Aligning sales and marketing functions reminds me a lot of learning to drive a stick shift. Grinding gears, stall-outs and trial-and-error learning: these were all a part of my attempts to master a manual transmission. I just couldn’t get the timing right. Either my foot came off the clutch too fast or I pulled the stick before the clutch was all the way down. Either way, the car let out a huge groan. It was not pleasant to hear.

These days that sound is still in my ears. But I hear it in a different way: when I meet with sales and marketing leaders at professional service firms. These great teams really want to work together. They deeply desire success. But they just haven’t learned how to put the timing together to propel their companies forward. I have some good news. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Key Take-Away:

Only 7.1% of professional services leaders said their sales and marketing teams “feel like part of a well-oiled machine that just works” in our recent survey.

Only 7.1%

If you think I’m over-exaggerating here, let me just say for the record that it’s not me who has made the point.  In June of 2014 we sent a survey to more than 50,000 leaders of professional service firms who represent companies from more than 15 different verticals, ranging from 10 employees all the way up to 500 plus employees.  The survey asked this important question:

How would you characterize the relationship between your sales and marketing functions? 
(choose only one). 

  • Sales and marketing teams operate in silos and never the twain shall meet.
  • Sales and marketing teams get along but could be much more effective.
  • Sales and marketing function well together.
  • Sales and marketing feel like part of a well-oiled machine that just works.

I wasn’t entirely sure how people would respond to these questions.  What I learned was surprising.  19.6% of all respondents said their sales and marketing functions work well together and only 3.6% said they operate in silos without ever meeting.  The majority of respondents were not polarized at opposite ends of the spectrum.  So that’s good right?  Well, sort of.

While 25% claimed their “sales and marketing teams get along but could be much more effective,” this belies a general lack of confidence in this topic.  Why do I say this?  Because only 7.1% stated that their sales and marketing teams feel like part of a well-oiled machine that just works.  Only 7.1%.  Wow.

Hey.  Wait a second.  Isn’t that what senior executives want out of the sales and marketing functions - a single team that works together like parts of a greater whole to produce value for the business?  Isn’t that why they invest in sales and marketing in the first place? 


The biggest disconnect – how to manage the sales funnel

But that may not be the biggest issue.  In my experience, having thrown junk leads over the wall to sales teams before (I must confess – sins of my youth), the real problems emerge when it comes to how the sales funnel is managed.  Our survey asked another important question:

How would you describe how leads are handled today? 
(choose only one)

  • The marketing function generates leads and passes them to sales management: 29.1%
  • The marketing function generates leads, passes them to inside sales who qualifies leads and then passes them to individual sales people: 20.0%
  • The marketing function generates leads, qualifies them and passes them to individual sales people: 29.1%
  • Other: 21.8%

The key insight here is that 80% of the companies who responded to our poll rely on their marketing function to generate leads and get the conversation started.  But only 7.1% say this process operates like a well-oiled machine.  That’s a big disconnect. 

What this tells me is that the sales and marketing functions at many professional service firms are grinding gears an awful lot.    


Agreement on the shape of the sales funnel

One of the biggest issues I see is how they conceive of the sales funnel.  In my experience, most professional service firms have a five-stage sales funnel:

  • Awareness: Prospects become aware of your brand, services and content.
  • Consideration: Prospects sample your content to see how you can help them.
  • Interest: Prospects engage in serious dialogue, requesting a proposal.
  • Evaluation: Prospects evaluate your proposal against their needs and competitive offerings.
  • Selection: Prospects accept your proposal and move to next steps.

If I present this model to sales and marketing leaders before doing individual interviews, they will nearly always agree with it.  But if I sit down in a room with marketing people and ask them to describe the sales funnel at their firm, I get a somewhat fuzzy shape.  More often than not, they have little visibility into what happens after sales consultants take over the leads.

If I sit down in a room with sales people and ask them to describe the sales funnel, they can usually give me a very good description of how they guide prospects toward services and how they scope and close deals.  But these consultants often don’t see what happened at the beginning of the sales funnel, the very genesis of the prospect’s experience.

If I then diagram the sales funnel that both marketing and sales people described and put them side-by-side and show them to the leaders of these functions, their eyes begin to open.  They begin to see that they are far more connected than they ever realized.  But they also see that they don’t understand how the other function is managing their part of the sales funnel. 

It becomes very clear that this lack of visibility, this lack of understanding of their connectedness, is the very source of the grinding gears.  They also begin to see that if they can improve how they connect their parts of the sales funnel, they will leap forward just like letting off the clutch too fast. 


Next steps

To help you leap forward, I’ve developed a short webinar called Align Sales & Marketing Teams To Grow Revenue And Clients.  This free resource is under 30 minutes long.  It will show you how to identify and fix the sources of disconnectedness that hold back so many firms from their growth potential. 

If you want to turn your sales and marketing functions into a well-oiled machine, watch this webinar now.  It is available on-demand.