Aligning sales and marketing is essential in today’s world of the empowered buyer. A lot has been written about the importance of sales and marketing staff aligning their processes to manage potential and existing customers more effectively. However, aligning processes is actually only one step in a series of important considerations.

Companies must address many elements to build a successful relationship between sales and marketing departments. The following five steps will help keep marketing and sales on the same page for greater success in managing existing customers and new leads.

Step 1: Develop a shared vision

Sales needs to understand marketing’s plans so their expectations are set correctly on the type of marketing activities to conduct and the target audiences to pursue. There needs to be a common understanding of the volume of activity and how sales can participate and even initiate marketing activities to drive business and opportunities in their territories.

Without an understanding of the marketing goals and plans, sales will not be able to put together meaningful territory plans. We all know that marketing doesn’t initiate all sales opportunities. Without the forecast and plans, sales will not know how much is expected from their own direct efforts and partner efforts.

Step 2: Make sales a part of marketing

The roles are blurring as marketing communicates deep into the pipeline and sales returns prospects to nurturing campaigns. This can be a disaster with sales and marketing stepping on each other, or a powerful combination if your sales team is empowered to work within the marketing plans. This starts with collaborative planning by involving sales personnel in the go-to-market campaign development process.

Define the guidelines for sales initiating marketing communications and provide a means for sales to return a prospect to marketing for further nurturing. You need to give sales control over how you message to prospects in the sales pipeline and your existing customers by allowing them to set preferences from their Sales Force Automation (SFA) tool.

Step 3: Provide transparency into marketing activities

We discussed the importance of providing visibility to plans and forecasts. Visibility of the calendar of activities in marketing should also be shared with sales. The marketing calendar is constantly changing and the sales team needs an easy way to access the calendar so they know when email campaigns drop and when events are scheduled.

In addition, you should add your sales team to the seed list for your campaigns. This means firstly, they can provide feedback on the campaign delivery, and secondly, receiving the campaign will serve as an alert that it is going out to their prospects and customers. Sales can provide important follow up to campaigns sent to prospects or existing customers.

Step 4: Manage leads together

Defining lead hand-off and quality alone is not enough, but it is definitely important. The first element is to define what attributes you want to track on a lead, such as budget and timeline. Then, you need to agree on what level of quality is sufficient to hand over the lead from marketing to sales. These discussions will drive a lead score plan that gives different points to the attributes and behaviours of your prospects.

Marketing also needs a communication vehicle to keep the sales team informed as prospects interact with your company in later stages of the buying cycle. Marketing should set alerts when an individual or company is on one of your web properties and provide visibility of activity to the sales team directly in their SFA tool so they have it in the context of where they go to manage opportunities.

Next, tailor your outbound messaging for newsletters or announcements. Marketing tools can use these attributes to segment your lists and also use this same information to dynamically build your emails, landing pages and microsites so they provide relevant information to your prospects and customers. This drives engagement that leads to faster movement through the pipeline.

Step 5: Share results

Communicate results so there is a common understanding of how well something worked. Sales may only focus on the immediate opportunities that spring from a campaign and lose sight of the volume of activity that is happening to nurture leads. Get agreement on the metrics that sales wants to see and then make sure metrics that are important to marketing are included as well so you can see the whole picture.

Show sales how your leads are moving through the pipeline at each stage and include cost per lead so you can work as a team to improve your pipeline and drive more value. As a team, you want to drive toward improving lead efficiency at each stage so you can lower your cost per lead overall. Visibility to the leads at each stage can identify friction in the system and highlight opportunities for new or different messaging and tools.

Good reporting and easy access to these reports will go a long way to keeping sales and marketing on the same page. A true understanding of the successes also builds sales confidence in the marketing team for future efforts.

Lisa Arthur
BY Lisa Arthur ON 1 September 2011
Lisa Arthur serves as Aprimo’s chief marketing officer driving global market and brand strategy, solutions and product marketing, demand generation and customer-centric initiatives.