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The 3 Basic Steps of Aligning Sales and Marketing

by Dustin J. Hall | 8 MIN READ
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If you've been in the sales or marketing game long enough, you understand how powerful the alignment of both departments can be in boosting sales enablement, data quality and strategy development.

You also know how absolutely brutal the process of aligning sales and marketing can be.

That's because the process is frequently constructed to be unnecessarily complicated. With most online guides and consultants touting one tedious and expensive step after another, the alignment process can so easily be transformed into an emotional and financial drain - something more akin to mediating a bitter divorce than joining forces. No thanks.

Yes, it's true that organizations with hundreds or thousands of sales reps, sophisticated technology profiles and/or highly complex buyer personas will likely require a more painstakingly detailed approach to unifying their marketing and sales efforts.

But most companies do not fit this mold, so there's no reason why the same complicated framework should apply. It's totally overkill and less likely to produce results - ironically suffocating productivity and momentum.

It's best to simply get shit done.

If you like process but like getting shit done even more, this article is most definitely for you.

Below, I'll cover common reasons sales and marketing alignment efforts fail, a couple prerequisites for fast-tracking alignment and the 3 steps you can take to turn your sales & marketing teams into one single growth team ASAP!

First, to make sure you implement these 3 steps effectively, it's worthwhile to understand how companies typical fail in their marketing and sales alignment efforts (so you can avoid all that BS).

5 Reasons Why Sales & Marketing Alignment Fails

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In practice, there could be a million different reasons why the process of alignment fails. However, in my experience, virtually all of them stem from just a handful of things that companies or their employees are lacking:

  • Lack of Empathy - company or departmental cultures may be too toxic or disparate, with egos and agendas outweighing the greater good of the company.
  • Lack of Strategy - the project may be implemented too soon, without a complete gameplan or guidance by professionals.
  • Lack of Budget - there may not be enough financial resources or employee capacity available to implement the steps and tools required for alignment.
  • Lack of Tools - whether caused by lack of budget, strategy or patience, the tools needed to align marketing and sales are never implemented.
  • Lack of Patience - the project is not engaged or seen through to completion due to a lack of patience by employees or leadership.

I've designed this article to help you address the strategy, patience and even tools issues, but it can't help you solve any of the deeper, budget or culture-based issues.

Also, you'll need to make sure a couple fundamental prerequisites are met before you get started with these alignment steps.

Prerequisites for Aligning Sales & Marketing

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Before you go through the basic alignment process I've outlined below, you'll need to meet the following 2 prerequisites:

Obtain Company-Wide Buy-In

You'll need to make sure that everyone involved in the alignment process agrees that it's a stellar idea and is willing to commit time and effort toward bringing it into fruition. Aside from sales and marketing leaders, this can include the leaders of finance, operations, IT and others, depending on the size of your company.

NOTE: This prerequisite is non-negotiable.

The absence of buy-in within any given project of this size has proven to be a stone-cold killer of success, budgets and even careers. Make sure it's there.

Be Ready to Invest Time & Money

The process of aligning the two growth teams requires financial and technical investment.

Unless you're a one-man show, alignment isn't going to happen utilizing spreadsheets, email folders or calendar notifications. Most well-aligned teams utilize a robust technology stack.

This "stack" often includes a customer relationship management platform (CRM), some form of marketing automation software, analytics tools (typically Google Analytics) and an easily utilized content management system (CMS).

Bare minimum, there needs to be an investment (or willingness to invest) in CRM software and marketing software.

NOTE: This prerequisite can vary in the time, money or tools needed. Be sure to select and factor in these tools during budget development for your alignment project.

If you're missing a couple tools but think you can scrape together the budget for them after company-wide buy-in, you're still good to go.

All set with the prerequisites?

Sweet, let's get on to the basic steps required for aligning your sales and marketing.

3 Steps for Successfully Aligning Sales & Marketing

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Step 1: Create a Unified Taxonomy

"Unified Taxonomy" is a short way of saying that your sales and marketing teams should be speaking the same language.

Sales teams commonly get frustrated at the lack of "qualified" leads delivered by marketing and marketing teams commonly get frustrated with not knowing how to properly define or deliver “qualified” leads to sales.

The root of both issues: ambiguity.

