B2B Sales & Marketing Strategy: The What, Why, and How of a Successful One

August 9, 2018

Art of Winning

Without a strategy, all your Marketing and Sales activities and tactics might be for nothing. After all, if they don’t all work in concert to drive pipeline and customer acquisition, what’s the point? Savvy companies realize that a Sales and Marketing strategy is the next most important one after the overall business plan. It outlines how Sales and Marketing will orchestrate their efforts to achieve your key business goals, helping shape your organization’s success and future.

What Is a Sales and Marketing Strategy?

Your Sales and Marketing strategy is your plan for reaching, engaging, and converting target prospects into profitable customers. It’s the charter that guides Marketing and Sales in their daily activities, helping them clarify shared objectives and how to achieve them.  

Why You Need a Sales and Marketing Strategy

A Sales and Marketing strategy provides a cornerstone for alignment – and alignment is a worthwhile goal for every B2B organization. Our own research found that 54% of Sales and Marketing professionals note collaboration’s positive contribution to financial performance. The 2017 Marketing Performance Management Report from Heinz Marketing jibes with this finding, reporting Sales and Marketing alignment as the most important success factor to achieving revenue goals. In fact, companies with aligned Sales and Marketing functions generated 208% more revenue from their marketing efforts. That’s not all – highly aligned organizations achieve an average of 32% year-over-year revenue growth.

The Three Big Sales and Marketing Structural Gaps

So what’s holding organizations back from achieving their alignment visions? The core of the problem is that Sales and Marketing are built to see the world differently. They consult their own sources for information, and follow different guidance when it comes to their targets and incentives.

Data Sets

It’s no surprise that Sales and Marketing refer to different data sets – they use different technologies and tools to manage and track their activities and interactions with prospects and customers. While marketers use data management platform (DMP) and marketing automation systems, sales groups largely rely on customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

And this lack of shared data is tied for the top challenge to alignment in The State of Sales & Marketing Alignment in 2018 report – up from fourth place in 2016. Let’s face it: the data you consult day in and day out shapes your perspective.

Marketing’s number-one marching order is to generate and nurture leads. As a result, they’re focused on sending large-scale campaigns aimed at generating leads and getting prospective buyers to raise their hands and move down the purchase path. The marketing data that indicates success is response rate and an optimal Cost Per Lead (CPL). Sales is focused on developing relationships with buyers to ultimately drive purchases. Sales success is reflected in data around pipeline health, forecasting accuracy, and closed deals. In other words, they speak different languages. Sales talks about pipelines, while marketing talks about funnels.

The fact that CPL is a major marketing measure only exacerbates the alignment issue. CPL isn’t a business objective – it’s a tactic tied to a cost-center mentality. At the end of the day, a low CPL is meaningless if those low-cost leads don’t convert to customers and revenue.

Target Audience

As described, Marketing and Sales have embraced different perspectives of the same world. This goes a long way toward explaining why it seems the two groups continue to butt heads and struggle to get on the same page. They don’t even look at the target audience the same way. As a result, they miss out on a tone of valuable opportunities. Check out our earlier post for tips on arriving at a shared view of the target audience.

Given their different filters, it’s no wonder opinions diverge in terms of how well the two groups are achieving important goals. As it drives a growing number of leads, Marketing believes it’s exceeding its lead generation goals. Meanwhile, Sales is frustrated at a lack quality leads. In fact, sales folks routinely ignore 80% of marketing-generated leads due to lack of confidence in their colleagues’ methods and information. Plus, both teams are missing many opportunities to connect with promising prospects. Imagine that 80% of your work as a marketer is going to waste!

If Marketing and Sales don’t see the target audience through the same lens, how can they possibly be aligned? And if they aren’t aligned, how can they serve up a seamless experience to prospective buyers?

Coordination

Due to these basic differences in how they’re oriented and view their worlds, Sales and Marketing work in parallel rather than in tight collaboration. We’re not saying animosity and adversity are par for the course between the two groups. In fact, many Sales and Marketing teams enjoy a friendly working relationship. They might even meet jointly to discuss and update buyer personas. In fact, they might feel the lead handoff goes smoothly. But that’s often the best it gets…even though there’s potential to do so much better.

