Sales Funnel

5 Steps to Align Sales and Marketing Throughout the Sales Funnel in 2019

The rapid evolution of technology has changed every facet of doing business.  These days, companies are feeling the pressure to evaluate their status quo and adjust where needed. One area this pressure is being felt especially hard is the respective roles of marketing and sales and how to create synchronicity between the two. Sales/marketing alignment is regularly cited as one of the top concerns for B2B organizations, and for good reason—misalignment between these two teams accounts for $1 trillion in costs per year.

There are lots of questions to answer about how exactly to get these teams aligned. It can be confusing! Should you make a new technology investment? Do you need new hires? Should you hire a firm to facilitate alignment? Is it just a matter of adjusting existing processes? Deciding which marketing moves are most important can be overwhelming. It can feel like B2B marketing execs caught up in intangible, strategic moves while urgent to-do lists and revenue goals loom for practitioners on the ground.

However, there’s good news! There are five overall steps to achieving sales and marketing alignment that have been tried and true by expert marketers. Even better news? There are lots of accessible, inexpensive and free technology tools that can help make it easier, and most organizations probably already use some of them.

What does sales and marketing alignment look like?

Sales and marketing alignment is more than a collaborative effort between two teams. Instead, it is a re-envisioning of the sales funnel as a revenue cycle. This cycle integrates sales and marketing initiatives throughout the entire process. Strong sales and marketing alignment leverages the long-term vision and data-focused methods of marketers to support the short-term quotas and business problem-solving approaches of salespeople.

On a more regular basis, sales and marketing alignment takes shape in these three major ways:

1. Qualification criteria

First and foremost, aligned teams have a shared understanding of qualification criteria. Agreement on qualification attributes for leads, qualified leads, etc. translates to a standard language that both teams can understand and use to keep track of key revenue cycle metrics. As a result, shared definitions foster collaborative and healthy communication across teams with separate goals and initiatives.  

2. Process clarity

Aligned teams also have central knowledge of standard processes, from how new team members are trained to the way technology is leveraged between the teams. For example, are bottom-funnel leads completing a demo? Is lead data kept consistent and accurate within the CRM? By considering these questions and related processes, teams can achieve context for communicating with each other, as well as each lead in the funnel.

3. Open communication

In order to cement alignment, cooperative sales and marketing departments communicate regularly. From here, teams agree on key marketing communications and frequencies that maintain transparency but don’t overload the organization with meetings. Reviews and check-ins are grounded in a focus on collaboration and future growth.

Achieving alignment continually through the sales process

Just like keeping the alignment on your car in check is a continual, lifelong process of maintenance and prevention, so is sales and marketing alignment. Building internal common knowledge of the sales process, auditing and updating sales enablement assets, sticking to shared guidelines and developing good communication habits are all essential components to a well-oiled sales and marketing machine.

Sounds simple, right? Even though there are a lot of moving parts to sales and marketing alignment, breaking them down and identifying internal, external and technology resources and processes can be an extremely rewarding process. There are five essential steps to achieving sales and marketing alignment:

    1. Create a shared understanding of target audiences
    1. Build content and assets that enable sales
    1. Develop guidelines for qualified leads
    1. Establish communication norms
  1. Schedule regular opportunities for feedback

Step 1: Create a shared understanding of target audiences (and audiences to avoid)

Building personas and target market profiles are often seen as marketing tasks based on data and best practices, and some companies silo this process within the marketing team. However, leaving out sales and other team members who are involved in the sales process is ultimately detrimental. The best indicator of future success is past success. The sales team has intimate knowledge of which deals have been most successful in the past. Marketing can inform this historical knowledge from sales with data-driven best practices and knowledge of changing prospect behavior gathered from industry research, analytics and marketing automation tools. Together, these teams can build rock-solid buyer personas and target market profiles that build momentum from past deals while preparing for potential changes in the buying landscape.

