Sales and Marketing Alignment; It’s Broken and our Current Path Won’t Fix It
Marketing and sales alignment has been a catch phrase for over a decade now. An entire industry, marketing automation, was built around the capability of using marketing to qualify leads and hand them off to sales. Legions of colored funnel diagrams were created to show the point at which a qualified lead was handed off to sales, well on its way to revenue.
Marketing and sales combined their metrics to show a relentless, uni-directional, march of revenue from web activity, all the way through to revenue. And thus, marketing and sales were declared to be “aligned”.
But something has always felt not quite right about this whole situation. Buyers don’t march unidirectionally from awareness to revenue. Accounts don’t cleanly transition from the stage of “looking at digital content” to “building a trusting relationship” the way the colored funnel stages seem to indicate. And worst of all, buyers are rarely ready to buy when marketing indicates that they are a qualified lead.
This single point of handoff from marketing to sales breaks down in a very common way. Leads are carefully nurtured by marketing, and then handed over to sales. Perhaps an initial conversation happens, but all too often, the buyer is interested, but not ready to buy yet for various reasons. Now we are stuck.
Marketing has handed off the lead, so they are no longer working to move that account forward. Sales has a “maybe-but-not-right-now” buyer, and no obvious way to move forward. Calling every few weeks to “check in and see if you’re ready to buy” is ineffective, annoying to the buyer, and feels desperate. Recycling the lead back to marketing as “cold” is a premature declaration of failure, and stops any relationship building efforts. The idea that these two organizations are “aligned” is clearly an exaggeration.
How Do Marketing and Sales Move Beyond a Single-Handoff-Point?
The first hint of what a new alignment can look like comes from observing the best sales people. They diligently work to become trusted advisors, rather than always looking to close the deal as quickly as they can. To do this, they seek opportunities to help. The right connection to an expert, the right resource, or a well timed invite all begin to build trust.
This, however, is not as easy as it seems. It’s not just a matter of being willing to share a resource or a connection, it’s seeing the triggers that indicate that a person might be in need of the assistance you’re able to provide.
When we think of these triggers, we often think of public or external events; job changes, announcements, or industry events. These are valid and valuable triggers, but there is a world of internal events that are equally valuable, indicate dissatisfaction with the status quo, provide you with an opportunity to help, and are uniquely available to your team. Those are the actions that a buyer takes in exploring your offerings, both prior to being deemed a “qualified lead”, and, more importantly, after the marketing to sales hand off for any of the not-ready-to-buy group.
I spoke with Craig Elias, CEO of ShiftSelling, a sales consultancy on the forefront of using triggers to establish and win large deals. He had this to say about the critical importance of this opportunity:
“When there is a window of dissatisfaction with the status quo, it is your single best opportunity to establish a relationship and win the business. There is nothing more important to success than seeking out ways to identify the triggers that cause this window to open, and having your sales team capitalize on them. A marketing and sales team that align in this purpose will beat any competitors hands down.”
Examples – Windows of Opportunity to Establish Authentic Buyer Relationships
- A buyer reading a detailed industry trends whitepaper might be educating themselves or their colleagues on the industry, and might appreciate you sharing a unique data set that shows deeper insights.
- A buyer looking at an ROI model might be making a business case for change, and could appreciate an offer to connect with a peer exec at a similar company.
- A buyer watching a webinar presented by an industry thought leader might appreciate an invite to an upcoming dinner with industry leaders and luminaries.
Each buyer action is a unique trigger that can be turned into an opportunity to build a deeper relationship, but only if marketing and sales move beyond the single-handoff-point approach to alignment that has characterized the last decade.
With marketing working to capture indicators of the “triggers” that allow sales to initiate relevant and meaningful conversation, sales can build deep and trusting relationships. This, more than a well-timed handoff, is the foundation for successful Account Based Sales, and the future of marketing and sales alignment.