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Podcast | 5 Things Leaders Must Do To Align Sales & Marketing

Podcast | 5 Things Leaders Must Do To Align Sales & Marketing

Our CEO, Gary Smith was a recent podcast guest, talking about the importance of aligning sales and marketing activity.  In the podcast, Gary talks about the critical importance of alignment in boosting revenue. Listen to the conversation; or if you prefer, read the transcript below.

“This is Jeff Davis (JD) on the Sales & Marketing Alignment Podcast where we explore sales and marketing alignment strategy for B2B businesses.  

“Today’s guest is Gary Smith (GS) Chief Executive at the Gary Smith Partnership (GSP). GSP is a sales and marketing consulting firm that specialises in process change  and enabling disruptive technology implementation. In our conversation we’ll discuss:

  • The most compelling reason why sales and marketing must align right now.
  • How to build the business case for alignment and get support from the CEO.
  • Five things steps to start on the path to sales & marketing alignment.
  • The importance of business culture in successfully being able to achieve alignment.

Let’s jump into the episode. Gary thank you for joining us today on the podcast.”

GS:  “You’re welcome Jeff. Looking forward to it – it’s an exciting thing you’re doing with this podcast.”

JD:  “Thank you so much. It’s a passion of mine and I really want to help our sales and marketing leaders as well as CEOs out there figure this out from a strategic standpoint. So let’s start. Tell us who Gary Smith is and why you came to this point of sales and marketing alignment being a focus for you.”

GS:  “Well, my name is Gary Smith. I’m the co-founder and Chief Executive of a the Gary Smith Partnership. We help companies in what would now be called Sales Enablement – but in old money would be called People, Process and Technology Change. And we continually come across this whole question of ‘how do sales and marketing get better aligned?’ How do they make two plus two equal five; and how do they start to collaborate effectively?


“In other words, how do they produce a synergistic relationship? It’s something that more and more of our customers are talking to us about? And it’s taking more prominence in the press and media; your podcast is an example, Jeff. In fact our most ever shared blog post is Five Powerful Best Practices To Achieve Sales & Marketing Alignment.

“So it’s becoming increasingly prominent in the conversation. We’ve done a lot of thinking about it. We’ve done a lot of practical work with customers to help them better align and produce even better revenue results. So it’s a topic of interest and a topic off importance to us.”

JD: “So it sounds like from what you’ve shared with us you’ve been working on this type of work for quite some time and you have a body of work to speak from.

 Is that correct?”

GS:  “Yes. It’s something that we really evolved into.

“We are a CRM technology implementer; but to really get the best of any CRM technology and increasingly marketing automation application, you absolutely have to address the process, the people and you have to look at the importance of organisational  culture. Business executives demand results from their investments and that’s really where the need to align Sales and Marketing comes from.”

JD: “Thank you. I’ve had the chance to read book by Traey Isler and Austin. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it but they really have put a business case together that specifically talks about sales and marketing alignment. And one thing I thought was interesting in the book – there are many – but they came up with this mantra called ‘sales can’t do it alone’. Marketing exists to make sales easier. I want to help frame the conversation on why today sales and marketing alignment is so important for B2B CEO aand executives to really pay attention to what is happening in the market.”

GS:  “Well, I think what has changed over the last few years is the buying process, the journey that buyers go on. There’s that well-known statistic that buyers are 57 percent of the way through the buying process before they actually engage with a salesperson.

“So, if organizations are attempting to influence the buyers through that 57 percent, they need to get engaged with buyer early and they need to make those buyers favourably disposed towards their own sets of solutions. However, if it’s not the salesperson doing that communication, who is it?

“It’s really marketing doing that communication. I think organizations have found it increasingly difficult to get salespeople in front of buyers early. Unfortunately for the sellers, buyers are often far down the journey when the salesperson does get involved. However, to sell effectively, it’s imperative for those selling organizations to get involved in the process earlier. That means effective marketing communications. It’s that recognition that has really led to this topic taking on the prominence it has at the moment.”

JD:  “That makes a lot of sense.

“I think a lot of companies are starting to feel that but I don’t know if everybody in the leadership really understands how to approach it. I found through talking with folks like you, doing research and my interactions with customers, that the CEO really needs to be on board in order to really make this work. So how do we start to build the business case so that we can say dedicating resources toward this type of effort is worth it? How do the VP’s of sales and marketing convince the CEO?

“How do we start that conversation?”

GS:  “Well, I found there are essentially two things you have to do.

“First you need to produce a quantifiable business case.  There are various frameworks you can use to do that. We help companies identify the benefits, the business capabilities they need to deliver those benefits and the things that they needed to do to produce the deliverables.  Also what things needed to change in order to achieve the business capabilities. There are ways that you can quantify those benefits.

“But the second thing you need to do is go to the leadership with a story or an anecdote. Provide a provide a successful  example.

“For example, I was recently talking to a prospect of one of our customers. Our customer had failed to win a deal with this prospect. The prospect had told our customer that the reason was they were too expensive; they said that was the reason that they didn’t go with their solution.

“I asked the prospect if this was true and he said, “well that’s what we told them but the reality was that if we had really wanted to work with them, we could have gotten around that somehow. But, the truth is, we didn’t want to work with them. The salesperson was too anxious. Every time we asked a question he interrupted me. They were too quick to submit their proposal. They didn’t teach us anything. They didn’t give us any insight. They were just too keen to drive the sale through.”

“So the prospect said it was just easier to tell them that there were too expensive so that nobody got fired. ‘We didn’t want to have an argument. It was just a graceful way to turn down the deal.’

