The complete guide to sales and marketing alignment

Kit Smith

Posted on: October 20, 2020

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Category: B2B marketing

The complete guide to sales and marketing alignment

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Sales and marketing alignment (also known as smarketing) is an area ripe for improvement in many companies. Despite their close relationship in driving new business, it’s surprisingly common that they dance to slightly different beats.

Unaligned teams are like picking a trolley at the supermarket, only to discover in aisle four that its wonky wheels are steering you into old ladies. Sure, you can keep it on track with effort, but it would be a lot easier with wheels that all head in the same direction.

Returning to the entrance to pick up a new trolley isn’t so hard. The effort of changing habits to enable alignment? That’s obviously tougher.

In this guide, we’ll cover exactly what sales and marketing alignment is, why your business needs it, its increasing importance, and how aligned most companies currently are. 

Finally, we’ll give you nine practical steps to improving alignment between sales and marketing teams.

What is sales and marketing alignment?

Sales and marketing alignment describes the goal of the two teams working with better collaboration, more transparency, better communication, and greater efficiency.

The end goal is to convert leads and achieve sales at an enhanced rate and profitability.

Historically, these two closely-related departments have developed independently of each other, using different systems, sitting separately in offices, and reporting with separate metrics.

It is the aim of sales and marketing alignment to break down these barriers and allow sales and marketing to work collaboratively.

When marketing and sales teams drive towards the same goals, return on investment (ROI) dramatically improves, as does sales productivity, and ultimately, revenue.

The importance of sales and marketing alignment

While advanced companies had been looking for greater alignment for some time, the increased need for alignment is driven by the dawning of a new reality: the age of the customer. 

This has fundamentally changed how businesses communicate with their customers, even in the B2B world.

B2B leads are now increasingly only engaging with sales teams later in the sales funnel. They are happy to conduct their own research through the interest phase and on into the consideration phase.

New sales and marketing funnel

Increasingly, buyers are looking for information and in the age of the customer with social media and user reviews, they can find that with or without a brand’s input.

If brands wanted to continue the conversations with their prospects, they needed to hold off on the sales pitch and use marketing to continue to fill that quest for information. 

This means that, more than ever, sales and marketing teams needed to be working together to nurture leads and ensure timely handovers from one team to another.

Sales and marketing alignment statistics

Although the above explains the historical need behind the drive for alignment, the below statistics show the current scale of the problem, and the potential size of the prize if done well.

Part one: the challenge

  • 90% of sales and marketing professionals say they are misaligned across strategy, process, content and culture.
  • 60% agree that this misalignment between sales and marketing damages financial performance.
  • 23% of salespeople cited better quality leads as their top requirement from the marketing team. 15% ranked more leads as their top priority from the marketing team.
  • Only 7% of salespeople said the leads they received from marketing were very high quality.
  • 59% of marketers claim to know what content sales teams want them to create, but only 35% of salespeople agree.
  • 68% of marketers believe sales teams don’t use the content they do produce to its maximum potential.
  • One-third of sales and marketing teams don’t hold regular meetings.

Part two: the prize

B2B Organisations where sales and marketing teams are well aligned:

Sales and marketing: how aligned are we now?

With the above facts laid out, you might think companies are rushing to get this done, but the fact is that report after report suggests there is still a long way to go.

HubSpot has revealed that while the C-suite may view their teams as aligned, it’s a different story when talking to the teams at ground level.

Graph showing sales and marketing alignment by seniority

Many reports (for example Bridge, HubSpot, Green Hat and Aberdeen) have discovered that where sales and marketing alignment is concerned we are a lot less further forward than we like to think.

Here’s how one analyst sums up the current state of play:

“There’s a genuine absence of a relationship between the two functions. And this is holding back critical business growth. Aligning sales and marketing strategically and tactically around joint purpose and success is the only way to drive growth and realise a return from investments in both people and programmes.”

Alignment case studies

Of course, there are companies that have successfully aligned their departments, and reading these case studies can be a good way of thinking about improvements we can make.

