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Marketing And Sales Alignment Or Integration?

by David Brock on October 29th, 2014

I’m fascinated about a lot of the discussion about marketing and sales alignment.  Inevitably, the discussion narrows to MQL’s and SQL’s.  The alignment discussion inevitably focuses on gaining agreement on the definition and metrics surrounding these two metrics.

Some of the things discussed are, agreement and alignment around the definition of lead quality and lead volume.  Usually marketing is saying “sales isn’t following up on our leads, consequently we’re losing lots of opportunity.”  Sales takes the position, “The leads we get are crap, just because someone wants a white paper doesn’t mean I should be wasting my time calling them.”

I still see the same old diagrams, the marketing funnel and the sales funnel, with the marketing funnel feeding the sales funnel.

Essentially, these discussions reduce down to agreeing on the size of the window in the brick wall between sales and marketing.

While this agreement is important, I think we miss opportunities in aligning around how our customers buy.

Our marketing and sales funnels basically identify our workflows in marketing and sales activities.  Continuing to look at these sequentially,  defines our workflows as sequential–marketing does its thing, leads are passed through the window in the wall, then sales does its thing.

The buying and informational activities our customers undertake aren’t necessarily aligned with our marketing and sales funnels/workflow.  To be effective in engaging our customers in buying, we need to look at our marketing and sales workflows differently, integrating marketing and sales rather than aligning them.

It seems we do better by aligning our marketing and sales workflow around models of the customer buying process and workflow.  In doing this, we engage the customer most effectively and impactfully.  We deploy the right resources (marketing/sales/other) at the right time and in the right way to help the customer buy.

In designing an integrated marketing and sales workflow, we have must clearly define roles and responsibilities.  We must work truly collaboratively.  Our metrics are broader and more aligned  not just agreement on MQL and SQL.  Our organizational structure is more reflective of how our customers buy, rather than the meaningless silos that exist today.

In a truly integrated marketing and sales workflow, sales may initiate the process by engaging customers with insight.  Customers may then leverage content or experiences developed by marketing to enrich their understanding of  the issues, alternatives and possibilities presented by change.  Sales may re-engage at a point where the customer needs that direct interaction.  Marketing doesn’t stop, they provide content, materials, and tools to support both sales and the customer later in their buying process, ultimately helping them make a vendor decision.

Basketball playToday, marketing and sales looks a lot like an Olympic relay.  Marketing starts, then hands off the baton to sales to finish.  In an integrated marketing and sales design, it looks a lot like a basketball team, with each person on the team knowing their role, with clearly defined plays.  But like the basketball team, an integrated marketing and sales function enables us to be adaptable and nimble.  This nimble marketing and sales team  can change, based on the way the customer changes–“passing the ball” from one to the other to most effectively achieve the goal.

If we want to engage the customer most impactfully and effectively, we need to stop looking at marketing and sales alignment, and start talking more about marketing and sales integration.

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  1. “A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.” – Abba Eban

    Dave, why do sales and marketing people walk on eggshells or have WWIII over sales and marketing alignment? Even you, who rarely shies away from the real problems and issues, take too soft of an approach – not what I expected!

    “It seems we do better by aligning our marketing and sales workflow around models of the customer buying process and workflow.” This is a good beginning.

    What I hear you say and what I have seen is marketing and sales strive for two different results. Marketing’s target – leads, MQLs/SQLs is nearsighted. Sales target of closed business is farsighted. Neither look at the full picture from the buyer’s view. This reminds of the story of “The Blind Men and an Elephant.” One blind man touches the tusk and thinks it’s a spear. Another grabs the leg and thinks it’s a tree. Another thinks the trunk is a rope and so on. They’re unable to put the pieces together and agree that it’s an elephant.

    Why doesn’t the CEO or Customer Experience Office (CXO) create a unified funnel and process? There was time when we had VP’s of Sales and Marketing, a position I once held, who performed this function. Every organization needs somebody above all of the departments who looks at the the customer experience from 50,000 feet. Customers do not take on different roles as they go through our processes, yet we create fragmented, disjointed journeys through our organization that spoil the customer experience. And when our processes sour the customer experience, conversions are low and churn is high.

    The ultimate leader – the person above sales, marketing and all other departments – should be devoted to uniting silos with a common process that drives the outcome customers want and everyone in the organization believes in.

