The real reason sales and marketing struggle to align on strategy
When it comes to strategy, sales and marketing teams know that it benefits to be aligned. But how can we reach this point?
04 Minute Read
Although this work looked at EMEA region, these insights can be applied to any organisation across the world.
New research shows that sales and marketing are almost always on the same page on strategy - at least when it comes to the principles. Putting these into practice can be a little more challenging. However, a renewed focus on external experiences rather than internal targets can often make the difference.
Sales and marketing leaders in B2B tech talk about aligning around a shared vision of the buyer journey and delivering value to the customer. The good news is that 84% say that marketing and sales are targeting the same accounts, 80% say they have a common strategy for customer value and 78% have a sales team that's signed off on the ABM strategy.
The problems come when sales and marketing go to execute on that strategy – and quickly find objectives and metrics pulling them in different directions. So much so that 64% admits it's a significant challenge to align on goals, metrics and KPIs.
What's going wrong? It comes down to the concept of value that sales and marketing are trying to align around. Are they focusing on providing value to the buyer – or is marketing building its strategy around trying to prove value to the sales team?
Aligning around the wrong type of value
In the traditional view of the B2B tech buying journey, this distinction didn't seem to matter – the MQLs that were marketing's main objective provided value all round. They were prospects who were open to buying conversations. That's value to sales. And sales conversations gave IT decision-makers access to information that they needed to make informed purchase decisions and do their job. That's value to the buyer.
The problem is, this is no longer the journey that most B2B tech buyers are on. Tech buying is increasingly shaped by anonymous buyers, whose preference for self-directed, digital experiences is increasing.
When buyers don't instantly recognise the value in talking to sales, it starts to undermine strategic alignment. The way that marketing seeks to prove value to sales ends up conflicting with the experiences its audiences want. Metrics that once lined up with a predictable buyer journey end up pushing sales and marketing apart rather than pulling them closer together.
The vicious circle that hurts buyer experiences
As B2B tech marketers, we know how this can play out in practice. Marketing has targets written in MQL volumes, and it optimises around generating MQLs quickly and cost-efficiently. But if MQLs want a self-directed journey, sales end up frustrated at lead quality. Tensions build as sales increasingly ignore MQLs while demanding higher volume targets as an insurance policy.
What of the buyers themselves? They feel the disconnect of being passed between teams seeking to prove value to one another. Their experiences are peppered with requests for contact details. They then find themselves going straight from reading an interesting article or experimenting with a free demo to being approached about prices and product specs. And then they end up being ignored altogether.
The truth is that sales don't want more MQLs. Sales want opportunities that convert and revenue that brings them close to quota. This is best served by fewer leads that are properly qualified, engagement that contributes to account readiness, and marketing support that helps move buyers through different stages of the funnel.
To achieve this, we need to re-align strategy around a clear priority of delivering measurable value to the customer, rather than prioritising metrics that are focused on proving value internally.
A framework for aligning on buyer value
"The buyer journey is getting longer and more complicated," says Hans Dekkers. "But I see companies of all sizes benefiting when they focus on the shortest time to value for the client. Even if the processes are long and the sales cycles are long, how can you achieve the shortest time to value within that?"
The answer involves changes on a number of levels. One is defining marketing's role as complementary to sales rather than replicating it. It doesn't exist just to target the contacts that sales are already talking to. Today's complex tech buying journeys mean that it's important to engage other functions within a buying organisation as well - and that's where marketing comes into its own.
A broader vision of marketing's role often increases the number of sales contacts who have been exposed to marketing (because marketing isn't second-guessing in advance who those contacts will be). It also involves targeting more broadly within ABM accounts to ensure wider awareness and influence among anonymous buyers. LinkedIn data from 2020 shows that there is only a 23% overlap between the audiences that sales and marketing teams go after. A more buyer-oriented strategy can increase this.
Distinguishing between KPIs and end-objectives
A strategy built around buyer value also leads to emphasising different metrics, with more focus on revenue as the shared end-objective for sales and marketing, and less emphasis on KPIs such as MQLs as an objective in themselves. This drives changes in the lead qualification process, moves marketing's role further down the funnel and makes it easier for sales and marketing to collaborate on meaningful measures of ROI.
Buyer behaviour changes the conversation between sales and marketing – and this has certainly been the case during the pandemic. "Previously single-touch engagement qualified somebody for follow up," says Alysha Spencer, Head of Enterprise Acquisition and Upsell Marketing at Telefónica UK. "Now we're focusing more on double-touch and email nurture rather than diving straight in and confirming them as a lead. It's helping to warm up prospects better and build out engagement and the relationship."
The power of active alignment on strategy
This type of strategic flexibility comes from awareness of the buyer journey that's active rather than passive. It works best when sales and marketing have an appetite for analysing the different steps involved – and collaborate on understanding what the buyer needs next.
"We've built squads that work together, and focus on individual challenges together," says IBM EMEA's VP and CMO, Alison Orsi, who works with Hans on building an aligned approach to buyer experiences. "We're always coming at it with a mindset asking, what can we improve? How do we break every client journey down into micro-steps, and how do we work together to improve those?"
Complex tech buying journeys require this kind of collaborative, hands-on strategy making. It's not a case of setting objectives and then expecting sales and marketing to deliver them in a complementary way. Both teams benefit from an end-to-end approach that brings complementary skills to creating the experiences buyers want. And that's the ultimate aim of any tech marketing strategy.
Our research uncovered four pillars to alignment: Strategy, Process, Content and Messaging, and Culture. Read more insights into the other three pillars and equip your team to be even more effective.
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We reveal how to take the guesswork out of modern B2B tech marketing – and adjust your approach to thrive in the era of the Anonymous Buyer.