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Marketing and Sales Alignment: The Strategy to Drive Stronger Pipeline Conversions
Sales and marketing teams have the same overarching goal: drive sales and increase revenue. But their strategies for reaching this goal vary greatly.
The sales team thinks it’s all a matter of getting more leads, wherever they come from, whoever they are. The marketing team wants to ensure company messaging speaks to their carefully crafted buyer personas. In other words, you have two cars heading for the same destination, but the drivers are reading different maps.
Without clear communication, sales and marketing teams won’t achieve the kind of growth your business needs. Luckily, the fact that both teams want what’s best for the company means there’s opportunity for better alignment. Keep reading to learn more about this inventive collaboration and how sales and marketing can find more common ground to drive growth for your business.
The Importance of Marketing and Sales Alignment
Aligning sales and marketing teams can impact business in significant and positive ways.
Increase revenue through shorter sales cycles
There are several factors in play when it comes to sales cycles. Product type, size of your business, size of the businesses you’re selling to, the strength of the market, and industry competition are just a few considerations to make.
- Let’s use SaaS sales as an example. HubSpot breaks it down by annual contract value (ACV):
- Average sales cycle length (regardless of ACV): 84 days
- Sales cycle with ACV <$5K: 40 days
- Sales cycle with ACV >$100K: 170 days
Other sources say enterprise SaaS deals can take anywhere from six to eighteen months to close.
The sheer volume of digital solutions combined with more discerning customers makes marketing and sales alignment critically important. Serving the customer with better nurture campaigns earlier in the sales pipeline can help your company to be on the shorter side of the typical sales cycle.
Improve customer satisfaction (and NPS scores)
NPS scores are important indicators of how customers view your product, service, or brand. What’s considered a good NPS score largely depends on the industry you’re in. For software companies (and specifically B2B SaaS), anywhere in the range of 40 is considered solid.
Essentially, NPS scores serve as a customer satisfaction rating. They say a lot about whether people are satisfied with your product and if they’d recommend it to others. Marketing and sales must have the same understanding of what customers actually want from your business so they can create a more seamless experience through the sales pipeline and, hopefully, boost your NPS score.
Research from Marketo and ReachForce found that sales teams ignore 80% of marketing leads, often opting to find prospective customers on their own. Not only is this an unproductive and inefficient use of time, it also doesn’t show much confidence in their marketing team.
Marketing and sales alignment promotes better communication between teams so they can learn from each other: what content moves leads closer to decision-making, which resources prospective customers truly value, what series of events takes someone from being simply curious to being a brand advocate.
More efficient spending
Misalignment happens across every industry, but SaaS companies in particular can’t afford to miss out on crucial sales opportunities. In an increasingly competitive space, marketing and sales alignment is essential to getting your product out there ahead of the competition.
It’s not enough for the marketing team to just generate more leads. When aligned with sales team goals, it’s easier to create messaging for an ideal audience and ultimately, shorten the sales cycle. Even if the net you cast isn’t quite as wide, it’s still a better net.
Customer-centered content helps sales teams close more quickly, freeing up more time to connect with the next set of qualified leads. When marketing understands how sales uses content to close deals, they can craft better content without wasting resources on creating ineffective marketing materials. This alignment can lead to higher customer LTV in the long run, further justifying initial customer acquisition spending.
Marketing and Sales: Combined—or Aligned?
When marketing and sales teams operate separately, it’s harder to see how one department’s work supports the other. Let’s take a closer look at some of the connective threads to determine whether aligning or combining is the better move.
Marketing teams craft strategies to show a target audience that they have a problem that needs to be solved (even if the audience doesn’t know it yet). Marketers create content illustrating how to identify and solve the problem while clearly demonstrating how your company’s product is the best solution.
This is completely different from traditional sales strategies, where the natural instinct is to reach as many people as possible to sell as many units as possible. However, the art of sales has changed drastically and continues to evolve. Tight budgets and savvy competitors mean you need to devote sales expertise and support to the right customer, not just any customer.
Aligned teams benefit from more qualified prospects. Sales teams don’t have to waste time reaching out to old prospects or cold calling dead-ends. Clearly defining an ideal lead and strategizing a handoff protocol enables a streamlined and more promising process.
