The Linchpins of Sales/Marketing Alignment

Finding alignment between the sales and marketing team requires more than friendly words and regular conversations. Look to key points in the organization where the rubber meets the road for effective collaboration. 

By Zen Newman, Marketing Analyst at PipelineDeals

 Sales and marketing alignment 

The business buzzword of 2016 is “sales/marketing alignment”. Despite the obvious benefits of getting these two growth teams talking, attaining alignment remains elusive for many organizations. In recognition of the challenges of this area of business organization, volumes have been written on the subject. And yet, no clear roadmap to achieving this happy union has been laid out.

Instead, writers on the topic focus on leaders from the two teams having conversations and setting clear expectations. No doubt, open dialogue is essential to the process. Nevertheless, there are basic institutions which need to serve as the linchpin between these two groups.

Understanding where these groups sit within your organizational framework is essential to creating a partnership that extends beyond good feelings.

Two of the most common departments sitting between sales and marketing are sales development and sales enablement. These two teams focus respectively on smoothing the flow of leads and assets from marketing to sales.

Sales development

For those in industries where sales development reps (SDR) aren’t commonplace, the SDR is a rep who is responsible for pounding the phone and sending prospecting emails to cold prospects. The goal of this position is to take leads generated by the marketing team and develop them to the point where they are ready to enter the active sales pipeline.

SDRs have become commonplace in industries like software because of the added efficiency they provide to the sales process. By taking on the burden of appointment setting, they enable a company’s best representatives to focus on what they’re best at, namely closing big deals.

Most sales development reps fall under the sales umbrella, but as many as 24 percent of SDRs report to the marketing team instead. This bizarre mix illustrates the degree to which this role is responsible for proctoring the transition of leads from one team to the next. Whether this team sits under one department or the other, it’s an area where there are clear benefits from having active input from both teams.

The benefits of having both groups giving input into how sales development is handled in a company offer broad benefits to the cultivation of new inbound and outbound opportunities. It also can, however, come with some pitfalls. Sales development, more than any other department; more even than sales, demands absolute focus on the task at hand.

Using a matrix approach instead of having a clear hierarchy creates the opportunity for the focus of the sales development team to get diluted. Avoiding this, and still keeping the benefits of close collaboration at this critical juncture in the sales process requires having a clear agreement of sales developments goals and objectives. Moreover, this approach is probably best suited to SDR teams with a dedicated manager or supervisor who can balance the needs of both marketing and sales while keeping reps on the phone and setting appointments.

Sales enablement

Unlike sales development, sales enablement functions in a support capacity to the sales team instead of being customer facing. Similar to sales development, however, enablement sits in a position to facilitate tight coordination between sales and marketing.

Marketing produces a lot of assets from blogs, to flyers, to emails. Many of these can be a great help when utilized by sales teams. Some of it doesn’t convert well, though. Finding and removing barriers to the sales process is a big part of the sales enablement role. In many cases, this involves sifting through a wide array of marketing produced resources to identify assets that can be used to help sell.

Some of these resources are ready right out of the box. Other’s need some tweaking first. Sales development teams can fill a vital need between sales and marketing to help guide the production of assets that convert leads into customers.

Much like sales development, sales enablement is a function that could easily fit into either the sales or marketing team, but that benefits from the active participation of both groups.

Finding alignment in more than word

Most of the advice out there for leaders looking to cultivate alignment between sales and marketing focuses on keeping channels of communication open. Dialogue is a great start, but it’s not enough. Creating real alignment between teams demands that companies create institutions within their organization that can go beyond talk and execute on operational alignment.

For companies that have already reached scale, this means understanding which teams fill vital niches between sales and marketing and how they contribute to a smooth handoff between the two teams.

For smaller companies that may not have the resources to fit dedicated teams into each of these roles, it can be at once more challenging and simpler. It’s easier because there are fewer pieces to fit into the business growth jigsaw. Cooperation can be harder for small businesses, however, because executing on sales/marketing alignment requires the active collaboration of both teams on day-to-day tasks.

The challenge of sales/marketing alignment is not really about different priorities. At least not on teams where growth is the goal. Where the difference arises is in how the two departments approach the same challenges. The goal of creating institutions with clear objectives at the touch points of sales and marketing is to repackage the output of one approach so that it is the correct input for the next approach.