Bridge as a Metaphor for Sales and Marketing Collaboration

Published: August 14, 2017

Throughout history, the relationship between sales and marketing could generally be described as a friendly rivalry. (Well, sometimes more frosty than friendly.)

Frequently siloed, the two departments have often been at odds, striving toward the same ultimate goals of growing business and winning customers but operating in distinctly different stages of the sales funnel.

What is the difference between sales and marketing? How is this age-old dynamic evolving in our current environment? And what are top-performing companies doing to align the two departments for optimal results?

We’ll cover it all in our definitive guide to sales and marketing in the modern era. Venture forth to become an expert on both, and how they can work in unison.

Sales and Marketing: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Traditionally, the functions of sales and marketing have been defined as such:

Marketing: Research, understand, and attract customers. Fill the top of the pipeline with qualified leads, and hand them over to sales. Nurture prospects and advance their readiness to buy.

Sales: Bring it home. Persuade and negotiate. Work one-on-one with buyers or customers to close the deal. Manage existing relationships and create additional opportunities.

In the sales funnel management framework, you could once draw an intersecting line to divvy up the responsibilities of marketing and sales, with one owning the top portion and the other owning the bottom. This is still somewhat true today, but with the advent of digital media, the lines are becoming blurred.

The buyer’s journey is changing, and the strategies surrounding sales and marketing need to change with it. In many companies, it hasn’t, which is a problem.

Why Sales and Marketing Alignment Matters

The stakes are too high, and the business landscape too fragmented, for these two departments to continue operating in isolation. Mick Hollison, a seasoned CMO, summarized the need for a unified sales and marketing approach well:

“Today’s buyers do a tremendous amount of their purchasing research long before they ever speak to a salesperson. As a result, it is critical for marketers to consider every potential interaction with a customer and how those impressions may be shared via social media. Ultimately, this age of the hyper-educated, constantly connected consumer requires that marketing and sales work more closely together than ever before.”

In other words, the typical modern B2B buyer is engaging in much more self-education on products and services, so sales and marketing must work jointly to influence the process and serve as conduits in the gathering of information.

The benefits of fostering a culture of sales and marketing alignment are unmistakable. These statistics via the Digital Marketing Institute help to draw out the tangible advantages:

  • Lost sales and wasted marketing outlay attributed to misalignment cost companies an estimated $1 trillion annually

  • Companies with strong sales and marketing alignment are 67% better at closing deals

  • They also achieve 36% higher customer retention and 38% higher win rates

  • Companies with effective alignment see average growth of 20% in annual revenue, compared to 4% decline for those that are misaligned

At this point, aligning sales and marketing is a matter of common sense, and most executives understand that. Still, too many companies are failing to make it an organizational emphasis, and feel the pain as a result.

Bringing the two sides together does not mean eliminating any kind of separation -- it’s important to recognize and embrace the unique qualities marketers and salespeople bring to the table, as we’ll discuss below -- but rather, removing barriers that obstruct seamless collaboration.

Keys to a Cohesive Sales and Marketing Approach

Make sure sales and marketing are speaking the same language. This should be an imperative from the top down: use the same terminologies and CRM processes.

Get collective buy-in on a lead scoring system. One of the biggest gripes we hear from salespeople (and one of the biggest causes of disconnect) is that marketing doesn’t provide enough qualified leads. But what defines “qualified”? Sometimes, it looks different from each side. Get everyone on the same page.

Encourage experiential learning. Salespeople can benefit a great deal from learning how to market themselves, so provide opportunities for them to absorb knowledge on inbound marketing strategies by working alongside the marketing team. Similarly, sitting in on sales calls or meetings can give marketers a clearer idea of what’s important when it comes to closing deals, enhancing their nurture tactics.

Set aside time for joint introspection and reflection. When deals are closed, bring sales and marketing together to retroactively pinpoint the touchpoints and activities from both sides most critical in making it happen. This is also known as closing the loop.

Why Sales and Marketing Need To Retain Their Own Boundaries

With all the talk about aligning sales and marketing, it feels necessary to point out that maintaining distinct roles is important. Salespeople and marketers each have unique skills that should be celebrated, not downplayed.

Marketers are usually great researchers and digital communicators who excel at developing customer personas, creating magnetic content, and attracting targeted leads. Sales pros are known for being strong one-on-one communicators, active listeners, and relentless rapport-builders with deep knowledge of their product or service.

