• Sales and marketing alignment increases the power of marketing’s contributions to sales cycles, resulting in substantial improvements in key revenue and growth metrics including top-line growth, higher lead-closing ratios, shorter sales cycles, and many other measures of health and competitive advantage.
  • Obstacles to sales and marketing alignment include disjointed communications, misaligned goals and siloed departments.
  • Channel marketing and sales alignment strategies should include objectives that facilitate greater sales- and marketing-team collaboration by communicating frequently, building trust, establishing shared vocabularies, aligning goals and measuring outcomes.
  • Interviews with channel leaders unearthed 10 concrete steps you can take to achieve channel marketing and sales alignment.

Irfan FazlullaWhat’s not to love about aligning marketing and sales? Successful alignment positively impacts your top-line and bottom-line metrics by attracting more and better leads, boosting conversions, shortening sales cycles and improving customer experience. In short, you can gain more customers faster and then hold on to them longer—textbook markers for competitive advantage.

Sales and marketing alignment impacts your partner initiatives as well—and not just when recruiting channel partners. It continues to deliver advantages throughout the partner lifecycle—from channel partner onboarding to ongoing efforts to earn partner mindshare and keep them engaged.

In other words, like all things channel, marketing and sales alignment requires more effort but delivers greater rewards.

 

How Sales and Channel Marketing Collaboration Can Benefit Your Business

Sales and marketing alignment, or “smarketing,” refers to the integration of sales and marketing processes. Or, more simply put, sales and marketing collaboration.

sales and marketing alignment

Return-on-investment (ROI) from aligning these teams varies by business model, study, industry, etc., but are consistently substantial. The most commonly-cited statistics stem from a 2013 Marketo study that found:

  • A 67% higher probability that marketing-generated leads will close.
  • 108% better lead acceptance.
  • A 209% stronger contribution to revenue from marketing-generated leads.

However, many sales and marketing professionals had zeroed in on the power of marketing and sales alignment long before then. In fact, in 2010, Aberdeen Strategy & Research (then known as “Aberdeen Group”) found that:

  • Companies achieving best-practices in sales and marketing alignment have achieved an average 20 percent increase in revenue growth compared to laggards.
  • Those same companies (achieving best practices) had much stronger marketing departments in terms of revenue generation— with 47 percent of their sales forecasted pipelines generated by marketing. Laggards fell well behind this benchmark at just 5 percent.

Remember, this was more than a decade ago. The very fact that major research organizations could benchmark for best practices speaks to just how long some firms have been pursuing sales and marketing alignment, even though it’s only bubbled up to our collective consciousness in recent years.

We could fill this page with statistics old and new, touting many more ROI benefits, but you get the point. They’re significant no matter how you slice them. In short, sales cycles are compressed and sales teams log more wins.

At this point, the question isn’t whether sales and marketing alignment is beneficial, but how to do it well.

Working Hand in Hand: Understanding the Importance of Sales in Marketing

Aaron AcreeFor all its known benefits, successful marketing and sales alignment has proven surprisingly elusive—even to seasoned business managers. Just as the undertaking of alignment itself is complex, so are the reasons companies struggle to achieve sustainable, scalable alignment that’s baked into their business processes. Those challenges include:

  • Disjointed communications: Historically, marketing departments focused primarily on brand building while sales teams on revenue generation. Over time, as the digital age emerged and marketers began to focus on lead and demand generation, the line between sales and marketing didn’t vanish so much as it moved. Marketing did its part and then handed off leads to sales teams for “the close.” That blunt handoff—which still exists inside many firms today—creates fractured communications and an inconsistent customer experience at precisely the wrong time—when customers have expressed interest in your products and services. The result? Marketers think sales teams are dropping the ball on hard-won prospects and sales teams think marketers are giving them worthless leads.
  • Misaligned goals: When sales and marketing teams are pursuing different business outcomes, your entire revenue operation disagrees on what your overall business outcomes should be.
  • Siloed departments: When departments have different communications objectives and business goals, the arc of interaction between those departments does not bend toward alignment. Instead, it bends toward retrenchment, mistrust and higher walls between them.

