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How to better align marketing & sales in B2B

Interdepartmental relationships, especially in complex B2B organizations, require regular maintenance to run smoothly. After you’ve put forth the effort to adjust communication, increase collaboration, and establish internal processes, don’t neglect the upkeep required to maintain a strong relationship. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself right back where you started.

For marketing leaders, building strong internal alignment between your department and sales is critical — and it doesn't happen overnight. It takes collaboration, communication, and hard work. But when marketing and sales teams work well together, your entire organization benefits.

Marketing differentiates your organization, runs targeted campaigns that promote your offerings to the right audiences, and generates leads. Sales then takes those leads and turns them into customers. Marketing is like the engine powering your business with more right-fit opportunities. Without this alignment, key messaging will be inconsistent, customer expectations may be unrealistic, and ultimately, sales and marketing activities will fail to meet objectives.

Amid economic challenges, disruptive technology and other market influences, cross-functional collaboration allows you to work together and maximize your opportunities.

You’ve built marketing/sales alignment, now you need to maintain it

Building alignment is a long-term process to stabilize the relationship between departments and create an environment of collaboration. But it’s also a constant endeavor to keep the teams in alignment. Just as your car needs an oil change on a scheduled basis, your marketing department likely needs regular checkpoints to assess and realign with sales.

Tracking alignment identifies internal opportunities

First, understanding and tracking how your teams work together will point you toward internal opportunities to connect with department and business goals. These opportunities can be areas in need of additional support or improvement, and/or opportunities to share recognition and build camaraderie as marketing and sales work toward shared goals.

Connecting marketing efforts to business goals and establishing a strong internal relationship gives both teams an edge: more information and cross-team support will only increase performance.

Build stronger connections with a right-fit audience

A strong, differentiated brand doesn’t mean much if those high levels of awareness, preference, and brand attraction don’t translate into actual revenue. This can stem from issues in nuanced positioning, awareness among the wrong target audience, or messaging that doesn’t resonate. Making sure sales and marketing are working in lockstep is vital to understanding issues within the customer journey and sales pipeline.

When it comes to business-wide goals, a strong, connected relationship between sales and marketing can rectify common problems such as generating poor-quality leads or the wrong kinds of sales, like volume without margin.

8 Ways to assess alignment, internally and externally

As we’ve discussed, maintaining alignment is in everyone’s best interest. But how do you know what needs maintenance in the first place? While your car has a “check oil” light to tell you when it’s time for service, there’s nothing quite as obvious when it comes to ensuring your marketing department is running smoothly with sales. As a marketing leader, it’s an opportunity to identify, examine, and address internal and external metrics that both contribute to and inhibit alignment.

Here’s how you can regularly check in and understand the strength of your sales/marketing dynamic and identify where to adjust and improve.

Assessing internal alignment

Measuring internal alignment is not just about hard numbers. To accurately review your interdepartmental relationship, create a consistent framework and revisit the activities that created alignment in the first place.

1. Monitor changing roles and responsibilities

First, evaluate your organizational structure. Have roles shifted or evolved over time? Where do responsibilities lie between the departments? Are there any areas that could use clarification?

These are all questions you can ask as you survey both the marketing and sales departments. Perhaps you find a sales role has evolved from its initial function and requires more dedicated support from the marketing team. Or perhaps a marketing role could benefit from sitting in on the monthly sales department meetings.

2. Encourage and reward collaboration

Next, review your structures for rewarding team and individual efforts. Be on the lookout for “like only recognizing like.” If marketing and sales only ever recognize the efforts of their own teams, it can create an insular environment that will erode the alignment you’ve created. Make sure collaboration and cross-team support are encouraged and recognized.

3. Establish a framework for understanding impact

Are you continually assessing each team’s impact? If not, consider conducting a regular review of the exercises you used to establish initial alignment. You may also need to introduce a new framework for understanding how marketing and sales staff perceive their roles within the departments.

Remember, the marketing team likely has access to information the sales team doesn’t about its own internal activities, and vice versa.

When first establishing alignment between departments, we recommend teams conduct an exercise that helps them understand the importance and impact of each other’s functions. Revisiting this exercise regularly provides an ongoing opportunity to agree on priorities and reinvigorate collaboration.

4. Identify and pursue collaboration opportunities

Leadership can accelerate team building by assessing how lines of communication, meeting structures, and other regular interactions foster teamwork. Grade yourself and your team on how often you open your doors to collaboration. Are lines of communication consistently open? Are brainstorming sessions invite only?

For strong alignment, collaboration opportunities should be abundant, not few and far between.

External metrics to assess alignment

There will be a strong correlation between your teams’ alignment and sales success. When marketing and sales are on the same page, the pipeline is healthy and full, and the customer journey is swift and smooth.

5. Review your brand position

Regularly conducting customer research will help you gain insights on who you are reaching and how you are seen in the marketplace. This information can be compared with who you want to reach and how you want to be seen. Understanding these metrics help you understand your competitive advantage.

From these metrics, you can infer how well your team is working together. Are you reaching all the right people, but their perception is far off from your goals? Your key messaging may indicate a disconnect between departments.

6. Level set on qualified leads

If sales is marking an unusually high percentage of leads as "unqualified," there may be internal disagreement on the definition of what makes a lead “qualified” in the first place. This is often an indicator that communication between teams is murky.

To stay on the same page, it’s essential that both teams have the same vision of who you are working to attract and retain as customers.

7. Empower higher closing rates/speed to close

When marketing and sales are aligned, customers are ready for sales conversations because marketing efforts have set the stage with a clear idea of the key value proposition. Customers entering the sales conversation with clear expectations make the closing process more efficient for the sales team.

If that’s not your reality, find out why. Slow closing timelines and low percentages can indicate internal misalignment. If conversations are stuck around pricing, and the sales team is finding educating the customer to be sucking up their time and energy, there’s likely an internal disconnect.

8. Examine profitability

At the highest level, profitability can certainly indicate how well your teams are working together. First, consider if you are achieving the sales you want in terms of margin and volume. If so, that’s a great indicator your teams are closely aligned. But even further, if you are able to charge a premium, or have your choice of customers, it’s likely because the alignment between sales and marketing is strong, leading to strong differentiation, distinct and resonant messaging, and enthusiastic buyers.

If you aren’t achieving these objectives, it’s a clear indicator that your marketing and sales teams need to get on the same page.

Lead by example for stronger marketing/sales alignment

To achieve the best results, leadership needs to be aligned, too. Work together with your sales lead counterparts to create reporting structures, provide dashboards, and share regular metric updates that both departments will find useful in their day-to-day.

Monitoring and adjusting to maintain alignment is arguably the most important way to make sure your departments are on the same page, on top of their workload, and on top of their game.

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