How to Finally Align Sales and Marketing to Nab Great Leads

Author: 
Matt Sunshine

Sales and marketing belong on the same side of the negotiating table. So why do they often find themselves staring bitterly across it?

Not surprisingly, miscommunication.

On one hand, you have the marketer with his definition of a lead. He sees his function as doing everything it takes to drive a target audience into his arms. Then, he can claim to sales, “See what I brought you?”

That brings us to the other hand: the sales pro. She evaluates marketing’s leads and discovers they’re actually junk. Names are false; addresses are incorrect; nothing smacks of reality. Of course, that leads to frustration, not to mention a belief that future marketing leads will be equally terrible.

I’ve seen salespeople claim marketing didn’t understand anything and stop following through on leads out of pure exasperation. Of course, when I talked to their marketing counterparts, they assured me that, of the hundreds of leads sent to sales, only a handful were lousy. The problem, from their vantage point, was that sales never explained what constitutes a good lead and never relayed what happened with decent leads. Therefore, marketing team members got the leads they could with the information they had.

Amazing that so much misalignment can occur in companies, isn’t it? And it’s costing B2B organizations around 10 percent of revenue dollars annually.

Want a prime example of money down the drain? I recently met someone who spent $75,000 on a trade show booth. After the event, he’d landed dozens of leads. Psyched, he brought them back to the office. And zero — yes, zero — converted. They were so bad, in fact, the agency stopped doing the event instead of evaluating what went wrong.

To be sure, the tension between sales and marketing can become palpable and heated. Yet when they start working together, magic happens. Customer retention soars by more than a third, as do closed sales.

Learn to make that magic come to fruition to lift profits (and spirits) by tempering bad blood between feuding departments.

A Long-Awaited Meeting of the Minds

From the outside looking in, the answer to the issue is communication. However, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. To fully bridge the sales-marketing gap, a sense of shared interests must be developed — something found in only 8 percent of organizations. If done successfully, such alignment can open sales streams by more than 200 percent.

Without a serious desire to close the gap, any business can rupture. And that leaves it wide open for disruption by competitors ready to swoop in and take away clients. Consequently, any corporation owes it to its stakeholders to strategically mend the wound by creating something akin to “smarketing,” if not exactly a reflection of the term:

1. Develop a service-level agreement (SLA). One of the fiercest weapons against leeching money through department wars is a service-level agreement. This defines what and when each team agrees to deliver as well as how individual departmental performance will be measured. Consider the SLA a document that nails down a universal lead definition to end the cycle of deniability: “I didn’t know what they wanted!”

In your SLA, concentrate on describing three types of leads:

The first are the go-nowhere leads, like the high schooler who downloads your company’s PDF for a project. While it’s nice to support his efforts, his information isn’t going anywhere.

The next type is the marketing qualified lead: MQLs meet the ideal customer profile qualifications but aren’t ready for the sales team. These are folks ripe for more marketing based on job title, function, annual company revenue, etc. Eventually, they might turn into profitable leads, but not yet.

The final kind is the sales qualified lead: This lead has passed the MQL line and meets sales’ criteria. SQLs are bottom-of-the-funnel leads, like those who downloaded a case study or looked at a pricing page within the last 24 hours. They’re golden — poised to buy.

The SLA must include a mechanism for sales to tell marketing what happened after receiving an SQL. Did it convert? Was it too soon? Poor quality? Was it a great example of a lead sales wants to see more of? The more the SLA forces conversations between teams, the stronger the company becomes.

2. Regularly review the SLA. Think your SLA is a slam dunk toward better alignment? It’s only as good as the people who follow the contract. Rather than hoping it works, schedule 30-day, 60-day, or quarterly meetings to ensure everyone’s working toward the same purpose. Without meetings, the SLA could become a distant memory and help no one.

Treat your SLA review meetings as a way to measure the pulse of what’s happening on the ground and which initiatives are on the horizon. If you promote confabs as positive for both sides, positive outcomes are likelier to occur.

3. Encourage open channels between sales and marketing. Sure, you’re regularly meeting to talk about the SLA, but are your sales and marketing personnel chatting on the side? Is marketing trying to market your brand without giving insight to (or getting input from) sales? And is sales defaulting to a “throw our hands up in the air” position?

Sales should feel comfortable telling marketing what it is hearing from customers in the form of objections, and marketing should be OK with explaining its latest campaign pushes before materials are sent out. This allows salespeople to change their approaches and marketers to understand why their “amazing" idea, without tweaks, could lead to a future sales problem.

As these types of give-and-take gatherings happen more frequently and with less friction, sales and marketing will naturally begin developing stronger, more precise target personas. Over time, this won’t just bring leads in the door; it’ll bring success to the overall organization.

The sooner we recognize that marketing and sales should be hand-in-hand (rather than nose-to-nose), everyone in the B2B marketplace will sigh with relief.

Matt Sunshine is a managing partner for The Center for Sales Strategy and LeadG2, a company that specializes in improving sales performance and lead generation. Previously, Matt also worked as the center’s executive vice president and a senior consultant. Matt has more than 20 years of experience in sales and media relations.