I was recently at a lunch forum with over 20 sales and marketing executives from a variety of industries and the topic of connecting marketing and sales came up. So did the interest level.
The lunch event was over-capacity and included a great cross section of Fortune 1000 and emerging high growth companies across a variety of industries including Technology, Tele-communications, Financial Services, Business Services, etc.
The conference attracts a real mix of executives who lead marketing or sales teams. This particular topic attracted more marketers with a small handful of sales execs distributed through the room. The discussion opened with each executive commenting on how “connected” marketing and sales were in their organizations.
The overarching themes of that discussion included the following:
- Most of the marketers who attended shared that their CEOs continue to push them to get to answers and show ROI around how to connect the organizations more effectively.
- The general consensus was that while significant investments have been made in technologies which promise better connectivity for sales and marketing, no company in the room felt confident that they had it right. Most felt that they lacked the people, process, and strategic alignment they needed to truly connect the two functions.
- Most executives were confident that they were filling the top of the funnel. Getting potential customers to put their hands up and show initial interest was something that everyone felt they did well.
- The real challenge seemed to center around how (and who) nurtures top of funnel opportunity through the funnel and to a place where the target was ready to buy.
- There was wide variance in how each firm defined a sales ready lead.
- Many were pushing leads direct from the website form immediately to a sales rep.
- Others were doing manual nurturing with call centers and demand gen hubs prior to sharing leads with sales.
- A few were using digital nurturing tactics, content marketing, scoring models, and analytics to understand which leads were more likely to buy (and thus more ready for sales to engage). A lot of notes were being taken during this parts of the discussion by most leaders in the room. Everyone saw this as a best practice but few were doing it today.
After we made it around the room and each executive had shared their perspective, one of the marketers posed a question to the group.
“How do each of you ensure that sales follows up with your leads and drives conversion rate?”
Immediately a flurry of conversations began.
Spiffs and incentives are the answer – it seemed that everyone believes that sales is coin operated.
“If they don’t follow up, we shouldn’t pay them” one marketer shouted, inciting uncomfortable laughter across most of the group.
While this took place, one of the few sales executives in the room sat patiently in the corner, finishing his main course. When the discussion died down, he put down his fork and said…
“Sales doesn’t care about conversion rates. Sales cares about achieving their quota.”
It was a simple but profound statement highlighting one of the key challenges for organizations who are trying to connect marketing with sales.
Most organizations lack clarity on the KPIs for sales and marketing which will align their efforts. If marketing is rewarded for lead volume and conversion rates while sales is rewarded for total revenue delivered, there may be misalignment. Sales will focus on deals which will more quickly retire quota, which may not be the same type of opportunity where marketing is best able to drive lead volume.
We have identified many root causes for the challenge organizations face as they work to connect marketing and sales in the new buying environment. These include challenges associated with technology, internal capability, processes, infrastructure, and a host of other issues which must be addressed as well.
However, the first step is to look at your strategy and ask the question “do we have strategic alignment between sales and marketing on how we need to work together”?
The initial operational step is focusing on ensuring that sales and marketing start speaking the same language. This centers around “the handoff” where leads are passed to sales from marketing. Both marketing and sales need to agree to the definition of a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and trust that the other side will honor their commitment to the handoff process. For marketers, they need to deliver consistent quality. For sales, they need to follow up consistently. Then both teams need to talk about revenue conversion rates.
Very few organizations have taken the time and spent the calories on building alignment across their sales and marketing teams. Those who get it right see outsized returns. How is your organization doing? You can get a sense by trying this ROI Calculator.