While these three disconnects are no small matter, it is possible to close the gaps. It starts with a jointly developed strategy to connect with, engage, and convert today’s buyers.

How to Develop Your Sales and Marketing Plan

We know it can feel daunting to develop a strategy for achieving your Marketing and Sales goals – after all, the entire organization is relying on your teams to drive revenues and fuel growth. That realization alone should be a catalyst for putting in place a solid plan for hitting your targets. Let’s walk through the core elements of an effective Sales and Marketing plan.

Align on Business Objectives and Shared Budget

Alignment is about heading in the same direction – toward focusing on promising prospects, closing deals, and generating revenue. However, one study found only 30 percent believe their Marketing and Sales goals are well aligned.

In many organizations, alignment is considered to be agreeing to the same definition of the ideal customer, and the lead qualification and handoff process. While the shared objective might be seen as revenues, most marketers are still measured on leads while sales is measured on revenues. In fact, marketers are still tasked with generating leads while sales is charged with closing them.

Alignment simply doesn’t go far enough to drive a collaborative approach and integrated efforts. The reality is that Marketing and Sales should be involved every step of the way, from acquiring and nurturing leads to closing them and driving customer success and advocacy. In other words, they should be working together throughout the buying cycle and customer experience. After all, in a complex B2B purchase, different stakeholders appear at various stages of the buyer’s journey and Marketing and Sales must work jointly to both execute and close deals.

Now for funding the joint strategy and work. If Marketing and Sales are working together to achieve shared goals, it makes sense they pool their financial resources for the good of the common cause. Interestingly, in our survey of Marketing and Sales professionals, only 16 percent agreed that a shared budget would improve collaboration. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a smart approach. If your organization chooses to go with a shared budget, take steps to get buy-in.

Align on Ideal Customer Personas

Once your Marketing and Sales teams agree on goals and budget, it’s time to get clear on who you’re trying to sign as customers. As illustrated above in the target audience gap, most Marketing and Sales teams view the same universe of buyers in different ways. That can lead to confusion, misunderstandings, and arguments – never mind missed opportunities with prospects. An effective approach is to define and align on ideal customer personas. These describe the customers who are relevant and profitable for your company to work with, including the detailed demographic and psychographic features that they share.

Establish Your Differentiators

Your strategy will include market positioning and messaging. This will guide Marketing activities including advertising and content development, and Sales activities such as email outreach and conversations with buyers. To set up both teams for success, figure out how your company and offering are different and better than the competition. This might even include how you price. Interview customer-facing employees for insight into what information prospects need and what messages resonate most with them. Your findings will form the basis of your messaging platform, which will fuel every piece of content, every ad and landing page, every social media post, and every conversation.

Map Your Full Buyer Journey

To understand when and how to best engage prospects and customers, map their complete journey with your company from the time they first learn of you until they part ways with you. From acquisition to retention to churn, determine what the experience looks like from your prospects’ and customers’ perspectives. Be on the lookout for opportunities to improve that experience at every stage, such as delivering different content, hosting events, streamlining a process, or better coordinating efforts among different departments.

For more on the customer experience, check out our detailed post on what it is and how to be mindful of it as Marketing and Sales work together.

Audit and Organize Your Content

Because content plays a critical role in attracting, engaging, and even converting buyers, make sure you can provide relevant, compelling content for each stage of the buyer’s journey. Audit your existing library to identify gaps and opportunities for new, better content. Organize your content with buyers in mind – make it easy to filter for relevant content by topic, challenge, goal, role, industry, company size, solution and whatever other categories make sense.

Remember: both Marketing and Sales use content to encourage interactions. Ensure everyone on both teams knows how and when to use your content to engage buyers and even existing customers.

