Is this the moment of truth for sales and marketing alignment in B2B Tech?
Big changes in B2B tech buying have put pressure on sales and marketing teams… but the pivot to virtual relationship building could make this the moment for more meaningful alignment.
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Although this work looked at EMEA region, these insights can be applied to any organisation across the world.
Ever get the feeling that your business is largely talking the talk on sales and marketing alignment – and not quite walking the walk? If that’s the case, then you’re certainly not alone.
LinkedIn commissioned Forrester for a survey on the state of alignment at B2B businesses in Europe. A vast majority of sales and marketing directors and managers said there was ‘good’ alignment between sales and marketing in principle – but when we asked them about details and day-to-day experiences, things changed.
What are the driving factors behind the challenges to alignment that B2B tech marketers face with sales colleagues? How can marketers move alignment from principle to practice?
When good isn’t good enough
There’s one overwhelming conclusion from the Forrester research: ‘good’ alignment in theory isn’t actually good enough in practice. This is backed up by LinkedIn’s most recent State of Sales survey, in which 49% of B2B buyers in Europe say they experience inconsistent messages from sales and marketing most of the time.
Our research with Forrester identifies four pillars of alignment: Strategy, Process, Content and Culture. It confirms that the best way to make progress on the practical day-to-day is to orientate sales and marketing around a shared view of the buyer journey. This includes shared measurement goals and objectives.
It’s a particular challenge for B2B tech businesses – because the nature of our buying journey has changed dramatically in recent years. Sales and marketing alignment gets lost because we’re trying to map the two teams’ processes to an outdated model of who’s buying and how.
How B2B buying moved on
In the traditional model of B2B tech buying, marketing drives engagement from easily identifiable IT decision-makers, who regard it as part of their role to talk to suppliers. This makes sales and marketing alignment fairly straightforward. Marketing generates Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) that all have a similar profile, and make sales happy because they’re open to conversations and ready to convert.
The trouble is, these types of IT decision-makers are increasingly rare. IT buying is dominated by anonymous buyers, who prefer to navigate most of the buyer journey alone. They’d rather assess the experience of working with technology for themselves rather than have a salesperson tell them about it. And they are far more likely to share their details, talk to sales and advocate for a supplier once they feel they already have a relationship with them. Because they follow a less predictable path through the funnel, they quickly create tension between sales and marketing.
The four disconnects in sales and marketing alignment
When tech marketers chase high-volume MQL targets at low CPLs, they risk filling the funnel with anonymous buyers who haven’t yet been nurtured by experiences with their business. These buyers’ reluctance to talk to sales results in complaints about lead quality. In a vicious circle, MQL targets get raised to try to compensate for this.
This disconnect around strategy flows through into similar disconnects on process, content and culture. Anonymous buyers find themselves caught in marketing and sales processes at the same time: inspired and engaged one minute, put on the spot about budgets the next. When they try to navigate the buying journey themselves, they encounter content that’s been created without input from sales, and which therefore doesn’t address the needs, challenges and questions they have. All of this impacts on culture. It undermines buyers’ trust in the business they’re dealing with – and as a result, undermines trust between sales and marketing teams.
Can digital and data bring sales and marketing closer?
You’d expect the situation in 2020 to exacerbate these issues. In LinkedIn research since the pandemic, 55% of sellers expect their pipelines to decrease. Sales is more dependent on marketing than ever. In-person events were often the marketing activities that involved sales most closely in planning content – and had the clearest next steps in qualifying and nurturing leads. Now they’re off the agenda, sales and marketing must find a way to align through digital content and campaigns.
Despite this though, many B2B tech marketers report that they are currently working more closely with sales than ever before.
For both sales and marketing, the value of alignment has never been more apparent – and neither has the importance of understanding how the buyer journey is changing. The pandemic has forced both teams to adjust to rapid changes in demand, and they’re responding by trading old assumptions for data-led insight. Sales and marketing are focusing on new metrics that relate directly to the value customers are looking for.
Aligning around the shortest time to customer value
As part of LinkedIn’s Live with Marketers series, IBM’s Chief Digital Officer and Leader of Digital Sales for EMEA, Hans Dekkers, discussed the business’s approach to sales and marketing alignment alongside Vice President and CMO EMEA Alison Orsi. They described how IBM aims to identify the shortest time to value for a client, with sales and marketing then co-creating around the best way to deliver that experience. An approach like this rips up fixed models of how people should buy tech. It also encourages sales and marketing to look at lead generation differently – something that’s earned by a potential buyer’s experience of the business rather than a precondition for those experiences.
Towards a shared view of ROI
Sales organisations across B2B tech have responded to the challenges of the past few months by focusing on building stronger relationships with buyers that endure beyond a single deal. This opens the way to measuring marketing’s contribution to sales in broader terms – measuring ROI by analysing customer lifetime value compared to the cost of acquisition, for example.
“The great thing about revenue-based metrics is that they’re not things you look at in your silo,” says the keynote speaker and author Jeff Davis. “They are an integrated, interdependent measure of ROI that requires input from both sides of the organisation.”
Sharing a digital space makes it easier to align around shared sources of data, identify how buyers are seeking value, and collaborate creatively around delivering it. That could be through virtual events, new elements of ABM programmes, video content built around sales team members’ expertise – or simply through digital marketing that’s more informed by the way buyers now buy.
In the Forrester survey, 85% of sales and marketing leaders and managers said that aligning sales and marketing was their single biggest opportunity to improve performance. That opportunity has never felt more important than today.
Based on the Forrester research, we’ve identified a pilot approach to drive alignment across the four pillars: Strategy, Process, Content and Culture. Explore the four pillars to alignment today.
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