    • Great comments Gary. I guess that I didn’t write as clearly as I thought. I thought I was advocating a single unified funnel, and true integration, not “interfacing.” Thanks for making sure the message is clear!

      • Dave, I hope my sarcastic tease didn’t come across as harsh. My wife usually keeps me in check and wasn’t available to proofread. Gary

  2. Why not just 1 person from marketing & 1 person from sales to work together?

    • It would be wonderful if it were that simple 😉 Thanks Michael.

      • I suppose it sounded a bit flip – but this simple model is exactly how my business partner and I work: he is sales/marketing and I am marketing/sales.

        Here is why I think this combination can scale right now for social selling, but not for the traditional channels – print, radio and tv.

        1. At the turn of the 20th century, advertising was “salesmanship in print”.

        Long form and reasons why dominated print advertising.

        The long copy ad had to anticipate all the objections and respond.

        2. In the late 1920’s – 1950’s, print advertising was challenged by radio.

        Reasons why advertising made no sense. Instead, the challenge was the jingle – a form of viral advertising for ears.

        3. By the early 1950’s. TV was providing a different type of channel. Visual association between a brand name & a great experience was delivered every 10-15 minutes in TV show.

        All of these channels scaled – and continue to be effective. But, they drove a wedge between advertising/marketing & sales professionals.

        With the social channel, we see the return of advertising as salesmanship in print.

        But, the salesperson is right there willing and able to continue the dialogue.

        We don’t need long copy which anticipates objections – we need people who are listening and can write reasonable replies.

        For everyone else to see.

  3. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    At the recent CEB summit I heard a lot of delegates talking about how important alignment between sales & marketing was. A bit like your minor recent annoyance with the car dealership persistently sending you emails asking about your experience, my emotions were heading the same way…

    So I posed these questions on the sales best practice forum on LinkedIn:

    Why does sales & marketing need to be aligned – what are the benefits to the customer as well as the selling organization?
    What does successful alignment look like?

    I have to say there have been some spirited comments but very very very few came close to answering the actual questions – many were simply saying that without alignment things would be bad or less efficient – almost a circular argument.

    So, there is a mantra emerging in the S&M world that alignment is needed. Who is driving this? Probably those organizations and people who have products & services to sell that ‘fix’ such alignment.

    I’m still waiting for an answer to my questions that would pass muster for a freshman undergraduate paper on the subject.

    What I delighted in was your tweak on the question – not alignment, but integration. That makes much more sense, intuitively!

    I also think it needs a Y shaped funnel(!), with the top of the ‘Y’ at the start of the time line… one ‘arm’ for true demand creation (e.g. from providing insight) and the other for when the customer comes to the selling organization. Marketing, in these early stages, has arguably a role to play in both ‘arms’…

    Perhaps we need to find a different word for ‘funnel’ too?!

  4. Hi Dave- great article. Two things to comment on. I really like the word or term workflow. What if you integrated your approach to prospects as a “Buyer centric workflow” instead of a sales and/or marketing process?

    If your sales organization has reached the maturity level of a dynamic sales process, with good integration thinking, you can evolve that into a buyer centric workflow. Or, with the right leadership, you could jump from an informal or formal sales process, straight to a buyer centric workflow.

    Another reader commented on the shape of the funnel. With all the web enabled information plus sales team direct engagement, my partner Jack and I think the shape is like a Martini glass – similar to a “Y” but more visual and fun too! The long stem of the Martini glass includes direct meetings and self directed web content and any other means of educating the buyer(s) toward an informed decision, including social media.

    Multiple or omni channel engagement – with a Buyer centric workflow framework.

    From non-alignment to alignment to integration to integral. now that’s a mouthful!

    • Steve, thanks for the great ideas. I think the workflow concept is an important ideas–and thinking of it in these terms helps better align our workflows and activities with those of the customer.

      I tend to believe there is a distinction between the seller’s (marketing/sales) and buyer’s workflow. It’s important they are aligned, but they are different. For example on the seller’s side, there may be a whole number of critical activities that have little to do with the buyer’s process, but are critical to our ability to align resources, orchestrate theme and win.

      On the visualization of the funnel, I actually love Hank Barnes of Gartner view of the whole cycle. He calls it the squishy buying cycle. I think it reflects the real buying process–the challenge is aligning a sellers process to that. Here’s a link to an article on this:

      Thanks for the great thoughts.

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