Sure, there is often overlap, but a person ends up specializing in his or her area of expertise for a reason. While it’s important today for sales to become more active in the upper funnel and vice versa, marketing should still be primarily focused on generating and qualifying leads, with sales owning the finish line.

Optimizing the transition is crucial.

Mastering the Marketing-to-Sales Handoff

In the game of football, there are few things worse than a botched handoff. Once the ball is in the running back’s hands, a world of possibilities opens up, but if the quarterback doesn’t cleanly transfer it over, we end with a panicky mess behind the line of scrimmage, and plenty of frustration.

Football as a metaphor for sales and marketing

This tenet of the gridiron applies to the sales cycle as well, as a fumbled handoff between marketing and sales can stall out a promising drive. If sales engages a lead too quickly, it might scare them off. Too late, and the prospect might have already gone another direction. Timing is of the essence, and top-performing companies are turning this transition into a science by consulting metrics and gaining a deeper understanding of the buyer’s journey.

Communication is imperative when it comes to the sales and marketing handoff. As we alluded to earlier, you’ll want everyone in the organization working off the same lead definition and scoring system. Sales should be apprised of all that is happening with a prospect on the marketing side -- which eBooks have been downloaded, which interactions have already taken place, what indicators of interest they’ve shown, and so forth.    

The more information marketing can attach to provide context around a lead, the more equipped sales will be to deliver personalized, relevant outreach. How did a prospect enter your website? Which types of content attracts them? If a salesperson makes contact, will the prospect be acutely familiar with your brand, or have they only had passing encounters?

To some extent, the perfect way to engage throughout the purchase cycle will always remain a mystery; there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution. But we now have access to more data than ever, and if we organize and lean on it, we can greatly improve our efficacy in passing the baton.

How Social Selling and Account-Based Marketing Factor Into Sales and Marketing Collaboration

These two trending strategies are both facilitating the convergence of sales and marketing. Each incorporates new ways of researching, reaching, and breaking through to B2B buyers.

Social Selling

More and more, sales pros are recognizing the benefits of becoming more active on social media, and using it to upgrade their approaches. Most B2B buyers are active or at least present on these networks, especially LinkedIn, providing an easily accessible resource for learning about prospects and their unique business needs.

The practice of social selling inherently draws salespeople into marketing’s world, because obviously social channels are mainstays for inbound and outbound digital marketing activities. When both departments use social media to understand and track buyers, teams can develop highly customized engagement strategies.

This brings us to ABM:

Account-Based Marketing

Just as social selling encourages salespeople to think like marketers, account-based marketing encourages marketers to think like salespeople. It requires a shift in thinking, moving from a broad and quantitative outreach style to a more focused approach, where efforts are affixed on one single account or a defined set of accounts.

In other words, rather than trying to gain visibility with a multitude of different business accounts, an ABM practitioner will expend resources to learn as much as they can about specific targeted accounts, building campaigns that carry maximum relevance for them. Account-based marketing tends to lay better groundwork for sales when it comes to building relationships and closing deals.

Sales and Marketing on LinkedIn

When it comes to social selling and account-based marketing, as well as sales and marketing alignment at large, LinkedIn is a tremendously powerful tool. Its utility extends into all of these realms substantially.

Marketers use the platform to publish content, run targeted ads, and bolster their company’s digital presence. Sales uses the platform to expand networks, target the right people, understand their needs, and engage them with insights. There’s plenty of room for crossover, and a coordinated program can yield excellent results.

For instance, our research shows that members exposed to a company’s marketing content on LinkedIn are 25% more likely to respond to a Sales Navigator InMail from that company’s sales reps. And members who are connected with a rep in a company are 2.2 times more likely to engage with that company’s Sponsored Content on the platform. (Learn more in our eBook, The Payoffs of Improved Sales and Marketing Alignment.)

Sales and Marketing Techniques and Takeaways

The difference between sales and marketing is fairly straightforward, or at least it was. Each side has its own strengths that should be recognized and embraced. But as this guide makes clear, the opportunities for collaborative alignment are plentiful, and forward-thinking companies everywhere are adopting them in some form.

When it comes to harmoniously bringing sales and marketing together, here are some final tidbits to take with you:

  • B2B buyers now complete more research on their own than ever before. Think about ways sales and marketing can mutually help them along the way.

  • Get sales reps and marketers on the same page, so that they’re speaking the same language, following the same processes, and working toward the same goals.

  • Place an organizational emphasis on improving the marketing-to-sales handoff for reduced friction and increased conversions.

  • Social selling and account-based marketing are proven strategies that cohesively incorporate elements of both sales and marketing.