5 Ways to Close the Marketing vs. Sales Divide

Author: 
Andrew Davies

We have a fantastic group of people in our sales function, and an equally fantastic group of people in our marketing function. But, as I am sure they do in your organization too, they often talk different languages and operate on different timeframes.

At the risk of generalizing, salespeople are quite rightly interested in the here and now, and have a necessarily low tolerance for anything that interrupts their rhythm or ability to speak to prospects and close deals. That’s why they are hired: to help prospects buy. They can also iterate their next conversation based on the last response or insight they gleaned.

In marketing, there is a need to focus on six, nine and 12 months out, to build sustainable process and strategy. The now is important, but not at the expense of the future, because in the marketing functions of most high-growth businesses, the need to provide lead generation and awareness scales rapidly ahead of the resource input.

I see a huge opportunity in connecting marketing to sales in a more meaningful way, and have read most of what has been written about the predictable revenue engine, crossing the chasm and introducing a new ‘in-between’ function (usually called Sales Development). And fundamentally, the challenge is over lead handover, and more particularly lead context handover.

Marketing builds up a context of each individual prospect through marketing automation, including the content they have read and should probably read in the future. Sales receives that lead and usually starts from a zero base, unable to build on the pre-existing context as it is lost or diminished in the lead handover process. The crux comes down to two elements: content and data. If you can speak the same language on those two points, the lead handover challenge goes away. If sales and marketing see and understand the same lead data, and know and understand the same potential content options, the prospect experience also improves dramatically. We believe in this so much we built an app for it!

But beyond the functional level of a lead’s context, here are five ways that we have learned you can build a more streamlined process from marketing into sales. If it’s too long, skip to the last point.Spoiler alert: it’s about building trust.

Overcommunicate
Since sales and marketing speak different languages and operate on different timeframes, communication is huge. Go beyond the all-hands meeting to encourage 1-to-1 conversations wherever needed, so that every team member is empowered to get things done and resolve issues quickly. Ensure expectations are communicated from team to team, and even formalize these as a service level agreement between departments! The key expectation is what a good lead looks like. Until there is mutual agreement on this, expect the arguments to continue!

Lead from the top
As with any interdepartmental initiative, and especially with one so impactful on revenue, CEO buy-in and support is vital to ensure departments pull together. In addition to announcing any new activity to close the divide, the CEO should ensure open conversation between the leaders of each function at a management level.

You get what you remunerate
A vital piece of the puzzle is to ensure that salespeople have compensation plans that include the marketing-to-sales handover, and positive activity that supports it. Alongside other softer methods, a financial incentive to adopt new process always helps! Increasingly, marketing teams are measured on revenue targets too. So ensuring they have a financial motivation that goes beyond the Marketing Qualified Lead is important to ensure they are as helpful as possible to sales in closing deals.

Feedback, fast and often
Beyond the first attempt at a good handover process, a feedback loop must be put in place. This should be a quick and robust process for capturing and actioning on feedback from the sales team. Since the sales team are closest to customers and prospects, they have valuable insight that needs to be extracted and used by marketing and demand generation. By moving away from a fire-and-forget mode, marketers can ensure they take on-board feedback about lead quality, consistency and message in a timely way.

Build trust
The most important piece of the whole puzzle is to build trust. Beyond discussions of lead volumes and lead quality, predictability is paramount. Because of the inbuilt capacity management challenges within sales and marketing, a sudden and unplanned influx or lack of leads can really hurt. The demand generation challenge is not simply driving leads this week. It is accurately predicting the next several months’ lead volume, and then delivering on this promise. This requires a system of engagement, and a pipeline that stretches well up and away from the lead handover point.

Beyond these five key elements to bridging the divide, we have found that creating “pressure release valves” to be a real saving grace. Does marketing have something up its sleeve to hit the lead target this month? Does sales development reps have a cold target list to work from when it has worked through the inbound prospects provided by marketing? Does each salesperson have a blend of short-term and longer-term opportunities and named accounts that they can work in parallel? Positive answers to these questions provide the oil between the cogs, and make for a much more constructive work environment when the pressure is on.

Most fundamentally, the common ground between marketing and sales is the customers. If you can unite around a clear vision of who they are, and what they need or want, even if there is a disagreement on methods, the end goal is the same.

Andrew Davies is the CMO and co-founder of idio, and helps leading content marketers maximize the value of their content marketing. idio's Content Intelligence platform analyzes your content automatically, understands your customers via the content they consume, and recommends the right content to the right person in real-time, on any channel. To find out more, please visit idioplatform.com and follow Andrew on Twitter @andjdavies.