Sales and Marketing’s big challenges for 2019

The to-do list for businesses focused on sales and marketing alignment –and how LinkedIn will be helping

December 20, 2018

Sales and Marketing’s big challenges for 2019

The ability to align sales and marketing teams around a shared view of the buyer journey will play a big part in determining business growth over the next year. In LinkedIn’s Power Couple research, 60% of sales and marketing professionals globally said that lack of alignment was undermining their financial performance, with 59% pointing the finger at the poor customer experience that resulted and 58% complaining of reduced customer retention. By contrast, studies have shown tightly aligned sales and marketing businesses growing their revenues 24% faster than their peers – and improving customer retention by 36%.

Numbers like these make the case for sales and marketing alignment a no-brainer – but they still leave the key question of how best to make it happen. How aligned does your organisation need to be to make a difference? What are the key factors standing in the way? And how can you overcome them?

LinkedIn’s front row view of sales and marketing alignment
LinkedIn has a unique perspective on sales and marketing alignment that comes from being both the world’s leading B2B marketing platform – and a key enabler of new approaches to selling. This gives our Marketing Solutions and Sales Solutions teams a close-up view of what happens when sales and marketing are able to orchestrate their efforts more effectively. We add to this insight by talking to sales and marketing leaders to get their perspective on what alignment looks like, and we reach out to analysts and research agencies to keep tabs on the state of sales and marketing alignment, and the key challenges that remain.

One of the most important results of this is new product development. Over the next year, we’ll be releasing a range of different tools that are designed to build on our existing marketing and sales solutions, pool insight and information, and give the two teams a common insight into prospects and customers that’s more informed and more intuitive than ever before. This new product pipeline is based on insights into where the gaps currently are and where best to close them.

You’ll be hearing a lot more from us over the coming months about tools, techniques and tactics for aligning sales and marketing to deliver revenue growth. In the meantime though, I wanted to share some of the insights that have been informing our approach. They are based on the latest research into sales and marketing alignment, combined with LinkedIn data. They show the challenges ahead, help to highlight why progress can be frustratingly patchy – and suggest solutions for fixing blind spots and blockages. These are the challenges that we are planning to help sales and marketing organisations meet in 2019:

It’s time to push sales and marketing alignment further downstream
According to Forrester’s Q1 2017 international B2B marketing panel, most successful sales and marketing alignment initiatives focus on the early stages of the buying journey. The B2B marketers that it surveyed reported a far stronger working relationship with sales when it came to defining value propositions or identifying target segments and accounts, but much weaker alignment on areas like reporting results or sharing knowledge about the customer’s buying process. Only 40% of marketers participate in pipeline reviews and only 30% have closely aligned their metrics with sales.

LinkedIn is providing more of the insights that sales and marketing teams need to maintain a shared view of the customer journey all the way through to the close and beyond. Within Campaign Manager, marketers can integrate insights from platforms like Salesforce and Marketo, and use LinkedIn’s own AI-driven solutions to identify every member of the buying circle within target accounts. The Buyer Circle feature within LinkedIn Sales Navigator provides the same insight to sales teams, and Sales Navigator alerts them whenever influencers and decision-makers engage with relevant content on LinkedIn.

Are marketing metrics really capturing customer experiences?
Liam Halpin, the head of LinkedIn Sales Solutions in EMEA and Latin America, tells the story of a friend who was considering business management software for the small business she had just launched. She went on to experience one of the worst customer journeys imaginable, where hand-offs between sales and marketing turned into disastrous gaps in the customer journey.

Liam’s story starts with his friend being bombarded by marketing emails about a supplier’s enterprise software that were obviously irrelevant to her business. When Liam told her that the company responsible was actually famous for its SMB software solutions, she was surprised. She visited their site to look around and found herself retargeted with offers of a free trial. So far, so mediocre-targeting-turned-good. However, it was when she acted on the offer that things took a sharp downward turn.

Liam’s friend filled in the form for the free trial, and received a call within five minutes. Unfortunately, the call was from a sales rep talking about enterprise solutions. She pointed out that she ran an SMB, asked about her free trial and was told the sales rep had never heard of it but could offer a discount if she ordered soon. She declined – only to receive almost weekly calls from different reps offering the same irrelevant discount.

It’s no surprise that this SMB owner didn’t order from the company – and devoted quite a bit of energy to warning others not to deal with them. Given she was the exact market the software provider needed to be targeting, this was a fairly disastrous result. It’s a story that reinforces the risks of sales and marketing misalignment. However, it also highlights how the metrics the two teams use to guide their interactions are often part of the problem.

