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3 Keys to Sales and Marketing Alignment

Everyone talks about the importance of sales and marketing alignment, but few actually achieve it. Especially at a startup, even if you have alignment one quarter, maintaining that alignment can be easier said than done when everything is moving at warp speed.

But the relationship between sales and marketing really is symbiotic. Success (or failure) in one area begets the same in the other.  After all, who among us hasn’t heard “These leads suck!” from sales, followed by, “Well you guys didn’t follow up on them!” from marketing?

The complex love-hate relationship between sales and marketing ultimately comes from the fact that you naturally have both competition and cooperation between the teams. We’re all working toward the same goal: hitting the bookings number. Yet at the same time, our counterparts are the easiest target to point to when things don’t go right.

How to Achieve Alignment

So what’s the secret to making this all-important relationship more functional and achieving long-term sales and marketing alignment? As with most things, it starts at the top with leadership. When we lead by example, collaboration becomes the norm at all levels within the organization.

Here are three key areas to focus on:

Don’t make it about “credit.”

The single most important aspect of having a successful relationship between sales and marketing is to set up a dynamic that is about results and not credit. That means talking about the combination of factors that drove each opportunity as opposed to simply labelling it a “marketing-sourced” vs. “sales-sourced” deal.

The marketing vs. sales dynamic can sometimes be deeply ingrained in organizational culture, and it’s hard to shake. But it can be done! Especially if one (or both) of the leaders are new. But regardless of whether your team is established or new, this new framework has to be mutually agreed upon — otherwise it just won’t stick.

And don’t mistake me — elevating the conversation beyond who gets credit is not the same as not measuring. Measurement is essential! Instead, it’s about how we frame that measurement.

Instead of measuring only what is marketing-sourced vs. what is sales-sourced, consider the following classification: marketing-originated, marketing-influenced or neither.

This allows you to understand marketing’s impact, without setting it up as an adversarial relationship. Marketing-originated deals are ones in which the first thing (but likely not the only thing!) that happened was a marketing engagement. Marketing-influenced deals are opportunities in which the sales rep interacted first and then marketing engagement occurred subsequently. What’s so important is that there is no sales-originated classification. Instead, we’re measuring how and when marketing contributed to each deal without forcing a binary choice for who gets credit.

Celebrate successes together.

Just as how we measure can impact team dynamics, so too can the reward systems we put in place. In many startups, hitting a quarterly number means a sales team outing to celebrate. But if we know that it takes both marketing and sales partnering together to drive campaigns and opportunities from start to finish, then why not include marketing in the celebration too? (And, for that matter, finance and other cross-functional teams as well!)

If we don’t celebrate together (and likewise, regroup together when things don’t go right), then we’re telling our teams that success or failure is ultimately only one team’s responsibility. So we need to put our money where our mouth is to show the organization that it really is about partnership.

Make sales and marketing alignment part of your operating rhythm.

It’s one thing to say at the outset (or re-set) of a relationship that you’re going to be well-aligned. But what are you actually doing day-to-day and week-to-week to stress the importance of sales and marketing alignment and ensure that actually happens?

It may sound obvious, but in addition to the list of 1:1s and team meetings, it’s so important to also have weekly or bi-weekly time with your sales or marketing leadership counterpart. This is the time to make sure you know what’s going on within each other’s departments, as well as to address any issues that pop up before they fester and become broad frustrations.

It’s also useful to have relevant members of the marketing team occasionally join sales team meetings to share updates, get feedback, etc. Don’t underestimate the power of being in the same room (even if only virtually!) compared to just shooting off an email or Slack message.

Sales and Marketing Alignment Doesn’t Just Happen

The bottom line is that while alignment is so key to organizational success, it doesn’t just happen. Leadership from both sales and marketing have to be bought in to truly work as a team or else it just won’t happen.

And the only thing worse than not having sales and marketing alignment is saying that you do when you really don’t. Teams see through that instantly, and it can foster distrust and disrespect faster than you’d think.

So be transparent! No relationship is perfect. But open communication between and within teams is the key to improving those relationships over time.

Amanda Bohne is chief marketing officer at AppNeta, a network performance monitoring vendor based in Boston.

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