B2B Marketing Zone

Sales & Marketing Alignment: The Sales Perspective

Sales & Marketing Alignment: The Sales Perspective

Sales & Marketing Alignment: The Sales Perspective

align-marketing-salesDemandCon’s Boston conference opens today. One of DemandCon’s key findings is that it is “statistically clear that companies who aligned their sales and marketing processes were winning the battle.” In that spirit, we’re publishing one post about sales and marketing alignment from the sales point of view today, and one from the marketing point of view tomorrow.

Chris Hardeman, Act-On’s Vice President of Sales, North America points out that while sales and marketing should have a natural affinity, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the two teams “seem so far apart that all the technology and willpower in the world can’t pull them together.”

Here’s Chris’ list of five key points for marketing to consider to help close that damaging gap:

  1. The numbers. To truly understand what’s required, marketing needs to understand the numbers from the bottom up. How many leads, at what stages, does sales need to make their numbers? As the sales quota goes up, the lead quota must remain aligned with it.
  2.  Identify sales-ready leads. Sales is always, always, time-challenged. Marketing can help by using methods that prioritize leads, such as lead scoring. The goal is to hand off only the leads that are truly sales-ready.
  3.  Action-oriented messaging. Remember that email marketing messaging isn’t literature, or art; it’s got to have a strong call to action, often in the first sentence. Shorter messages, not obviously marketing-generated, will often get a better response. Work with your sales department to craft the brand-consistent messaging you want with the action-oriented messaging sales needs.
  4.  Know what story sales tells. Spend time with your sales team; sit in on each other’s meeting, listen to real sales calls. You’ll get inspired.
  5.  It’s always now. Share your calendars, sync your efforts in lead management to the flow that sales needs, and be aware of critical deadlines, such as end-of-quarter.
  6. Between using technology (such as marketing automation) and using a well-planned process, sales and marketing alignment isn’t difficult; it’s just important.


Read more of Chris Hardeman’s thoughts in Sales is from Mars, Marketing’s from Venus: Five Factors to Close the Gap.


Attending DemandCon in Boston? Make sure to stop by Booth 136 and say hi! 


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.

  • These are all very important, however, I think the most important is number 4. Everyone needs to be on the same page with all of the messaging, so its not confusing to the customer. If all of the emails, social, trade shows, and personal interaction are outlining the same features and goals of your product, there will be no communication breakdown, and hopefully much less time wasted in the sales cycle!

  • Get your sales and marketing teams together, come into agreement on the one process that would benefit the most from marketing automation, and deliver something that will impact customer/prospect appreciation. Knock that out together, and then identify the #1 issue for sales and the #1 for marketing. These accomplishments will build momentum and when everyone is on the same road going in the same direction, it’s a positive impact from all perspectives.
    Cheers, Chris K.

  • Nuala

    Sales & marketing integration is vital. We attend weekly meetings together and touch base most days to ensure alignment on goals.

  • I agree with Guedo about the importance of number 4. The message that is relayed from your sales rep needs to be consistent with what your company can fulfill. This culture needs to be present early on in the initial hiring process, new employee training, and through out the sales rep career.

  • I was reminded last week how important the story is, especially if you someone has been on your list for a while. No one can resist sharing a great story. cheers, chris

  • Jeff

    Number 4 is huge. If you don’t know what your sales rep are promising you can fulfill or even not giving enough information, that can very well determine someones decision on buying or not. Make sure everybody is on the same page. That will also reduce the number of compaints/bad reviews your company may get if someone was promised something they couldn’t recieve.

  • Tim

    Some really good points here. Marketing and Sales seem to be at odds a lot of the time and certainly participate in turf wars in many companies, but the closer they are aligned and the more of a team effort they undertake, the better the overall outcome. I also agree that #4 is one that is often overlooked. Marketing needs to spend time with sales, so sitting in on sales calls and hearing sales tell their story will help marketing tell the story as well. Marketing lays “ground fire” for sales, so it is important for the story to be the same. I’ve also found that sales can give marketing some great ideas for the kind of top-of-funnel content that is necessary to properly nurture leads. They know what the common objections are, typical questions, and areas that need the most education and persuasion, It is best to start attacking these before sales comes in. Sales needs marketing, but marketing also needs sales.

