You know what they say about marketing plans: The only thing you know for sure is that it won’t happen exactly as, well, planned. No matter how carefully you have lined up your campaigns and your budget, there is always that element of unpredictability.
But there is one element that will—predictably—make or break the marketing department in 2018 for most companies: how well you are aligned with the sales organization.
Sales and Marketing Alignment: We Are Not Independent Entities
I have spent most of my 20+ years in marketing working with B2B organizations. I’ve seen many that were exceptionally high performing when evaluated on target revenue attainment. I’ve been part of companies that kill it with lead-based demand generation machines that churn out an incredible volume of high quality leads for sales. I’ve seen organizations that would hit their numbers every year by focusing on a small group of high value prospects. I’ve even seen companies that could grow consistently just through expansion within their customer base.
But not one of them could be successful when marketing and sales worked independently.
It never ceases to amaze me how many marketing and sales leaders don’t talk to each other. How does this happen? A lot of it has to do with company culture. Sometimes it’s related to how both teams are measured and compensated. Sometimes it’s just personalities.
Whatever the cause of the rift, as a marketing professional, you owe it to your company (and your career) to create the dialog that will optimize your chances for success. It’s your job. Nobody else will likely do it.
Communication Enablement: It’s Up to You to Break the Ice
If your sales and marketing teams have been operating separately for any length of time, there might not be a natural opening for bringing the two together. Here are four actions you can take now if you don’t feel as “in sync” with sales as you would like.
Talk to sales—Well duh, right? But it is truly surprising how many marketing leaders don’t have a standing meeting with the sales team. Set up a standing call with sales leadership at least monthly, preferably weekly.
Better yet, get 10 minutes on the sales team’s existing weekly call to talk about new content, messaging, things you’ve learned that can help sales, and so forth. You can also use these interactions to learn how your team actually sells, hear updates on the status of their pipeline, and listen to what they think they need.
It’s also a great idea to summarize what you heard in writing to deliver in your weekly meeting with your marketing team. That will help them understand what’s going on in sales and what your shared priorities are.
Be proactive—Note that above I said, “listen to what they THINK they need”. Often, what sales people think they need is not what they actually need. Or more likely, they have no idea what they need.
Be willing to push back a little when something doesn’t make sense. And when sales people don’t know what they need to be more effective, do the research and give them what you think they need. At least it will start the conversation. It’s all part of building your credibility.
Celebrate success and create urgency around challenges—Did you listen to what sales said and provide the sales document exactly as they needed it? Did you switch up the targeting of your campaigns to provide higher quality leads? Don’t be afraid to do a little self-promotion to the sales team, sales leadership, and executive team to make sure they know. It’s how you will get more budget and headcount in the future—and will help you build trust with sales.
When sales people see that you are having an impact, they will start coming to you for more, which is exactly what you want. And don’t forget to celebrate a little within your team. Everyone from the product marketing team to the events intern will enjoy hearing how your team made a difference and is being recognized.
Failure, of course, is not what you’re looking for, but it does present an opportunity. When things don’t go as planned, use the news to light a fire under your team to make the adjustments needed to succeed. Communicate these adjustment efforts to sales, too. It will further demonstrate your commitment to them and build trust.
Be relentless—Don’t let anyone stop you. It’s not uncommon for sales to resist marketing participation in their meetings but insist on it. Go above their head if necessary to get a seat at the table.
Go into those meetings armed with questions, ideas, and metrics that make it impossible for them NOT to want your help. Ask them what content they need to be successful. When they say, “I dunno,” you say, “Okay, for persona ‘X’ in buyer stage ‘A,’ what would help you move them to stage ‘B’?” Then have some suggestions ready. Come back the next day with a plan to fulfill that need. It’s all about early wins to start.
Dive into these suggestions and give them a try. If you work on these four activities to start the communication flowing, it won’t be long before the sales team is coming to you with their needs and ideas. Soon, you’ll see both your company and personal stock going up.
You may even find yourself becoming the “go to” person for sales for matters that have little or nothing to do with marketing. That’s GREAT! You’ve branded yourself as the person and team that gets things done. Such actions won’t go unnoticed when bonuses and promotions are handed out.