Mind the gap: How and why to align your business’s sales and marketing endeavours to drive growth

Mind the gap: How and why to align your business’s sales and marketing endeavours to drive growth

Polly Kay

Polly Kay
15th October 2018

If your business is growing rapidly, your sales and marketing departments need to work together in order to drive sales and expand your reach.

However, a lack of communication and shared ownership across your sales and marketing efforts is a common problem within businesses of all sizes, and one that is holding many businesses back from reaching their full potential.

In this article, I’ll look at why many businesses find that sales and marketing aren’t working together as they should be, and how this can result in lost revenue and opportunities to grow and expand.

I’ll also outline five things that every business should do to align their sales and marketing departments and get them working together to increase sales.

How sales and marketing differ, and what they have in common

People who don’t work in sales or marketing directly often view these two departments as one and the same, and this is often true for the directors and decision makers of SMEs that are growing fast and starting to expand their reach.

However, sales and marketing respectively involve different skill sets and are concerned with different working goals, and in order to ensure that they work cohesively together, you have to understand the basics of how sales differs from marketing as well as what it has in common.

In simple terms, marketing is tasked with identifying and targeting a prospect to make them aware of what you offer and encourage them to take a desired action (such as making a purchase), whilst sales is responsible for making that sale – closing the deal, and not dropping the ball.

Marketing targets a reasonably large pool of prospects (even when marketing to verticals) whilst sales focuses on smaller groups or individuals in order to achieve each sale or acquisition.

People who work in marketing might have a high level of skill when it comes to identifying prospective audience demographics, finding out what they want and presenting the company’s wares to them in the right light, but when it comes to making sales, many wouldn’t know where to begin.

Sales and marketing are of course interconnected across different stages of the sales funnel, but they’re not the same thing, and they don’t perform the same role. The cohesion between sales and marketing must be seamless in order to maximise revenue and profit.

Why a lack of communication and collaboration between sales and marketing might be holding your business back

Your sales and marketing departments need to have a basic understanding of each other’s roles, as well as respect for the different skills involved in fulfilling them and a commitment to working together to achieve the same goal.

However, if your sales and marketing departments don’t work together and collaborate to keep each other appraised, neither department will reach its full potential and this will ultimately cost you revenue.

HubSpot’s State of Inbound report (2016) indicates that of companies who state that their marketing strategy is effective, 82% of respondents state that their sales and marketing endeavours are tightly aligned.

Communication, collaboration and vitally, an understanding of the need to present a cohesive, brand-relevant message to your prospects or clients across every stage of the sales funnel are the cornerstones of effective sales and marketing alignment.

If your two departments don’t communicate effectively or avoid communicating at all, you will lose individual sales and potentially, large client accounts too.

Understanding the remit of the different roles that sales and marketing fulfils, having the chance to provide input and feedback on core decisions that affect both departments and knowing how to make the transition from a prospect’s expression of interest to a sale seamlessly are vital too.

However, these things are all too often overlooked, particularly within the realm of growing and expanding SMEs.

How getting sales and marketing working together can help you

Getting sales and marketing working together can directly support the achievement of desirable business outcomes, as borne out by the results of this survey of over 7,000 sales and marketing professionals undertaken by LinkedIn.

58% of respondents report that effective collaboration delivers improved customer retention, and 54% of respondents added that it also results in a positive contribution to financial performance.

To understand how a disconnect between sales and marketing can have a negative impact on your bottom line, you have to review the customer’s journey from their initial expression of interest through to the sale or acquisition itself.

If your sales and marketing departments simply don’t communicate and there is no protocol in place to encourage collaboration and communication, you’re likely to lose customers at every stage of the sales funnel without really knowing why.

For instance, imagine that your marketing department has just planned and launched a brand-new campaign that’s performing well, bringing in more website visitors and generating an uptick in sales inquiries.

If sales aren’t even aware of this and were not consulted throughout the campaign’s planning and execution stage, your sales team are essentially working blind when it comes to translating the brand’s message, USP or offer into workable terms and following through with it to close a sale.

On the other hand, if your sales team understands the campaign’s approach, incentive and goal, they can translate this into the right language to support the customer’s journey, creating custom scripts and adapting the tone and style in which they are delivered to enforce the original campaign’s message and follow through on its promise.

If the sales department is working blind when it comes to knowing what sort of prospects are getting as far as the sales stage and what they’re expecting to get out of the interaction, any gains they do make are likely to be due to luck rather than judgement.

