3 surefire steps marketers must take to align with sales

Here we are in 2017 and marketing and sales alignment is still one the most contentious and difficult issues to address in the B2B marketing world. Enabled by technology, driving customer engagement and directly and positively affecting revenue, is marketing’s new charter.  While this charter makes sense given our digital world, it is creating havoc with the traditional marketing and sales relationship. The result is miscommunication, loss of marketing credibility, lack of lead follow through and zero reportable ROI from marketing’s heroic efforts.

At the same time, the evidence and proof of the value of a revenue-based alignment of sales and marketing is indisputable. Benefits of revenue alignment include improved conversion rates, higher customer retention and sales-win rates, shorter sales cycles, revenue growth, more budget for marketing and an improved competitive position for your firm. Benefits of an integrated revenue team also include credibility in terms of revenue impact and earning a seat at the executive table. 

In companies that enjoy an integrated revenue team approach, I see the following set of behaviors across both sales and marketing:

1. Use a common revenue language.
2. Have mirrored organizational structures.
3. Are equally proactive in the relationship.
4. Function as one revenue team towards achieving shared revenue-oriented goals.
5. Tie goals and compensation to shared revenue metrics.

Now that you fully understand the benefits and what it should look like, what's holding you back? This is a complex issue with many contributing factors. This blog is about one of these contributing factors – you. It's time to get off your duff, step out of your comfort zone and do three things: learn the business of sales, hone your communication skills, and take responsibility.

Learn the business of sales

Fair or not, marketing must take the lead in the relationship and this begins by learning the business of sales. Trying to create a relationship with sales without understanding their world simply doesn't work and that understanding does not occur through osmosis. More specifically, the entire marketing team must know the sales goals, be a part of sales initiatives, understand the sales process, know the sales team, and be educated on the pipeline.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many integrated revenue teams (aligned sales and marketing teams) and here is what the best of the best do.

The marketing team:

  • Participates in weekly sales pipeline calls.
  • Participates in monthly and quarterly sales calls.
  • Listens to sales calls and goes on sales calls.
  • Participates in sales training.
  • Has a job rotation in sales.
  • Sits in the same area as the sales team.

Amp up communication skills

While we all recognize the huge digital skills gap that exists in marketing, there's still little recognition of the communications skills gap. Communication skills is a broad term that includes both verbal and written skills. It includes skills that help collaborate, influence, and build mutually beneficial relationships. Today's marketing now works across many functions in an organization, it blows my mind that the majority of marketers have little formal communications training and even fewer participate in sales training. From working with many integrated sales and marketing teams, here's a list of verbal skills used by the masters.  Go take a class.

  • Active listening while holding judgment
  • Asking great questions
  • Expressing empathy
  • Paraphrasing, clarifying and confirming
  • Handling objections
  • Being assertive – being very clear about what you want
  • Asking for a clear action.

Take responsibility

It doesn't matter what else you do, if you don't take responsibility for a revenue number and then provide transparency on the number, you'll never align with sales. Why? Because this is what differentiates the sales team from every other part of the organization. They have a number on their back every day and everyone knows where they are on that number. Oh, and they get fired if they don’t hit the number. You cannot imagine the amount of stress a salesperson experiences. If you are to partner with the sales team, you must first, understand this universal truth and then second, address it head on. 

When we take a look at the most successful revenue marketing machines, we see marketing has the same kinds of goals as sales. If sales has a number tied to new account acquisition, so does marketing. If sales has a number for enterprise accounts, so does marketing. If sales has a number for a new product, so does marketing. And marketing is completely transparent on efforts and results – both the good and the bad.

Final thoughts

While there are many contributing factors to the lack of sales and marketing alignment, one critical factor is you. It’s time to step out of your comfort zone and really, really understand sales. This change takes time and effort. The best revenue marketers talk and act like sales people. Once you sign up for a number, your life as a marketer is forever changed for the better. This is the only path to sales and marketing alignment.