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Why sales and marketing alignment just got that much more important

Paul Mackender

November 10, 2020

Why sales and marketing alignment just got that much more important, and how to ensure that alignment happens

Attending the recent ITSMA annual Marketing Vision conference provided an incredibly useful insight into what is exercising the minds of leading B2B marketers during the most challenging of economic conditions, created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  And, perhaps unsurprisingly, one theme dominated discussions; how COVID-19 has accelerated the process of digital transformation for businesses of all shapes and sizes.  As a recent McKinsey study also confirmed, companies have been pushed over the digital transformation tipping point during 2020, changing the way they operate forever.  

In particular, the McKinsey study showed that companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions as well as their internal operations by a stunning three to four years.  As was discussed at the ITSMA conference (indeed, Michael Treacy of Treacy & Company stated that, if you’re in the tech space you’ll have seen the application and use of technology advance about 5 years in just  6 months!) such a pace of transformation has considerable ramifications for how sales and marketing interact and drive value for their organizations.  The challenge of creating sales and marketing alignment has been a thorny issue that most companies have grappled with.  And few would admit to cracking it entirely, it’s clear from ITSMA research that, alongside leveraging data and insight, organizations are prioritizing sales and marketing alignment as a key part of strategic growth engablement. The reward for getting this right? Revenue acceleration. (Source |ITSMA | How the Pandemic is Accelerating Data-Driven Marketing | June 25, 2020) 

But as companies race to transform, sales and marketing must break down the traditional siloes of separate working and start to align around common objectives such as optimizing digital customer interactions.  

The good news is that marketing has a golden opportunity right now to drive alignment with sales, like never before.  Think about it, in a world where face to face customer meetings can’t happen, how do field sales reps now engage with customers?  Or if they can’t attend conferences or events, how do they prospect?  As Jim Jackson, CMO of Hewlett Packard Enterprises, commented at Marketing Vision:

“Our CEO always says ‘Covid took away the one thing we thought we had, and that was time’.  So we had to move fast. But there were some real positives and one of them was HPE marketing’s relationship with sales.  Sales suddenly had to start engaging their customers digitally, and marketing was already well down that path.  So the signals that we’re getting, the engagements we’re able to drive, how we think about reaching out to our customers and delivering this experience meant sales were coming to us and asking how they could package up some of our insight to make the experience better for their customers.  We had a close relationship with our sales team, but the digital element has now really tightened.”

Aligned to this, as the previous rules of engagement changed, we saw a coming together of sales and marketing teams with marketing taking the role very much as the enabler in the relationship, especially with key accounts. This sales enablement took many forms underpinned by the need for greater levels of customer centricity. From the provision of deep insights to understanding customer and executives’ needs, to providing tailored, authentic positioning to ensure the appropriateness of message, to smart, well planned and executed digitally-led engagement strategies, the marketing function in many clients organizations was seen in a new light by their sales counterparts.

It is incumbent on marketing teams to aid the process of alignment with sales and they can do so in  three simple ways:

1)     Insights that matter

Through digital transformation, we can create a deeper understanding of the needs of our customers, as we gain access to ‘clues’ left from customer digital journeys.  And specifically, marketing can better understand certain behaviours and also predict likely outcomes for engagement with those customers through actionable insights. Tracking the customer journey more effectively then allows marketing to work with sales to increase pipeline velocity by working collaboratively to drive conversions.

2)     Content that stimulates, interest and converts

Content has always been king when it comes to great marketing but, traditionally, we’ve tended to create content from our own perspective, believing that we understand what moves and motivates our buyers.  However, the beauty of the digital transformation process is that we can now, by tracking digital engagements across the buying journey, not only know for sure what our customers are interested in, but we can also deliver content exactly when they need it. We see this most effectively play out in ABM campaigns where we can engage with specific accounts, or clusters of accounts, with highly relevant, contextually specific content, delivered at the right stage of the buying cycle.  And guess what?  ABM works best when sales and marketing collaborate around targeting specific accounts, working jointly to determine which accounts are ripe for targeting to drive upsell or cross sell opportunities, driving efficiency and increased velocity in the sales pipeline as a result.

3)     Provide tools to engage

Sales teams live to engage with their customers and prospects; by doing so they can progress conversations that can lead to faster conversion.  In the space of a few short months, though, the average seller has had to shift from the traditional face-to-face engagement model to a digital environment that may not be one they are used to or comfortable with.  A further McKinsey study underscores just how quickly the buying process has shifted to be digital and social.  Again, here is where marketing can play a huge role in helping sales adapt to this new reality by collaborating on the deployment of new tools that are aiding sellers to engage with customers and prospects digitally.  For example, innovative social selling applications, such as SoSell, can help sellers find and then engage with customers through social channels, sparking conversations that can lead ultimately to revenue opportunities.  

Follow these steps and you will be well on the way to cracking the challenge of sales and marketing alignment, rallying around common objectives and, ultimately, enjoying the fruits of an accelerated pipeline.

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