Sales Enablement

How is Your Alignment Between Sales and Marketing Coming Along?


Several weeks ago, we sat in a client meeting with the company’s sales and marketing leaders. It went something like this: Marketing: Here’s a binder of our marketing initiatives for this quarter. Let’s take a look and map out how we deploy these to your reps. Sales: This is … a lot.

Marketing: Yes, and in addition we’ll be continuing a few of the initiatives from last quarter. We start rolling out the new product positioning next week with mandatory training webinars. Also, our digital agency has new analytics, and we’ll be updating our lead gen protocols with the field…

Sales: Stop! Just, stop.

It was awkward, but the sales leader’s point was made. Sales people are measured by how much they sell. Marketing people are measured by how many programs they execute.

New campaigns, initiatives, collateral, promotions – marketing is often focused on stuff. Fueled by good intentions and backed by legends of agencies and vendors, the flow of stuff can be overwhelming.

The chasm between sales and marketing seems to be increasing thanks to the explosion of data and digital insights. Marketing teams are feeling more empowered. And they’re using their elevated influence to exert themselves even more into the day-to-day of field sales. More ideas and more stuff.

From our conversations with sales leaders, most have the following views about marketing:

1. They’re not focused on the right things. Part of the problem is that marketing executes on their agenda. That agenda may not be wrong, but it can be different than sales’. Sometimes this stems from misalignment of metrics. Other times, it comes from different definitions of the same objectives. Just looking at their MBOs, it is clear. Marketing is measured by the programs and materials they create. In the worst cases, it’s an exercise in self-justification. Quantity is not quality.

2. What’s built is not connected with the core job. Having a lot of marketing collateral is not a badge of honor. We know of Fortune 500 companies that have upwards of 100,000 pieces (that’s not a typo!) of sales content. Sorting through it all can be time consuming and frustrating for reps. Worse, so much isn’t relevant. That white paper may ‘look great’, but when asked, reps admit they’d never use it.

3. Marketing’s efforts aren’t anchored to the sales framework. If a rep has to ask, “When do I use this?” the marketing material’s purpose is either too vague or irrelevant. A marketing asset that aligns to a specific sales motion or addresses a sales hurdle has context. And content that fits a situation WILL get used. There will never be a discussion about adoption or tracking of downloads if marketing creates things that help reps deliver the right message at the right time.

So, what are some practical things sales leaders can do?

1. Reverse the marketing-to-field supply chain. Too many disconnects with marketing come down to bad planning. Think of the supply-chain metaphor: sales teams are priority customers of marketing’s products. Not the other way around. New materials and collateral should be demand-side, not supply-side driven.

One client revamped their marketing planning with an off-site that included high-performing reps. An entire wall was converted into a detailed visual of the customer buying journey. In a collaborative exercise, sticky notes were used to mark areas where reps needed marketing’s help. The process revealed how much of marketing’s current efforts didn’t map and how many assets were geared to the wrong stages.

2. Walk a mile in sales’ shoes. It’s surprising how few marketing teams actually spend time with the sales people they’re tasked with helping. Consider two options: A day with the branding agency in their cool loft offices or time tagging along with a field rep. Catered lunches vs. fast-food drive-thrus. It’s hardly a choice. Marketing teams should experience the daily grind of selling.

Frustrated by a lack of understanding of the rep’s world, one CRO demanded quarterly field time by marketing. This side-by-side work with sales helped marketing build relationships they could later use to test ideas and gather feedback. Marketing also became more empathic to the time constraints and other stressors facing reps.

3. Establish a governance system. Sales enablement can really help here. As gatekeepers to the sales organization, enablement must set the cadence for releasing programs and materials. They should also bring a more structured approach to field deployments. Before any field touches, enablement must collaborate with marketing to define things like audience, adoption targets, and feedback protocols.

Many clients are leveraging new enablement platforms to bring greater discipline and transparency into marketing content. One company we know has successfully used Showpad to finally tame their customer-facing assets. Using the platform, they have digitized their rep playbook and mapped content to their sales methodology. For the first time marketing has visibility into the real usage of their collateral.

4. Align the scorecards. Stop measuring marketing on program and initiative volume. Instead, look at the sales framework – the milestones reps hit throughout a deal from discovery meetings to negotiations. Marketing’s programs should support each of these steps. More importantly, their efforts need to tie to specific KPIs across the framework. How will any new thing support lead-to-meeting conversion, deal velocity, or average sales price? Mature marketing teams know that metrics like ‘awareness’ or ‘preference’ aren’t enough.

Early this year we helped one company revamp their incentive plan to include sales KPIs in the MBOs of all functions. In this model, even folks in ‘back-office’ areas like IT and Supply Chain had meaningful comp tied to sales behaviors. This simple move drove a dramatic culture change within 3 months. Every corporate meeting started with a conversation around sales and customers. New initiatives were evaluated on the basis on how they might help or hurt rep effectiveness.

Is Marketing from Mars and Sales from Venus?

There will always be differences in perspectives and approaches between the two functions. And diversity is healthy. But in today’s environment we see too many areas where better coordination is needed. Start with an honest conversation about volume vs. impact, then commit to continuous alignment.

Contact us to build the cross-functional frameworks and scorecards to drive results in 2020.


About The Author

Author photo Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.

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