Standard definitions for contact stages and qualifications must be developed and agreed upon by both sales and marketing teams. These definitions must include more than just what the stages or qualifications are, they need to include the steps each department will take once a contact meets that definition (also known as a Service Level Agreement, or SLA).

Some Standard Lifecycle Stage Examples:

  • Subscriber
  • Lead
  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
  • Opportunity
  • Customer
  • Evangelist

Avoid Confusing Stage & Status Fields!

When standardizing definitions across departments, try to avoid confusing Lifecycle Stages with any other status-based fields - such as Lead Status, Deal Stages, etc.

To avoid this mistake, be sure to first separate how your sales team handles deals vs. opportunities vs. contacts vs. companies (especially if you're a B2B company). Then ensure marketing is in line with these terms and processes.

Additionally, both sales and marketing teams should agree upon a universal, cross-department buyer's journey.

Once this is done

Step 2: Integrate CRM & Marketing Software

Once your sales and marketing teams are speaking the same language, it's time to integrate the primary, day-to-day tools they use.

For sales teams, this is the customer relationship management (CRM) platform (i.e. Salesforce, Netsuite, Microsoft Dynamics, HubSpot CRM, etc.).

For marketing teams, this is often the marketing automation platform (i.e. HubSpot, Marketo, InfusionSoft, etc.) and/or the content manage system (CMS) platform (i.e. WordPress, Joomla, HubSpot COS, etc.).

Prior to integration:

Make sure the definitions and processes the sales and marketing teams have agreed upon are present in both the CRM and the marketing platform.

Knock out the basics first:

While the process of CRM integration can vary in complexity depending on the platforms used, one best practice always remains constant:

The objects, fields, field types and available options with those fields should be the same in both systems. In other words, just like sales and marketing are speaking the same language, so too should the platforms they use!

This will ensure smooth syncing of data, once integrated, resulting in lots of useful data for strategy development and more successful customer engagement.

Step 3: Base Performance & Compensation on CRM & Marketing Data

Sales professionals, marketers and employers all appreciate transparency because it strengthens trust and simplifies accountability. When opportunities, deals and activities are clearly visible to both leadership and employees, so too are commissions, pipelines and performance management.

Most importantly, basing performance and compensation on CRM data dramatically improves employees' software utilization rate. Basically, in order to get paid or evaluated fairly, data must be updated consistently and accurately for leadership to assess.

While this might sound simple enough, there are a couple long-standing, deep-rooted sales management misconceptions that will stifle your efforts for alignment and transparency.

  • Misconception #1: "Mine, Mine, Mine" - Many sales professionals still strive to keep their contacts and deals too close to the vest, maintaining contact data in their own isolated spreadsheets or other form of self-managed, decentralized database. The reasoning behind this decentralized approach is that sales professionals do not want other sales team members (or their employers) to “steal” their contact data. Also, or perhaps alternatively, they feel their value as a sales person is inextricably tied to their Rolodex.

    The Reality - Today, most CRM platforms offer more advanced and granular permissions, allowing sales professionals and sales managers to shield contact lists and opportunities from other “shifty-eyed” sales reps while still maintaining one core database of contact, company & deal data. Additionally, with the rapid growth and accessibility of marketing and sales technology, more and more companies are relying on data to drive more predictable growth and opportunities – which means fewer and fewer companies are finding value in sales professionals that refuse to contribute to this centralized data. Trust and transparency is a two-way street. Misconceptions don’t just exist among sales professionals, many employers are guilty of stifling transparency and alignment, too.
  • Misconception #2: "Data & Tools Can Come Later" - It’s equally as common that employers have yet to prioritize their own sales reporting or alignment capabilities because they are "too busy," concerned with budget or possibly assume that their teams are already aligned (when they're not).

    The Reality -
    Whatever reason companies have for postponing marketing and sales alignment, the result is ill-equipped sales teams and lack of growth-driving data.

If you think these misconceptions exist within your company, set up some open (and ideally positive) meetings to so all of the appropriate parties can voice their concerns and explore possible solutions.

Stay Focused, Stay Simple, Stay Aligned

Stay focused on the 3 core steps listed above and try to avoid getting caught up in the process or software weeds too soon.

Do this and you'll be well on your way to better strategic data, more streamlined processes and even happier employees!


Want more detail on aligning marketing & sales teams?

Download the Sales & Marketing Unification Guide

Originally published March 26, 2018. Updated March 26, 2018.