The chances are that the long-suffering SMB owner actually contributed to the marketing team achieving their targets. Sales are probably still hoping she will contribute to theirs. Because she responded to a piece of marketing communication, she was recorded as a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). Because she was unable to get sales to remove her from its nurture pot, she’s still seen as a potential future opportunity.

When metrics fail to reveal the true picture of customer experiences in this way, they actually contribute to the problem of sales and marketing misalignment. A marketing objective can easily be met without ensuring a relevant ongoing experience for the customer. Sales miss opportunities because they are not capturing or being passed the right information. The measurement system actually incentivises poor buyer experiences. And hand-offs become yawning gaps through which a supposedly seamless customer experience falls.

Full-funnel measurement is the key to helping businesses optimise their efforts around the right types of sales and marketing experiences. LinkedIn is building solutions for launch in the coming year that will provide full-funnel reporting on the impact of marketing on opportunities and closed deals. As part of this process we’ll be using AI analysis to help sales and marketing teams identify genuine buying signals more reliably.

68% of B2B buyers prefer to research online without sales support
One of the reasons that sales and marketing misalignment is so damaging is that more and more buyers feel they have a viable alternative to dealing with the experiences that it serves up. Forrester’s 2017 global B2B buyer survey found 68% of B2B buyers preferring to research online, on their own – an increase of 15% over two years. Buyers don’t feel they are missing out through this self-directed research, since 62% believe they can develop selection criteria or finalise a shortlist based purely on digital content. In fact, 60% of B2B buyers prefer it when their primary source of information isn’t a sales rep.

Without real progress on sales and marketing alignment, this state of affairs quickly becomes self-perpetuating. Buyers don’t see the value that sales reps can add. They therefore engage primarily with marketing content, which means sales has very little insight to use in adding value when a conversation does take place. B2B buyer preferences have to be taken seriously, which is why B2B marketers need to step up and provide the personalised content experiences that they demand. However, the insight generated through those experiences has to be shared with the sales team and integrated into their planning. And marketing has to support sales in leveraging those insights for warm introductions – and finding seamless ways to transition from self-directed journeys to value-adding conversations.

Buyers are demanding a different type of sales conversation
What do value-adding sales conversations sound like? When you ask buyers themselves, it’s clear that they go beyond exchanging information. Buyers expect original, personalised insight. They expect to be able to find the basic facts online – and so they want a sales rep to distil those facts using their experience, and apply them to the specifics of their particular business. In a Forrester study from 2016, 77% of buyers said they wanted a sales interaction to involve customised data and insights, the same proportion said they wanted to learn something new, and 75% wanted to know about the impacts of a product or service on their business. There’s no reason to think these demands have changed. The promise that will persuade buyers to engage in a sales conversation is the promise of insight that can’t be found through their favoured digital channels. Marketers need to work closely with sales on surfacing those insights, including through sharing the data that’s generated by a prospect’s previous interactions with marketing content. Over the next year, LinkedIn will be helping to enable more informed sales conversations through analysis of the topics and articles that key members of buying committees are engaging with.

Sales and marketing alignment is about building the same relationships with the same information
Without an aligned sales team, marketing is cut off from the most obvious route to demonstrating ROI to a business. Without aligned marketing, a business quickly finds itself with frustrated sales reps. It’s likely to lose its most effective selling talent if it can’t provide them with the marketing support to meet buyers’ changing expectations.

Sales and marketing are equally invested in building the same relationships. And they need to do so on the basis of the same information. At LinkedIn, we’ve seen the dramatic impact that results simply from aligning the targeting of sales and marketing efforts. When saved leads engaged with marketing content from a business, they were 31% more likely to respond to InMails from that business’s sales reps. Similarly, LinkedIn members that are connected to a company’s sales reps are 10x more likely to share its marketing content.

For an idea of the potential revenue growth available through more effective sales and marketing alignment, consider that, on average, only 5% of the decision-makers that sales reps connect with on LinkedIn have been previously targeted by marketing. In most cases, sales reps are trying to drive conversations and nurture prospects without the marketing support and relevant content that buyers themselves say they want. They’re operating without the benefit of what LinkedIn data shows to be one of the most powerful following winds that a sales team could have.

Over the next year, we’re looking forward to helping sales and marketing organisations close that gap, overcome the challenges, and take advantage of the huge growth opportunities in front of them. Watch this space!