How to Align Marketing and Sales to Increase Revenue

Collin Stewart, CEO

9 January 2019

Despite the plethora of departments and disciplines working away in any company – operations, customer success, and engineering, to name just three – the goal of all of them is simple: to help the organization grow.

That same goal, of course, applies to marketing and sales as well – the two departments explicitly tasked with revenue generation. But that shared vision has, historically, run counter to how marketing and sales have actually worked. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: marketing is expected to generate 2,000 leads every month, by hook or by crook. Once they get them, they throw them over the wall for sales to work through the funnel.

And on it goes.

To be fair, that relationship between marketing and sales worked for years. Companies grew – exponentially so, in some cases – by using this exact method. But the modern buyer, says noted consultant and podcast host Jeff Davis, requires a more nuanced sales process. And a more nuanced sales process requires better alignment between marketing and sales.

“This is business transformation we’re talking about. Sales and marketing can’t operate in silos – we just can’t do what we used to do. The overarching theme here is that sales and marketing begin to look at themselves as a cohesive revenue engine,” says Davis, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“However you get to that place, whether it is by having one Chief Revenue Officer or two tightly-linked sales and marketing leaders, I’m totally onboard. I am always careful to say what is right or wrong as every business is unique. I don’t want people to simply copy and pasting solutions or ideas.”

The modern buyer

Before we delve into the different methods of achieving sales and marketing alignment, it is instructive to understand how the modern buyer has changed. According to Davis, omnipresent B2C technologies such as Netflix or Spotify have changed our expectations of B2B software, and the B2B software sales process.

For example, signing up for Netflix is extremely easy, and requires zero (or very little) interaction with the company to successfully navigate. And using Netflix is a task easily navigated by, well, just about everyone.

Of course, B2B software is often more complex than Netflix – buyers need software to execute any number of detailed business functions, satisfy security requirements, and integrate with other existing software platforms. Despite those more technical requirements, however, the experience of buying it doesn’t have to be cumbersome, says Davis.

It should be enjoyable, in fact.

“We need to realize that our personal lives are changing the expectations we have in our professional lives. When you begin to be serviced in a way that is easy and tailored to you, you start to expect that at work,” says Davis.

“If Netflix is easy, then why should I go through a long, drawn-out process with salespeople?”

Experiencing the sales process firsthand

In order to understand the experience your buyers are having with your product, Davis recommends each sales and marketing team member experiencing its own sales process. That firsthand look at the hoops your company is asking buyers to jump through will tell you exactly where to improve the process.

“Sales and marketing teams need to make the buying process super simple. We have made the process so complicated – discovery calls, demos, second demos etc. And we don’t know how it feels until we step back and think like the buyer,” says Davis.

“So, walk through your sales process as a buyer and ask: “how does this feel?”

How that process ends up changing will be different for every company because every sales process comes with its own unique bottlenecks and friction. For instance, one company may have a really strong piece of content, and the people who download it convert quickly. In that case, those leads shouldn’t be made to go through the whole sales process – they can go straight to an account executive and skip discovery.

Another option is to change the discovery process itself. Too often this step is treated like an interview, but a more effective discovery experience would act as a guide for your buyers.

“Marketing’s job is to create opportunities for sales, not leads. Marketing needs to get out of the mindset that they just need to generate 1,000 leads. The more leads we get doesn’t mean our propensity to close those leads goes up,” says Davis.

“So we need to know our real customers, why they care, and, then, how to attract more of those. We have to stop thinking volume, and take a more targeted approach.”

But regardless of where you alter and improve your sales process, the only way to know where to make those changes is to experience that process fully.

The three pillars to successful alignment

So…you’ve experienced your sales process, made the necessary changes, and are fully embracing the expectations and unique perspective of the modern buyer.

Now it’s time to officially align marketing and sales. As mentioned up top, how a company does this will be unique to them – some establish “revenue” teams, comprised of both disciplines, that roll up to a Chief Marketing Officer, while other organizations depend more on closely-linked marketing and sales leaders.

To help companies find the alignment that suits them best, Davis developed a three-pillar approach to bringing marketing and sales together.

Davis’ three-pillar approach:

  1. Data – data is the currency of the modern B2B business. Every company needs to have a strong data strategy, and fully understand how to leverage data. Finally, that data must be clean – if it isn’t up to date it doesn’t matter what systems you have. Everything action in a sales process is based on the assumption that you have solid data.
  2. Process – this specifically refers to the construction of holistic processes, not just well-oiled sales and marketing silos. This is designing an end-to-end revenue generation process. How are you getting leads? Is it events? SEO? How are you handling those leads off? And, how do you get them to close?
  3. Communication – to serve the modern buyer, you have to be a learning organization. You have to be able to pivot and iterate. And communication is what helps you move, iterate, learn, and progress. This requires formal feedback loops – executed in established (and expected) meetings where the team reviews what is working and what isn’t working. These cannot be ad hoc chats. Your revenue team must be learning from each other, and changing activities based on what they are learning. Finally, both internal and external communication needs to be addressed. For instance, a company needs a shared internal definition of what a lead is. And when a company speaks externally, they are doing so in the language of the buyer.

(Editor’s note: we chatted with marketing guru Franco Caporale a while back about some of the tactics marketing can execute to support sales reps. You can read about the chat here, or listen to the interview here)

“Everything that I’ve seen that needs to be done to establish the foundation of alignment falls into one of those three buckets,” says Davis.

But a word of warning: using technology as a substitute for these steps won’t work. Technology is great, but this task is, fundamentally, a question of people. It is people that design holistic processes, it is people who work to understand the modern buyer, and it is people that engage with those prospects to close deals.

“It is overwhelming for most sales and marketing leaders to align with their counterpart – even if they want to,” says Davis.

“Sales doesn’t know about marketing and vice versa. That prevents people from approaching their counterpart – they don’t even know what to say. People need to see themselves as part of a unified revenue engine. That is paramount. Do not throw technology at a misalignment issue.”

For more on Davis’ thoughts on marketing and sales alignment – including a discussion on how to maintain your CRM effectively to ensure a fulsome picture of your prospects is captured – check out the rest of his interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

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