Empowering Sales and Marketing Alignment: How to build revenue-driven collaboration

As a young marketing executive, I used to run massive tradeshows for a technology consulting firm. During the show, we’d generate hundreds of leads — all of which required follow-up after the show. So I made a classic mistake. I threw them over the fence to the sales team and said, “Work these leads and make something of them.”

More than that, I enlisted the support of the CEO and VP Sales to ensure that the sales people followed-up. They put the sales team on notice telling them it was part of their job to work the leads the marketing team had produced.  Period.

My big mistake

I was young. I was naïve. I was misguided. I had no idea that my exuberance was actually doing the exact opposite of what I intended. I wanted desperately to be an impact player for my company. I wanted to help generate revenue. But by imposing hundreds of unqualified leads on busy sales people, I was actually impeding revenue generation. Let’s call it a rookie mistake.

I only became aware of this mistake after I participated in professional sales training. In that training, I learned about how professional account managers handle a sales cycle and all of the things than can go wrong to prevent a deal. My “valuable leads” were actually a distraction from the real revenue-generating activities that the sales team was focusing on at the time.

Could my leads have converted to customers and revenue? Absolutely. But they didn’t. My throw-it-over-the-fence attitude and the already-too-busy time schedule of the sales staff meant that most leads only received a half-hearted level of follow-up at best. Many of them never received a call back. What lessons can we learn from this? How can my rookie mistakes benefit you?

My top five recommendations for aligning marketing and sales

After a couple of tradeshows, I began to figure out a better way to truly impact revenue by giving the sales team what they really wanted: prospects. A lead is someone who expresses interest in your services. A prospect is someone who expresses interest in your services and:

  • Matches your ideal client profile.
  • Has adequate budget.
  • Has a timeframe in which they must act.
  • Has a willingness to engage in serious dialogue.

If you give your sales staff primarily leads, you can expect ho-hum follow up and revenue. If you give your sales staff primarily prospects, you can expect a highly engaged sales team that hits a lot of home-runs. How can you make this happen? Here are my top five recommendations.

  1. Send marketing people to professional sales training.
  2. Integrate sales and marketing automation systems and require both teams to work on them.
  3. Make marketing people responsible for qualifying leads.
  4. Require sales people to document pipeline and deal progress.
  5. Comp sales and marketing on revenue performance.

Let’s take a quick look at these individually.

1. Send marketing people to professional sales training

While you may not want your marketing people to become sales people, your marketing staff will benefit from a deep understanding of how sales professionals do their job. Marketing staff should be able to articulate the steps of and follow a sales campaign from start to finish. This is when the lights really turned on for me and when I became a much better marketing executive.

2. Integrate sales and marketing automation systems and require both teams to work on them

If you have walls today between sales and marketing, you need to break them down. The best way to do this is to integrate their job functions into one interface. Even office workers who set next to each other in the same cubicle can remain isolated in their own little silo if they’re work-flow and business processes are not somehow tied together.  A common interface creates a common language and common ground.

This is how you get two teams to act like one team. I’ve written a couple of articles now about sales and marketing automation tools. I highly encourage you to read them and understand how these technology advancements will benefit your business.

3. Make marketing people responsible for qualifying leads

I know this sounds outrageous, but true sales professionals don’t have time to qualify leads. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to. Marketing staff can and should qualify leads and cue them up for sales professionals. With just a bit of training, most marketing people can do this with ease.

The sales team’s time is best spent managing a sales campaign. This again is where sales and marketing automation tools and a few basic sales skills will really benefit a marketing team. If marketing people can tell sales people, with just the click of a button, that a “lead” has been qualified and is now a “prospect,” their work-flow will be united. When marketing people are integrated into the early stages of the sales cycle, they are in the greatest position to impact revenue.

4. Require sales people to document pipeline and deal progress

Most professional services deals require a lengthy sales cycle. Sales people have a tendency to share documentation only after a deal closes — in the final contract. This means marketing people are literally blind to sales campaign activity unless they ask. This often makes marketing people feel like they are intruders when all they really want is information — usually to do a better job.