Overcoming these obstacles is essential because buyers are increasingly making purchasing decisions or completing most of their purchasing journey before speaking with a salesperson. The same goes for partners—particularly those in the digitally-savvy tech space who are putting themselves in the shoes of their customers when they’re interacting with your company.

All in, marketing needs to understand what sales departments are hearing on the ground with customers, and sales teams need to understand which marketing messages and assets have driven those customers to them. Bridging this gap and establishing a consistent experience for those customers throughout their journey is the sweet spot for maximizing revenue.

What to Consider When Creating a Channel Marketing and Sales Alignment Strategy

MeiLee Langley

Aligning sales and marketing requires a sustained effort to address several essential needs. Those include:

  • Opening lines of communication to establish shared purpose and visibility throughout the customer journey:
    • What marketing challenges can sales address?
    • What sales objectives can marketing help with?
    • What can marketing learn from sales conversations with partners and customers?
    • What can sales learn from partner and customer interactions with marketing assets?
    • Where are the weak spots in the partner journey, and how can both teams shore them up?
  • Building trust between teams to keep everyone oriented toward customer acquisition and retention.
  • Eliminating mismatched language between departments.
    • What’s a good lead versus a bad lead?
    • How do we score our leads?
    • How does a marketing qualified lead (MQL) compare to a sales qualified lead (SQL)?
    • What counts as a conversion?
  • Aligning goals for shared business objectives and customer-centric key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Measuring success tangibly with tools like ZiftONE, which provides strong channel pipeline visibility.

10 Steps to Achieve Channel Marketing and Sales Alignment from Channel Leaders

We spoke with a dozen channel pros to help you establish the three essential pillars of sales and marketing alignment—communications, collaboration and common goals. They provided solid advice that we winnowed into a 10-step plan you can put to work right away.

  1. Open Lines of Communication Between Sales and Marketing Teams
  2. Get Sales Input into Marketing Activities
  3. Establish an Ongoing Knowledge Exchange Between Sales and Marketing
  4. Map Out Common Sales and Marketing Objectives
  5. Establish Shared Goals for Sales and Marketing Teams
  6. Check Your Work
  7. Get Your Sales and Marketing Tech Stack in Place
  8. Build and Test Your Sales and Marketing Campaigns
  9. Measure, Adjust, Measure Again
  10. Nurture Partnership Between Sales and Marketing Teams

Step 1: Open Lines of Communication Between Sales and Marketing Teams

Theresa CaragolIt’s essential to establish meaningful communication between your sales and marketing departments. Make sure sales understands marketing’s challenges and vice versa. Tackle issues like language, terminology and objectives. You’ll move on to more detail, but the first step is getting sales and marketing to see each other in a new light to establish empathy and a desire for collaboration.

“The first thing to do is to get conversations happening,” says Theresa Caragol, Founder and CEO of partner performance company AchieveUnite. “Get peer groups and connections going between sales and marketing. It has to happen at the executive… level, as well as among the actual team. Use the opportunity of getting teams together to identify where there isn’t common vernacular.”

“First and foremost, you have to decide upon a common baseline,” says Aaron Acree, National Director of Master Agents at cloud communications company Nextiva. “You can’t go anywhere unless you know where you’re coming from. From there, find out what the problems are and how you can solve for them. It’s all about communication here, especially as technology is always changing.”

This process also helps the teams build compassion for each other. “Put them in a room [and] ask each to explain a day in the life,” says Steve Farmiloe, Senior Channel Sales Manager for AppSmart, a marketplace and master agency for technology services. “Then ask each department what they think the other department can do to make them successful.

“Show sales that marketing is doing part of the pipeline and revenue work,” adds Carlo di Colloredo-Mels, Senior Director of Global Partner Marketing at end-to-end enterprise automation platform provider UiPath. “That keeps your end goal in mind from day one.”