“Our customer had spent the last six months tinkering with their pricing strategy to increase sales volume, but to no avail. Now, when I took that anecdote to the board, they were shell shocked. There was a deafening silence.

“Incidentally, when anybody does that research you have to do it anonymously in the sense that you don’t tell your client who said what about whom.  You just aggregate the feedback to avoid a ‘blame game’ exercise.

“Eventually the CEO broke the boardroom silence.  ‘Maybe we do need to change. Maybe we do need to produce content that gives insight to people. Maybe we do need to change the way our sales process works.’

“At that point, they realised increased focus on sales pipeline velocity was driving the sales people’s behaviour with prospects through the sales process. This underlines why you must include a qualitative element in your business case and provide real life anecdotes.”

JD:  And I like the fact that you say you have to go with this two part approach right. It’s one thing to come with a quantifiable business case. But I think obviously for any CEO it’s extremely important. Like you said if you don’t bring in those stories of missed opportunities or things that we can do better. So I’m glad you brought that up because some people may miss that second part that’s important.

GS:  And I think the way you get those stories Jeff, is you have to go to ‘the horse’s mouth’. You have to go to the customers and the prospects and find out what is important to them.

What I see happening time and time again is that the companies say, ‘right we are going to align sales and marketing’. The first thing they do is they get a bunch of salespeople and the marketing team in a room together.

And the marketing guys ask sales ‘okay tell us what the customers really want? But as we have seen from our anecdote, the salespeople don’t always know what customers really want.  So yes, you have to break the mould.  You have to step outside the paradigm. Break up that blame game and go and find what is truly important to the customer. I think that’s so important.

JD:  So you make me think of something really interesting right. So we get sales together, we get marketing  together but there are those opportunities that we not only talk to our current customers but we talk to customers that we might have lost business from and understand the real reason why.

GS:  Well, you learn I guess like most things in life so much more from failure than you do from success. There’s a very good book by Matthew Syed that’s called Black Box Thinking.  It’s about how you learn from failure and that the reason you have to go and get that research – real qualitative information from customers. You have to break that mould of sales and marketing blaming each other.

Then, look jointly at the customer priorities. Work through the customer buying process from the very start of that journey.

You have look at each point in the in the buying process. Ask what could we have done at this point 1 percent better, 2 percent better? And what are the things that we didn’t do, that buyers say we should do? And you have to adapt those things not to accentuate a blame process but to treat them as an opportunity to create a marginal gain.

Once the clarity of the business case is accepted many customers ask me where to start and what are those first steps to moving the organization forward to alignment?

In my view, there are five things you have to do. As I’ve illustrated, the first is understanding what is truly important to customers and prospects. Get that qualitative feedback.

“The second thing you have to do is implement an internal, feedback loop from sales to marketing. Every lead that is transferred from marketing to sales needs to be tracked.

“You have to get quantitative and qualitative information on the output and what happened from sales. You do that in order to create a learning cycle.

“This is where technology can now come in to support this process. If people are using a CRM system such as salesforce.com, you implement a robust process by using the functionality in the system such as Chatter (an electronic internal communications tool) to share qualitative feedback from sales.

“And it’s really only when you when you start to do create the feedback loop that the third thing you do is get Sales and Marketing and in a room together and say ‘right, let’s take a deal that we lost and go from the very beginning of the process.  Let’s look at everything we did. What are the things that we could have done better. What are the things that we could have done a little bit differently, or even that should we not have done at all.

“Now you’ve got qualitative feedback and you’ve got some metrics about what actually happened. And you use that then to start analyzing the process. Looking at a deal you won, you go through five or six different deals and you start to say how do we change and what patterns are emerging that tell us what we need to do.

Marginal Gains

“The fourth thing you do is you look for all those things we could do to make marginal gains.

“If you do lots of things 1 percent better that will add up to a significant improvement in your effectiveness in the end-to-end sales process. So you look for those you look to see how you aggregate those marginal gains

“What you do every day is you  rigorously implement a process of marginal gains to make small incremental improvements that add up to a big gain over a period of time.

A Step Change

“Whilst we can constantly suggest and make marginal gains daily, the fifth thing you do is to make a step change at an organizational level. The step change might be a new piece of technology. It might be a marketing automation system, a new CRM system it might be something else it might be an organisational a cultural change or it might be a significant change in your sales process.

“But, those are the things that you do occasionally as they come after a large-scale business review and much senior consideration – as well as usually requiring substantial investment.”

JD:  “And speaking about that step change. You mention the culture. Let’s talk a little bit about that because I do think that culture has a huge impact on alignment efforts. What are your thoughts about that and then who owns changing that culture?”

GS:  “Well I think often it does need to change. There’s a very good book by Carol Aronson and University Emeritus Elliot Aronson and it’s called ‘Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)’.

“I think that that sort of attitude pervades a lot conversations between sales and marketing. How often have you heard sales people complain that the ‘leads we get from marketing are rubbish’ and marketing say, ‘well you never phone the damn leads we give you!’

“You have to get over that and collaborate, working on the same side for the customers and prospects. You have to break that combative culture or everyone loses.

“And yes I do think that it’s important to jointly take on board the external feedback as it is difficult to argue against it.  You have to instill that change and I think it’s something that is difficult to say that one person owns it. I think that the are mobilizers that you can use in the organization very often to to drive a cultural change. It’s obviously something that we help and we advise companies and we try to motivate them to make that change but ultimately it’s something that business has to want to do.

 “And that one’s either comes from sometimes it comes from declining market share sometimes it comes from a static pipeline sometimes it comes from some pressure some city pressure to grow revenue wherever it comes from there’s got to be something that compels people to want to change and to want to look outside their existing paradigm in order to make that change.”

