Most professional service firms want to align their sales and marketing functions because they know that this is the path to new clients, new revenue and consistent growth. But when they first embark upon this journey, they seal their fate by asking the wrong question. How do we align sales and marketing teams?
Why is this the wrong question? Because it assumes two things that I think are fundamentally wrong. First, it assumes that sales and marketing people just need to talk more, communicate better, to get on the same page and come to some agreement. Second, it assumes that the misalignment stems from people, not process.
I think a much better question to ask is this. Around what do we align our sales and marketing functions? My answer? The sales funnel. Let’s explore how to do this.
I wish I could say that the impact of misalignment is just friction between sales and marketing leaders. But I’m afraid it’s much more significant than that.
This cannot be resolved by team-building exercises
Many senior executives turn to team-building programs when trying to align the sales and marketing functions. This is usually not particularly effective. Why do I say this?
The typical team-building exercise starts like this. A senior executive introduces the consultant they have hired to “fix” the team-work issues. The consultant meets with individuals and then gets everyone in the same room, often begrudgingly, and they talk about the issues. They put forward some ideas to get along better.
Then they go on some outings where they learn to appreciate and respect each other. They fall backwards while blind-folded into their colleagues’ waiting arms. They scale ropes courses and do their best to hang on while brave souls dangle overhead. Maybe you’ve had this experience?
That’s all well and good, but come Monday morning, these teams still have goals that they must achieve. When those goals seem diametrically opposed, the problems resurface even though the people do not want them to. So the question becomes, how does team-building help people achieve alignment? My answer is that personalities and people were probably not the problem in the first place.
People are not the problem. Process is the problem.
When sales and marketing teams have alignment issues, sometimes it gets personal. I have seen senior executives from both functions seethe at each other in meetings. But for most professional service firms, this is not the case. The people want to get along. But under the pressure of day-to-day goals and deadlines, their communications get truncated. Sometimes their tone of voice becomes tense.
I have more than once witnessed passionate professionals who are in violent agreement with one another. Marketing people want to deliver value to their companies. Consultants, who usually hate the label of “sales”, want to close more deals. But they struggle to work together to achieve meaningful results for the business.
I typically know there are alignment issues when I hear these types of complaints from marketing leaders:
- Sales people won’t follow-up on leads we’ve generated.
- Sales team members think of us as pre-sales and don’t understand or respect the wide range of responsibilities we have.
- Sales team members won’t give us enough cycles to support content marketing.
Common complaints I hear from sales leaders include:
- The leads marketing generates are a waste of time.
- We need more leads and better leads.
- Marketing keeps asking for our time to help create content but what’s the point if the leads aren’t any good?
- The marketing team really doesn’t understand who we work with and what they need and we don’t have time to educate them.
I wish I could say that the impact of misalignment is just friction between sales and marketing leaders. But I’m afraid it’s much more significant than that. When sales and marketing teams don’t work together like a well-oiled machine, these things often happen:
- Revenue outcomes fall well below goals.
- New client acquisition is inconsistent and insufficient.
- Sales cycles are long, slow and difficult.
- Lots of leads enter the top of the sales funnel, but very few convert to clients.
- Prospects put downward pressure on fees due to uncertainty about the value of services.
Why create alignment around the sales funnel?
I sometimes get push-back from marketing people when I say “it’s best to work with the sales team on the sales funnel.” Some marketing people believe the sales funnel is the sales function’s responsibility. I do not agree with this.
I’ve also had sales people tell me that marketing should be marketing and sales should be sales and never the twain shall meet. In other words, sales owns the sales funnel and marketing people ought to just keep building pretty websites. Grrrr….
In my experience, this is the real cause of the disconnect. How so? 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.
So here’s an interesting question. Who takes responsibility to generate awareness about a professional service company’s brand, services and content? Gee. That sounds like the marketing function to me. Who takes responsibility for producing and promoting content to move prospects into the Consideration phase? Once again – the marketing function.
Who takes responsibility to engage in serious dialogue, build proposals and close deals? Why that’s the sales function of course.
So as you can see, both sales and marketing are in the same boat, on the same journey so to speak, whether they like it or not. They share the sales funnel. This is why you have to build the right processes around how you manage the sales funnel.
How to get started
To help you get started down this path, I have a free resource for you. I’ve developed a short webinar that’s under 30 minutes. It’s called Align Sales & Marketing Teams To Grow Revenue And Clients. This free resource will show you how to create such tight alignment between your sales and marketing functions that you will consistently acquire the right new clients and increase revenues.
You will also reduce or eliminate friction between these two important functions. And they will become a finely tuned machine that consistently hits the mark. If you want to align your sales and marketing functions to achieve these outcomes, access this webinar now. It is available on-demand.