Is B2B sales and marketing alignment a myth?

In Perspectives of a Millennial CMO, Katie Martell, on-demand marketer and co-founder/former CMO of Cintell, discusses a pervasive challenge that we cannot ignore

The unhealthy tension between sales and marketing at B2B organizations is so common, we accept it as an inevitability, says Samantha Stone, founder of the Marketing Advisory Network and principal analyst behind a new study on B2B sales and marketing collaboration.

“We know fully integrated companies are more profitable, drive faster growth and make happier customers,” Stone said. “Organizations that rally together around shared goals will drive more efficiency than those where different functions are at odds with each other. Yet most sales and marketing teams struggle with achieving this ideal.”

Admit that misalignment is pervasive, not a myth

The study found that 67 percent of respondents do not reward sales teams for supporting marketing objectives. This, even though most companies report that marketing objectives align to greater business goals.

These two groups can’t even agree on how well they support each other. When asked if respondents agreed to the statement, “My marketing co-workers do a superb job of supporting sales efforts,” over half of sales respondents agreed. Only 20 percent of marketers felt the same way.

These two teams can’t even agree on what tools and content are used. More than a quarter of marketers believe less than 25 percent of assets are used by sales, whereas only 3 percent of sales report the same. 

Focus on the hand-off

One area where sales and marketing interact most frequently is the handoff of leads from marketing activity to be worked on and eventually closed by sales. The research found more than half of organizations reporting less than 85 percent of leads delivered by marketing are followed up by sales.

From the marketer’s perspective, very few — less than 20 percent — of respondents indicated that sales followed up on 95 percent or more of leads delivered. As for sales? They think they’re doing a much better job. Half of sales people surveyed said their teams follow up on more than 95 percent of leads delivered.  

Realize greater value with shared goals

In the published study, Jay Gains, SiriusDecisions VP and group director of marketing executive services, says, “SiriusDecisions’ benchmark data reveals that organizations that create strong alignment between sales and marketing outperform their peers with 19 percent faster revenue growth and 15 percent higher profitability. The foundation for effective sales and marketing alignment is audience-centricity and strong process.”

When asked where their teams are misaligned within the study, those organizations that missed revenue goals reported they did not share KPIs between sales and marketing twice as frequently as those organizations that exceeded revenue goals.

The use of a service level agreement is a common way to get on the same page and hold everyone accountable to shared objectives and responsibilities. In the study, those who exceed revenue goals had more documented SLAs than those who miss or meet their goals. These agreements include lead scoring criteria, time from lead assignment to follow-up and collection of win or loss data.

Sharing the load leads to big results 

Some accountability here can go a long way as well. Organizations that exceeded revenue goals in the last 12 months are three times as likely as those who miss revenue goals to have marketing own pipeline acceleration, not just lead generation. 

While there are myriad tools, processes, and trainings that can improve many of the problem areas outlined in this study, one in particular is relatively easy to implement: direct marketing interaction with buyers.

Marketers at organizations that exceed revenue goals are twice as likely to participate in customer and prospect meetings as those that miss revenue goals. 

“The most successful organizations have broken down the unspoken barrier between marketing and buyers,” Stone said. “Often, the gap is caused by a combination of too busy marketers who feel no time exists to speak with buyers, and a resistant sales team who wants to protect their account. The result is a lack of engagement and insight.”

I was very glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the report. Inside, I share a list of things to listen for when marketers join sales calls, including:

  • topics, pain points, and pressures that are top-of-mind. (This is great fodder for new content topics.)

  • questions buyers have during their purchase process – and what your reps can and cannot answer.

  • sales methodologies and tools that are working – and which are being ignored.

  • any missing sales enablement materials.

  • if your marketing messaging is resonating as intended.

  • how targeted and qualified your leads really are.

Keep communication consistent

Like any good marriage, better communication leads to better results. In the marriage between sales and marketing, what really matters is the variety of distribution and training techniques that are used when sales enablement materials are shared between the two groups. Companies that exceeded revenue goals were almost four times as likely as those that missed goals to have a combination of email, virtual and in-person training, and publishing in a sales tool repository. 

The Marketing Advisory Network collected more than 100 survey responses from a wide range of organizations that serve other businesses. More than a quarter were from business services organizations. More than half hailed from technology companies, and the balance weighed in from a wide range of industries.