Align Sales and Marketing to Improve Sales

August 27, 2018

Written by Sam Hoffman

Sam Hoffman is a Pittsburgh-based marketing professional with a BSBA in Marketing Management and an MBA from Youngstown State University. With nearly 10 years of marketing and sales experience, Sam understands good marketing principles and how to apply them to real-world business situations.

When you align sales and marketing, both departments benefit, and sales increase.

In tech companies, sales and marketing can seem very similar. If you went to college for marketing, chances are you have also taken a variety of courses on sales. This is because both roles are crucial to growing revenue and generating new business.

In smaller tech companies, oftentimes sales and marketing are combined into one department. Even in some larger tech firms, there may be one VP over both sales and marketing.

If the two departments are so similar, why separate them at all? Why don’t sales and marketing people always get along? We’ll address both of these questions and share ways to align sales and marketing to improve sales for your business.

Role of Sales vs. Role of Marketing

Sales and marketing both have the shared goal of growing revenue. Each department has a different approach and focus..

Sales typically use a very targeted, personalized approach. Sales teams focus on an individual or small group with the aim of meeting short-term sales goals. Salespeople are largely responsible for networking and growing their own funnel within a defined territory or customer segment.

Marketing, on the other hand, takes a macro approach. The goal of marketing is to attract a larger audience. Marketing encompasses research, branding, product development, website design and development, social media management, public relations, as well as creative design work, and event planning. Marketing establishes a brand and builds awareness around that brand.

Further, a good marketing strategy should lay the groundwork for the sales team. This means it is the responsibility of the marketing department to make the company stand out and their products desirable before the sales team ever approaches a prospect.

Still, the marketing department can’t close deals the way the sales team can. This is why the two are so interconnected. Marketing exposes the targets, and the sales team hits them.

Although very different than tech companies, we can take a lesson from car manufacturers. Marketing creates TV commercials and billboard ads. They inspire, persuade, and generate interest in their newest car model. However, it is the local salesperson who engages a prospective car buyer, listens to her requirements, and persuades her to lease or buy. As you can see, both sales and marketing are equally important.

It’s no different with tech companies. Sales and marketing must be aligned in order to grow the company.

Conflict Exists Between Sales & Marketing Departments

Since sales and marketing rely heavily on one another, why does it seem like there is such tension between the two? You will get a variety of answers depending on who you ask. In 2006, there was an insightful article written in the Harvard Business Review that looked in-depth at this conflict. They found that “the strains between Sales and Marketing fall into two main categories: economic and cultural.” While there are many other reasons, most of them boil down to these two factors.

The economic factor has to do with money and budgets. Sales teams often think the marketing department gets too much of the budget. They feel that the money would be put to better use if they got bigger commissions or a larger workforce.

The cultural factor relates to the inherent personalities and work styles of people in each role. Marketers tend to execute projects and measure the results from behind a desk and are very detail-oriented. Salespeople build relationships and have the ultimate say in negotiations. They also tend to think they know what’s best for their customers since they see and interact with them on a regular basis.

Personal Experience in Sales & Marketing

In addition to these factors mentioned, a lack of effective communication is at the root of many issues that arise. Having worked in both sales and marketing at different times and for different sizes and types of companies, I have seen these conflicts first-hand. Further, my mindset shifted depending on which role I was in at the time.

When I was in marketing at my first job, it was sometimes difficult to work with the sales team. I felt that they didn’t truly understand what we were trying to do and had difficulty seeing the big picture. I also frequently thought that if they would cooperate more with our goals and initiatives, we would be better off.

Shortly after I began working in sales at a larger corporation, I quickly sensed that the marketing department didn’t fully understand what the sales team was up against. We had so much on our plates and it seemed like we were the ones really producing the results. It was very difficult to see any impact the marketing department was having on the company whereas the sales team was directly improving the bottom line.

How to Improve Teamwork & Efficiency between Sales & Marketing

Given that conflict between sales and marketing is inevitable, it must be addressed and openly discussed. When sales and marketing teams are aligned, great things will happen. According to these ZoomInfo stats, “organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing functions enjoy 36% higher customer retention rates. Aligning sales and marketing also leads to 38% higher sales win rates. Further, sales and marketing alignment can help your company become 67% better at closing deals.

If these stats aren’t reason enough to get sales and marketing teams aligned, consider this: productivity woes related to these alignment issues cost businesses about $1 trillion per year (salesforce.com). The business units most responsible for generating revenue clearly see phenomenal results when they are in sync and a devastating impact when they are not.

How do you minimize conflict and align the sales and marketing department? There are three main things you can do to help mitigate conflict and improve teamwork and efficiency.

1. Hold Cross-Department Meetings

One of the best things that can be done is to have meetings with both sales and marketing. In smaller organizations, this should be simple to include everyone. In larger organizations, maybe just management can meet more regularly, and then conference calls and group webinars can be set up on a monthly or quarterly basis. The goal here should be to increase communication across both departments. Having worked in both sales and marketing, I see this as a major area of opportunity for many companies. Disagreements between sales and marketing are often the result of miscommunication or lack of communication.

2. Make Sure Strategies and Goals are Aligned

This is critical. The two departments most responsible for revenue growth should not have competing or conflicting KPIs. It doesn’t make sense. Once the sales and marketing teams begin meeting more regularly, they should begin to align their strategies. Often, marketing releases products or launches a new advertising campaign without ever consulting the sales team on the timing. In an ideal world, both departments would be ready to capitalize on new campaigns because they knew it was coming in advance. Giving the sales team time to prepare for a new product or new promotion can result in major wins.

3. Share Feedback on What is Working and What isn’t

Lastly, both departments need to fill each other in on what works and what doesn’t. Far too often, marketing is focused on casting the widest net possible, and wonders why the sales team isn’t closing more deals. Meanwhile, the sales team is busy filtering out useless leads. If the sales team shared more insight on the objections given by prospects and the types of prospects they are looking for, they can further help segment the target audience and increase the quality of the marketing efforts. This will in turn help the sales team receive more qualified leads.

Benefits of Both Departments Working Together

At the end of the day, it is all about communication and teamwork. When sales and marketing are able to share honest feedback with open dialogue, things will improve drastically. When you align sales and marketing goals, sales will increase.

We already shared some stats on what happens when the two departments work together, but there are plenty of other positive benefits in addition to increased sales. If you work in sales or marketing for a tech company, I encourage you to try it for three months. See how much you can improve in only one quarter and then try to beat those results in the following quarter. Your company will see greater growth as a result.

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