Sales and marketing organizations that are well-aligned, collaborating together to achieve their goals, and delivering on corporate objectives: it is a beautiful thing. It’s also something that most sales and marketing executives dream of and aspire to, but rarely achieve.
There are many reasons why alignment is so difficult to achieve in most B2B organizations but rather than dwell on the negatives, here are seven critical success factors necessary for alignment to take hold. As is the case in so many business culture issues, it starts at the top. The examples and behaviors that senior leaders demonstrate set the tone for the entire organization.
ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT
Very few people actually want someone else to fail. While questions and suggestions across departments can seem mildly offensive or even treading on another’s territory, that is rarely the case. Most questions and suggestions are well intentioned. Focus on the spirit of the question. In most cases, it will be clear that the questioner was legitimately trying to help rather than point out shortcomings.
BE OPEN AND TRANSPARENT
Nothing can derail alignment more quickly than withholding information. This immediately leads to both distrust and doubt. Share your data. Explain your sources and calculations. Document assumptions. Socialize your plans and priorities. Solicit and accept advice. Openly talk through differences and work toward mutually agreeable resolutions.
SHARED GOALS AND KPIS
Not all objectives are the same for sales and marketing teams. Marketing will likely have specific objectives related to brand awareness or social media engagement. Likewise, sales may have tactical objectives related to numbers of first appointments. Still, there are key objectives that should be shared by the two departments around revenue, new customers and/or retention rates. In these cases, it is vital that the measurements are the same or you will spend unnecessary time attempting to reconcile the data.
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
There are some issues that are material and need to be worked through and others that are not worth the angst. Focus energy on those areas that have a material impact on achieving your objectives. Get to the other things when time allows but those are not the ones to escalate.
Nothing drives a wedge between sales and marketing faster than an ill-conceived plan or campaign. Start small with a few sales people or one sales region. Take all of the feedback and learnings from that small market and adjust the campaign accordingly. Then, when you roll out your program more broadly, you will have something that is proven to work and the added benefit of sales people who can attest to the program’s success. (see Find Evangelists)
Sales people are most trusting of other sales people who walk in their same shoes, face the same competitive pressures and the same customer reluctance. Finding sales people, ideally at different levels in the sales organization, that are willing to test a new program and then serve as a champion within the sales organization is key.
Whenever possible, whether setting annual plans or working on the details of an upcoming trade show, conduct joint planning workshops. The practical feedback from sales will be invaluable as they are closest to the customer and have insight as to what is most likely to work and where there could be resistance. Plus, there is likely more buy-in when they have had a hand in developing the program in the first place.
At the end of the day, it’s important to focus on the fact that both sales and marketing have a shared goal: they want the company to succeed and to grow the business. Each department has a different job to do in order to achieve the overall business results. By focusing on the commonalities vs. differences and practicing open communications will lead to better alignment and improved results.
Want more tips on sales and marketing alignment? Read our other blog post on the topic, Get in Formation: How to Align Sales & Marketing.