JD: “So it sounds like then the leadership need to rally around a vision of the need for change and that will ultimately start to pour people’s hearts and minds into buying into this process of working together better for the survival of the business or whatever that vision is for the company.”

GS:  “Yes I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there Jeff. I think that that these sort of programs I guess you could say about any compelling change in business people have to see the need to change and sometimes that might be the there’s a it’s clear there’s a market opportunity to be exploited.

“Sometimes it’s if we don’t change we’re going to be in trouble sometimes we’re in trouble. So there needs to be something whether it’s in life or in business. Often the some external motivation that’s causing us to look afresh it might simply be a new VP of Marketing or new VP of sales. It just brings a fresh approach.

“But usually there’s got to be got often there’s got to be something. I’ve spoken to an organization the other day and said we’ve we’ve been in a largely monopoly industry which has been taking orders for 40 years but suddenly that industry has been deregulated and everybody is saying well we could be out of business in a couple of years if we don’t change. So that so in that organization there is a there is a compelling desire to change. And yes I do think there’s got to be. I think you used the word vision Jeff and I think it’s a very good word to describe but you’ve got to paint that vision.

“Sometimes that comes from just looking at the customer journey and say how could we do this better. We have to do it better. And I think that’s that’s the catalyst that brings sales and marketing together.”

JD:  “Great. Well before we close out our time together I want to ask you one key takeaway that you would give for our listeners what is that one thing or theme that you feel executives should always keep top of mind as they’re going along this journey of alignment for the organization if you only do one thing go and speak to the customers and the prospects who buy and don’t buy your goods or services.”

GS: “Find out from the horse’s mouth what truly needs to change. And as you go on that journey of change continue to validate that change and check it’s making a difference to the people that matter.”

JD: “Perfect. Gary thank you so much for your time today. I really really appreciate it Jeff.”

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Podcast | 5 Things Leaders Must Do To Align Sales & Marketing

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Our CEO, Gary Smith was a recent podcast guest, talking about the importance of aligning sales and marketing activity.  In the podcast, Gary talks about the critical importance of alignment in boosting revenue. Listen to the conversation; or if you prefer, read the...

Successful Sales And Marketing Alignment | 5 Powerful Best Practices

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“I’ll prove it to you!” exclaims Jack Kosakowski. "Let me show you the current state of Sales and Marketing alignment." It’s September 12, 2017. I’m attending the London Sales Hacker event. We’re in the middle of a panel discussion, “Sales And Marketing Alignment...

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Successful Sales And Marketing Alignment | 5 Powerful Best Practices

Successful Sales And Marketing Alignment | 5 Powerful Best Practices

“I’ll prove it to you!” exclaims Jack Kosakowski.

“Let me show you the current state of Sales and Marketing alignment.”

It’s September 12, 2017. I’m attending the London Sales Hacker event.

We’re in the middle of a panel discussion, “Sales And Marketing Alignment Strategies To Build Massive Pipeline”.

Also on the panel is Jack’s marketing colleague, Creation Agency CEO, Jason Sibley.

The two have contrasting views.

“Everyone in the audience that’s in sales, stand up!” orders Jack.

Two-thirds of the 600-strong audience stand.

“Okay,” continues Jack.

“Stay standing if you believe Marketing give you enough warm leads.”

I look around.

Not a single person remains standing.

Jack turns to the rest of the panel.

“See what I mean!” he proclaims, waving his hand theatrically at the seated room.

“Marketing isn’t aligned with Sales at all.”


Why Sales and Marketing Alignment is a Good Thing

Sales and Marketing alignment seems like common sense.

If Sales and Marketing work together as one, then revenue generation is more efficient and effective.

The evidence bears this out.

The Aberdeen Group research identifies a direct causal link between Sales and Marketing alignment and revenue growth.

Your own experience will probably concur.

When Sales and Marketing align successfully, revenue increases because:

  • Marketing campaigns focus on the most beneficial topics and channels.
  • Salespeople have a higher volume of well-qualified, sales-ready leads.
  • Sales have the correct quantity and quality of content needed to convince prospects. Both teams agree upon the right time to pass leads from marketing to sales.
  • Marketing deliver company-specific and marketplace insights that improve selling effectiveness.
  • Metrics and qualitative feedback are available for continuous improvement of sales and marketing performance.

What company doesn’t strive for these benefits?

Unfortunately, like many things that sound easy on paper, Sales and Marketing alignment turns out to be more difficult to achieve in the real world.

In fact, in my experience, the lack of alignment is the cause of more angst in business than any other topic.

However, if Sales and Marketing alignment is something that business wants, why is it so difficult?


The Sales and Marketing Blame Game

The conflict between Sales and Marketing plays out in many companies.

Sales blame Marketing and Marketing blame Sales.

To quote Tavris and Aronson, “Mistakes were made (but not by me)”.

In other words, both sides blame the other for the repeated failure to turn marketing activity and leads into won opportunities.

There are many reasons for this finger pointing.

  • Goals that do not encourage cooperative behaviour.
  • KPIs that do not align.
  • Personal desire to look good against rivals, including vying for the future CEO position.
  • Short-term sales objectives conflicting with longer-term marketing priorities.

I could probably go on.


Popular Strategies for Sales and Marketing Alignment

Do a Google search on Sales and Marketing alignment and you will discover no shortage of content.

In fact, 40.3 million search results.

You’ll even find there’s a Sales and Marketing alignment summit.

To examine best practices for Sales and Marketing alignment, I carefully reviewed the top 50 search results.

