5 Essential Tips for Developing a Sales and Marketing Alignment Plan

Ryan Ruud posted this in the Sales Skills, Sales Terminology Category
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Sales and Marketing Alignment, also known as Smarketing, can raise the likelihood of closing deals by 67% and drive revenue from marketing-generated leads by 209%.

Along with closing deals and gaining revenue, successful Smarketing efforts have also been found to lead to more accurate targeting, increases in sales productivity,  improved customer experience, and built up morale and job satisfaction among client facing teams.

If that sounds like a win to you, let’s get down to business on how you can develop a sales and marketing alignment plan in your organization.

1 Ensure you have the right infrastructure in place to support alignment

Before you build out a killer sales and marketing alignment plan, take a step back. Do a review of all of the software and processes that each of your teams is currently using. How many disparate systems are being used? Are there any points where both teams are using the same software to accomplish different goals?

This may not necessarily require an overhaul of the systems you’ve invested in; although, if you are using many disjointed systems and there is a lot of manual labor involved in tracking and managing everything, you may want to see how you can combine or integrate solutions to simplify adoption and tracking.  

When it comes to tools of the trade, there are some core essentials. These are the basics you’ll want to have in order to set your teams up for success with aligned sales and marketing goals.

CRM

Using a combined Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system will provide a more complete picture of the entire, combined process and allow for quicker and simpler tracking and reporting. It will enable easier handoff by allowing for clear definitions of handoff points and eliminating accidentally duplicating efforts.

Having everything in one place can also help identify any gaps in the strategy or areas that could be improved. This includes the potential for increasing lead quality and velocity and finding opportunities to upsell to current customers.

Collaboration/communication software

Having a communication or collaboration tool in place can help your teams find success through their ability to simply just talk to each other. A messenger app like Slack can be a great way to open up communication between teams. This especially holds true when you have teams that are new to working with each other. In this scenario, calling might feel awkward. And email may be overkill. Being able to quickly send an IM creates a system of fast responses (critical when you have a lead on the line) and facilitates teamwork.

An additional benefit to having a collaboration tool is that you’ll have a record of conversations to refer back on. This can come in handy for those forgetful folks and in he-said-she-said situations.

Beyond the basics, there are some other tools that can be helpful in keeping everyone on the same page.

Dashboards

Getting everyone aligned around goals on paper is great. We’ll touch on how you can define those goals and document them in tip 4. But days get busy. And people can forget what we’re working towards. That’s when dashboards come in handy. Whether it’s a spreadsheet that acts as a scorecard with your key measurables that get emailed daily. Or an online dashboard that feeds a monitor in the office in realtime.  

Takeaway: Make sure before you get started, you have the right tools and technology to be successful implementing and maintaining alignment.

2 Define the teams’ responsibilities

No doubt your sales and marketing teams know their respective roles inside and out. But how about when it comes to understanding the inner workings of the other side? Could your sales team articulate the primary function and responsibility to marketing? What does marketing know about sales daily challenges?

 It’s critical here to make sure not only the leaders of each function are well aware of the other, but that the rank and file within each organization understand each others world. Even more important, that they respect the role each department plays in driving revenue.  

Takeaway: when building an alignment plan, make sure both teams aren’t just aware of each other. Make sure they are aware of the role they play in supporting the goals of the other side and the organization at whole. A rising tide as they say.

3 Define the smarketing internal champions

Once roles and responsibilities are defined across the teams, it’s time to decide how to best align them into one common mission.

Combined or aligned leadership

Who’s in charge? Especially if smarketing is a new initiative, it’s critical to have somebody named as the champion- someone to be held accountable. Aligning two separate teams can be a big process and it requires focus, cooperation, drive, and enthusiasm.

  • Aligned management: The leadership from both teams will come together, create an aligned strategy, and work together to execute. This is the most common method and the easiest to rally behind.
  • Combined management: Leadership from each team will be combined into one team with shared goals. This will at the least require a restructuring and is by no means, however, necessary to achieve success.

However your team decides to manage the process, it’s necessary to gain complete buy-in from all management so they will be able to properly encourage and motivate the employees day-to-day in the trenches.

Takeaway: No one likes too many cooks in the kitchen. Make sure you define how your alignment plan will be managed.

4 Align your smarketing to the sales funnel 

The buyer’s journey should be the common thread that helps bind your sales and marketing teams together. Whether they call it a sales funnel or the buyer’s journey, it’s similar in that the customer is moving from the awareness stage to consideration, and ultimately to the decision-making stage where they are making a purchase (hopefully from you).

Sales and marketing alignment requires everyone to be working from the common understanding of who the ideal customer is and what that journey looks like in your specific buying process. Are you driving customers to a demo? Or a free trial?

