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Conversation & Coffee: Finding alignment between Sales & Marketing

Much has been written on the need for marketing and sales to be seamlessly and strategically aligned. “They’re two sides of the same coin!” is a phrase often seen in blog posts and heard in business seminars; “they’re the marriage that makes revenue possible” is another. It seems, however, that no matter how much we talk about sales and marketing needing to go together like a horse does with a carriage, the message doesn’t seem to be sinking in. Marketing team after sales team keep coming to seek our services and hardly ever do they come together or come looking for a solution that will also benefit the other.

So, how do we get the message to sink in? Well, Advantage’s sales and marketing directors, Justin and Richard, seem to think it’s a case of slowly getting everyone to speak the same language by getting everyone to use the same products. I sat down with the two to gain a better understanding of how marketing and sales can start to find that seemingly unattainable yet desperately sought after ‘alignment.’

To listen to this conversation, please click on the SoundCloud link below: 

Camilo (C): Justin, Richard, before we dive into the alignment issue between sales and marketing I wanted to get your thoughts on what each of you thinks your respective departments do for our own business?

Justin (J): Certainly. For me the sales team are an army of problem-solving field marshals, generals, lieutenants and officers, they’re on the front line every single day making sure our business is meeting the revenue goals it needs in order to keep funding the great work we do for new and existing clients. If you carry the analogy forward, if sales are the army, then the marketing team is our intelligence service. They’re the ones providing us with the resources and intel we need in order to ensure the sales teams’ efforts are being directed correctly. Rich, would you agree?

Richard (R): Absolutely, I like the picture that that analogy paints, because it speaks to the fact that we’re two complementary and integral parts of the same mission: ensuring the future success and viability of our business. We’re both front-end, customer-facing branches of the business and at the end of the day, both our roles depend on making sure we have enough leads converting into customers. Another helpful way I like to think about marketing and sales is that the sales team are the physical embodiment of all our marketing materials and campaigns. When you’re in professional services or consultancy, they’re the most physical and tangible product the customer first encounters; they’re the first human relationship a prospect has with a business.

(C): Yes, we often hear how the role of sales consultants has changed over the past few years due to the way customers now seek information on products and services, can you expand on that a little?

(J): When a sales consultant first interacts with a lead, they are usually doing so with someone who has done their research and is highly informed on the various features of a particular product, and on the services, your business offers and, almost always, on the products and services your competitors offer as well. So, whereas 10 years ago a sales consultant would take a customer through the product, inform them of its features and really try to build credibility and trust between the business and the customer, all of that is taken care of now well before any face-to-face interactions have taken place. And who makes sure that trust and credibility’s been built? The marketing team.

A sales consultant in today’s world needs to be three steps ahead of their customers from a product and industry knowledge perspective and they need to see themselves more as advisors or councillors, rather than just lead converters. Today’s customers expect so much more from their sales consultants than simply product knowledge they could find with a quick google search. It isn’t enough that you know the product well or have excellent people skills, you also need to be able to sit with a prospect, critically analyse their business and have a whole arsenal full of solutions ready to go.

(R): Completely agree, which is why I find businesses’ reluctance to bring these two functions together to be so baffling. As you rightly point out, Justin, the role of the sales consultant has essentially been split across two departments; marketing takes the customer on a digital information and insights led journey; we put forward the who, what and how, and then the sales consultants really bring it home with the why. Technology and the way customers are using that technology to inform themselves about various business problems, processes and products have forced ‘the alignment issue’ upon us. It’s not a matter of us wanting to work together – though I do really enjoy working with you, Justin – it’s that there really is no other way. Anything other than total alignment between marketing and sales and the customer can sense it a mile away.

(C): So how do companies - for lack of a better word - start bridging the gap between sales and marketing?

(R): I think what really works for us is that we all use the same products, have the same KPIs (key performance indicators) and incentives and speak the same language. So, while I’m concerning myself with how the marketing team is performing from a content production perspective, right through to digital marketing, webinars and events, I’m also keeping a close eye to see how each of these assets are working with or against our sales team and the objectives that they’ve set for themselves. Justin and I review our sales strategy together and then we overlay the marketing strategy on top of that – together. We encourage our teams to talk to one another, to have visibility over what the other is doing and to have regular team meetings where we go through wins, loses, pain points and future planning.