You probably don’t want to spend as much time on this as I did, so I created a summary of the recommendations that you can read here.

Some of the recommendations will clearly have a positive impact.

It’s hard to disagree, for example, that a robust lead hand-off process should be implemented, that Sales and Marketing must define and agree the customer buying process and that they must communicate regularly.

Likewise, agreeing common definitions of what a well-qualified, sales-ready lead looks like is a precursor for successful implementation of this process.

Other sales and marketing alignment strategies are more controversial.

For example, potentially not every business will want to make both sales and marketing the responsibility of a single chief revenue officer.

So what else can we do?


5 Sales and Marketing Alignment Recommendations

Let’s return to the problem.

Sales and Marketing frequently blame each other for missed objectives.

However, in most cases, as Jack and Jason concur at the end of their Sales Hacker panel discussion, neither side is entirely right nor is either side entirely wrong.

Unfortunately, both Sales and Marketing come to the debate with their own preconceived ideas on the responsibilities of the other.

It’s these ingrained perceptions and, in many cases, preconceived views of the way the world works that determine where each side places the blame.

We need to break out of this narrow horizon to align Sales and Marketing successfully.

But what’s going to smash through the existing paradigm?

Enter center stage: CUSTOMERS and PROSPECTS.

We need the direct involvement and input from customers and prospects.

That may not sound radical.

Yet it’s something many companies hardly achieve at all.

So, here are my five recommendations for Sales and Marketing alignment.

  1. Create an effective open feedback loop with input from customers and prospects.
  2. Create an effective closed feedback loop with quantitative metrics.
  3. Re-shape your end-to-end revenue process and methodology.
  4. Implement a process of continuous marginal gains.
  5. Make project-led structural improvements.

I have applied these Sales and Marketing alignment strategies in many businesses with success.

Let’s go through them.


1 – Create an effective open feedback loop

Marketers strive for a closed feedback loop that links lead and opportunity outcome back to the originating campaign.

This closed loop delivers quantitative metrics on lead conversion rates and the efficacy of marketing campaigns.

This is crucial. I’ll explain how to implement an effective closed feedback loop successfully in Recommendation #2.

However, an open feedback loop is something else that provides other benefits.

Input from external sources is what defines an open feedback loop.

In other words, when there’s no external feedback or stimuli coming into play, nothing will challenge existing perceptions or alter the status quo. This sales and marketing strategic recommendation is to create an open feedback loop to gather external input from customers and prospects. Matthew Syed describes it this way.

“Without external input, failure doesn’t lead to progress because information on errors and weaknesses is misinterpreted or ignored; an open feedback loop does lead to progress because the feedback is rationally acted upon.”

To achieve Sales and Marketing alignment we need to break the existing cycle.

It means we need an open feedback loop.

Feedback on success and failure

For the purpose of Sales and Marketing alignment, an open feedback loop means we need input from customers, prospects and leads.

We need this input not to apportion blame, but to understand the customer buying process and to make improvements to our sales cycle.

In other words, unless with have this external input, the status quo will continue. Sales and Marketing will still blame each other for ineffectiveness, because what else is there to do? There is nothing to challenge the existing model in the absence of customer and prospect insight.

Specifically, to break out of this, we need input on the customer buying process in two areas.

  1. We need to learn from success. Why did we win?
  2. We need to learn from failure. Why did we lose?

I recognize the latter, in particular, is a deeply uncomfortable recommendation for many businesses.

Unfortunately, getting first-hand feedback on the reasons for failure is something we do infrequently, either as people or as organisations.

However, this is critical.

Think about it.

How often is ‘price’ blamed for a lost deal or an opportunity that does not progress?

I can vouch from personal experience of conducting research on behalf of many clients that price is rarely the root cause reason for a deal sales that doesn’t succeed.

For example, here is verbatim, what one person told me recently:

“Yes they were the most expensive and the price was too high, but if we had wanted to work with them I’m sure we could have gotten around that somehow. The fact is we didn’t want to work with them, so it was easy just to say, ‘your price was too high’”.

Prior to this externally focused research, this company spent many months tinkering with their pricing strategy with no discernible impact on opportunity conversion rates.

It was only after getting external feedback, from customers and prospects that the company began to truly learn why they win and why they lose.

Areas to get external feedback

Here are examples of specific areas on which you can gain valuable qualitative feedback:

  • Why do some unqualified leads fail to become qualified leads?
  • What stops some qualified leads becoming opportunities?
  • Why do some deals not progress beyond the initial, discovery stage?
  • What causes some deals to be lost at the negotiation stage?
  • What is the compelling reason why certain deals are won?

And lots more.

The key thing about this feedback is that it is comes from external rather than internal sources.

Steps to get external feedback

To implement this first sales and marketing alignment best practice, gather external, qualitative feedback in many ways, including:

  • Invite customers and prospects that didn’t buy into the company e.g. a facilitated team meeting.
  • Commission independent in-depth telephone and face-to-face interviews.
  • Get independent observation of live sales calls and visits.
  • Sit alongside the customer in their office and experience ‘walking in their shoes’.

One more thing about external feedback.

Get to the heart of what the customer means. Don’t accept at face value, “I don’t like the brochure”. Discover the underlying reasons; for example, whether this view relates to the core messages, the way the content is written, or the physical appearance.

In an upcoming blog, I’ll expand on this Sales and Marketing alignment best practice by detailing six ways you can get external feedback.

To get a heads-up when this post is live, register here.


2 – Create an effective closed feedback loop

The first sales and marketing alignment recommendation is to create an open feedback loop. This creates qualitative, externally sourced feedback that leads to improvement.

However, external feedback is only part of the story.

