Sales and Marketing Alignment: The clues in the content habits

How many interests and priorities do sales and marketing share? We looked for clues in their engagement with content on LinkedIn

October 9, 2019

Sales and Marketing Alignment: The clues in the content habits

Aligning sales and marketing around shared priorities is high on the agenda of any business. But how naturally do the priorities of the two teams align? Do sales professionals and marketers have the same interests and focus? Or do fundamentally different things make them tick?

A lot of thought and analysis goes into the differences and similarities between sales and marketing: the way they work, the way they’re incentivised, the targets they have. However, there’s one source of insight that hasn’t been leveraged until now – and that’s the content they consume.

For this edition of LinkedIn Content Intelligence, we’ve taken an in-depth look at the different posts that marketing and sales engage with on LinkedIn. We compared the topics that each team was particularly drawn to during the first six months of 2019, and also those in which they demonstrated a shared interest. And we looked in detail at what their content engagement tells us about how they see sales and marketing alignment itself.

Sales seek out business stories – marketers look for the marketing angle

It’s no surprise that there are specialist subjects that sales professionals and marketers are most drawn to. The top three topics for each team all relate directly to their day jobs. Sales focuses on sales management, business development and sales; marketing pays particular attention to search engines, search engine optimisation and social marketing.

However, these aren’t the only differences. Where content is concerned, marketers focus on channels, tactics and insight that’s specific to their function; sales want the big picture. Whereas marketers gobble up news of how Google works with advertisers or brands’ changing social media strategies, their sales colleagues are intrigued by business stories involving high-profile companies or categories. They want to know whether the world will be driving electric vehicles, the technology that will take off as part of the internet of things, and the emerging challenger businesses threatening to disrupt key sectors:

The most highly engaging subjects for sales and marketing:

Sales Marketing
Sales Management Search Engines
Business Development Search Engine optimisation
Sales Social Marketing
Motoring Social Media Advertising
Electric and Hybrid Vehicles Online Advertising
Information Technology Advertising and Marketing
IT Infrastructure Creative Advertising
Computer Security Out-of-home Advertising

It’s often said that sales and marketing speak different languages. Marketers keep a close eye on impressions, engagement rates and clicks that have less interest for sales teams focused on revenue targets. The different priority topics of the two teams reinforce this impression. Whereas sellers are far more likely to be engaged by business stories that come down to the bottom line, marketers spend more time with the detail of different channels and campaigns. The content they consume is more directly related to their profession.

Brexit, business transformation and sustainability – the shared priorities

Content analysis doesn’t just highlight differences between sales and marketing, though. It also shows their shared priorities and concerns. There are many topics on which sales and marketing both over-index for engagement. In fact, there are more common interests that bring them together than there are special-interest subjects keeping them apart.

Sales and Marketing’s most important shared interests:

Containers and Packaging
Customer Relations
Plastic Bags
Digital Transformation
Environmental Sustainability
European Union
Business Transformation
Consumer Electronics

The most prominent area of common ground involves the environment: an issue that engages sellers and marketers alike as human beings, but also as professionals interested in brand positioning and sector trends. Both groups are more likely than the average LinkedIn member to read stories about innovative alternatives to plastic packaging (from banana leaves to ‘nude’ shopping, to using refillable containers for deliveries). And they pay particularly close attention to initiatives from big-name brands (Adidas, Nestlé, Microsoft and Burberry among others).

Brexit has pushed the European Union to near the top of the reading list for sales and marketing. However, engagement peaks among sales. This might reflect concerns about the direct impact of Brexit on sellers’ ability to meet their targets. Forthright posts arguing for the UK to remain in the EU dominate engagement, in particular an open letter from LinkedIn Influencer and former Chairman of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche. However, there’s also a real hunger for any insight on how businesses can prepare for the Brexit transition. Despite being a niche topic, a post by the payments service Revolut on how it was preparing for Brexit generated very high engagement.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is another shared priority. However, the types of CRM-related content that the two teams engage with are subtly different. Both paid close attention to Google’s parent Alphabet acquiring the analytics and business intelligence start-up Looker. However, marketers’ attention tends to focus on high-profile stories of brands getting customer relations wrong (the cautionary tale of the Australian brand Shoes of Prey, for example), whereas sales professionals focus more on content and updates from platforms they regularly use (Salesforce and SAP in particular).

Business Transformation is an issue that animates both teams, as their companies grapple with disruptive technology and organisational change. This shared interest seems to reflect a common awareness of the damage done when brand strategy doesn’t align with the bottom line. Analysis of the plight of Marks & Spencer, a business and brand struggling to evolve, scored particularly high engagement. Sales and marketing also share a suspicion of organisational change that puts too much emphasis on tech tools – and not enough on strategy, culture and customer experience. A Harvard Business Review column arguing that Digital Transformation is Not About Technology proved one of the most popular across the entire sales and marketing organisation.

Sales and Marketing alignment: the content setting the agenda

The most obvious shared priority for sales and marketing is the topic of sales and marketing alignment itself. We looked in detail at the most influential posts on LinkedIn dealing specifically with sales and marketing alignment – and then examined their relative appeal to the two different teams. This shows the content that’s shaping attitudes and strategy – and offers some valuable clues as to how marketers and sales professionals feel about it:

The top five most engaging posts – and who’s engaging:

1. F#*k Sales and Marketing Alignment

A deliberately provocative title pushed this post to the top of the rankings for all posts about sales and marketing alignment. It sounds like a confrontational rant. In fact, it’s a reasoned argument that the real problem with sales and marketing is the whole concept of handing over leads from one team to the other. This argument resonated more with marketing than sales – and more with marketing teams than CMOs. Although that might have something to do with the title.

2. The MQL is Killing Marketing and Sales Alignment

Another post focusing on the lead handover process as the root cause of sales and marketing misalignment. This one argued for both sides to be more transparent and realistic about how qualified marketing leads are. It’s a point of view that resonated among both sales and marketing teams, but scored far less highly among sales and marketing leaders.

3. We Asked 13 Sales Influencers about How the Relationship between Sales and Marketing is Changing

From the LinkedIn Sales blog, this post sought out sales experts’ perspective on the evolving relationship – and made the top six posts for both teams. It was particularly popular among C-suite sales leaders.

4. The LinkedIn State of Sales Report — By the Numbers

This Infographic based on LinkedIn’s annual State of Sales Report focused on key trends in sales, with data demonstrating the positive impact of more effective sales and marketing orchestration. It was the top-ranking post among sales teams.

5. Data-Driven Alignment with Edward McDonnell

A popular episode of the Marketing Trends podcast, with the Senior Vice President of Sales for Salesforce Marketing Cloud. The Salesforce connection drove engagement among sales but left marketing teams less enthused.

What can content teach us about sales and marketing alignment?

Can analysing content trends solve the challenge of sales and marketing alignment? Of course not. But it can certainly inform our sense of the different priorities that motivate the two teams – and the shared interests that can help bring them closer together. Marketing may be more likely to focus on channels and tactics, sales may be more concerned about the developments endangering their targets, but both are very attuned to the way that the business context is changing. They share a passionate interest in meaningful business transformation, and an increasingly aligned view of how the customer journey needs to change.