Again, this is where sales and marketing automation tools really help. If a sales professional is documenting conversations, rounds of proposals, sales calls and likelihood of close, marketing people can refine their activity. Marketing people can see which marketing campaigns produced the most leads, the most prospects and the most actual clients.  They can see which campaigns produced “ideal prospects” versus just a bunch of leads.

Marketing people can see how much revenue and gross profit on sales came from each deal, which they can then associate to a given marketing campaign. This information helps marketing executives improve their campaigns and generate better leads and prospects for the sales team. A little information sharing, based on simple daily documentation, can build a lot of goodwill and tear down walls between marketing and sales.

5. Comp sales and marketing on revenue performance

Maybe the most important step of all is to create a compensation structure where both sales and marketing have some skin in the game. This can be tricky. For sales staff, most compensation is already performance-based. But traditionally for marketing people, unless they have management by objectives (MBO), most compensation is salary-based. I think this is a mistake.

I recommend that up to half of a marketing group’s compensation be derived from the revenue performance of the overall team, no matter how you’ve structured your teams or divisions at your company. If you’d like some creative ideas about how to structure these compensation systems, just send me an email.

Final thoughts

Take these five steps and you’ll be amazed at how walls break down and revenue goes up. When sales and marketing functions finally act like the one team they really are, great things can happen for any business.

About the author

Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms. You can reach him at randy@theshattuckgroup.com.

9 Responses to Empowering Sales and Marketing Alignment: How to build revenue-driven collaboration

  1. frankie December 17, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Excellent article, very useful, thanks a lot !

  2. Danielle Goode December 17, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    Absolutely love this article. Great job!

  3. Susan December 17, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    Great article!! I don’t have the nerve to send it to decision makers in mu company though.

  4. grant granger December 17, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    I used to be in direct sales for aluminum roofing and solariums high ticket home improvements…secrets of closing the sales made me a better person and a wicked closer pushing me into top ten sometimes five of the company….r.i.p mr Zig Ziglar

  5. gary December 17, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    i know went you new everything is going cazy all the information you get about traffic seo rol ads but this is a great article the tem i on close your sales for you i very lucky to have that

  6. Susan December 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Good article! Recently I wrote a blog post titled: Are Your Sales and Marketing People Talking With Each Other? It is so true that marketing needs to be right on top of what’s happening as as result of the advertising they’re doing, and the sales people should be able to focus on selling the qualified prospects/leads, whatever you call them! Thanks for including the part of the marketing having some skin in the game; nothing like skin to motivate a person to keep adapting something until it actually works to bring in the sales. Thanks. Susan

  7. Mike Searles December 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Randy –

    ‘make marketing people qualify leads’?

    ‘true sales professionals don’t have time to qualify leads’?

    Really? Really!? Interesting (to say the least).

    Marketing is marketing – and – selling is selling. Never the twain shall meet.

    OK, so I’m a 55 years old Salesman – having had more face-to-face, belly-to-belly, toe-to-toe professional selling situations than most sales people today have had hot peas (I sold to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies).

    Keep marketing mentality out of sales. And likewise to sales people. Keep the he’ll out of the marketing people’s office. Get out and SELL.

    Oh, and that begins with beginning the sales continuum with your own qualifying of leads.

    KISS – ‘keep it simple stupid’.

    Your article has great enthusiasm and I enjoyed reading about your early experience with trade-show leads.

  8. Mumtaz A Khan December 17, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    Excellent article Randy. I made the same mistake while engaged in the marketing and lost several leads. I particularly, besides integrating marketing and sales like the idea of sending marketing people to professional sales training.

  9. Brian Willsone February 21, 2014 at 3:05 am #

    Hello Randy! I have observed that Sales success depends on the salesperson who really understands the sales and marketing phenomena. They have to spend enough time to work upon improving their sales skills and techniques as per market demands.