3 Essential Best Practices for a Good Sales-Marketing Relationship
Marketing and Sales are intrinsically and inexorably connected. While often considered separate departments, the Marketing and Sales teams are simply in charge of different aspects of the lead generation process and customer relationship management.
Indeed, at least from my point of view, Marketing and Sales theoretically work to achieve the same objective, i.e. attracting leads and converting them into customers to make a brand grow. However, the way they work and contribute to this goal is significantly different. They often use different technologies, follow different processes and measure their results according to different metrics. In brief, they interpret reality from two different perspectives.
As such, the alignment between Sales and Marketing is often a challenge. Due to a lack of communication and collaboration, rather than being the main driver of commercial success, the relationship between these departments becomes a source of conflict in many companies.
We identified three actionable best practices to help you build the synergy required for success.
This article starts with some considerations on the key aspects of the relationship between marketing and sales and its evolution during the last decade. The second paragraph focuses on the benefits and importance of good interdepartmental relationships. Finally, the third section covers 3 best practices we believe are critical for successfully managing this relationship, with actionable tips that will help you implement them.
A Dating Game: the Evolution of the Relationship between Marketing and Sales
The digitization process that has been transforming traditional business practices for the last ten years had a big impact on the way companies work. The relationship between Marketing, Sales and customers has been totally redefined.
Indeed, customer behavior has evolved a lot. Nowadays, the customer’s buying process takes place on-line, whether partially or completely. As such, the same marketing strategies that used to work greatly fifteen years ago are not bringing the same results anymore.
The goal of marketers is still to build a strong brand and cultivate the interest, attention and desire of potential customers. However, rather than betting on eye-catching flyers and trade fairs (which still bring customers to many companies), marketing teams have sharply shifted their focus towards digital marketing strategies, such as content, social media and email marketing.
This is really not surprising. Digital marketing offers great advantages as it both increases the quantity of leads and improves their quality. As such, the marketer’s role now consists in encouraging and warming up leads by cultivating trust, interest and a positive appraisal of the company’s products or services. The salesperson’s role, instead, consists into converting interest into money.
This is obviously a lengthy process and requires marketers to hold onto leads much longer than before, thus changing the way marketing and sales work together. I think a metaphorical approach will help me better explain this.
Modern marketing is more similar to seduction than to advertising.
Imagine calling your potential dates on the phone and asking them out. How many dates do you think you will be able to get? It doesn’t sound like the most efficient approach. However, this is what happens in many sales departments.
One way to increase your success rate would be to contact people who already know you. However, your targets would probably feel uncomfortable if you directly asked them out. They would likely be more willing to accept your invite if the first time you met you chatted a bit and made a good impression.
You would have even more chances of going on a date if when you previously met with your target you extensively talked about your passions, interests and experiences. The deeper you get in your conversation, the more likely it is that you said something that intrigues your target, or collected relevant information, such as your target’s favourite restaurant or food intolerances. All details that will help you reach your goal.
In other words, no matter what you are selling, the ultimate goal of your marketing team is to increase the efficiency and efficacy of the sales department, both in the short and in the long run. Without an effective sales team, your marketing efforts risk being wasted.
As potential targets go through the different stages of the marketing funnel, they get more and more engaged with the brand and provide marketers with insightful information that can be used by the sales team to close deals.
Why You MUST Create Synergy between Marketing and Sales
Let’s stick to the dating metaphor. Imagine you are very shy and ask your heartthrob friend to call your potential dates for you.
It could work and some of them could show up for the date. But if your personality is not in line with the phone call that convinced them in the first place, it won’t be a successful date. Your targets will probably be deceived as they expected something much different from what you are now offering them. And you will not get a second date.
On the contrary, if you and your friend have very similar personalities, or if you just manage the calls yourself, you will have much more chances of meeting their expectations. Your targets will stay engaged and you will definitely have other dating opportunities.
As the metaphor implies, the alignment between the Marketing and Sales teams has never been so critical. Also, the job of the marketing team doesn’t end when a lead is passed to the sales team. The follow-up phase is equally important, as it could lead to even more, better conversions. Clearly, this requires a strong synergy between the two departments.
And if you are more into statistics than into metaphors, numbers also support the call for a synergistics relationship between Sales and Marketing:
- - 50% of sales time is wasted on poor prospects (source: LSA Insider);
- - 95% of buyers buy from someone who gave them content at each stage of the Buyer's Journey (source: Blue Atlas);
- - 65% of sales reps say they can't find content to send to prospects (source: Kapost);
- - Only 12% of B2B buyers want to meet in person with a sales rep; and 71% start their process with an unbranded search. (sources: Accenture and Think with Google);
- - Misaligned sales and marketing departments cause a 10% average annual revenue loss to B2B companies (source: Hubspot);
- - Proper alignment between sales and marketing leads to 32% higher revenue, 38% higher win rates, retaining 36% more customers, achieving 24% faster growth rates and 27% faster revenue growth (source: Snap App).
Best practices to promote a good relationship between Marketing and Sales
1. Improve Communication
According to a report by Kapost, 59% of marketers think they know what sales requires from them. However, just over one-third of salespeople believes marketing understands their needs. This is probably the most critical issue of the sales vs marketing relationship.