If marketing is promising prospects something that sales can’t deliver because they’re unprepared to do so or don’t even know that they’re supposed to be delivering it at all, or if marketing won’t take feedback from sales about suggestions and tweaks to campaigns to help to boost sales and reduce pain points that can lead to missed opportunities to sell, you’ll lose money. Not just today, but in lost prospects that will simply go elsewhere in the future too.

Five ways to align your sales and marketing departments and get them working together to increase sales

Understanding the importance of getting sales and marketing on the same page and building proactive working relationships between the two departments is one thing, but knowing how to make this happen within your own business is quite another.

Here are five ways to get your sales and marketing departments aligned and working together towards a common goal.

Tackling and resolving interdepartmental misunderstandings and hostility

Active suspicion or hostility between sales and marketing is an avoidable but common problem that faces businesses looking to align their respective departments.

These problems often arise in the first place because of a lack of respect for the relative skillsets involved within either sales or marketing, or a lack of understanding of what the other department does and its wider impact.

For instance, if marketing has developed a unique campaign that generates a lot of leads but sales aren’t appraised of this and haven’t formulated a plan to convert those leads with a cohesive message that supports a sale, they will fail to perform to their full potential.

Sales blames marketing for failing to provide the relevant information and vitally, failing to seek input from sales from the outset; marketing, on the other hand, sees all of their hard work going down the drain because sales can’t convert the prospects brought in by their campaign.

Problems of this type are not only indicative of a serious disconnect between sales and marketing in the first place, but also serve to cause suspicion, hostility, and a culture of “us versus them” in which sales and marketing both think that the other department is letting the company down, making things harder for the other party, or creating difficulties that needn’t exist.

If your business has already reached this stage, undoing the damage of learned experiences can be a challenge.

In order to do this, you’ll need to work with sales and marketing both separately and collectively to ensure that the managers and decision-makers in each department understand each other’s roles, challenges and goals, and that they feed this information back to the others within their team.

If your sales and marketing teams have a good working understanding of the other’s roles, where they cross over and how they interconnect – as well as how to identify and tackle problems that require both departments to work side by side to devise strategies to mitigate them – the suspicion and hostility that can arise between departments becomes negated.

Communication and collaboration

To get sales and marketing to work together and communicate willingly and effectively, you need to set up formal lines of communication and procedures for collaborative efforts to synchronise your endeavours and resolve any problems. This also helps to inform future campaigns and sales scripts.

Getting the key players in your two respective departments together face to face – and where possible, doing the same with their wider teams – can go a long way towards putting a human face on the decisionmakers in the other department, and encourage mutual respect and understanding of the roles of the people working within the other field.

If a face to face meeting isn’t possible or isn’t something you can arrange regularly, video and phone conferencing is the next best approach, because this again produces a level of personalisation that is often lacking in email exchanges and other remote comms.

Setting up regular meetings and brainstorming sessions between sales and marketing (whether these meetings are physical or virtual) helps the key players from your two respective teams to build up good working relationships, be willing to use the resources that the other provides, and keeps your whole operation focused on its goal.

Formal meetings and collaborations are just the start, however; in order to enable effective interdepartmental communication, it is also wise to encourage individual team members to open the channels of communication with their opposite numbers when needed, via phone, email or collaborative software – or again, face to face, if this is possible.

When marketing is working on a new campaign, sales should be involved in this from the point that a rough working structure has been established onwards, to enable them to take ownership of their role within the campaign and be prepared to follow it through.

If sales suddenly finds themselves facing an avalanche of new enquiries without knowing why, or if they don’t get to hear about a promotion until the people they’re expected to sell it to tells them about it, this is apt to reinforce negative perceptions of the other department on both sides. This itself indicates that your communication channels aren’t up to the task, or aren’t being utilised effectively.

A lack of effective collaboration between departments can cause reduced customer retention, a poorer customer experience and weaker financial performance – up to 60% weaker, in fact, according to this LinkedIn report.

Feedback and troubleshooting

The channels of communication that you open and enable between sales and marketing have to work both ways; it is not enough to make sure that marketing simply tells sales what they’re doing and expects them to adapt to support it. Marketing and sales involve different skillets, which means that the members of each respective team have different areas of expertise, and view the full campaign from different angles.

Sales teams can provide valuable information to marketing teams that can help to save a failing campaign or inform a new one, and yet marketing departments are often reluctant to utilise this information and integrate it into their approaches. However, sales has unique insights that can let marketing know why a campaign isn’t reaching its full potential, why a campaign’s approach might be making it harder to make a sale, or be able to point out problems and flaws within a campaign using their extensive knowledge of closing deals.