  • O2 recently restructured its sales and marketing processes and went on to smash its targets by 325%.
  • BabelQuest found alignment significantly increased inbound inquiries from prospects who offered a perfect fit for their services. They went from three out of four poor quality inbound leads to two out of three inbound inquiries becoming SQLs or being placed into a nurture sequence.

Nine sales and marketing alignment tips

So how can you start to create a smarketing department, bridge the gap and align your sales and marketing teams?

There are some highly practical steps to begin the process, and they don’t have to involve any large-scale organisational change. In fact, none of our nine tips do.

1. Jump on calls together 

A simple way for marketing to begin better communication is to sit in on sales calls. Better still, you could take this one step further by inviting marketing team members to attend sales pitches.

Both are a great way to hear first-hand key barriers and concerns of potential customers, or even test out new messaging before it goes live.

zoom call with a coffee mug in foreground

2. Create official links

How about nominating one person from sales and one from marketing to act as the bridge between the teams?

Their role would be to ‘sit between’ the teams, chase up on requests, initiate reviews and facilitate coordination and cooperation.

3. Meet up regularly

Whether it’s monthly or weekly, it is critical that there is a regular slot in everyone’s diary when the two teams can meet.

At these meetings:

  • Sales can report honestly on challenges or successes, conversations they are having around competitors, and so on.
  • Marketing can feedback on campaigns and strategies that are live or in the pipeline.

4. Brainstorm together

Make sure these meetings don’t become stale reporting exercises. Allow space to creatively solve challenges together and brainstorm topics. 

Here are some ideas for starters:

  • Use intel gained by the sales teams about what’s exciting and frustrating prospects. This is live market research and is incredibly valuable to marketers.
  • You can look into funnel metrics such as lead generation, MQLs, and lead-to-customer conversion rate? Identify where the blockages are and pinpoint what may be causing them.
  • Review and classify your accounts and customers with a view to setting responsibility within both sales and marketing for working these accounts. This is the basis for ‘account-based marketing’ (ABM), helping to ensure marketing collateral is targeted to customers and used by sales.

5. Socialise together

Whether it’s an event, conference or just a swift drink after work, the more time teams spend together in a casual setting the better the bonds are in the office. 

A major part of aligning is simply allowing for easy conversations and information sharing across the teams. Our sales and marketing teams recently went go-karting as a bonding trip, and one particularly talented content specialist surprised everyone by finishing third.

6. Stay close

You don’t necessarily need to shake things up drastically and create a unified department under one ‘head’. Simply shifting a few office chairs so that sales and marketing sit together can help to foster unity.

When we did this recently, one thing that’s instantly noticeable is the amount of useful conversations that arise when one team has overheard the other talking about an idea or issue.

7. Create a group chat

Another way to ensure information is shared among the two teams is to simply create a channel or chat on whatever messaging system you use.

This should be used to share important information, but can also be used more generally to chat, share ideas, and follow up on project progress.

Screenshot of a Sales & Makreting Microsoft Teams channel

8. Make sure you get buy-in 

“60% of content created in the marketing department was never used.

And 90% of the content we were creating was product-specific, despite the fact that most of our audience were in an early-stage part of the buyer stage and asking non-product specific questions.”

Michael Brenner, Head of Strategy at Newscred, speaking about his experience at SAP.

I’d like to guess that many organisations can relate to this – in fact, research by Sirius Decisions found that 60-70% of all B2B marketing content goes unused by sales.

The first issue to solve is to ensure that the content we create is timely and driven by prospect need. The second is to ensure the sales team are aware of and buy-in to the content created.

To do this you dedicate a section in your regular meeting, use a shared content calendar, post it in your Slack channel, or organise a way for sales to request content that aligns with their needs.

9. Create content for all of the funnel

Lead generation is a great place to start. But the average buyer is nearly two-thirds of their way through the buying cycle before speaking to a salesperson, so content needs to go beyond this.

Marketing needs to create content that targets prospects at all stages of the funnel, so relevant content can help move them further down the funnel until they are ready for sales.

It’s vital that content creation is distributed throughout the funnel – and this includes after the handover to sales, and even beyond closing the deal – marketing should continue once they are customers.

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