Looking Beyond Sales and Marketing Alignment

In many B2B marketing organizations, marketing is expected to deliver leads and sales is expected to close. In a world of perfect sales and marketing alignment, marketing and sales have a common definition of qualified leads, the number of leads needed, when leads should be delivered and how the handoff from marketing to sales will function.

But is this really perfect sales and marketing alignment? A clear definition of roles and responsibilites with no overlap?

Adam Needles (@abneedles) makes some great points that call this into question in his recent post on DemandGen Reports, Why Demand Generation Shouldn’t be Focused on Marketing Qualified Leads.

In his article, Adam makes the case for focusing on revenue qualified leads, removing SQLs and MQLs to create a single definition of qualified leads across the organization. He also points out that sales and marketing both contribute through the entire funnel. The process from contact to close looks far more like the bottom graphic than the one on the top.

Source: b2bdigital.net via Eric on Pinterest

The real implication, although Adam doesn’t say it, is that sales and marketing alignment is the wrong objective. Perfectly aligning sales and marketing on either side of the fictitous wall dividing them isn’t the answer.

Instead, the wall needs to be torn down and sales and marketing need to be integrated through the entire customer experience.

Here are two problems with aligning but not integrating sales and marketing.

  • Alignment reinforces silos. Marketing is focused on MQLs, sales is focused on revenue. Marketing is delivering leads, sales is closing leads. It creates a division of labor where there should be an integration of effort and skill.
  • Alignment ignores reality. Sales and marketing both acquire leads. Sales and marketing both nurture leads. The business needs to improve lead acquisition and nurturing by having sales and marketing partner through the entire process.

Today, sales and marketing are often not aligned, and alignment is a good first step. But long term, merely aligning sales and marketing will not be enough to sustain a competitive advantage through sales and marketing.

Your Turn

Can sales and marketing stop at alignment, or will the conversation shift towards integrating sales and marketing throughout every aspect of demand generation and the pipeline in the future? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

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  • @wittlake:twitter  This is spot on.  Really what this calls into question is a model assumption via the whole ‘Marketing Qualified Lead’ idea (i.e., ‘alignment,’ as you call it out) that is fundamentally flawed.  Successful orgs have always been integrated, per your chart, and should be working off of a common qualification model and process flow.  And frankly successful demand process integration needs to focus in on how the two can work more in parallel rather than in series.  #totalviolentagreement

  • Alignment and integration are two words that need to be defined for most people.  Alignment might be common goals and roles and integration might connote reporting relationships to some people.  In my opinon we need to have mature leaders, process driven, with common outcomes.  The chart that shows marketing and sales aligned across the whole process is excellent, we need to be symbiotic in our execution.  I think we leaders sometimes try to make it too simple with silos and definitions instead of the developing the trust and agreed upon operating systems.  The days of sales versus marketing and determine who serves is over!!  They are distinct functions who cannot coexist without each other, very similar to the various instruments in an orchestra!

  • Eric, I could not agree more! Although I think we need to stay away from semantics. In my mind alignment and the way you are using the term integration are one in the same.
    In a recent ITSMA online member survey (conducted in March 2012), we uncovered the aspects of sales and marketing alignment (or as you say, integration) that differentiate the higher performing companies from the rest of the pack:
    ·         Marketing and sales have visibility into each other’s work
    ·         Marketing and sales have a shared understanding of each other’s goals and metrics
    ·         Marketing and sales have the same goals and metrics
    ·         Marketing activities are tightly aligned with the entire sales cycle
    ·         Marketing and sales have a formal feedback loop (to determine what works, what doesn’t, what’s happening in the field, etc.)

    The higher performing companies recognize that marketing does not just hand off leads to sales, but stays engaged throughout the sales/buying process.

  • Love the whole “integration” idea, Eric! While we could spend endless hours debating semantics, I think you and Adam Needles are spot on when it comes to MQL’s being a hindrance to marketing sometimes… sure, is good to be able to measure results in the form of MQL and such but we just have to be careful to measure the right metric. Also, the separation between Marketing and Sales is not so clear anymore (especially in a world where ‘everyone is a publisher’), integration and especially collaboration between sales and marketing is the critical piece. 

    I hope the discussion goes on…

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  • I like everything your saying. The marketing/sales processes for lead generation are integrated and the two vastly different organizations with different skills and motivations need to work as one.
    The silos exist, however, because the roles are different. I haven’t met too many marketing programs managers who excel at qualifying leads for budget and timeframe, or navigating organizational decision making. Likewise, I haven’t met too many sales reps who can write persuasive direct mail copy. As a result you need both roles and multiple measures at different stages of the pipeline.

    I don’t have any problem with measuring marketing on the number of marketing qualified leads (and cost per MQL), sales development on opportunities created, and field sales on revenue. It keeps things simple and helps individual contributors stay focused on what they can control.

    A tier of management over the lead process is crucial for success in integrating the human efforts, ensuring bottlenecks don’t exist and for improving results and efficiency over time.

    The lead gen process manager can reside in either in marketing or sales. The leader needs to be accountable for process efficiency. Are the marketing qualified leads converting to sales accepted leads at higher rates? Are the marketing programs from last month turning into revenue this month?

    Management jobs are difficult, complex, nuanced and crucial, especially when it comes to a process as important as lead management.

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