For some organizations, it may be helpful to create negative personas that outline which audiences they don’t want to invest resources in. These personas can be helpful for companies who may be taking a hyper-segmented, extremely focused approach to lead generation and only want to pursue deals that will have the biggest ROI. Also, negative personas can be a good way to look at your more difficult, less profitable customers and see if there are any commonalities. Do startup organizations with tight budgets end up wasting too much precious sales time without closing? Do organizations in a certain industry typically request a configuration of services that just really isn’t your thing? These might end up forming the basis for your negative personas and can ultimately help your marketing and sales teams have a better understanding of which deals are worth spending time and resources on.

Tech Tools for Success:

    • Marketing automation: Automatic lead scoring and analytics tools in platforms like Marketo and HubSpot makes it easier for marketing and sales teams to pull custom reports about what behavior makes leads more qualified and how sales teams have historically interacted with them during initial sales conversations.
  • Canva: Many teams choose to create visual representations of their personas, and free, easy-to-use online tools like Canva make it easier for small teams without design resources to create attractive internal documents that can be easily shared between marketing and sales teams.

Step 2: Build content and assets that enable sales in digital environments

There is often a disconnect between sales and marketing. A common gripe heard from sales is that they don’t have the relevant materials they need from marketing. Conversely, marketing often complains that sales doesn’t use what they have created, or isn’t proactive about telling them what is needed. Before diving into creating new sales tools that align with your newly developed or refreshed personas and target audiences, it’s important to first perform a content audit. Sometimes, great content already exists, or can be created from existing content with a few tweaks. Use a content audit as your foundation for a “hub and sub” approach to content creation by using a meaty piece of content—like an ebook, video series, or whitepaper—as a centralized hub that connects other, easier to digest pieces like blogs, social media posts, infographics, etc.

Your content should follow an 80/20 rule. 80% of created content targets primary personas and 20% targets secondary personas. This helps to ensure that marketing teams are creating content that is most useful to sales and has the biggest impact on lead generation and pushing deals through the funnel. This rule of thumb, combined with the “hub and sub” strategy, can create entire content journeys to use in nurture campaigns or to help move larger, more complex deals further along the pipeline.

Create a culture of listening around content. It’s easy for content creators to get defensive about their work, and for content consumers to get lazy about proactive communication. Develop a short, simple process for evaluating the success of content pieces at regular intervals so that the sales team can provide feedback and marketing can examine web traffic, clicks, and more. This may include a survey, a short meeting, or whatever communication style makes the most sense for team size and volume of content.

Tech Tools for Success:

    • Digital Asset Management Software: If you work at a large company with sales and marketing people spread out across multiple geographies, digital asset management tools like Canto and Bynder can take a lot of the headache around sharing collateral and keeping brand guidelines consistent. Users can access a portal that contains the correct version of presentations, PDFs, logos and more, instead of downloading attachments that may become obsolete with corporate-level updates.
    • Hemingway: Most marketing teams have a variety of people contributing to written content, and creating consistent style is hard. Hemingway is a free online tool that allows users to paste content and receive a breakdown of the text readability, grammar issues, and style suggestions.
  • Quora: While Quora is not necessarily a data-driven, research-oriented content tool, it is an excellent place to brainstorm or see which relevant topics are being discussed most frequently among your target audience. It’s a great tool to keep content ideas feeling fresh and on-point with current trends.

Step 3: Develop useful, specific guidelines for Marketing and Sales Qualified Leads

One source of frustration for many sales and marketing teams is a disconnect between what constitutes a Marketing Qualified Lead and/or Sales Qualified Lead, and how to validate these leads with data. In fact, it’s a big enough pain point that 79% of B2B marketers have not even established a lead scoring process that drives MQL/SQL validation (MarketingSherpa). If your organization has not yet adopted a lead scoring process, there is no better time than the present. If your lead scoring strategy is stagnant and hasn’t been updated to reflect new technologies or capabilities your company has taken on, a refresh is due.

Lead scoring

image via fileboard.com

Leverage metrics and current/past customer profiles to help understand which behaviors, lead sources, etc. drive conversions most often. For most B2B organizations, how leads interact with content plays a role in building a solid lead scoring strategy. Content scoring can be an important part of lead scoring and contributes to your understanding of which leads become MQLs. Examine cross sections of leads in various stages of your sales funnel and see if there are any trends in how these leads interact with content.