(J): That’s right. To expand a bit further on what Rich said, we start from a place of total transparency and openness and work our way up from there. So, when Rich was talking about all of us using the same products, what that means is that each team is always using both the sales and CRM sides of Dynamics 365. Our marketing team is across the Dynamics Sales side of the app and our sales team are across Dynamics CRM. Because they’re both products within the Dynamics 365 family, the integration and ease of use allow both teams to see a complete picture of what the business is doing and it also lets everyone see what everybody else is doing and where the pressure points are, or where there’s a bottleneck. Because we know what’s coming up, because we’re using the technology to guide us and give us a real-time analysis of our customers, and because we’re all using the same technology and looking for the same indicators we’re able to quickly adapt and respond to what our customers need.

Is it 100 percent full proof? No, nothing ever is. We still make some mistakes, customers are sometimes lost or leads that are put forward are not always exactly the ones that we need, but we learn from those mistakes and move forward, together, stronger than before.

(R): For me and my team, what’s really helped is having a clear understanding of what type of leads our sales team are looking for. As opposed to us getting to the end of the month and saying, “well, we passed on x amount of leads,” we really try to get down to the nitty-gritty and find out which leads were worthwhile and which were totally off. I then let my marketing team hear first-hand which leads worked from a sales perspective and which did not. You’d rather be handing over one great qualified lead a month than 100 mediocre leads that meet some arbitrary quota but don’t actually lead to a bona fide sale. Also, from a marketing perspective, it’s good for us to challenge the sales team from time-to-time and make sure that they’re really giving leads a good go. If Phil, our business development manager, feels that a lead was really worth it but for some reason the sales team disqualified it, then I like to run it past Justin and make sure that the lead has really been explored fully and that the reason for its disqualification is genuine. At a minimum, Phil needs to know what not to look for and the sales consultants need to show they’re not just giving up because a lead is proving to be a little difficult.

(C): Being in the marketing team, I can totally attest to what you’re saying and ever since we started taking this approach I feel that my work has been more considered and purposeful. From the sounds of it, it seems that what you’re both saying is that the best way to achieve alignment between sales and marketing is to accept the fact that they’re no longer separate teams?

(J): I would agree with that, yes. To put it another way, a lot of people talk about sales and marketing being like a marriage, and I like that analogy, however, what I feel is missing from it is the kids. In this scenario, the customers are the kids, and sales and marketing are the parents. In a marriage, the kids aren’t yours or mine, they’re ours. Each parent has an equal and important obligation to do what’s best by their kids, likewise, they need to be in sync with what they’re doing because kids need stability, predictability and they need to be able to trust both parents equally. Now, obviously we don’t think of our customers as children, but in regards to the way marketing and sales relate to them, it’s often useful to think about the equal and important responsibility both teams have to the customer. If your marketing is saying and doing one thing and your sales are saying and doing another then the customer won’t be able to make an informed decision, they won’t have the stability or predictability they need from you in order to know that it’s a safe and wise investment for them to engage in business with you.

(R): If you’re finding your business is struggling to align sales and marketing, you should focus on the following five things as a starting point:

  1. Make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to business objectives and customer goals. Sales and marketing need to have the same objectives!
  2. Make sure everyone is aware that the customer is the most important stakeholder in your business, internal egos and any other friction have to take a back seat
  3. Make sure everyone is using the same language when it comes to talking about leads, qualified leads, pipelines, nurturing, campaigns, content etc. Set up some meetings and come up with some guidelines, every business is different as is every customer, so you need to create your own guidelines and make sure you’re all totally aware and in agreement
  4. Meet regularly and talk often. Nothing breaks down barriers and clears up confusion like a quick chat.
  5. Implement and start using technology to make your points. Rather than going into meetings with “I feel,” or “I think,” use tools like Dynamics 365 to say “I know we should do this because the evidence points to it.” It’s hard to argue with feelings and thoughts when you’re dealing with facts.

(C): Excellent advice gentlemen. Thank you so much for your time.

If you'd like to find out how Advantage can help your business find alignment between your sales and marketing team, talk to us today.

To hear more from Justin Bown, Advantage's Sales Director, make sure you sign up for our FREE Webinar on Comparing Dynamics 365 Business Central to Dynamics 365/CRM on May 3rd 2018 by clicking here.