It’s essential that your Sales team can easily access your content in modular form so they can insert relevant details into their emails, InMails, deck, custom landing pages, and more. At LinkedIn, we tend to deliver content assets to our sales partners through a PointDrive, with links to both PDF and PPT versions of our content.

Your plan should also outline the role of both teams in identifying the topics that will resonate, contributing to developing assets, and reviewing content before it’s published.

Document Your Sales Plan

With your strategic goals, ideal customer, and the buying journey in mind, evaluate how well your sales process is set up to best engage prospects and move them down the purchase path. Keep an eye out for ways to remove friction, introduce efficiencies and improve the buyer experience. Perhaps you need to equip your team with better tools for prospecting and outreach. Maybe you need to tweak the way you qualify or follow up with leads. Whatever you discover, document the details to guide your future decisions and activities.

Document Your Marketing Plan

Next evaluate and document your Marketing process in the same way against your go-to-market strategy, messages, content and plan for attracting, engaging, and converting prospects to leads. Note any concerns and issues with content, inbound and outbound methods, cross-functional collaboration, and anything else that impacts the customer experience. Make it your goal to uncover every place that buyers get stuck or feel ignored in their journey.

Document Your Sales and Marketing Strategy

Now it’s time to determine how both teams will orchestrate their efforts to achieve common goals. In many companies, this revolves around a joint Account Based Marketing (ABM) approach. This strategy will include the same elements you addressed in your standalone Sales and Marketing plans,  but go a step further and include a plan for creating and testing messages and tactics, aligning across channels, and continually refining the approach to achieve better results. As you pull this document together, clarify each team’s role and responsibilities in any areas of overlap. Think about frequency and method of communicating (e.g., email vs. in person), how to handle conflict, and how to escalate ABM program-related issues.

Execute and Test Your Plan

Putting together a Sales and Marketing strategy is one thing; executing is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Launch your plan to get everyone executing their assigned responsibilities so you can assess your strategy’s strength. After a reasonable amount of time – one that makes sense given the typical buying cycle – reconvene to discuss issues, concerns, and successes. Then tweak your plan as needed.

Set Up Regular Sales and Marketing Communications

Ongoing communication between Sales and Marketing is key to executing effectively on your strategy. Schedule regular meetings to discuss plans, performance to date, and ways to improve alignment and business outcomes. While it’s crucial to identify roadblocks and challenges, it’s just as important to celebrate the wins you’re achieving through alignment.

Repeat Process Quarterly or Annually

Developing a Sales and Marketing strategy is not a one-time exercise. Your ideal customer and the buying cycle might change over time. The tactics and content that worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. Even your differentiators and internal processes might evolve. To make sure your strategy is effective, revisit it at regular intervals. For some businesses, a quarterly review makes sense. For others, an annual re-evaluation will do. Pick a time frame that fits your business and stick to it.

What It Looks Like When Sales and Marketing Act as One

The outcome of a Sales and Marketing strategy is truly coordinated efforts that look like this; imagine that the first time a prospect indicates interest in your company, you start sending timely, relevant content introducing them to your brand and thought leadership on top-of-mind issues. Seeing the buyer’s interest and the content being sent by Marketing, the Sales team personalizes and amplifies those messages through their activities on social channels where the buyer spends time.

As the potential buyer continues down the buying path, Marketing shares mid-funnel content that makes a compelling case for change, followed by specifics about your services and products. Again, because the Sales team is in the loop, they get busy reinforcing the key messages with social shares.

As you close in on the “conversion” stage, the Sales team connects with the interested buyer who has been fully primed. Marketing reinforces these conversations with highly targeted content, such as ROI studies and success stories. Marketing can even share personalized content that resonates with the buyer’s key stakeholders and incentives the buying committee to close the deal more quickly.

The rise of the empowered buyer and importance of an indispensable customer experience are forcing organizations to reimagine how their Marketing and Sales teams interact throughout the buying process. Today’s success hinges on a truly orchestrated effort built on a solid strategy.

For the ultimate resource on how to align your sales and marketing efforts for a seamless customer experience, download The Art of Winning eBook.

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