The second best practice is to gather accurate and reliable internal feedback. You do this through a robust closed loop feedback process.

This needs to happen in two ways.

  1. Insist on quantitative feedback.

Link every lead and opportunity to its source and originating marketing campaign. If no campaign produced the lead or opportunity, record this as well.

2. Insist on qualitative feedback.

On every lead handed-off from Sales to Marketing, whatever the outcome, ensure there is qualitative feedback transferred the other way.

How to implement a closed loop for quantitative feedback

The only effective way to achieve this is by using a CRM or sales automation application.

Unfortunately, many companies fail to implement the closed loop successfully by failing to follow these 5 best practices.

For detailed advice on how to design the closed loop process, read The Difference Between Leads and Opportunities. This blog post contains downloadable process diagrams in Visio and Powerpoint to help get you started.

This closed loop feedback on quantitative data also means you can collect insightful metrics on lead conversion metrics and the contribution that marketing campaigns make to overall revenue.

How to implement a closed loop for qualitative feedback

CRM systems also provide ways to capture qualitative feedback from Sales to Marketing on each lead.

For example, if your company uses salesforce.com, use Chatter on Leads and Opportunities to gather this feedback. To achieve sales and marketing alignment, gather qualitative feedback from sales using Chatter. Create reports that summarise these Chatter posts. Create tags to group Chatter posts together.


3 – Re-shape your revenue process and methodology

Your feedback loops are gathering qualitative and quantitative information on your end-to-end sales cycle.

Clearly, that information is of no value unless you do something with it.

So what should you do?

The two things Sales and Marketing must do together with all this information and feedback are:

  1. Re-design your revenue process.
  2. Re-define your revenue methodology.

The difference between the two:

Process is the planned steps you take to achieve something.

Methodology is how you take those steps.

An example:

Your sales process might include a discovery meeting. That’s a step in your process.

Methodology is the way you conduct that meeting. This includes the words you use to introduce the meeting, the questions you ask and the way you agree the next steps.

In other words, the meeting is a process step; the way the meeting is conduced is the methodology.

Some (although admittedly not many) businesses I encounter have a clearly-defined sales process.

The stages of the process are well understood by the sales team. The CRM system reflects this process in its opportunity stages. Reports and dashboards report the pipeline in a consistent way. There is uniformity across the team in terms of the process they follow.

At least, that’s sometimes the case.

However, in these businesses, what is far less uniform is the methodology the team members adopt. Sales people are left to decide for themselves HOW they undertake each process step. These companies can benefit hugely from identifying and sharing best practice and delivering training on how to execute the sales process.

How to re-shape your process and methodology

Sales and Marketing alignment recommendation 3 is about re-designing your process and methodology based on the feedback you have received.

Here are the specific steps to take.

  • Get Sales and Marketing people together in the same room with a large whiteboard.
  • Pick one significant deal your business recently lost (or a deal that withered on the vine).
  • Map the end-to-end sales cycle on the whiteboard.
  • Figure out everything you did (i.e. the process).
  • Describe how you did those things (i.e. the methodology).

Then take these two further steps:

  • Work out how to improve your process.
  • Work out how to improve the execution of that process.

This separation of process and methodology means you focus on both what and the how.

For example, if we had to go after the same deal again, what activities would we repeat? How could we execute them more effectively? What didn’t we do that with the benefit of hindsight, we could have done? How would we do those activities?

Examine more deals

This is what you do next:

Repeat this cycle of examination for a successful deal.

Capture the things that worked well and those that didn’t. With the benefit of hindsight, even though the deal was won, identify the activities whose execution can be improved.

Then do the whole thing again with another deal.

Work through four to six deals.

You know the score:

Figure out how to improve the process and the methodology. Remember to use the feedback from recommendations 1 and 2 to decide what these improvements look like from a customer and prospect perspective.

Document the improvements to process and methodology

Sales and Marketing alignment best practices 4 and 5 explain two ways to implement these improvements.

However, there’s a precursor to implementation.

The sales and marketing workshops will produce many whiteboard photographs, flipchart sheets and handwritten paper notes.

Get it into a structured format.

This means:

  • Process diagram(s) that describe the ideal end-to-end revenue cycle for existing and potential customers.
  • Notes and use cases that articulate how the process is best fulfilled.

Then you’re ready to start implementing changes that will achieve sales and marketing alignment.


4 – Continuous process of marginal gains

Now Sales and Marketing have fresh insight.

We understand what works well and what needs improvement.

We have information about success and failure. Your teams have figured out what is important to customers and prospects and what they care about less.

Here’s what you do next.

Implement a process of marginal gains. This is Sales and Marketing alignment recommendation 4.

Marginal gains is the term originally popularized by Dave Brailsford, the hugely successful head of the Sky pro-cycling team. 

Brailsford’s belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement. They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tires.

But Brailsford and his team didn’t stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.

Brailsford believed that if they could successfully execute this strategy, then Team Sky would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years’ time. He was wrong. They won it in three years.

Source: This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing By 1% And Here’s What Happened

Whether sport or business, success or failure is determined by the aggregation of multiple marginal gains.

Each gain may be minimal in itself, but when combined together, they have an irresistible impact.

How marginal gains works

Suppose you’re standing at point A.

You want to get to the top of the hill, point B. Marginal gains is the first way to implement changes that achieve successful sales and marketing alignment. Marginal gains will get you there. Take a small step.

Test whether you went up or downhill.

If you’ve gone uphill, take another small step in the same direction. Test again. Repeat the process.

If you’ve gone downhill, take a small step in another direction. Test again.

