Your pilot approach for sales and marketing alignment

October 22, 2020

Your pilot approach for sales and marketing alignment

It’s no secret that sales and marketing teams need to align their activities and ways of thinking more closely. Research by Forrester Consulting commissioned by LinkedIn found that both teams are only too aware of the challenge, with more than eight in ten respondents reporting that better alignment is their single biggest opportunity to improve performance, and that alignment is critical to business growth. 

But knowing something needs to be done, and actually making it happen, are two very different things. As the research makes clear, “strategic intent all too often breaks down in tactical delivery”. The truth is that, when ways of working are entrenched and both sides are stuck in their silos, it can be incredibly hard to know what practical actions will start to break those barriers down. So where should businesses focus their efforts?

In our recent crossover episode of Live with Sales Leaders & Live with Marketers, we brought together Jeff Davis, Keynote Speaker and Author of Create Togetherness, Alison Orsi, Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer at IBM, and Hans Dekkers, Chief Digital Officer & Vice President Digital Sales Europe, Middle East & Africa at IBM, to discuss what a pilot approach to sales and marketing alignment should look like and where to start.

Constructive, strategic conversations

Never underestimate the power of a constructive conversation to get things moving in the right direction, advises Jeff Davis, Keynote Speaker and Author of Create Togetherness. The ideal first step, he says, is for sales and marketing leaders to sit down and really focus on how the two teams can support each other better, rather than just maintaining superficial personal relationships.

What you can do tomorrow, if you're a sales leader or a marketing leader, or even a CEO, is have a cross-functional conversation, just to get to know each other in a deeper way, in a professional way, so that you can start to leverage each other. So literally tomorrow you can get in the conference room and say: How can I help you? How can you help me?”

If marketing and sales leaders are on the same page, this makes it infinitely easier for them and their teams to develop joint strategies, which play to both their needs and objectives simultaneously. Having this alignment at a senior level is vital to set the tone and develop a culture of collaboration across the entire sales and marketing function.

Pivot around the client experience

An effective way to build mutual understanding at a more process level is to focus on the ultimate objective that sales and marketing share: optimising the customer journey. By actually sitting down and running through the entire journey together, sales and marketing will identify where the gaps are, work out ways to streamline handovers, fine tune messaging, and find better ways to collaborate on a day-to-day basis.

As Hans Dekkers, Chief Digital Officer & Vice President Digital Sales EMEA, puts it:

Take a board, take the websites and go through the actual experience, the marketing material, go through the full cycle, and what you'll find will be remarkable… Forget that you’re sales and forget that you're marketing, and you’ll come to a remarkable collaboration between various silos.”

Taking this approach also helps to facilitate a shift in attitude and mindset between the two teams, so that activities and tasks aren’t so strictly delineated, but organised in a way that makes sense from the perspective of the customer.

“Look at it as a way of orchestrating interactions,” says Davis. “Because you can't just say only marketing owns this and only sales owns this, or here's the point of handoff, because there may be opportunities where people come into the buying journey and they're really educated. They’ve made their decision and they really want to talk to sales. And if we're going through this process, because we feel that's the ideal way to do it, we may lose them.”

Start small and build up

Aligning sales and marketing can undoubtedly seem daunting at first glance, but, as with any huge, nebulous task, it becomes less intimidating when broken down into smaller chunks. Starting small allows teams to test out ideas and ways of working, before expanding these out. Doing this helps to identify where the strategy, process, content and culture blocks are before implementing any long-term changes or initiatives.

“My advice would be to pick a project, think about it and how you work together end-to-end, because everybody has ideas of what you can do better tomorrow,” advises Alison Orsi, Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer at IBM EMEA. “Because even if it's working brilliantly, you can always work better, but pick a project and work out how you can improve customer experience and customer value.”

Keep learning

Finally, it’s important to remember that nobody has all the answers and achieving alignment requires a process of constant learning. For example, panelists recommended that marketing professionals read a sales book, and vice versa, while also maximising all the free resources available online.

Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules, and sometimes the only way to get to grips with something is to start and work it out as you go along. As Orsi sums up:

The world is changing so fast that there's lots of things happening when no one has the answer yet. And there's a lot you can learn simply by trying and experimenting… what can we learn for ourselves? So, I'd also encourage everyone to just start, just try something and see what you can learn.”

Watch the full episode for more tips from some of the greatest minds in B2B.

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