Tech Tools for Success

    • Marketing automation or CRM: Lead scoring can be done manually, but the process is made significantly easier when it is set up in marketing automation or CRM platforms. While there is a significant investment, it’s generally much easier for companies to create clean databases with accurate lead scoring if the platform is implemented earlier in growth stages.
  • Web analytics: Just like web analytics are useful for building personas, they’re also useful to determine which actions actually lead to closed deals and revenue. If 50% of your qualified leads are downloading a specific ebook, that is extremely useful information to know when developing content scores.

Step 4: Establish feedback and communication norms that facilitate action

Once lead scoring processes and qualified lead definitions are established, organizations must have a plan of action to keep the momentum going. Marketing and sales teams often stop communicating about leads once marketing “hands off” an MQL, which leads to potential difficulties for both teams. Marketing teams can get annoyed when sales teams don’t properly follow up with MQLs, and sales may have complaints about the actual quality of the lead.

To circumvent this, define and establish Service Level Agreements that outline the expectations and actions needed from both teams at each stage of the funnel. Decide how these SLAs will be enforced, and ensure there are opportunities to revisit and revise them if needed. Creating norms around “failing fast” and responding with small pivots and quicker responses to sales funnel slowdowns or deals that are going south will help drive more revenue and strengthen trust between sales and marketing teams.

Tech Tools for Success

    • Slack: Slack is definitely a love it or hate it app, but for teams that want to offer a variety of more casual ways to communicate across teams without clogging up email inboxes, it can be a good option. Plus, you can create subgroups for marketing, sales, committees, etc. so that phones aren’t blowing up with irrelevant notifications.
  • Survey tools: Platforms like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are simple, anonymous ways that teams can solicit consistent feedback that can be aggregated and made into actionable insights. They’re a good option for large teams or scenarios where anonymity is desired, i.e. to report communication issues.

Step 5: Schedule regular debriefs to review closed, lost and stalled deals

Along with increased informal communication, marketing and sales teams should have regular “stakeholder” meetings to discuss sales funnel movement, closed deals, and potential clogs. Give different team members a chance to lead meetings or facilitate discussion in order to ensure a diversity of voices and viewpoints are considered. Consider using small groups comprised of a mix of management, sales and marketing team members to dissect what went well and what didn’t work on 1-2 deals. At the end of each meeting, always determine action items and next steps and create accountability structures like deadlines.

Tech Tools for Success

  • Trello: Project management platforms like Trello can be beneficial to organizations with large or complex sales and marketing teams, especially if the stakeholder team has members from lots of disparate departments. The structure makes it easy to set deadlines, tag people in conversation, assign tasks, upload documents, and check in on progress to keep cross-functional teams accountable and on task.

Conclusion

To achieve truly effective marketing and sales alignment in 2019, teams need to undergo a mindset shift about the ways that marketing and sales teams have traditionally moved leads through the sales funnel. Successful teams are taking steps to pivot from a “hand-off” to a “hands-on” approach that keeps both teams engaged with each other throughout the buyer journey. By focusing on “sales enablement” instead of separate marketing and sales roles, teams can create processes that leverage the first-hand knowledge and experience of the boots-on-the-ground sales team with the data-driven, best practices approach of the marketing team.

Most importantly, focus on opening lines of communication. Without solid, respectful, methodical channels to give and receive feedback, brainstorm, and check in on the effectiveness of established definitions and norms, marketing and sales teams will continue to struggle. Make it a priority to create a culture of transparency and collaboration between marketing and sales—don’t wait until it’s too late to change.

Christa Tuttle

Christa Tuttle is the founder and CEO of Launch Marketing, a boutique business-to-business (B2B) marketing firm in Austin, Texas that provides turn-key services focused on generating leads and driving revenue. She is an active member of the Austin community, where she is a mentor and member of Entrepreneurs Organization, and has given her time and expertise to Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Breakthrough, among others.

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