Challenge for Sales and Marketing: Alignment, Tranformation, Contemporize,…or Red Herring?

 “When you are in alignment with the people around you, you are much more likely to travel in the same direction and avoid hidden agendas” ~Mitch Thrower

Misalignment is often a byproduct of a lack of process and a natural result of traditional marketing and sales roles. Think about it — sales is perhaps one of the most measured functions in an organization. In sales, performance is measured by tangible results, and a lack of performance is cause for immediate and unquestioned dismissal. Contrast that with marketing, which is perhaps one of the most difficult functions to wrap tangible measurements around, and therein lies the challenge; we expect the most measured function and the least measured function to work seamlessly together…

In the article “Sales and Marketing Alignment: What the Experts Have to Say” by Kent Huffman writes: The CMO Council recently published a report entitled “Closing the Gap: The Sales and Marketing Alignment Imperative.” Among other key findings, the study revealed that “…there is an urgent need for marketing, sales, and channel management to be in alignment, and embrace technologies, processes, and programs that enable wider and deeper customer conversations, as well as leverage the knowledge, influence, and access of the channel. And, continuously refine the delivery of products and services in the most painless, seamless, and satisfying way.”

But is alignment the answer? In the article Aligning Marketing and Sales…With What?” writes: The real challenge is transformation, not just alignment. Of course marketing & sales need to work more closely together, but most of all they need to figure out how to collaborate in serving and attracting customers… there should be more agreement between marketing & sales on which leads matter, how to map marketing to the sales cycle, and where marketing can help most with key accounts…

“If we don’t look for a larger transformation in how both marketing and sales work — and work together — we run the risk of building alignment around a process that no longer fits the real world environment.”

In the articleWhy Aligning Sales and Marketing Never Works by Geoffrey James writes: I’ve come to the conclusion that “alignment” is a red herring. I believe that alignment simply can’t happen, because the problem is being defined incorrectly. Almost every article that I’ve seen treats sales & marketing as if they were co-equal functions.  Therefore, “alignment” consists of finding compatible goals, working together as a team, measuring the same things, and all that yada-yada-yada.

However, marketing was originally a service function to sales.  It was a way to help Sales make sales. For instance, advertising was supposed to create demand… so that somebody could sell something to a customer.  Branding was supposed to be a way to make products more attractive… so that somebody could sell something to a customer.

And so forth… marketing was a service organization. It’s totally ridiculous to “align” sales & marketing as if the two group were co-equal.  The only real and practical alignment is for marketing to step back, and respectfully ask the Sales team what they should be doing to help:  There should be submission not alignment.

In the articleWhy is Sales and Marketing Alignment Difficult for Most Organizations?” by Brian Carroll writes:  Organizations aren’t taking a holistic approach that considers all of the marketing and selling components on a total, complete, and ongoing basis. The lack of synergy between sales & marketing regarding lead generation is so common as to risk cliché. Marketing feels that sales doesn’t follow up on marketing-generated leads. Sales counters that the leads aren’t any good, and the information they provide isn’t helpful. My experience confirms that this communication breakdown affects nine out of ten companies.

Another reason that sales & marketing alignment is such a thorny issue lies in how each of those disciplines views its role in contrast to the other. For example, marketing often sees itself as the strategic player and sales as the tactical delivery mechanism for the strategy. In contrast, sales often see itself as the primary driver for the business, with marketing relegated to a sales support role. However, businesses having the greatest degree of alignment showed the following impact:

  • Grow 5.4 points faster than their less-aligned counterparts when compared with businesses in the same industry.
  • Close 38% more proposals than non-aligned businesses.
  • Lose 36% fewer customers to competitors.

In the article Sales and Marketing Alignment: One Lead, One View, One Result by Andrew Boyd and Ian Michiels write: Aberdeen Research surveyed over 617 companies to identify the strategies, capabilities and enablers that ‘Best-In-Class’(BIC) companies use to improve demand generation practices. The research revealed that 56 percent of Best-In-Class (BIC) companies and 62 percent of Laggards consider the alignment between marketing & sales a target for improvement. Marketing & sales alignment is also a significant dynamic in implementing new technology…

In the recent “Success Strategies in Marketing Automation” benchmark report, 63 percent of companies ranked sales & marketing alignment as a top two challenge to deploying marketing automation solutions. The pressure to improve ‘return on marketing investments’ and increase revenue are driving BIC companies to devote resources to aligning sales & marketing in the hopes of improving both the quality and quantity of leads entering the sales pipeline.

