3 Practical Ways to Get Sales and Marketing Working Together

Carrie Ward

Last week I had two sales managers at different companies complain, “Marketing doesn’t give us any good leads.” Then I talked to the marketing folks at those companies. Not surprisingly, they said, “We generate great leads. Sales never follows up with any of them.”

Turns out finger pointing goes beyond Washington, DC. It’s a major barrier to sales performance in just about every company.

Sales and marketing need to do a better job of working together. Every sales leader knows it, and every marketing leader knows it. But it’s just not that simple. 

Or is it? Both are working hard toward the same ultimate goals: to get more buyers to buy more and increase revenue. As a sales leader, it’s your job to help marketing understand your process, your customers, and how you adapt to win.

Here are the top three ways we’ve seen sales leaders bridge the sales and marketing divide.

1. Partner on insights

The best salespeople offer buyers insight. Marketing wants to arm reps with these insights and related messaging. But as obvious as this sounds, sales and marketing rarely sit down to discuss the collateral, messaging, and opportunities they share. And too often, these groups aren’t on the same page.

Recently, I asked a sales leader about the glossy buyer persona sheets that marketing had produced. Each listed the typical buyer, their background, breadth of skills, decision-making abilities, and pain points. When I asked, "Do you use these buyer personas to plan sales conversations? Do you identify who your buyer is, then use this persona as your cheat sheet to provide insights?" He laughed and said, "I’ve never looked at that. In fact, those personas don’t reflect our buyers."

In their defense, marketing had probably never heard that feedback. But it’s up to sales to let them know. Sales must invest the time to not only look at the collateral being created, but to give meaningful feedback. Marketing can make it brand compliant, but sales must deliver the practical details to make content work.

2. Get to know the product marketing folks

Product marketing often have the most insight into the pain customers are really trying to solve. For example, we’re working with a client that sells software for large logistics companies. When product marketing talked to one set of targets – large trucking companies – they asked, "What are your biggest challenges?" These prospects said driver retention was a big problem.

The product marketing people then peeled back the layers. They learned drivers were quitting because they weren’t getting paid fast enough. But one of their products allows truckers to scan their documentation at a truck stop, ensuring they get reimbursed by the time they get home. Product marketing connected a real problem – one of the biggest for their customers – to a solution they could offer. That insight became a great message for reps and led to an increase in sales.

3. Define “qualified"

Whether it’s a marketing qualified lead (MQL) or a sales qualified lead (SQL), it has to be QUALIFIED and QUALITY. Both teams have to agree on what makes a high quality, actionable lead. In very general terms, a good lead might include a buyer in the target customer group reacting to a marketing message about one of their pain points. Sales can continue the conversation, saying, “We can help solve your pain points with our solution.”

While sales might know what qualified looks like intuitively, they struggle translating it into actionable terms for marketing. There’s no magical database of ideal leads for marketing to tap into. It takes real work to design programs that deliver solid leads. And this is a process that requires continuous refinement. What worked last year or last quarter, may not work now. Beyond demanding more and better leads, how are your sales teams helping marketing make it happen?

Starting the Process Today

Building a stronger partnership between marketing and sales starts with a few simple steps. Create a simple job rotation program for the teams. Have marketing walk in the rep’s shoes through regular field ride-alongs. In the same way, have reps sit in on marketing research or planning meetings. In one company we know, marketing is constantly complaining about the salespeople. Yet, not one marketing person has ever spent a day in the field with the rep.

Next, formalize your marketing-sales conversations. Sales leaders should meet quarterly with marketing to discuss the challenges they face and the ways marketing can help. Similar to quarterly business reviews you might do with clients, these internal meetings are just as important. Share stories, including typical buyers, business problems, and recent wins. Include professional services people in the meetings, too – customer service reps, account managers, or solution engineers. Their perspectives are equally valuable and help ensure you’re building a true end-to-end picture of success.

Finally, revisit your goals. Working together should be about mutual goals, and mutual accountability. While it can be sticky, work to create team goals, whether activity-based (like collaborating on a number of case studies) or metric-based (like a lead conversion rate). Ultimately, sales and marketing partnerships are about mutual benefits and realizing those shared goals together.

Breaking Down the Walls

Sales and marketing don’t have to be as polarized as our government. It takes real leadership to work toward solutions without always casting blame in the other direction. The key to success is ensuring everyone knows they have the same ultimate end goal and are accountable for that end goal.

Contact us to learn more ways to improve marketing and sales alignment. Now is the time to put these actions into place so you start 2019 strong.

Carrie Ward

Carrie Ward

Carrie is an experienced consultant specializing in sales analytics, organizational design, and sales process optimization. She is the co-author of The Sales Compensation Handbook as well as numerous sales research studies.