Sales automation tools, CRM software, and data accessibility have completely changed the way both sales and marketing work together. When both teams are working from the same set of detail-heavy data, it’s easier to talk to the customer with messaging that is both cohesive and truly impactful.
Still, it’s important to note that sales and marketing are two distinct departments operating with short- and long-term objectives. Strive for partnership between the two while respecting that they can align on goals without fully combining teams.
What Marketing and Sales Alignment Looks Like
What can companies reasonably expect when sales and marketing are no longer working in silos? Shared processes and goals, better team structure, and smarter use of technology.
Agree on customer persona. As your sales and marketing teams align, they may discover they view prospects differently. Marketing could have a more specific and nuanced customer profile in mind than the sales team. An agreed-upon customer persona helps both the sales and marketing teams understand the challenges each team encounters in customer events.
Develop common terminology. Start by drawing a clear distinction between leads, marketing qualified leads (MQL), and sales qualified leads (SQL). Working together to generate a scorecard with qualifying criteria can help to solidify your team’s definitions.
This also applies to how team members talk about the company, brand and product, from official names to the product’s best features and solutions. Consistent terminology creates more trust with prospects and establishes a good impression and relationship.
Establish joint KPIs. Traditionally, sales and marketing have focused on very different metrics. Common goals will help both areas identify strengths and weaknesses more quickly so they can act sooner to find and implement solutions. By focusing on sales numbers when first aligning the teams, they can create a better plan to meet business objectives.
Improve content marketing efforts to assist prospective customers through the sales pipeline. Because of their direct contact with prospective customers, sales teams likely have a better understanding of which pieces of content to share when. Plus, they can offer insight to what bottom-funnel prospects are actually asking about. Content creation is then more strategic and wastes fewer resources.
A sales-minded marketing team can create a more seamless experience for customers throughout the sales pipeline. Each piece of marketing collateral works together and naturally leads to the conversion part of the pipeline, making the transition through the process feel logical as opposed to aggressively sales-oriented. Now the sales team isn’t selling a product; they’re offering a solution.
Teams and roles
The marketing team should have someone leading demand generation, as well as a product marketer and content marketer. The sales team requires account executives at minimum. A sales-marketing liaison could also be a smart addition to the team, to further ensure open lines of communication.
If your budget allows for both a marketing team lead (or fractional CMO) and sales team lead, these roles should meet at least weekly to discuss pipeline status, lead quality, and forecasts. Regular check-ins concerning roles and team goals can mitigate any potential dissonance.
Everyone on the team benefits from sharing customer feedback. Use feedback to improve and refine both the marketing and sales process through better content and communication tactics.
If sales and marketing teams can’t work side-by-side (due to remote or hybrid work, for example), schedule regular meetings to align or reset goals; monitor progress; note successes and challenges; and pitch and refine content ideas.
Simplify workflows and decision-making with better tools and data. CRM software and marketing automation platforms are crucial for seamlessly integrating the sales and marketing teams. These data-rich resources provide the basis for every customer strategy the team creates, making it easier to develop lead scoring criteria and adhere to the same protocols.
Why You Should Replace the Sales Funnel with a Sales Pipeline
The typical sales funnel is a fairly clear illustration of how sales and marketing have traditionally aligned. However, the terminology is vague and largely open to interpretation. Labels like “awareness” and “intent” don’t explicitly illustrate how sales and marketing should approach prospects at these various stages.
The sales pipeline, on the other hand, more clearly demonstrates actual actions each team can take throughout the journey. Provided that sales and marketing are using the same qualifications to target and score leads, the sales pipeline facilitates more tangible results.
Account-based marketing can further improve performance. Marketo defines this strategy as, “marketing and sales teams work together to target best-fit accounts and turn them into customers.” This approach has the greatest potential for high ROI because of its long-term focus on creating lifetime customer relationships. It requires a high level of personalization, making alignment on who qualifies as “best-fit” even more crucial.
Ultimately, both sales and marketing must work together to achieve long-term customer relationships, from lead through loyalty. Align your teams to shorten the sales cycle while creating better prospect opportunities in the long run.
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