  • Dani Calvert

    I like #4 – spend some time with the sales team and listen to sales calls. It makes sense that by spending time listening to their messaging, Marketing can contribute towards developing a clear, unified message with the Sales team. I think that vice versa can also be true – the sales team should be able to participate in Marketing meetings and understand the core of the marketing messages that are produced. An attitude of teamwork can go far!

  • Greg Palmer

    While I agree with everyone that #4 is very important, I think #3 resonates with me the most. As someone deeply involved in the email marketing at my company, it has become extremely clear that a short, to the point message is more often well-received. While working between sales and marketing, everyone has an opinion on what is an important messaging point, making sure everything comes together in a tight, concise message is not always easy, but integral.

  • I agree and think that one of the most important parts of the equation is communication between all stakeholders. If you have a lot of mixed messages going out you will drive business to the competition, not your sales people.
    Keep it simple and concise and make sure everybody is up to date on any changes that are made.

    • Joe

      I agree with you, Dave. I find it amazing how often the story that the sales organization is telling is not the same as the one being told by marketing. The hardest part sometimes is for both sides to come together and tell the same story. Weekly meetings are important, but so is an ongoing effort to realize that everyone is working for the same team, and information is meant to be shared.

  • It’s easy to talk about the mechanics of alignment – things like lead scoring, calendars, etc. The truth is often that sales doesn’t want marketing tagging along. They don’t even want to sit down with you because they’re not in a mood to “teach” you about your customers.

    Weekly conversations with sales is essential, especially in the early stages. But, you’ve got to come into those conversations with something to offer, and not merely as a bright-eyed student.

    Do your homework before you go to sales. Talk to some of your customers to understand the buying process. Get to know your products and formulate a strong value proposition. Once you have this understanding, your first conversation with sales should be to agree on goals and how you’ll measure those goals.

    You’ll have to prove that time spent with you is to THEIR benefit (not yours).

  • In my opinion, a common objective is what works. If both sales and marketing are measured on the same thing they will need to work together. And in this case they want to work together.

  • I think # 5 is correct but for several wrong reasons. Since sales is being in the trenches and needs results today. Marketing should be thinking ahead and planning for what we will need tomorrow. If by sharing calenders and both all of a sudden realize that the end of the quarter is near, well, sorry both will loose. Before the end of the quarter, marketing should be filling sales with the ideas & strategies and sales should then be armed to execute those tactics.

  • I’m curious how physical proximity could help with alignment? I have experimented with having a member of my marketing team sit with the sales team with some positive results.

    The numbers are key. Technology should enhance the relationship and alignment between the teams with clear reports and results.

    • Sherry Lamoreaux

      Thomas, I asked Janelle Johnson (our Demand Gen maven) to weigh in, and she said: “Even in the digital age that we live in, there’s so much to be said for face-to-face conversations and the occasional ‘walk by.’ Having marketing sit with the sales team helps them become part of the sales culture – they can hear the phone calls, celebrate the successes, and hear if common themes are coming up. For example, when new leads hit the system, marketing can hear the conversations the sales team is having. No need to wait for someone to provide feedback! Oftentimes, everyone gets so caught up in getting their job done, it’s hard to think about closing the loop and providing feedback. Sitting together makes this more of a natural progression.”

  • Sales are often our eyes and ears in the market that help us learn about our customers – what stories resonate with them, what messaging is most effective (or not), etc. I think it is also useful for Marketing to have have some direct contact with customers as well and to gain feedback that way, first hand. Then we have something new to contribute to the conversation based on what we heard or observed. I also think #2 is very important – if I can help direct a Sales person’s efforts to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness in the market, they close more and truly appreciate the scoring intelligence I have provided (or enabled them to get).

  • I could not agree with 1 and 3 more. It has been crucial to our company’s success this past quarter to focus on a strong , concise call to action and the ability to also track and effectively extrapolate that data(numbers).

  • Sales and marketing alignment is one of the challenges we hear a lot about when talking to prospects and customers. Sales complain that marketing provide poor quality leads. Marketing complain sales don’t provide feedback!

