B2B sales and marketing alignment —or the lack thereof—is something that’s been talked about as long as I can remember. And I’ve been in marketing and management positions for more than 30 years.
That’s a pretty long time when you consider how fast new ideas are brought to market and become obsolete today—being replaced by the new best thing at warp speed.
Are the two sides just too stubborn, obstinate, or even arrogant to get along?
Nope, that’s not it. From what I’ve seen, it’s mostly a matter of culture and perspective that has had no real effort made to integrate the two models to work well together.
The relationship between sales and marketing reminds me of the Push-Me, Pull-Me from the movie Dr. Doolittle. It’s a llama with a head at both ends; each thinking it is in charge of the animal. Whenever one end tries to move forward, it is blocked by the other trying to move in the opposite direction. This push and pull can result in neither side moving forward or the animal going in random, awkward directions.
The Set-Up for the Push-Me, Pull-Me scenario:
- Marketing is maturing at using data to inform their programs and views the market from a macro perspective—collective markets.
- Sales is closer to the customer and views the market from a micro perspective that applies to the distinct needs of a particular customer—1:1.
I think it’s pretty accurate to sum it up as hands-off vs. hands-on.
But even more distinctive is the way both sides are incented:
- Marketing performance is often based on vanity metrics (traffic, clicks, views, followers, likes) and quantity of “leads” (form completions).
- Sales performance is based on revenue quotas and closed business.
These criteria are at opposite ends of the spectrum. There is no alignment in performance measurement, so why would we expect that the two teams will miraculously choose to align on their own?
Until marketing and sales leaders put their heads together and create shared KPIs that allow for constructive contribution from both sides based on business objectives, this will remain a chasm inhibiting alignment that most B2B companies would be well served to achieve.
However, there are even bigger differences that need to be addressed if sales and marketing are to find productive alignment—most significantly alignment with customers.
Putting customers at the center is easier said than done.
Much of my professional life is spent conducting interviews that inform persona development. In the last month alone, I’ve conducted more than 50 of them. I always start with the client’s marketing, product, service, and sales teams before we reach out to customers.
What I hear from salespeople is vastly different than what I hear from marketing. And it’s due to perspective. Where marketing is looking at collective markets and how to best segment them to develop interest and intent, the sales perspective is that their buyers already know they need the solutions they’re selling based on individual account engagement.
However this same discovery is usually true for both teams:
When asked to nail down who makes the decisions, why they make them and what criteria are involved, no one can give specific answers.
“It depends” is the answer I most commonly hear from sales. And I get that. Deals and situations are different. Hierarchies can be different. Business models can be different. Etc.
But usually when I keep pressing, with sales it boils down to price as their biggest obstacle. Yet in nearly all customer conversations I have, price is not the primary reason or even the reason at all for their choice.
High-level supposition is what I generally hear from marketers. They understand their markets and how their solutions apply, but they fail to get to the depth they need to create truly compelling programs.
For example, they may emphasize that their solutions allow customers to gain productivity or efficiency, but they can’t articulate how it manifests for the customer or exactly what the root problem is that they’re solving from the customer’s perspective.
Once again, we’ve got opposite sides of the spectrum. Salespeople tend to look at the unique characteristics of a deal where marketers take commonalities to such an extreme that they’re too broad to be helpful to their prospective buyers—or even functions across the organization that engage with them at different points in the customer relationship.
How Understanding Group Dynamics Contributes to Alignment
What we need is some common ground. We need a foundation based on commonalities shared by roles within a target market that can then pivot based on unique needs, as necessary. This is what buyer personas can bring to the table. It’s also why personas can be useful across the organization and not just to marketing. (But that’s a different post)
Even more so, a collection of buyer personas representative of the buying committee can reveal group dynamics that can be impactful for meeting the objectives of both teams. In B2B companies, buying is a group sport. So rather than focus on one role, marketers can get closer to understanding the sales perspective by understanding the dynamics of the group—just as a salesperson must.
Understanding the dynamics of a B2B buying committee entails getting the answers to questions that include:
- Who might push back against the project? And why, based on their role?
- What internal processes will need to be altered to adopt change and who will they impact?
- Why is the way they do it today not working?
- Why can’t they solve the problem internally?
- Why might some personas think there’s a different way to solve the problem than the solution that you sell? (think beyond your type of solution – there are always other options)
- Where could communication stall in committee conversations? What information would they need to get unstuck?
- What concerns could different personas have that we can alleviate with content or conversations?
This is only a sampling of the types of questions you’ll need to answer, but when you can get marketers and salespeople into collaborative discussions about the group dynamics of buying committees, then you have some common ground that both can address jointly—with both parties seeing value.
Answering these types of questions is all about generating momentum with buyers and keeping it going toward a purchase decision. This perspective can unite both marketing and sales in moving forward together.
Marketing will start to see meaningful contribution to revenues and sales will start to see more constructive conversations that contribute to more won deals.
A Shared Perspective is Key
We’ve got to gain alignment on how both teams are evaluated to get to true alignment. This means getting to a point where marketers can be held accountable for contribution to pipeline and closed deals and where sales can show that they’re using tools, collateral, content and leads sourced by marketing to get the job done.
It’s not about quantity of anything. It’s about quality—plain and simple. It’s not more, but better.
Sales and marketing alignment requires a shared perspective and go-to-market strategy capable of improving the performance of both sides in parallel.
I’ve seen the outcome of persona projects begin to drive this shift. When your sales team is brought in from the start and is actively contributing to the project, it helps to unite efforts to move forward together with a shared perspective about buyers, buying committees, and the steps in the buying process.
Developing an understanding of how both teams can work together to impact each step in the customer journey further contributes to how marketing and sales can bring value collaboratively. There’s no more of marketing washing their hands at the “handoff” and sales focusing only on the end stage.
Instead, B2B companies will find:
- Increased holistic engagement across the buying process – with no bottlenecks mid-funnel—because the story flows regardless of who’s sharing it, whether marketing or sales
- More conversations between salespeople and buyers earlier in the process, which can lead to shorter sales cycles
- Fewer lost deals to no decision—or competitors—due to an ability to help manage buying committee conflict
- Higher margins and deal sizes result from orchestrated efforts that reduce redundancy and reinforce the value and the vision for both buyers and committees
- Demonstrable ROI from marketing programs
These outcomes are worth the effort to eliminate the Push-Me, Pull-Me relationship between the two teams by gaining a shared perspective that drives B2B sales and marketing alignment—don’t you think?
The caveat, of course, is getting executive support for the transition. Unfortunately often easier said than done.
If you want to get in on the discussion about the gap between sales and marketing, join me with Steve Richard, CRO of ExecVision, and Matt Behrend, Co-Founder & CRO of Consensus for a lively discussion on Wednesday, August 17th at 10AM Pacific / 11AM Mountain / 1PM Eastern – Through a miscommunication, the really great conversation wasn’t recorded.
Update: To be technically correct, my friend Lori Richardson has reminded my faulty memory that the animal is actually “Pushmi-Pullyu” from Dr. Doolittle.