Steve FarmiloeStep 2: Get Sales Input into Marketing Activities

As business has moved online, sales pros have ceded ever-increasing ground to marketing departments, who not only manage traditional areas like brand initiatives  but also demand generation, marketing funnels and parts of sales funnels. In other words, marketeers, you’ve had quite the decade.

Still, there’s one massive chink in your armor—the lack of direct, face-to-face interaction with partners and customers. Without that interaction, you can’t optimize experiential journeys or even develop the best lead qualification and scoring systems, for that matter. But you know who does have that knowledge? Salespeople. And you can learn a lot from them (if you ask and listen).

Irfan Fazlulla, Senior Director, Marketing Partnerships and Strategy for global business cloud communications provider Vonage, says getting this feedback is paramount when pursuing sales and marketing alignment. In the first 30 days, marketers should be “interviewing everyone on the sales team,” he advises. “Find out what they do, what they’re working on, what isn’t working for them, everything. When you talk to all those people, you’re going to get a good 360-degree view of what has been going on.”

“I always start with learning,” says MeiLee Langley, formerly of cloud communications company Nextiva. “Sit down and talk to the sales leaders and get feedback from them. Figure out the pulse of the business—where the gaps are, where opportunities are, then show them how those things can be addressed.”

Rachel Turkus

Rachel Turkus, Director of Digital Marketing & Demand Generation for communications solutions provider NetFortris, points out that, besides downloading sales team feedback from their interactions with partners and customers, marketers can learn about the gaps between sales and marketing. “For the first 30 days, I think it is important to do one thing—listen to the sales team,” she says. “Find out what they expect from marketing, what their experience internally has been to date and what their expectations are moving forward.”

Kathy Mazza, Regional Vice President of Channel Sales – Strategic Masters for software-as-a-service (SaaS) communications solutions provider 8×8, suggests bringing in additional field-level players into the discussion. “In my experience, making sure that teams are in sync has shown clear alignment,” she says. “Also, bringing in masters, a subagent, and field marketing managers all in one place provides a clear line of sight at the leadership level as to what we’re doing.”

Step 3: Establish an Ongoing Knowledge Exchange Between Sales and Marketing

Kathy Mazza

“There’s no substitute for cross-departmental communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing across sales, channel, marketing, product marketing, customer experience and customer success functions,” says Dina Moskowitz, Founder and CEO of partner discovery platform SaaSMAX. “Don’t cut corners—instill that in your corporate culture.”

Step 4: Map Out Common Sales and Marketing Objectives

Sometimes sales and marketing departments have operated in such deep silos that you’ll need to establish a common “North Star.” Other times, you’ll have found that star but haven’t mapped out how to get there. In both cases, this is where real collaboration between the teams starts.

“Map the customer journey from customer/partner identification and acquisition all the way through success, retention and renewal,” advises SaaSMAX’s Moskowitz. “Gain full alignment.”

“Sales and Marketing alignment is the cornerstone for driving accelerated growth. But the alignment needs to start from a position of mutually accepted definition and understanding of the customer and, as an extension, the partner,” says Vonage’s Fazlulla. “Laboring on building that initial foundation by essentially ‘becoming’ a part of the sales teams – interviewing your sales peers and partners, tagging along in demos and sales meetings; and listening in on our SDRs and BDRs, among other things, is what will not just define your business growth but how fast you will grow. ”

Jennifer Schulze

At this stage, you also can start to look at goals and processes with an analytical eye. “Look at what regions you’re trying to focus on,” says Jennifer Schulze, Vice President of Channel and Field Marketing at information management solutions provider OpenText. “What products are you trying to push? What partners do you want to work with? Start with the number you want, then slice and dice that number according to where you’re going to get it.”

It’s also important to establish responsibilities as you map out your objectives. “We need to know where one team starts and stops and where the other team starts and stops,” says AchieveUnite’s Caragol. “People must know what they’re responsible for.”