Define MQL & SQL

The MQL definition is the backbone of sales and marketing alignment and aside from defining who is leading the initiative, this is the next most important step.  For a full breakdown on this topic, you can reference  Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) vs. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). But in a nutshell, here’s how LeadFuze defines MQL & SQL:

  • Marketing Qualified Lead: A lead judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence, often informed by closed-loop analytics.
  • Sales Qualified Lead: A prospective customer that has been researched and vetted — first by an organization’s marketing department and then by its sales team – and is deemed ready for the next stage in the sales process.

MQL is not only a definition that will be outlined in your plan, but it’s also a critical metric to track. Marketing can take a look at quarter over quarter, what is the percentage of MQLs? And from there, what is the conversion rate from MQL to SQL? And even one step further, how many of those SQLs made it to customers? Businesses are of course coin-operated and that last metric is where you can really start to measure the cha-ching.

sales and marketing alignment

So with all of that, define MQL and SQL, thoughtfully and purposefully. The reality is, a lot of times sales has one definition, and marketing has another and that’s why when the two get together – they end up pointing fingers if they don’t have a unified definition.

Handoff process

Once MQL and SQL are defined, you need to spell out the handoff between the two teams. Is it an email? A CRM notification? What’s the follow up like? Does sales try once or two times?

One of the biggest points of contention between misaligned marketing and sales teams is the handoff. If not carefully defined, the blame game and finger pointing can ensue when numbers are down. Marketing has been handing over unqualified leads that aren’t ready yet, sales has been taking hot leads and not reaching out quickly enough.

It’s vital that the handoff points and next step responsibilities from each of those points be clearly defined and understood by everyone involved in the smarketing process.

Another important part of this process will be pinpointing when and how leads can be handed back (including feedback) from sales to marketing when they are found to need more nurturing.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • How will sales be notified when a lead reaches MQL status?
  • When will sales follow up?
  • How will sales communicate lead quality to marketing?

Takeaway: Agree on your goals, how those goals are defined and the responsibilities of both parties at various stages of the goal lifecycle.

5 Reduce, reuse, & repurpose all marketing & sales materials

Chances are, if you haven’t officially declared smarketing a thing at your company, your teams might be working off two different understandings of buyer personas and the buyer’s journey. For example, was sales focusing on big-ticket enterprise while marketing was driving small business owners to free trials?

The language, metrics, and materials they’ve used to understand and communicate with prospects and customers may have been varied up to this point and both teams need to be speaking the same language.

Content Audit

Now is the time to do a little organizing and potentially clean-house. Our go-to method is creating a content audit workbook. The content audit begins by marketing taking inventory of all existing content. Think blogs, ebooks, guides, etc. Include the document tile and hyperlink to its location at a minimum. If you want to be super helpful and win the A++ award, add in which persona the asset is targeted towards and a quick summary of the topic. This should be a living, breathing document going forward that sales has access to.

In fact, if you have been doing your content right, sales should feel like they hit the jackpot with a plethora of content to aid them in their sales process.

sales and marketing alignment

No jackpot alarms going off in your office? Wait, sales doesn’t use everything that the marketing team worked so hard to create? All too often, salespeople aren’t aware of or can’t find marketing materials. These materials support their customers in the moment which leads to them creating their own assets.

If you find this to be true with your teams, use it as a learning experience.

Content wish list

Now that the lines of communication between sales and marketing are open, gone are the days when sales is off creating random. Sales can now pass content ideas to marketing. Is there a question that always comes up with prospects near the end of the buyer’s journey? Write a blog post about it or work it into nurture sequences.

If you go with the content audit workbook we mentioned, sales can add their content wish list items right in the doc.

This is also where you should ensure that everyone is speaking the same language. The message, tone, style, and focus should match up across teams and individuals. 

Takeaway: Bring sales and marketing together on marketing production discussions. No, this isn’t a blank check for sales to lob requests over to marketing. But marketing also doesn’t get to just create content in a vacuum. Working together on what works at various stages of the funnel will grease the wheels along the whole journey

Conclusion

Everything is better when sales and marketing are vibing as a team and working towards common goals. But remember, it’s a process and Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Any steps you take towards opening the lines of communication and breaking down the age-old sales and marketing battle is a step in the right direction.

If you’re interested in learning more about smarketing, check out Lake One’s Guide to Sales and Marketing Alignment.

Ryan Ruud
About Author: Ryan Ruud
Ryan Ruud is the Founder & CEO of Lake One, a Minneapolis, MN-based digital marketing agency. Lake One helps organizations find traction by planning, building and executing modern programs that align sales and marketing to drive growth.

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