The truth about smarketing that the playbooks won’t tell you

You can’t just enforce it through policies and processes – if you want real sales and marketing alignment you have to work on professional chemistry

April 12, 2018

Sales and Marketing Alignment

I’ve been a marketer for over five years and there are many aspects of my job that I love. But there’s one element that fascinates me like no other. It’s the element that will have the biggest influence over how effective I am as a B2B marketer, but which can never be fully within my control; it’s the aspect of my job that’s perhaps the most difficult to plan for and the most difficult to measure. Over the last six months or so, I’ve chosen to focus more and more on sales and marketing alignment.

I’m a people person by nature. I love working with different types of people, and I pride myself on the types of positive, creative connections that I’m able to form with them. I’ve found myself drawn to an area of the marketing experience where relationships really, really matter. Sales and marketing alignment puts a definite value on soft skills. The more we understand about it, the clearer it is that professional chemistry between colleagues has a direct impact on the bottom line of the business. LinkedIn’s research shows that businesses with strong sales and marketing alignment are 67% more effective at closing deals, 58% more effective at retaining customers, and drive 208% more revenue as a result of their marketing efforts.

All of which puts a premium on the ability to make that chemistry happen. The natural instinct of any sales and marketing organisation is to do this through policies and procedures. You’ve realised how valuable sales and marketing alignment can be, and so you design working practices to enforce it – like telling two kids at school who have very little in common that they have to work on a project together, and hoping that they will instantly become best friends as a result.

Sales and marketing alignment needs to be more than a policy
This instinct isn’t wrong. It can be part of the solution. The mistake that people tend to make is thinking that it’s the whole solution. Telling sales and marketing that they need to play nicely, and pointing out there will be treats and rewards if they do, is certainly more helpful than leaving them to go their separate ways. However, it’s not the way that authentic, enduring and effective relationships form.

As human beings, we learn through life experience that relationships take almost constant work. They don’t just happen once; they need to keep happening: reinforcing themselves through common experiences, but also reinventing themselves to reflect changing circumstances.

That’s why LinkedIn’s research into sales and marketing alignment proves there’s no single, foolproof formula for making it work. There’s no instruction manual you can follow to produce a perfectly aligned sales and marketing organisation every time. However, my own experience convinces me that there are mechanisms you can put in place to enable the constant evolution that all human relationships need.

How to make professional chemistry happen
You can’t take the human factor out of sales and marketing alignment, but you can design the moments that enable people’s capacity for forming relationships to work their magic. It’s a fine balancing act between creating an environment where colleagues can find their common ground and discover the value in working together – and between formalising the whole thing to the extent that it all becomes routine and the spark vanishes.

Here are some of the tactics and techniques I’ve come across that can contribute most to getting that balance right. In hindsight, they’re pretty obvious and pretty intuitive – but it amazes me how few B2B marketers (including myself, I’ll admit) aren’t doing all of them:

Shared objectives
Let’s start with a principle that most people working on sales and marketing alignment will agree with – 52% of sales and marketing professionals report that shared KPIs and objectives contribute to a more effective working relationship between the two teams. It’s a no-brainer really: if you are literally working to the same goals then the incentive for collaborating is a lot stronger than if you get rewarded for slightly different results. If you’re serious about the sales and marketing relationship try to identify the opportunities to align KPIs in this way. Done right, it’s the foundation for sales and marketing seeing one another as complementary sets of skills working towards the same purpose. When this is missing, everything else is a struggle.

Introductions to the marketing team for every new sales rep – and vice versa
The onboarding process for any new hire sends a whole host of coded signals about how the organisation they are joining really works. If a new sales rep’s experience only involves meeting their sales colleagues and talking about sales objectives then they will draw their own conclusions about how important working with marketing really is. Plan introductions to colleagues in both sales and marketing within the first few days of a new hire joining – and make working together a part of your employees’ experiences from the start.

A content creation process that starts with sales
This is probably one of the most important learnings for me personally over the past few months. I’m closely involved in our content planning and content creation process and I know that we haven’t always integrated sales as closely into that process as we would like. This is a missed opportunity, because working together on content is one of the most powerful professional bonding experiences I know. It’s a great framework for sharing different ideas and perspectives in a positive way with a valued outcome. If the process incorporates both sales and marketing, it won’t just produce better and more varied content – it will deliver close alignment between the two teams in the process.

How can we integrate sales more fully into B2B content creation? I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way is to kick the whole process off with input from sales – and be really open-minded about what that input might involve. As the colleagues who spend most time talking to customers and potential customers, sales reps are plugged into the issues that your audience cares about. Don’t restrict their contribution to ideas around specific sales-related subjects. Ask them about all of the potential content they’d like to see. Push them to share what their contacts are talking to them about. Making this the start of the content planning process sends a signal that sales’ contribution is valued. It also provides your marketing teams with some great triggers for their own thinking.

Your mission: to make the sales team famous
If you ask me, making your sales colleagues famous should be a KPI for any B2B marketing team. How can you increase the number of posts that they publish, the impact of the comments they make, and the engagement rate that they generate? How can you make sure they are an active presence in the feed of their connections? How can you increase their follower numbers?

This isn’t just about making your sales reps happy (although that’s a definite side-benefit). It’s also about recognising how content flows through into value for the business. When that content builds the profile and expertise of your sales team, when it enhances trust and recognition, it’s increasing the opportunity to turn awareness and consideration into conversations that can actually close a deal. As a marketer, it also gives you a real incentive for understanding your sales colleagues as people. The more you can reflect their character, personality and passion in the content that you help them create, the more original and impactful that content is likely to be.

A shared resource centre
It’s a practical point – and a valuable support to shared content initiatives and aligned objectives. Sharing the same resources and having access to the same insights inevitably helps to build a shared view of the customer journey. It puts you on the same page. It’s well worth the effort of working with IT to remove any siloes and barriers to making it happen.

Having fun together
At the end of the day, the relationship between sales and marketing is a relationship between human beings. It’s professional and focused on achieving shared outcomes, but that doesn’t mean there’s no role for emotion in it. Make time for your sales and marketing teams to have dinner, go out for drinks, play sport, explore new activities. Again, it seems obvious – but it’s amazing how easy it can be to let these opportunities slide by.

Walking in one another’s shoes
I was very surprised when job swaps didn't score more highly in our research into sales and marketing alignment – with only 14% of sales and marketing professionals agreeing that these improve collaboration. Personally, I agree with Seth Godin that any B2B marketer can benefit enormously from some experience of working in sales. You’re a lot more considered and careful with the promises that you make through marketing, when you’ve had the responsibility of trying to keep those promises. Walking in one another’s shoes doesn’t just help to improve understanding between the two departments – it builds a greater understanding of customers as well.

What works on sales and marketing alignment – and what doesn’t
So why aren’t sales and marketing professionals more enthusiastic about job swaps? It’s a question that I think gets to the heart of the balancing act with sales and marketing alignment. We may have shared objectives but we don’t have shared skills; we aren’t interchangeable. Smart marketers and sales people alike value the differences between the two teams and the complementary roles that they play. Any relationship depends on this type of mutual respect. I think the push back against job swaps is, to some extent, a defence of the important differences between the two roles.

Rather than job swaps, I’d suggest job shadowing. It’s far more collaborative, and it puts far more emphasis on shared experiences and talking with sales colleagues to understand the experiences they are going through. Rotating people between the departments won’t magically deliver better collaboration. It’s only spending meaningful time together working towards common goals that can do that. When it comes to designing a framework for better sales and marketing alignment, it’s these experiences that you need to prioritise.