Keep repeating this process and without fail, you will get to the top of the hill. You’ll eventually arrive at point B.

Applying marginal gains in your business

Marginal gains mean you identify multiple ways in which you can make small improvements. Make enough of them, and you have a significant advantage.

So this is what you do.

  • Apply the feedback you gained and work out the many small ways in which you can improve the customer and prospect experience.
  • Refer to your sales and marketing funnel. Look for small changes that will improve the conversion ratio at each point.
  • Examine the end-to-end lead generation and sales process. Search out the multiple small changes that together, will collectively add up to a big difference.

Remember, every error, every flaw, every failure and every piece of adverse feedback, however small, is a marginal gain in disguise.

Sales and Marketing must regard this information not as a threat, but as an opportunity.

Finally, how do you decide which marginal gains take priority for implementation? That’s why you did Recommendation 3. You worked out what was important to customers and what was not.

Focus on the marginal gains that customers and prospects care about the most. The ones that relate most closely with the unique value your business adds.

Test marginal gains

Here’s what many people forget about marginal gains.

They forget about testing and measuring.

“Marginal gains are not about making small changes and hoping they fly. Rather, it is about breaking down a big problem into many small parts and then rigorously testing to establish what works and what doesn’t”. Mathew Syed. Black Box Thinking.

In other words, test everything. Make changes and validate that they have the result you anticipate.

How do you do this testing? Keep using the open and closed feedback loops we describe in Recommendations 1 and 2.

How to implement a marginal gains process

Implementing a marginal gains approach successfully requires a structured approach to communication and decision-making.

Here’s an example of how Modernis embedded this dialogue to achieve Sales and Marketing alignment.

In this company, marketing pass leads to inside sales reps. The inside sales reps aim to turn these leads into qualified appointment for field reps.

  • The inside sales team leader meets daily with the marketing team leader.
  • Each field rep speaks daily with his or her inside sales rep to discuss leads and appointments.
  • Each regional sales manager has a weekly face-to-face meeting or conference call with the inside sales team leader and the marketing team leader.
  • The VP of Sales and VP of Marketing hold a weekly conference call. They also meet formally face-to-face monthly.

The format of the discussion is the same in every case. Here’s the agenda:

1. Review:
Quantitative results and metrics.
Qualitative feedback from reps.
Qualitative feedback from customers and prospects (this happens only on a weekly basis).
Results from tests on marginal gains previously implemented.

2 Agree:
Those changes that will maintained and those to be reversed.
New marginal gains that can be tested.

There’s a formal method for recording these conversations in the CRM system.

Team leaders review these records in their weekly meetings. The VPs of Sales and Marketing do likewise.

This approach has transformed Sales and Marketing alignment. It gives both a common purpose, strategy and framework for working together.

The result at Modernis is an uplift in opportunity conversion rates of 17%.

5 – Make project-led structural improvements

Seeking marginal gains is something you do every day.

My final Sales and Marketing alignment strategy is something you do once or twice a year, sometimes not as often as that.

Look at this diagram of two hills. A sales and marketing alignment best practice is to implement step change improvements. You’ve already climbed the first hill. Marginal gains and continuous improvement got you from point A to point B.

Better design

Marginal gains work for day-to-day improvements. As we’ve seen, it’s highly dependent on testing and feedback to check each step.

However, it will never get you to point D, the top of a mountain. That mountain represents a better design and a better way of doing things.

The problem is that when you are at point B, the top of the smaller hill, a small step in any direction always takes you downhill.

To scale the mountain you need the vision and confidence to take a big leap.

Make that leap in the right way and you will likely land at point C.

Then what do you do?

Start again seeking marginal gains. Test each change.

And you know what?

Through a combination of step-change and marginal gains you will eventually arrive at point D.

How to make the big leap

To make that leap, to get to point D, you need a better design. A fundamentally different and improved way of doing things.

That might be a marketing automation system. It can be the introduction of new products or services. A new sales strategy. A culture change.

It may be many other things.

Above all, however, it’s a visionary step change that results from detailed analysis of quantitative metrics, salesperson feedback and qualitative input on success and failure from leads, prospects and customers.

These major leaps require a formal, structured transformational project.

You need to do all the things you expect from a successful project: robust business case; clearly defined scope; agreed goals and objectives; realistic implementation plan.

But you know where it starts. It starts with feedback and input from external sources, combined with innovation to produce a best-in-market revenue cycle.

Sales and Marketing Alignment in your business

“You know what?” says Jack Kosakowski at the end of the Sales Hacker panel discussion.

“Sales can’t live without Marketing and Marketing can’t live without Sales.”

He’s right.

Break through the existing paradigm and Sales and Marketing enter a beautiful relationship.

A relationship that can play-out in your business if you follow these five compelling strategies on Sales and Marketing Alignment.

If you got value from this article:

  • If you think this is a solid article that other people will benefit from reading, I would be delighted if you share it on LinkedIn.
  • To get a heads-up when we publish our next Sales Enablement blog, register here.
  • I’d love to discuss these concepts with you in more detail. Simply fill in our form or give us a call (number at the top) and we’ll arrange to talk.

Good luck.

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40.2 Million Google Search Results On Sales And Marketing Alignment | Summarized

40.2 Million Google Search Results On Sales And Marketing Alignment | Summarized

Search for sales and marketing alignment in Google and you get 40.2 million results.

I know this because I did a lot of research for my own article on Sales and Marketing Alignment | Proven Strategies For Success.

Although I must admit. I didn’t review all 40.2 million.

Just the top 50. Results, not pages.

Here’s a summary of the most popular suggestions on sales and marketing alignment from those Google search results.

