I spent many years in account management before transitioning to marketing and then moved back to sales before starting Beeline. I’ve seen both sides, understand their challenges, and experienced the “sales-marketing divide” that exists in many B2B companies today. I’ve been witness to the friction, finger-pointing, or sometimes general apathy that occurs between these groups: Sales would complain that customers lack awareness of their brand or product or that leads generated by marketing aren’t qualified; on the flip side, marketers would complain that sales teams aren’t utilizing marketing assets that they’ve slaved on, are slow to pursue perfectly good leads, or don’t appreciate all of the brand-building efforts that they do.
The funny thing is that B2B marketing and sales are both in the business of pipeline building and winning customers. So why aren’t they acting like each other’s most valuable partners at work?
According to Forrester, companies with highly aligned sales and marketing teams grow 19% faster and are 15% more profitable. It’s in their best interests to work together. So how can we make Connected Sales and Marketing happen?
1. Create a common language.
“What is a lead?” is a question that often generates different responses depending on who you’re talking to. Creating common definitions for key concepts and ensuring everyone has the same understanding can prevent many issues.
In the case of leads, it’s helpful to define what constitutes a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), which Sales will gladly work on because it meets specific criteria that the two teams have agreed on.
2. Set expectations.
The finger-pointing between Sales and Marketing often stems from a lack of expectation-setting. Both sides need to understand each other’s roles and be clear on who is accountable for what.
Some outdated notions exist about what Marketing does in a B2B setting. Traditionally they are seen as the event organizers, the creative people, or the custodians of the company-branded merch. But now that over 80% of B2B buyers turn to online web searches, vendor websites, and social media to research1 and shortlisting happens before they ever talk to a salesperson, the role of marketing in reaching, educating, and engaging customers is more important than ever.
Where self-service purchasing is possible, such as with some SaaS providers and specific market segments, Marketing can even own the entire purchase cycle and should rightfully have its own revenue targets.
Meanwhile, the traditional view of sellers is that they’re promo-pushers who rely on personal relationships to close a sale. But the shift in B2B buyer behavior that was amplified during the pandemic -- when sellers couldn’t schedule in-person meetings with their clients – meant that Sales teams had to be masters at value-selling and actively develop relationships with new, strategic contacts within their accounts.
These discussions on segmentation and the roles of sales and marketing in key accounts versus other segments need to happen and must be evident to all.
Agreeing on SLAs is also important. One example: Marketing is expected to pass MQLs to Sales “while they’re still hot” and with all the required information. On the other hand, sales should contact an MQL within a certain timeframe and update Marketing either directly or through the company CRM.
3. Establish common goals.
It goes without saying that sales and marketing must have a common understanding of the business’s goals. During the planning process, while they are likely to go off on their own and develop plans in silos, the two groups need to collaborate and align their plans before they execute. In addition, it’s an opportunity to identify gaps and see where each can support the other.
It also helps to understand the leading indicators that each group measures, as sometimes these can seem disconnected from the larger goals and can be a source of friction. For example, when Marketing speaks of clickthrough rates or lead magnet downloads, it may seem so far removed from the named, workable opportunities that sales teams prefer to deal with. But understanding that top-of-the-funnel activity is just as crucial as middle and bottom-of-funnel actions can help sales appreciate those Marketing metrics.
4. Agree on the target audience.
The target audience isn’t usually tackled during the annual planning process, perhaps because people assume everyone already knows this. But the lack of clarity on “who we’re selling to” can lead to ineffective campaigns and wasted resources. Sales and marketing must first identify their target market: What demographics are we after? Are they a certain company size? A specific industry? From a particular geography? Etc.
Second, you need to identify the buyer personas. More often than not, B2B buyers are groups of people rather than just one person2, so we need to know who our champions are, the influencers and other evaluators, and who will have the final say.
Documenting this lets Marketing teams focus their resources on developing relevant messaging for each key persona and informs their decisions on what activities or channels to invest in.
5. Keep each other updated.
Have regular alignment meetings; quarterly, at least, though a short weekly sync can be very useful. Marketing should properly brief Sales on their overall strategy and upcoming campaigns before anything hits the market and provide insight on what content or assets target audiences are responding to. Sales can provide Marketing with insights on customer challenges and supply constructive feedback on how marketing efforts are being received by the market – what’s working and what’s not.
As someone who is both a seller and a marketer, I can say that my knowledge of sales has made me a more effective marketer, and understanding marketing has also made me a better salesperson. So if you’re sitting on one side of the fence and haven’t visited the other side in a while (or ever), I recommend initiating that connection today!
By the way, we recently hosted a podcast on this topic where our guest provided insights on how they are working towards Connected Sales and Marketing in their company. Have a listen here and let us know what you think!
About the Author
Issa Aviles is COO and Co-Founder of Beeline. She has 27 years of B2B marketing and sales experience in the IT industry, having worked for industry leaders such as Microsoft, IBM, SAS and Indra.