Dina Moskowitz

Step 5: Establish Shared Goals for Sales and Marketing Teams

“Set common goals that marketing and sales have to achieve together,” advises AchieveUnite’s Caragol.

For his part, Paul Mora, Head of Global Enterprise and Channel Marketing at mission-critical communications and analytics provider Motorola Solutions, prefers a reverse-engineering approach to goal setting. “Start with the end result in mind,” he suggests. “What does success look like? Lay out a vision for the year, and then peel back on how to achieve that vision through the different quarters.”

Step 6: Check Your Work

Your fourth-grade teacher taught you more than you realized during those painful afternoons of long division homework— how to withstand the torture of monotonous repetition, the mercy of rounding to short decimal places and an everlasting love for calculators. This was also when you learned the importance of checking your work. And that’s exactly what you should do once you have your communications lines open, goals outlined and KPIs in place. After all, you’re bridging the chasm between two cultures, perhaps for the first time.

Paul Mora“Confirm that everyone involved understands the who, what, when, where, why and how of each campaign,” advises Oanh McClure, Director of Alliances and Channels for cloud security provider Zscaler. “It seems granular or tedious at times but getting back to basics is the most important factor of executing a successful campaign.”

Her advice is to make sure that all stakeholders are aligned on:

  • Who the audience is
  • What the messaging is (is it the right message for the audience?)
  • When that message is most relevant and why we are talking about it now
  • Where the messaging resonates
  • Why partners and customers should care
  • How to provide value based on why they should care

Oanh McClure

 

Step 7: Get Your Sales and Marketing Tech Stack in Place

With your starting objectives and KPIs in mind, it’s time to audit your tech stack for any gaps. For example, will your current tools accomplish everything you need? How about measurement and analytics? Figure out what you’re missing and fill those holes so you can get your campaigns moving.

“The channel often is a big donut hole when it comes to marketing and sales analytics,” says Heather Tenuto, Chief Revenue Officer at Zift Solutions. “Relying on second hand reports from overly optimistic channel managers isn’t the best way to get the data you need for accurate forecasting. Instead, invest in a platform that measures the performance of your channel as you intend – as a vital extension of your team.”

Step 8: Build and Test Your Sales and Marketing Campaigns

At long last (OK, not really, you’ll probably get here in 90 days or less), it’s time to build and assess your first campaigns. Test them internally with stakeholders first, then run A and B testing on the campaign ideas your internal teams believed were the strongest contenders. (You can test other ideas going forward, but in the interest of getting campaigns deployed and revenue moving, pick some “best candidates.”).

Heather Tenuto

Deploy those best candidates and watch your metrics closely while they scale so you can make adjustments if you need to. Be sure to keep lines of communication open, with regular meetings and feedback. Your marketing team can inform sales reps of assets and messaging campaigns that resonate strongly at the top and middle of the funnel. Your sales teams can pass vital information upstream from their interaction with prospective partners and customers.

Step 9: Measure, Adjust, Measure Again

Carlo di Colloredo-Mels

As your campaigns build and you leverage results data to drive continuous improvement, it’s essential to focus first on metrics that have the greatest impact.

“When we look at the reporting, what item do you want immediate improvement on?” asks NetFortris’ Turkus.

The answer to that question—and those like it—will impact not just your campaigns but the ongoing interaction between sales and marketing. This is why shared goals are vital to your efforts—adjustments you make in your program should align with each department’s objectives without compromising the other department. Everyone should be able to realize the same hits and misses from the same data sheet. When that’s in place, your entire team will focus on the best possible outcome for your organization.

Step 10: Nurture Partnership Between Sales and Marketing Teams

Creating a culture of partnership between sales and marketing teams is critical to long-term success. “Everything falls under relationship and mentality,” says UiPath’s di Colloredo-Mels. “Marketing is a partner [to sales], not a resource or provider of support. If you can think this way, you’re starting in the right place.”