Sales teams can also provide customer-centric insights to marketing and have a much better chance of getting a feel for the mood of buyers, what they are looking for, and how this compares to what they find when they buy from you.

Sales, on the other hand, needs to view marketing as the department that helps them to get customers and achieve sales, and take on board their input and insights into how they can make this happen. This all ties back into the importance of mutual respect between the departments and an understanding of what they do, and the skills that they bring to the table.

When a campaign is coming to an end, it is also wise to get the key players from both departments around the same table again to compare notes and collaborate on what went right, what went wrong, and any specific problems that arose along the way.

This, in turn, helps to ensure that future campaigns operate effectively, and allows the gauntlet within the sales funnel to pass seamlessly from marketing to sales at the right time and without losing the brand’s voice along the way.

Working with data

Data and data analytics are essential for both sales and marketing, because growth, sales and success depend on tangible metrics by which the business’s progress can be measured.

This is just as true for marketing as it is for sales, although it is fair to say that sales tends to be much more data-oriented, with goals, targets and profit stats front and centre in most sales departments.

Sales and marketing will both work with their own metrics and data sets, but bringing all of them together across both departments helps to provide a wider view of how things are going, what is working out, and what might provide an opportunity for improvement.

If marketing’s work leads to a huge uptick in a certain desired activity, such as more website traffic, sign-ups or white paper downloads and yet this doesn’t convert into cash in the bank, it might seem self-evident that sales are failing to follow through after marketing has laid the groundwork.

However, viewing the data from both sides of the operation objectively may tell a very different story. Perhaps marketing is targeting a demographic very successfully – but it’s not a demographic that will convert into actual buyers. Perhaps marketing has failed to integrate the right type of incentives and calls to action in the right places and ways, which means that all of those potential buyers aren’t getting as far as the sales team in the first place.

On the other hand, if you find that sales is doing a roaring trade and this doesn’t correlate to a deliberate marketing activity, your sales team might be sitting on a goldmine of valuable information on what buyers want and even where they are coming from, which marketing can use to develop and fine-tune a future campaign.

Building enthusiasm and personal ownership across teams

Getting two reluctant teams together around a table and getting them working together is something that you need to enable, but it isn’t something that can be forced. Pushing people together and insisting that they play nicely doesn’t tend to be effective when you’re working with professionals, and so in order to get sales and marketing working together, you have to build enthusiasm and personal ownership for every member of both teams.

Everyone likes to feel that their personal expertise and input is valued, and this helps to build that all-important sense of ownership, pride, and commitment to the business and the role that each individual plays within it. Promoting personal ownership of actions, activities and improvements that support growth and generating the positive energy and enthusiasm that helps to achieve it doesn’t just create a happy work environment, but it also encourages collaboration, teamwork and interdepartmental collaboration, which all contributes to achieving your goals.

Integrating set goals, progress targets and incentives for team members, as well as recognition for a job well done, catalyses team members to go the extra mile to succeed. This might be something as seemingly innocuous as being willing to pick up the phone and speak to someone in the other department to clarify a point, make a suggestion, or share a comment.

It also helps to ensure that if something does go wrong, everyone is willing to work together to resolve it and be proactive and objective about it, rather than simply feeling powerless to have achieved anything better and negating a tendency to assign blame to the other department or one’s counterpart within the other department.

Measuring your success and resolving potential problems

How effectively sales and marketing work together is something that you can measure by growth and sales, but it is important to take a big-picture view to doing so.

Compare past campaigns side by side with new approaches and be prepared to take a deeper dive into your data-driven metrics, without losing sight of the value of those insightful off-the-cuff comments and suggestions that often come out of meetings and phone calls. These are sometimes enough to change the whole direction of a campaign, or the approach taken to achieving sales in a specific campaign.

This can be a bumpy road, particularly if your sales and marketing departments are only just beginning to build trust and interact together effectively, and it is also important to have protocols in place for troubleshooting and resolving the problems that are apt to crop up along the way too.

A lack of information or the effective communication of that information is usually the cause of missed opportunities that fall into the gap between marketing and sales, and so you must be proactive, forward-thinking, and willing to adapt on-the-go.

If problems do arise, walking the fine line between encouraging personal ownership and throwing someone under the bus to assign blame is something that you need to tread carefully. Personal ownership is important, but both sales and marketing are team sports and the team as a whole won’t succeed if trust and respect are sacrificed to the blame game as soon as things go awry.

Try to keep both of your teams on-message, and build and maintain enthusiasm on an ongoing basis, rather than starting with a grand plan to get marketing and sales together once or twice and expecting them to build momentum and take things from there organically during the early stages.