadership team offsite or scheduling more regular standing syncs. However you approach it, just make sure it’s live. Gathering everyone in the same physical or digital space creates room for dynamic, honest discussions. Further, building your plan of attack together ensures that you have cross-team buy-in, eliminates confusion, and guarantees your teams are working towards the shared goals you outlined previously.

Agree on processes

As you start to execute on your goals, sales and marketing managers will inevitably interact. Cross-functional collaboration is great, but it can also be complicated.

A repeatable model for enabling cross-functional collaboration lets managers easily engage one another using agreed-upon language, thus eliminating confusion on roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Determine and document how you expect sales and marketing teams to interact. Will it be via established crews? Or is ad-hoc the way to go? How much time should participants expect to invest in a project? What does “good” feedback look like? Establishing these elements up front will streamline collaborative engagements and shorten the sales cycle.

Embrace uncomfortable conversations

Friction between teams can be uncomfortable, but it’s also necessary to grow. Complacency with current processes, strategies, or systems is the fastest way to lose your competitive edge. But many businesses operate in an environment where teams are afraid to push back for fear of retaliation, office politics, or confrontation.

Encouraging constructive criticism can bring sales and marketing closer together; it allows parties to understand why certain decisions were made, and elevates the end result. You can solicit feedback via formalized venues — like a forum or a standing critique session — to ensure interactions stay respectful. Embracing these difficult conversations will ensure teams don’t just make the easy choice, but the right one.

Centralize communications

One of the worst contributors to misalignment is poor communication. To help sales and marketing teams work in lockstep, you must have centralized communications and a regular distribution cadence. This ensures that key stakeholders never miss an important conversation. Additionally, it limits gossip and increases transparency.

Centralize your communications via a dedicated tool, such as Slack or email. Be sure to let teams know where they can find updates and how frequently updates will be delivered. This way, no matter how large your team is, salespeople and marketers will be kept in the loop.

Invest in sales enablement

Sales enablement is the ideal function to increase sales and marketing alignment — and many organizations already rely on enablement to do just that.

Enablement can act as a neutral conduit between marketing and sales. For instance, in the case of content, a sales enablement team can ensure that assets are never presented to sellers without training and guidance on how to use them effectively, thus ensuring that content is used to its utmost effect. By investing in an enablement team, you’re creating a reliable conduit of information between organizations. Additionally, you’re allowing sellers and marketers to focus on what they do best.

Lead by example

Finally, one of the most important things that sales and marketing can do to stay aligned is lead by example. When top leaders make the effort to stay aligned, there is a trickle-down effect to direct reports.

Here at Highspot, our sales and marketing leaders regularly meet to communicate progress on goals, explore opportunities for growth, and offer feedback. These actions show their teams that collaboration is not only encouraged, but expected. Simple changes, such as celebrating cross-functional wins, joining another team’s all-hands meeting, or saying thank you, go a long way toward building a tightly aligned, highly successful culture.

Align to Win

Whether you’re a team of two or a global enterprise, sales and marketing alignment is critical to your success. With these best practices in place, you’ll be on your way to winning together.

Start your journey to greater alignment today by booking a demo! Here you can explore how sales enablement can help both marketing and sales succeed.