    As a partner of Act-on in the UK. We have found that Act-On’s marketing automation service has helped bring the two departments together and bridge the gap. They are now able to define what an “SQL” (sales qualified lead) vs “MQL” (marketing qualified lead)looks like; and set parameters within Act-On to define a sales qualified lead.

  • As my company’s current stage (solo entrepreneur) #2, stands out: Time Management by prioritizing leads.

  • This post speaks to large organizations, where there’s both sales and marketing infrastructure. This is not the case in most businesses, which are small–probably $20M/year and below, where these concepts are not well implemented. In these business, separate marketing and sales expertise may not exist, and those responsible for these functions often do both.

    It is thus very important to have a well thought out and prioritized plan for implementation. Initial marketing messaging must be constructed to generate clarity in identifying good leads, and so the scoring methodology becomes particularly key.

    As we all know, lots of people open or click on emails. Many of these are just like the literature collectors that visit trade shows and confound effective followup because there’s no serious interest in whatever the product/service is. This can also be a risk with lead scoring, using primarily marketing metrics.

  • Let’s be honest…how many marketing teams have you been on where the sales tells you that the leads you generate are no good…how many sales teams have you been where you are handed leads that are ready to buy? I think there is a bit of a disconnect between sales & marketing and most of the time it turns into a goat rodeo of he said she said. I do completely agree with the listening to each other, attending each others meetings and totally if you can actually sit in on sales calls….please do that.

    Now I know that being on both sides of the wall I’ve noticed that the more you can automate in the backend that sales person doesn’t have to deal with till it hits a certain score is completely moving you and your marketing team in the right direction. However, what I’ve noticed is that their isn’t a global scoring system that works for your whole sales team. Some folks are stronger at closing and some are stronger at just connecting and building a relationship and others give one hell of a demo. So you as a marketer just need to communicate, communicate and communicate with your sales team as often as possible with examples, screenshots, meeting recaps, etc.

    There is no silver bullet that is going to work 100% of the time…so try to use one that will work 70-80% of the time.

    • Sarah

      Great comment Vinny! I completely agree. Getting leads from marketing to sales is never a smooth transition. Sadly, more times than not we see dropped opportunities because of this. Attending the same meetings, and making sure that everyone has the same information is step two in my opinion – because step one should be making sure you’ve got the right people on your team. Dedication across the board clears up a lot of issues.

      Has anybody else seen that to be the case?

  • Bobbi Ebbing

    I agree with Vinny that there is a disconnect between the two teams. I’m sure in larger organizations that the sales and marketing teams rarely even see each other or communicate (outside of their lead contact for each department). Also, he is right – the more automated the back end is, the more helpful it can be to both teams.

    As a Sales AND Marketing person for a small company, there is no disconnect with my position – just overwhelming feelings of trying to develop leads and contact the leads. The only good thing about this is that as we add additional staff, I can set the ground work for how communication should be.

  • Mike Compeau

    I’ve worked in companies from 3 people “garage shops” to 2 billion dollar behemoths, and find that one of the most important things is ensuring that:
    a) you have a documented (written, followed) process for filling the sales pipeline from marketing through to closing the sale. It may be handled by one department (heck, one person) in a small firm, or by multiple departments (or divisions) in large firms, but if it ain’t documented it’s a free-for-all.
    b) you keep communication open–yes. But keep communication focused on priorities. That means keep your eye on the ball, use agendas, track progress, utilize charts or graphs based on real data (for reporting–management kinda likes seeing this from marketing as well as sales), and celebrate together. All good. All keeps ALIGNMENT where it needs to be.
    c) Sales and Marketing UNDERSTAND the goals and objectives of each other. This sounds easy for a small company, but even in a small firm, the “one guy/gal” has to know WHEN they are wearing which hat! Having documented sales objectives (short and long term) and marketing objectives (ditto — think, new product introductions, new campaigns/quarter, process enhancements, etc.) makes all the difference.