As in any relationship, good communication is essential. When teams take decisions based on their own assumptions, they end up discarding assets that could have been useful, or promoting the wrong concepts.
On the contrary, when there is a good interdepartmental relationship, sales and marketing managers can easily and frequently talk to each other to figure out which tactics are working and which not, what assets are useful and what are not, which leads are good and which not. As such, they exchange insights that make both teams more aligned and efficient.
Good communication helps the marketing team grasp why certain tactics and assets don’t work to support the sales team’s efforts, or why certain leads are put on the side. As such, marketers have the opportunity to gain a full understanding of the type of information salespeople need to convert leads into customers and focus their market research on that.
Indeed, especially in B2B, salespeople need to develop a deep understanding of the customers’ issues in order to be effective. However, it is up to the marketing team to collect and transmit that information. If communication is bad, there is a risk of conveying the wrong message.
Some best practices to improve interdepartmental communication include:
- - Scheduling weekly meetings that involve the managers of both departments;
- - Organizing informal social events;
- - Involving salespeople in the content-creation process;
- - Setting up new knowledge and information management processes that make it easy to share information (consider investing in a CRM that fits the needs of both marketers and salespeople).
2. Build a Culture of Trust and Collaboration
Communication is essential, but improving it doesn’t guarantee success. When difficulties arise, team leaders might still end up finger-pointing other departments to free themselves from the burden of failure, thus reinforcing communication barriers.
In fact, if your corporate culture doesn’t promote trust and collaboration, communication will never be effective. Cohesion is key to success. So how do you build a culture of trust and collaboration?
Start by making transparency and sharing the norm inside your organization. Employees at all hierarchical levels should feel comfortable sharing data and insights, as well as projects, goals and workflows. There are many internal collaboration tools on the market that can help you achieve that.
For instance, all employees, including Junior team members, should be encouraged to routinely reach out to their counterparts across functions and should regularly take part in meetings in which teams from different departments share their project updates.
Another common best practice is to align your marketing and sales goals and creating shared projects for which managers from both departments must take responsibility.
In order to set relevant and achievable goals for both teams, make sure they share the same vision about the company’s marketing and sales funnel, that is the process your clients go through before and after conversion.
Set a meeting with your marketing and sales teams and ask them to describe the funnel. You will probably find out there are some small differences in the way they understand this process. This will highlight the friction points between the two departments and, eventually, establish a shared version of your funnel.
For instance, the meeting might reveal that you don’t have enough Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) or Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs), or that you should get higher quality or better qualified leads. Once you really understand what problems exist in your funnel, then you can start exploring possible solutions and improve your conversion rates.
If properly managed, these efforts will translate into a stronger sense of community that is deeply embedded in your culture and that fosters transparency, support and collaboration.
3. Develop a Shared Understanding of Your Customers
Once your marketing and sales teams share the same understanding of your process of client acquisition, conversion and retention, they should also craft a common formal definition of your ideal leads for each step of the funnel.
Often, marketing tends to pass all their leads to sales, despite the fact that many are low-qualified and with little chance of conversion. This frustrates the sales team, which in turn usually starts ignoring many of the leads found by the marketing team. The results is conflict.
In order to increase conversion rates, before passing their leads to the sales department, marketers should focus on nurturing them until they are ready to buy. However, it can be really challenging for marketers to understand when a lead is ready for sales. This is why both teams must work together to define their ideal leads.
Ask them to identify the defining traits of the leads that are already converting. By sharing their data and experiences, they will be able to come up with a much better definition of who represents a high-quality lead for your business.
Once you have clearly defined your Information Qualified Leads (IQLs), MQLs and SQLs, repeat the same collaborative process to develop your ideal Buyer Personas. Buyer Personas (BPs) describe the typical traits of your customers at each stage of the funnel. While clearly qualified leads are critical to support the work of salespeople, BPs help marketers identify what kind of content they should produce and which channels they should use to reach their targets.
Finally, draft a document that clearly summarizes the different responsibilities of each department as well as the common definitions of qualified leads and buyer personas. This will ensure every employee will have access to these documents and follow their guidelines.
The role of marketing has radically evolved in the last decade, passing from advertiser to sales enabler. Today, cultivating a good relationship between sales and marketing has never been so critical.
In order to promote trust, communication and collaboration, companies should strive to cultivate chemistry and empathy. It is essential that both departments continuously update and coordinate with each other to identify friction points and possible solutions. This can be done by creating a shared language that both sides can understand and feel comfortable using.
Also, make sure that there is a shared understanding of the roles and tasks expected for each team/position. Both departments should work together to define the kinds of profile they want to target and the different steps people should go through to evolve from being a simple visitor, to becoming a loyal customer.
In this sense, marketing automation tools can really sustain your efforts and help you boost lead conversion rates. First of all, by providing a lot of insightful data on what is actually going on in your marketing and sales funnel, these tools help marketers identify which is the best approach to lead nurturing for your organization, thus increasing the quality of your leads.
Secondly, they also help aligning the vision, goals and activities of your marketers and salespeople by clearly outlining the contribution of each department to revenue growth and to the company’s ROI. Hence, my final piece of advice is to make sure you select the right tools to support your marketing and sales efforts.