If you do a search for "sales and marketing alignment" on Google, you'll see we've been talking about this elusive concept for more than 20 years. So if some of the brightest minds in management and systems thinking have been ruminating on this problem for so long and it's still plaguing board rooms all across the world, is this a solvable problem?
Yes and no.
It's a challenge of multiple facets including change management, systems thinking and proper implementation of technology. And most of all, you need discipline and honesty throughout your company. If you have the willingness to solve the problem of functional mis-alignment, here are a couple of places to start:
1. Get agreement from the CEO that this is important.
If you don't get buy in from the head of the company, trying to do this is an academic exercise. And you'd be surprised how many CEOs aren't interested in the change management exercise that makes up the backbone of really bringing marketing and sales into alignment. Advice: If your CEO is one of these, quit your job, short the company's stock and be grateful that you escaped the pit of doom that the company will become.
2. Promise sales that if they tell you what they want, marketing will deliver it.
Doesn't matter what it is. Do they want a list of names? Provide it. They looking for fully qualified leads with all BANT (budget, authority, need and timeframe) criteria defined? Fine. it just costs money. But the flip side is once sales agrees to it, you write it down, sign it, send it to everyone who may be called in a deposition in the future, and make it law. Because marketing departments who are trying to fix a problem with sales often have low credibility, this is critical.
3. Report on the same metrics.
If you ask sales and marketing leaders what they report to the management team (or the Board), very often you'll get things like this from them: Marketing: downloads, names of trade show attendees, "touches" (unless you are in the spa industry, this probably isn't an important metric), web traffic, social media mentions Sales: closed deals, total revenue, opportunity pipeline, sales forecast, qualified leads Make sure the management team cares about, and talks about, the same measures. and here's one bonus action that's been a controversial topic these days:
4. Bite the bullet and give marketing variable compensation.
There's a lot of resistance to this in the marketing world. The logic goes, "we can open the door to a lead, but sales has to close it." That's pithy. And hogwash. Marketing can do a lot to affect lead volume, quality, velocity and close of business. If it means one less doodad they produce and get out in the field to help close, so be it. By paying marketing in part on closed business, the organization puts its money where its alignment is.
Lastly, you can't tell your marketing and sales organization HOW to do this. Alignment is a code word for change management and the only way you can be successful is if all stakeholders have a part to play in figuring out the tactics to implement. If you try to impose things on the organization (like forcing marketing and sales to attend each other's meetings), you increase the chances of fomenting resentment among people who are very creative at inventing ways not to do things.