Sales & Marketing Alignment: What You Didn’t Know Until Now (and We Didn’t Either)
December 11, 2019
Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by Justin Gray, CEO, LeadMD.
I hate ambiguous jargon. It’s lazy, and even worse, it’s so tempting because it feels good. It allows us the comfort of perceived sophistication.
So, when our industry, yours and mine, contemplates the problem of “sales and marketing alignment,” little gets accomplished beyond a collective pat on the back and the perpetuation of status quo. There was really only one thing left to try, doing something.
Our team partnered up with the folks at Drift to commission a research study. We committed to cutting through all of the rhetoric by exploring the correlation between alignment activities and revenue performance, regardless of the expense or difficulty of the research design.
We couldn’t find an analyst firm to work with us on this project, for which the existing data was scarce and inaccurate. We decided we needed to start from scratch if we were going to get to the bottom of alignment once and for all, why some companies do it better than others, and what exactly others could do to emulate them.
So, we surveyed two cohorts, one in sales and one in marketing. Each cohort consisted of 350 senior to C-level professionals, all who owned their respective function and worked at companies with a minimum annual revenue of $25 million. And then we got busy using the feedback we received to quantify the term “sales and marketing alignment,” with the ultimate goal of distilling it into actionable tactics.
What we found was truly enlightening. Here are five nuggets of our findings, to help you think about out where you stand with alignment — and maximize the opportunity that likely lies ahead for you to make it better.
Just because you think your teams are aligned doesn’t mean they are
We found that over 90 percent of sales and marketing leaders surveyed rated their organizations as “well aligned” or “very well aligned.” This was surprising, mostly because the data told a very different story. This stems from the fact that we’re all operating from different ideas about what sales and marketing alignment is, and our ideas are often disconnected from the business outcomes we’re trying to impact. The takeaway? Alignment perception is unreliable and must be measured against revenue and pipeline.
Internal alignment means more than happy hours
It’s no secret that having two departments aligned around shared goals can benefit everyone. But alignment shouldn’t be confused with fun get-togethers. Happy hours and social events for your employees can be great for team bonding, but alignment’s roots should go much deeper than this.
The companies who demonstrated the most alignment in our study were those that prioritized physical proximity between sales and marketing, creating an atmosphere of regular, in-person relationship and collaboration. The teams also joined in efforts whenever possible, like joint storytelling, joint in-person strategy & planning sessions and joint budgeting & hiring.
The customer is at the epicenter of everything
This finding was not at all surprising, since we’ve found nearly everything in business should start — and end — with the customer. But alignment between sales and marketing is at its best and most impactful when the two teams unite around customer-focused goals and KPIs, like retention and satisfaction. The laggards in alignment, on the flip side, often shared KPIs but they were not customer centric.
Pipeline and revenue are outcomes we can use to measure alignment
Alignment is a worthy aspiration, since it leads to better business outcomes. But alignment itself shouldn’t be viewed as the endgame. Instead, the real goal should be making a tangible impact on results that matter to the business. And what are two of the most influential results? Pipeline creation and revenue conversion.
For the purposes of our research, we compared alignment perceptions, activities and tactics against these performance vectors, thus anchoring the results in real tangible outcomes. This is how we formed our Sales and Marketing Alignment Index (SMAX), which can help businesses figure out where they stand on the alignment spectrum — concretely. By identifying where you are in terms of pipeline and revenue, you can get a clear indication of the strength of your alignment (or lack thereof).
How data and technology are used matters most
Technology and the data it provides are unquestionably important in both sales and marketing. But it’s not enough for marketing to have one system and set of data, and sales to have another. This is actually counterproductive, even damaging. Instead, the most aligned teams share technology and its underlying data between them. That means everyone is working off the same information and can actually be in unison as they make decisions about what’s in the best interest of the company — and their customers.
The (somewhat) good news? Teams think they’re aligned. Although that focus is a huge step forward within the last decade, the mere perception of alignment isn’t enough. Businesses need sales and marketing alignment reinforced by tangible revenue performance, in order to thrive. Want to see the full report, and get an actionable roadmap to unifying your sales and marketing teams? Download our full findings.
To keep pace with the latest thinking in sales and marketing alignment, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Blog today.