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Improving Sales and Marketing Alignment

Sales and marketing alignment is difficult to achieve, but it’s also one of the best opportunities for improving business results. When marketing and sales teams are aligned, marketing ROI, sales productivity, and top line growth all go up. To get full alignment, it’s not enough to have leaders aligned, you need alignment with as many people on both teams as is feasible. To do this, people need to have an opportunity to provide input, contribute to decision-making and provide feedback. 

Real buy-in involves at least some element of co-creation. It invites discussion, debate, and allows everyone to feel even more vested in the outcome. – From “How To Get Real Buy-In For Your Idea

Here are some of the ways where the opportunity to include more people in the process typically go wrong, why it matters and ultimately what can be done to facilitate deeper collaboration between sales and marketing.

1. Not aligned on objectives and constraints

One of the first places alignment is compromised is when not everyone is on the same page with objective(s) and constraints. Let’s consider planning a North American road show with the objective of finding new opportunities. Most times, the event is planned with a small subset of individuals from marketing and input from a few sales leaders. The issue is that many of these people are quite removed from day to day interaction with customers. While the planning team isn’t going to get the planning entirely wrong, it’s likely they could be less wrong by getting more input from those who talk to customers everyday. Furthermore, centralized planning, even with the best intentions, often fails to factor in local considerations. While a North American road show needs to take a broader perspective, it should still consider local requirements or issues. The strategy for growth may be subtly different in one or more cities. One or more cities may have a significantly higher number of prospects in a particular industry.

While it clearly isn’t going to be possible to accommodate everyone’s wishes, gathering input more broadly will create a deeper shared understanding of what needs to be considered for a successful event series. Everyone can easily agree that the objective is to generate leads. However, details of what success looks like and what might prevent success is where people can feel misaligned. The feeling the headquarters doesn’t understand local challenges is a common complaint. Getting more input does a two things. It gives the planning team more confidence that all considerations on the table so that potential topics, demand generation strategies etc. can all be properly evaluated. Second, by having an opportunity to provide input, everyone that is part of the process will have a better understanding of how options are being evaluated and this creates more commitment.

2. Not aligned on the best way to achieve the objective

Once a clearer shared understanding of what success looks like and what might prevent it, teams are ready to start coming up with ideas for the best way to be successful. In our example of a road show, the ideas would be based on event topics, format, presenter, etc. Ideation is both an individual and group process. People come up with more ideas and more creative ideas on their own, but are improved through collaboration. The best ideas are often combinations of different ideas. This is the other place that planning and alignment can be improved. Coming up with the plan includes too few people, means the planning team is missing valuable input. It also tends to leave some people or teams feeling like they had a better idea than the one they ended up with.

If you’re going to be more collaborative at this stage, it’s important that all this communication is centralized so that everyone benefits from the process and sees each other’s ideas. This leads to the best idea and it again increases commitment.

3. Not giving people a voice in the decision-making process

While consensus is not going to be a likely result, excluding people from voicing their opinion and having a say in the decision-making process definitely limits commitment. The worst thing for commitment is when one team or a subset of individuals feel like decisions were made without their input. For the road show, it can feel like an event series is being forced on them and that the plan doesn’t addresses their concerns. As a result, they feel as though they’re being asked to build a pipeline of opportunities from an event that they believe is only 60 or 70% as good as it could be.

Give sales and marketing an opportunity to vote, debate and work through solutions together. Input into the decision-making process should also be transparent and centralized. Individuals and teams should be able to discuss options with each other directly. Being stuck between two parties that disagree can be time consuming, unproductive and frustrating. The opportunity to discuss builds further understanding, trust, and alignment.

4. Not getting enough feedback

The last stage of the process is one where things can again go slightly awry is not getting feedback on the solution. Even though everyone has been part of the process up to the final stages, it’s still likely that there are differences in how people imagine the final product. With our roadshow example, the invite copy, the agenda, who’s presenting and which venue is selected are all things that could be slightly different between the planning team and the sales teams. The end result is a road show where people feel like what’s being taken to market isn’t quite as good as it could be. This leads to disengagement and less commitment.

Being more inclusive in feedback is the final step in ensuring you have both teams as aligned as possible.

Tools and processes

The challenge with being more inclusive in planning, decision-making, and feedback is that it’s a lot of work and potentially unrealistic if you have a large number of people in both teams. If you’re a small team, you can get all the key stakeholders in a room over a set of meetings to complete the steps above. With more than eight to 10 people, however, this becomes unwieldily, inefficient and scheduling may become a challenge. If you start scaling this to dozens or hundreds of people, it becomes impossible to be inclusive if you’re going to rely on meetings and email.

If you’re going to do this successfully, you’re going to need a better collaboration tool to facilitate. 

  • You want communication to be centralized and transparent to everyone involved. 
  • Remove barriers to participating in the planning process. Make whatever tool or process you adopt easy to use and flexible. People should be able to quickly add input, ideas, feedback, comments etc. whenever and wherever suits them.
  • Think about how you want to organize and facilitate the conversation. There should be a logical structure to it, so that it’s possible to pull out important and / or popular insights from the discussion.
  • While not strictly necessary, being able to measure activity and contribution levels is useful. As you get better at a more inclusive collaboration process between sales and marketing, you’ll start to develop some benchmarks for your organization. Is 50% participation in a particular project good or bad? Is it indicative of the amount of commitment and success you can expect for the plan or project?

Sales and marketing alignment is hard, but there are steps that can be taken to improve it. Each incremental step towards improvement has a strong multiplier to the success and outcomes you can expect. The key to this is being more inclusive and focusing not just on input between leaders of both teams, but between the teams themselves. With large teams, the key to doing this is going beyond meetings and email and leveraging better collaboration tools to facilitate the process.

Harness the power of employee ideas.

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