In the article Align Sales and Marketing by the Needs of Your B2B Customers” writes: Companies are aligning sales & marketing in 3 main areas: ‘Buying Process’ (how individuals make buying decisions to achieve their needs), ‘Common Sales Method’, and ‘Common Language’. In an August 2010 study released by Aberdeen, the results continue to show those who aligned sales & marketing are growing faster. The revenue growth rate is 20% year-over-year for those considered to be ‘Best-In-Class’. “If you are looking for ways to grow faster in these tough times, the alignment of sales and marketing may be low hanging fruit as an area to consider.”

In the article “Aligning Sales & Marketing: The Upside of Lopsided Risk” by Kathleen Schaub writes:  Above the door of an Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower is a sign that reads: “What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; but if ATC screws up …the pilot dies.”

This sign soberly reminds us that risk distribution between interdependent work partners can be unfairly lopsided. Marketing & sales also experience this interdependency and risk inequity. It may not be “fair”, but it is valuable. In today’s complex marketplace, it takes sales & marketing working interdependently to attain revenue growth. Aligned companies enjoy “a substantial improvement in important performance metrics: sales cycles are shorter, market entry costs go down, and the cost of sales is lower, say Philip Kotler, Neil Rackham, and Suj Krishnaswamy.

While it may take both teams working interdependently to achieve goals, there’s no question that marketing & sales have very different jobs and unequal risk levels. Like air traffic controllers, a marketer’s job is primarily about information – planning, analyzing, and communicating.

Compare this to the sales team who, like pilots, are out in the field, constantly moving, directly weathering market turbulence. Both ATC work and marketing take place in relative safety from behind a desk. Most marketers have never cold-called, never had a door slammed in their face, never met a competitor in the lobby of their best customer.

While marketers may not come face-to-face with slamming doors and conniving competitors, marketers possess the life-or-death information that sales people need to adroitly maneuver.  Critical customer intelligence, competitive intelligence, and market situation intelligence determine how successfully a sales person manages through their tough situations. As a pilot, you want a safe, reliable, friend who has “got your back” and consistently feeds you critical environmental data while you battle the sky.  As a sales person, you want this kind of a friend, too…

In the articleDefining Sales & Marketing Optimization by Christine writes: We all bandy about the term, sales & marketing alignment, assuming a widely accepted definition exists that all understand and subscribe to.  What I have found is that ‘alignment’ means different things to different people based on their orientation to the problem.  For many sales leaders and technology solution vendors it means anything from automated lead management, sales force automation to marketing delivering higher quality leads. 

If we’re going to improve sales & marketing alignment through best practices, we need a comprehensive definition that we all can work with.   I’ve scanned a large number of sales, marketing and leadership books and have yet to find a succinct, comprehensive and balanced definition. However, I’ve put a stake in the ground and defined sales & marketing alignment at a higher, more strategic level:

“Sales and marketing collaboratively working toward the common goal of profitably increasing revenue and customer excellence through shared processes, resources and metrics.”

What does this definition say? Alignment is more than just leads.  At the heart of alignment the two teams are working toward the same goal with a common understanding of resources.  Companies achieve this through a three stage journey that integrates activities, processes, and team structures and reinforce alignment with a culture that emphasizes shared accountability and institutionalizes it with common technology platforms.

In the articleSales and Marketing Alignment: Thought Leadership by Jon Miller writes: Technology is a key enabler of alignment but it does not, in and of itself, produce alignment. The benefits of technology solutions with common target market & customer database, automated lead management system, and SFA/CRM system, to name a few.  Then, both groups can focus on improving lead quality, velocity, pipeline accuracy and reducing lead leakage. Marketing & sales operations’ analytics, based on data in a common systems, provides greater transparency in what is really happening in the company and enables management to manage the business more effectively…

In the article “Transformation: Aligning Sales and Marketing Processes” by Walter Rogers writes:  Marketing & sales organizations must stop thinking about simply pushing products or solutions. The way to close more business and drive more revenue today lies in adapting to the way customers are doing business now, becoming more accessible and responsive, and being sensitive to the customer’s needs by adopting a flexible, creative approach to customizing products and solutions that will help customers achieve their desired outcomes.

Eliminate the chasm between marketing & sales – The sibling rivalry between sales & marketing must end. The old disconnected, cumbersome system in which two independent divisions both fight to achieve the same goal must be replaced by a fully collaborative, integrated approach and function as one seamless team, supporting each other and sharing information with each other in real time for a common goal…

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” ~ Max De Pree