For each suggestion, I’ve highlighted a recommended article. Bear in mind that these articles make their suggestions specifically in the context of sales and marketing alignment.

See what you think about each.

Then, examine my own recommendations for sales and marketing alignment in your business.

Sales and Marketing Alignment Popular Suggestions

1. Amalgamate Sales and Marketing Roles

In this scenario, a single person heads-up both Sales and Marketing.

Often this is in the context of forming a single, consolidated Revenue Function. The aim is to remove conflict over competing goals, priorities, and objectives.

This is exactly what Coca Cola did.

Recommended article:

Why Is Sales And Marketing Alignment All Of A Sudden So Important?

By Mike Lieberman


2. Make revenue the only objective

Judge both Sales and Marketing only on hitting the revenue quota. Everyone therefore has the same purpose and shared goal.

That way, conflict and blame disappear.

In other words, align Sales and Marketing around a single goal. That goal is revenue.

Recommended article:

Sales And Marketing Alignment: Why Marketing Leaders Need To Step Up

By Kara Burney


3. Define and agree Marketing KPIs

This popular recommendation involves defining and agreeing a number of core marketing metrics.

These metrics usually relate to Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) and Sales Accepted Leads (SALs).

Recommended article:

Sales And Marketing Alignment: The 8 Metrics That Matter

Author not specified.


4. Communicate more

In some companies, Sales and Marketing rarely meet or engage in meaningful dialogue.

It sounds reasonable that sales and marketing need to communicate more if they are to align successfully.

Other recommendations along these lines include having marketing listen-in on sales calls and spending time out in the field. Creating a weekly email and going for a beer and pizza together also figure.

Recommended article:

10 Tried-and-True Tips for Sales and Marketing Alignment

By Carolina Samsing


5. Agree buyer personas and the customer journey

This recommendation is to agree what the ideal buyer looks like.

That way, the end-to-end sales and marketing processes and all marketing collateral centres on the profile of the ideal buyer and the process in which they engage.

Recommended article:

Sales and Marketing Alignment: Best Practices for Building a Revenue Machine

By Craig Rosenberg


6. Re-design the end-to-end revenue process

Take a long hard look at the end-to-end process and agree jointly how to improve it.

The emphasis is on optimizing the end-to-end process. To do this, many companies have rightly extended the traditional opportunity-based funnels to include additional, earlier stages.

For example, here’s the funnel advocated by Marketo.

The model emphasises the increased role of Marketing at each stage in the sales funnel.

To improve Sales and Marketing alignment, Marketo recommend a joint focus on improving the conversion rate at each successive level in the funnel.

For maximum impact, consider the buyer persona during this exercise. Then produce content and communications that guides and encourages people through the funnel.

Recommended article:

What Is Marketing and Sales Alignment?



7. Agree the Marketing-to-Sales hand-off process

Successfully converting sales-ready leads to won opportunities requires an effective hand-off process from Marketing to Sales.

Many commentators advocate a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between Sales and Marketing on the hand-off process.

This SLA stipulates that, when Marketing pass a lead to Sales (based on pre-agreed qualification criteria), Sales will call the lead within a defined number of working hours.

Recommended article:

Lead Conversion Best Practices | 5 Proven Best Practices

Me, Gary Smith


8. Create better Content

Research by CEB (now part of Gartner) reveals that on average buyers are 57% of the way through the buying cycle before they engage with vendors.

It’s a popular statistic.

It implies buyers are consuming content on the web long before starting a buying process that is visible to sellers.

Our own research, interviewing prospects and customers on behalf our own clients, also bears this out.

It makes sense therefore, that creating better content and finding a way to get this in front of prospects will increase the chances that a buyer will choose to speak to a vendor.

Recommended article:

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Author not specified


9. Implement a marketing attribution model

Most B2B sales cycles take 3 to 4 months. Often longer.

In fact, if you include the time prospects spend searching for solutions and reviewing vendors before they actually engage with a potential supplier, the timespan extends significantly in some industries.

So how do you assess the contribution of your various marketing campaigns and web content to this extended sales cycle? How does Marketing prove to Sales that they really are having an impact? How do we quantify the contribution of Marketing to the revenue generation effort?

A marketing attribution model is one answer.

Attribution means value is assigned to all marketing campaigns that ‘play a role’ in the end-to-end sales process.

In other words, attribute a percentage of the opportunity amount to all campaigns on which a prospect responded.

Recommended article:

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Author: Eric Bauer


10. Create a content-based funnel

Research by Sirius Decisions found that 60 – 70% of all content churned out by Marketing goes unused by Sales.

IDC put the figure at 80%.

I doubt you know the statistic for your company, but we can all probably recognize that vast amount of content created for Sales goes unused.

The research identifies three key reasons for this.


  • Aren’t aware the content exists.
  • Don’t know where to look for it.
  • Think there’s too much content to sift through, therefore don’t bother.

On this basis, here’s a popular recommendation for achieving better Sales and Marketing alignment: Create relevant content and get better organised.

This means putting all the marketing collateral in one place. Make it easy to search and find relevant material.  It also means communicating to salespeople about the content created by Marketing.

Recommended article:

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Author: Jonathan Franchell

Don’t forget:

Check out my 5 Compelling Recommendations For Sales And Marketing Alignment


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Are Sales Right To Complain About Marketing Leads?

Are Sales Right To Complain About Marketing Leads?