  • As marketers, our goal is to connect with a lead on multiple levels in order to arm the sales team with information that accelerates and eases the closing process — in much the same way that a salesperson engages. As Niclas and Barbara pointed out, a conversation (or multiple conversations) with the sales group and current customers is essential. Marketing needs to understand each phase of the sales cycle and what it typically takes to advance the lead to the next phase. Sending emails every week is a great way to put your name out there, but there needs to be a purpose — a long-term purpose — defined, milestones established, goals set, and conversions counted.

    Instead of having calls, meetings, and on-site visits, the marketing process must emulate the process through other vehicles: white papers, videos, surveys, articles, and the like. Email and marketing automation (outbound marketing), does double duty as both the notification system of these resources and assets (inbound marketing) and the tracking system to provide for lead scoring and analytics that are essential to both marketing and sales.

    With assets delivered, understanding which triggers were effective and discussing those triggers with the sales team will minimize the angst between sales (who are credited as the revenue earners) and marketing (often saddled with the title of revenue spenders). Do you make time to sit with the sales team after each campaign and discuss the analytics? If not, give it a try. When sales feels involved, they are much more likely to give you help in developing effective messaging.

    Whether you are a sales/marketing department of one or separate (disparate) departments, both are invaluable contributors to the overall success of the company. There is the possibility of working together for the common good, but it often involves a “crow appetizer.”

    • Cyndie – you hit it dead on. For B2B marketing, touching multiple levels within a prospective customer’s organization is key, as well as tracking conversion from prospect to lead to customer.

      I also believe that a strong alignment in our organization between top management, head of sales and marketing is essential – that way the messaging is consistent, we have management buy-in to planned marketing campaigns, and marketing truly does generate leads for the sales team.

      Thanks for your summary – it really resonated.

  • From a B2B standpoint it comes down to Contacts and Leads. Leads are essentially the people that are interested in buying or purchasing now or very very soon. Contacts are the rest of the people that get placed into the database and have to be nurtured until they are ready to become a lead. This can be done very easily with marketing automation and has made my job easier and has helped me become more effective in this process.

  • Bobby Holt

    Obviously in order to make more sales you need to sit in front of more people. But, getting your sales team in front of those qualified prospects is the most difficult part. How do you guys use your email marketing to distinguish yourselves from others trying to do the same thing?

  • Joe Goehring

    There’s always a unique challenge presented by the technology you have in place to handle leads/lead scoring/opportunities. Our sales team defines things a little differently than Salesforce.com and it introduces challenges for converting and moving leads through our extended marketing funnel and into sales.

  • David Bonan

    Should sales goals influence marketing goals or should marketing goals influence sales goals?

    • Brad

      At their most basic levels goals and marketing goals should be aligned (generate revenue for a company). That basic, aligned goal is what influences the more granular marketing and sales goals. Marketing’s goal should be to provide as many qualified leads to the sales team as is reasonable. The sales team’s goal should be to increase share of voice and close rates to the qualified leads delivered by marketing.

      The writer of this post outlines the backwards thought process in point #1. Marketing should set its lead goal based on historical conversion rates and average revenues. The sales teams goals are based on converting those leads. If marketing delivers the right number of qualified leads, sales should be able to meet their goals. If either sales or marketing exceed goals, it shows the successes of both. If sales converts more leads at higher revenue, marketing did a good job of lead generation. If marketing does an exceptional level of lead generation, sales should successfully convert more leads, causing success for both groups.

      In short, the goals should be aligned. Marketing should deliver leads that allow sales to meet their quotas. Sales should work to convert the quality leads marketing delivers.

    • Greg

      Obviously sales goals and marketing goals need to be aligned but sales goals need to have much more influence over marketing goals. The final goal is sales, not leads.

  • David Svigel

    One way to better qualify and hand off leads in a B2B environment is to use tools such as ROI and TCO calculators. Generally, only prospects truly interested in your offering will spend the time to learn in monetary terms how your offering can change their business.

  • bri44any

    You’ll want to really pay attention to the stories your sales team uses to represent your company or service. Your sales department directly interacts with the consumers, and they can give you great feedback on what really works, what types of people get really excited about your brand and products, and you can use that information to tailor a campaign that helps your target market realize that you have everything they find exciting.

