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Sales and Marketing Alignment: the Essentials

Sales and Marketing Alignment: the Essentials

Sales and Marketing Alignment: the Essentials

HelloIt’s a legendary conundrum: Sales and marketing cooperation is hampered by a lack of communication and agreement. Often the two teams are much like Mars and Venus, with different objectives and different styles – not to mention different ways of being judged by management, and different metrics.

The first step to fostering cooperation is for sales and marketing to agree to sit down and speak with each other. This could be a casual after-work beer; it doesn’t need to begin with a formal sit-down meeting. During these conversations, both parties should focus on a few specific areas.

Agree to agree

You both have to put the company goals and a commitment to cooperation ahead of turf squabbles and egos. Seriously. Shake hands and mean it.

Begin with the end in mind

What are the organization’s business goals? These could be market share, net new acquisitions, recurring revenue, reducing churn, customer lifetime value, or a host of other objectives. Whatever the case may be, sales and marketing need to agree on that focus, with a mutual understanding.

At some point you’ll want to get it all down on paper (a two-way service level agreement) but for now, you’re just talking. And since you’re all supposed to be skilled communicators, good at making your points and listening, do both. Remember what Mark Twain said: “If we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.”

Start with an agreement on the target buyer

A failure to agree on the target buyer is one of the first, biggest breakdowns between sales and marketing. If you have different ideas about this, it will play out with marketing trying to attract one type of buyer while sales wants to sell to a different type of buyer. Which means if marketing succeeds, sales will reject those leads. Not a pretty picture, and not conducive to good conduct medals. Or closed sales.

Agree on a qualified lead definition

The lack of qualified lead definitions is another common barrier to sales and marketing alignment. A qualified lead definition is an agreement between the two parties as to the stages of qualification and when a lead is ready to be passed to sales.

The definitions should include demographic information (such as company size) and behavioral information (such as requesting a demo of your product). Once the definitions are created, both sides can agree on a lead hand-off process, which will define when and how marketing will pass a lead to the sales team. This should be in writing.

Signing an agreement

Create a culture of accountability

Accountability is critical to effective cooperation between sales and marketing. Use metrics to track whether both parties are meeting their commitments. For example, marketing will hold itself accountable to sales by signing up to deliver a minimum number of qualified leads within a certain amount of time, while sales will be accountable to marketing by guaranteeing they will follow up on a certain number of leads within a certain amount of time.

If you diagram the process, a simple model would look like this:

Steps to sales and marketing alignmentHere are the key points:

  1. Marketing is responsible for moving leads to qualified leads.
  2. During the lead handoff, qualified leads are transferred to sales to accept.
  3. If sales confirms that the qualified lead fits the criteria, then the qualified lead becomes a sales-accepted lead. If sales doesn’t agree, the lead is recycled – back to marketing.
  4. Leads deemed legitimate by sales ultimately become sales opportunities, and are pursued further. Those that come to drop out of the process are eventually recycled back to marketing.
  5. Quantifiable metrics should accompany every step in the process. By looking at metrics, organizations can find the areas that need improvement and optimize the program.
  6. Service level agreements (SLAs) are commitments made by stakeholders in the process to deliver specific results and hold everyone accountable for their portion of the process.
  7. Communication and feedback should be institutionalized in the process by having both sides attend regular meet­ings. It’s also very valuable for marketing team members to sit with sales team members and observe sales calls.

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Photograph of Roy Lichtenstein “Hello” taken by Roco, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Photograph of the Rt. Honourable Richard Bedford Bennett signing a commercial agreement with France, courtesy of the BiblioArchives, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.


Sherry is the editor of Act-On's Marketing Action blog. She also writes and edits eBooks, white papers, case studies, and miscellanea. She is an award-winning creative writer.

  • Todd Holbrook

    The teamwork needed between Sales and Marketing is crucial. I can’t emphasize enough the need for quantifiable metrics – a resource for everyone to use and check progress. If progress is measured, the rate of progression increases.

    • SherryLamoreaux

      That’s an excellent point. What metrics have you thought about, and are you using them now?

      • Todd Holbrook

        I’ve considered finding ways to take contacts/leads and organize them according to product/audience or marketing angle. With multiple products, it can be difficult to determine which would fit best for each lead – which is where Sales comes in. I think, though, that it’s not just the metrics, but that those metrics are updated frequently and consistently. I’d love to get something more robust like that in place.

  • Jay McBain

    The magic is in the lead handoff – if both teams are aligned and have KPI’s that are complementary, the process should be smooth.

  • Noé Martí

    Great Post! Marketing and Sales alignment is critical to maximize lead to business conversions.

  • Tim

    Good points here Sherry. I think agreeing on the definition of a qualified lead is SO critical. Nothing drives a sales team more crazy than wasting time on a “lead” from marketing that is not sales-ready at all. Both sides should absolutely agree on what defines a MQL and SQL.