Marketing and Sales Alignment: To (Finally) Get It, Start Here

Which came first: the ineffective Marketing chicken or the underperforming Sales egg?

Marketing, obviously. They aren’t bringing in enough qualified leads.
Sales, clearly. They don’t know how to convert them.

Letting those two point fingers at each other all day is so uncivilized. But it’s just… that’s the only way we can actually get them to communicate with each other.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. But misalignment between sales and marketing is a major pain point for many organizations.

IDC Research estimates that B2B companies’ inability to align sales and marketing teams costs 10% or more of revenue per year. Meanwhile, an Aberdeen Group study reports that aligned organizations experience an average of 31.6% year-over-year growth in annual company revenue.

Why is marketing and sales alignment so elusive?

Everyone knows there’s a big disconnect. And both sales and marketing teams are on the hook to prove that their contributions to the company bottom line is increasing. So, why can’t they get it together already? The most common complaints:

  • Sales and marketing have a different vision of the ideal customer
  • Success metrics in each department are often defined differently
  • Processes are disjointed, making it impossible to track what is working
  • CRM technology isn’t being used properly or at all

While it’s true that each department must measure its successes within its specific domain, there is a clear need for overarching metrics to assess how these two teams perform as a collective.

What does alignment look like?

Oh, a lot of things: shared milestones and metrics, clear and inclusive processes, smart technology investments, a Tuesday night company softball team…

Of course, all (or any) of that is contingent on one little thing: communication.

If sales and marketing can’t learn how to speak the same language and work together as a single team, they’ll never quite meet their revenue potential. (Or get to experience the crisp refreshing taste of victory beer drunk after the big game, from a sweet plastic championship trophy.)

3 ways to (start) getting alignment

  1. Agree on Definitions and Metrics

If you ask your sales and marketing teams separately how they define a qualified lead; what rules they follow for disqualifying leads; or how they describe the various stages for managing leads — you may be surprised (or not) to find that the answers to those questions don’t always match up!

This is a big deal, but the fix is pretty straight forward: get cozy in a room together and hash it out until you both agree on a set of shared definitions. This conversation will almost certainly require the assistance of data — whether from analytics, a marketing automation system, and/or previous performance reports.

Chances are neither team alone understands (or even has access to) the full range of data needed to make good choices here. But as a unified team, you can “do the math” until you tease out a logical formula everyone can get behind.

You’ll never have a better motivator for getting both sides to work (and stay) together than that mutually agreed upon list of key performance indicators in the expectant hands of your execs.

All together now: Kay — Peee — Iiiiiiii, my lord. KPIiiiiiii…

  1. Perfect the Baton Pass

It used to be that the marketing team generated a bunch of inquiries (of varying quality), pitched them over the castle wall to the sales team, then high-fived and called it a day.

Marketers can’t just mic drop and expect to walk off the stage to thunderous applause.

We need to establish a process for passing the baton to Sales — and even more importantly, we need to establish a closed-loop reporting relationship with them. In other words, the marketing team must follow Sales all the way through the funnel. It’s crucial to tracking (proving!) results — and it gives us important insight into the effectiveness of our ads and landing pages; as well as overall interest in the various types of content that we produce. And we will use those valuable insights to constantly tweak our marketing messaging and spend accordingly.

  1. Share the Pipeline

Many sales and marketing teams treat the pipeline as separate, seemingly rival processes — two pipelines, both alike in dignity, in the Funnel, where we lay our scene… And as a result, neither team really has much visibility into how the other gets things done.

The alignment tactics discussed in this article will likely fall flat if your company doesn’t treat its sales and marketing pipeline as a single, continuous process.

With one pipeline, both teams will still have individual responsibilities — from generating and qualifying at the top of the funnel, to nurturing, closing and maintaining relationships at the bottom. The major difference here is that, at any given moment, everyone will be able to follow and understand how each stage of the process is working. This gives both teams incredible power to optimize efforts and/or realign themselves along the way, as needed.

According to CSO Insights, companies with “dynamic, adaptable sales and marketing processes” reported an average of 10% more sales people on-quota compared to other companies.

These tactics are just the beginning; you don’t go shifting massive paradigms overnight. But sales and marketing teams who can master these in unity will be well on their way to the top (/playoffs/campfire/altar).

Easier said than done, bro…

Gee, what an adorable little pep talk. I know, I know. It seems easy to assess a situation and design a solution in a vacuum, doesn’t it?

Here is one thing I’ve noticed as an agency partner coming into a company’s world to help their smart and enthusiastic marketing or sales team kick more ass:

For some reason, highly targeted integrated digital campaign strategies whose results are contingent on marketing and sales teams banding together — those strategies often get buy-in from both sides only when an unaffiliated expert proposes them.

I’m not saying you didn’t have the exact same great campaign idea last month (and cheaper); I’m saying you had it while sailing the Bermuda Molasses Sea Triangle of company politics.

As a marketing agency usually hired by either a company’s marketing or sales team, we do see first hand how difficult it can be for departments to get aligned. And not because they don’t really want it. Sometimes the politics is such that even a talented agency partner can’t navigate through it. But when they do? Exciting new revenue horizons; they are reached.


Give these three marketing and sales alignment tactics a fair shake, and if they don’t work, get yourself a smart, strategic agency partner.

Kristin Sgroi

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