  • Matt Alibakhsh

    We’re actually more recently diving into the numbers on leads for more accurate views and setting benchmarks.The only downside is that it can be time-consuming!

  • disqus_AhDLyfa6s5

    It is important to structure the goals of both departments so that they work hand in glove to achieve success as defined by both departments. If the marketing department defines success as sending out x number of emails a month or having x number of new campaigns per quarter and not as x number of revenue $ per month, it is possible for the marketing department to be wildly successful AND wildly unfruitful. The sales department must understand the marketing numbers and process as well. Not every campaign is a harvesting campaign, some are planting, some are cultivating. some are weeding. If the two departments are not communicating there will be a lot of finger pointing and wasted efforts.

  • I have definitely witnessed the marketing and sales teams gap in coordination. It can be quite the hindrance to the success of both teams. I think of all the points, the two most effective are 1 and 4. From a marketing perspective, we need to know what the successful “story” is that is being sold, and also have the numbers to back it up. By tracking the messages and the success rate of each, we can better assist sales in providing tactical solutions that will enhance their own success. I would also add that it all takes time! A constructive marketing timeline with coordinated plans will greatly assist in closing the gap.

  • What gets very tricky in this process is if you’re a third-party trying to help connect the gap between the two. From an agency standpoint, it’s interesting for us to try and help align sales and marketing so that we can make sure we’re making both parts successful, especially if they aren’t quite communicating in the first place.

    It’s very interesting to read this perspective from the sales side, though, as we are usually trying to get sales teams to give us the final pieces of information we need to complete the ROI puzzle.

    How many people can say that their sales team is waiting on marketing to connect the dots instead of the other way around?

  • Greg

    We struggle with nurturing leads before handing them over to sales. Our sales and marketing organization is relatively small. When marketing generates leads, they immediately get handed off to sales. I’d like to filter leads so that the ones that are sales ready get handed off to sales while nurturing those that aren’t sales ready. Any suggestions?

  • RHosier

    We have the blessing and curse of having an “old-school” sales force within a fast-growing IT company. As an innovative marketer, and relatively new employee, I had a large gap to close. Regardless of the promise of positive change and results, I still got push back in favor of the “this is how we’ve always done it” mantra.

    After taking the time to look at the sales perspective across the gap, I took a more detailed look at their goals and processes and consequently took up a campaign of small incremental assistance and information provision to build upon.

    A few small efficiency victories, looping them into more detailed market data (through ActOn), and seeking their opinion on campaign ideas proved to save them time, effort and the extra collaboration (although time-consuming) started to close the gap.

    This approach has won me significantly more consideration when presenting more “radical” or innovative ideas to the sales team.

    The gap is still there…but getting smaller – thanks for a great article!

  • Andrew Wise

    Hi Greg, if you are already using Act-On then handing off sales ready leads, whilst nurturing the others should not be a problem! The easiest way to do this is to define what a sales ready lead – SQL vs an MQL looks like?!

    I am happy to help if you need any advice or guidance.

  • Good points. Throughout my career I’ve worked at places with various levels of affinity between sales and marketing. It wasn’t until my current position that I first realized marketing should proudly state, “We are sales support.” Too many companies market for the sake of marketing. Be a sales person, just don’t expect to get paid such a lucrative commission :)

  • Zachary Winnie

    I’d agree with all of those points. What I’ve found is that even when your sales and marketing teams are aligned, consistency of your brand message is hard to achieve. I think that’s a product of being too focused on just the numbers—sometimes the message of your brand and experience of your customers or clients is more important than “the numbers”.

  • Lead scoring and lifecycle marketing make the process so much smoother. Email marketing crafted to suit your lead’s score is a wonderful way to provide unique messaging for those leads that are not quite ready vs those that are actively engaged with your sales team.

  • These are some very important points to bringing the sales and marketing teams into alignment. Metrics-driven marketing is playing a huge role at our company. Like Sherry said, know the numbers.

  • Stacy Gentile

    i always thought sales and marketing departments should be combined into one department…revenue.

  • I especially like point #4. Active and consistent communication between marketing and sales will facilitate a better understanding of the challenges each face and promote collaboration between the two teams.