Marketing leads given to Sales are rubbish, says Dave Apthorp.
Sales don't bother to phone Marketing Leads, says Maria Smith
We wanted to know more about the quality of marketing leads.
Are marketing leads so poor it's not worth salespeople calling them?
We conducted a short experiment to investigate the quality of marketing leads.
12 months ago the team attended a trade show to increase the number of marketing leads.
The aim was to create sales opportunities from these marketing leads.
Sales called all the marketing leads but no new opportunities were created.
That produced a lot of conflict between sales and marketing.
12 months later, GSP did some research by calling all the marketing leads.
The findings from this research might surprise you.
Two marketing leads had subsequently made a purchase.
Two other marketing leads were in the middle of a purchasing process.
One marketing lead was planning to make a purchase next year.
4 marketing leads were not planning to make a purchase anytime soon.
1 marketing leads will never make a purchase.
In summary, half the marketing leads were good quality.
We contacted the marketing leads to find out why they hadn't spoken to salespeople at the time.
Based on our research, the marketing leads told us they weren't ready to speak to salespeople.
The leads were good quality but they were not yet sales-ready.
After the trade show, the activities of these marketing leads were invisible to salespeople.
No-one knew when the marketing leads would be ready to speak to salespeople.
There are six lessons from this research into the quality of marketing leads.
Lesson 1 - marketing leads in the invisible sales pipeline needs to be managed proactively.
Lesson 2 - marketing leads need to be managed over the long-term and this requires patience.
Lesson 3 - lead nurturing is essential to produce sales-ready leads from cold lists.
Lesson 4 - create high quality, useful content to feed lead nurture campaigns.
Lesson 5 - engage with marketing leads only when these prospects are sales-ready.
Lesson 6 - creating high quality marketing leads requires a process driven approach supported by technology.
Apply these 6 lessons to create sales-ready opportunities from your marketing leads.

“Most Marketing leads we get are rubbish,” complains Dave Apthorp, sales executive at Modernis.

“How can Sales possibly know this?” says Maria Smith, marketing manager at Modernis. “They never phone any of the leads we DO give them!”

But where’s the truth? Are Marketing leads so poor it’s not worth Sales following them up? We wanted to find out.

Twelve months ago the Modernis marketing team attended a trade show. Sales immediately called up the leads. And how many opportunities were created? None. Absolutely none. Which led to a lot of sales complaints about the quality of leads. And one heck of a lot of friction.

So, 12 months later we called 10 of the marketing leads. We wanted to find out what had happened in the intervening 12 months. Here’s what we discovered:

  • 2 had purchased products from a competitor of Modernis.
  • 2 were actively engaged in a purchasing process to select a supplier. Sadly Modernis wasn’t one of the candidate suppliers.
  • 1 hadn’t started a formal purchasing process. But they fully expected to make a purchase in the next 12 months.
  • 4 of the leads had taken no action following the trade show. They didn’t anticipate starting a purchasing process any time soon.
  • 1 wasn’t in Modernis’ market place and is unlikely to ever make a purchase.

In other words 5 of the 10 were great leads. Two had already bought from a competitor. And yet these leads were all rejected as rubbish by Sales.

So why didn’t these prospects engage with Sales at the time? Here’s what they told us:

“We weren’t ready”.

” We didn’t have stakeholder support”.

“I didn’t have a budget at the time”.

“We weren’t sure what the right solution was. The last thing I needed was a sales pitch.”

“We hadn’t decided which vendors we wanted to talk to”.

The prospects were legitimate buyers. But they simply weren’t  sales ready. They were at an earlier stage in the buying process. They didn’t want to speak to a sales person. Yet.

Which is why Sales thought the marketing leads were rubbish. “That’s why we don’t bother to ring them”, says Dave.

But what’s worse, after the trade show the activities of these warm prospects were invisible to Modernis. Which meant no-one knew when they were sales ready. And led to lost sales for Modernis.

It was a classic case of a lack of sales and marketing alignment.

So what what can we learn from this research. Six things.

1. Manage the invisible pipeline pro-actively

Customers start their buying process long before Sales get involved. These early stage activities form an invisible pipeline. Yet this invisible revenue pipeline can – and must – be managed to drive sales income.

2. It pays to be patient

Modernis has a sales cycle of 2 – 3 months. But that’s Modernis definition of the sales cycle. That’s how long it typically takes an opportunity to pass from Created to Closed in the CRM system. But looked at from the perspective of the customer, the buying process is much longer.

3. Lead nurturing is essential

Traditionally prospects had to rely on sales people for their information. Not any more. There’s a wealth of information available on the internet on every product on earth.

And ad hoc marketing campaigns – delivered only when time permits – have only a short term impact on sales revenue. Effective lead nurturing means a structured process of communications throughout the buying process.

4. Useful is the new cool

The creation of content that is highly useful to prospects is critical to lead nurturing. The leads we spoke to were hungry for information. Highly useful content satisfies this hunger. It helps leads narrow choices. In your favor.

5. Engage sales when prospects are sales ready

Prospects don’t mind talking to sales people. But only when they’re ready to do so. And only with the relatively small number of vendors with whom they’ve decided to engage. And the challenge for Marketing? Track human behavior to gauge when leads are sales ready.

6. Marketing is becoming increasingly process and technology driven

It’s hard to know when a prospect is sales ready without knowing if they open your emails. Read your blog posts. Visit your web site.

Lead nurturing cannot be done in an ad hoc fashion. And it can’t be done manually, at least not effectively. It requires planning and well defined processes. Together with the marketing automation tools necessary to make the whole thing scalable and efficient.

Recommended Reading

5 Sales And Marketing Alignment Recommendations That Nail It

And finally… you can also access this blog on Slideshare – Stop Sales complaining about the quality of Marketing Leads

Awesome Pipeline and Sales Performance Visibility

Download the FREE Dashboard from the AppExchange today

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