The relationship between sales and marketing is critically important, especially in high-growth environments. Yet, for some reason, this relationship also seems to be one of the hardest for many to navigate. In fact, only a quarter of sales and marketing professionals consider their teams to be tightly aligned, with 18% rarely aligned or misaligned.
Even in organizations where the relationship between sales and marketing is strong, it’s easy to fall into the trap of finger-pointing, with the classic refrains of “How come the leads are bad?” from sales and “How come these leads haven’t been followed up with properly?” from marketing.
This love-hate relationship stems from the fact that there’s an interesting blend of competition and cooperation that takes place between the marketing and sales teams. On one hand, we know that we’re ultimately working toward the same goal: generating bookings for the company. But on the other hand, our partner is also the easiest target to blame when things don’t go right. As a result, the relationship can be quite tenuous.
When sales and marketing teams work well together, however, I’ve found that businesses can go above and beyond just driving new leads. And any tactic that can boost sales success can’t be ignored.
As with many things, so much of how this relationship evolves ultimately starts with leadership. We are responsible for the tone we set with our teams, and “do what I say, not what I do” simply won’t work here.
1. Make sure it’s not about ‘credit.’
The single most important thing you can do to create a partnership instead of a rivalry is to change the conversation so that it’s not about who gets “credit” for each opportunity. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t measure. Quite the opposite: Measuring marketing effectiveness and impact is essential for running a data-driven business. But, instead of setting up a binary option where either marketing or sales gets credit for something, try taking a more nuanced approach to reflect the reality that in most successful deals, both marketing and sales will play an important role.
One framework to consider for this is a three-tiered system: 1) marketing-originated, 2) marketing-influenced or 3) neither. In this measurement framework, marketing-originated deals are opportunities where marketing engagement was the first thing that happened, whereas marketing-influenced deals are those in which a sales rep interacted first and then marketing engagement happened subsequently. Note that there is no “sales-originated” classification. Instead, this framework aims to measure how and when marketing contributed to each opportunity without forcing a binary choice for who gets credit.
2. Celebrate wins together.
Most often, we create spiffs to incentivize the sales team to take certain actions — booking a number of demos, following up on leads in a certain amount of time, etc. Those incentives can certainly be effective. But it can also be worthwhile to think about how to structure incentives in a way that encourages collaboration between marketing and sales.
For example, if you launch a campaign that involves coordinated efforts to target prospects in a particular industry, then consider a spiff that both marketing and sales can contribute to — and reap the rewards of. That could be a sales and marketing outing or some swag that everyone gets if a certain dollar goal is hit as a result of the campaign. In this way, both teams feel like they have a) something to gain and b) a way to contribute.
By structuring campaigns and incentives in this way, collaboration becomes not only beneficial but also desirable for teams.
3. Operationally, stay on the same page.
It may sound obvious, but it’s critical not to overlook the importance of simply staying on the same page from an operational standpoint. In practical terms, that means making sure that your sales and marketing leaders meet at least once every two weeks (but maybe even once per week, depending on your velocity) to stay current on key challenges, programs and initiatives.
Then, complement those leadership meetings by having marketing team members regularly join sales team meetings to share updates, and even more importantly, get direct feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
The key to making these meetings really work is being transparent. After all, not all marketing programs are huge successes. Sometimes we test things, and sometimes things just don’t work. But when companies are tightly aligned, they’re more likely to see higher customer retention and higher sales win rates.
By being forthright with our sales counterparts about our expectations for the program as well as what we need from them to be successful, we earn their trust. If, on the other hand, we act as though our programs are infallible and any lackluster results are the sales team’s doing, then we immediately create a divide.
Alignment doesn’t just happen.
Remember, building trust and forming a strong relationship take time. And, just like any relationship, it requires commitment from both parties. While there may inevitably be setbacks along your journey, if leaders from both sales and marketing are committed to creating an environment of collaboration, the whole organization succeeds and less time is wasted playing the “blame game” between teams that ultimately depend on each other.