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A Collaborative Approach: How Marketing and Sales Can Work Together More Effectively

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by: Will Schnabel (@wschnabel)
24 March 2011

Sales and marketing alignment continues to be a challenge for many companies, with organizations struggling to increase communication and transparency between the two departments. And with buyers more empowered than ever, developing a strong lead-management process with sales and marketing buy-in is absolutely critical to ensuring seamless communication with prospects—moving them through the sales funnel efficiently and converting more leads into sales.

Clearly, there’s no time to waste. Here’s a look at three ways you can help increase marketing and sales alignment today.

1) Work together on defining leads and developing a scoring approach.

When marketing and sales having different definitions of what constitutes a lead, frustration builds. Incorporating a lead-scoring model into your lead-management process is an excellent way to mitigate this problem, bridge the gap between sales and marketing, and ensure that leads are ready to buy when they reach sales.

For starters, sales and marketing should collectively define terminology. What is a contact? What is a lead? What is a qualified opportunity? Marketing needs insight from sales as to what constitutes cool, warm and hot leads—otherwise, it’s a lose/lose scenario.

In conjunction with this discussion, marketing should communicate with sales regarding lead-scoring crite­ria or, even better, show them the actual scoring model so they can develop a visual picture of how rankings are determined and weigh in on suggested changes based on what they are encountering “out in the field.” Focus on developing a scoring system centered on quality, not quantity.

By designing a lead-scoring system with definitions that marketing and sales have developed in concert, you’ll help create accountability on both ends.

2) Develop a Service Level Agreement (SLA).

The B2B buying cycle is often long and complex, and without a clear understanding between marketing and sales regarding how leads will be handled, you run the risk of prospects getting lost in the funnel. Collaborating with sales on an SLA can help streamline the lead-management process.

For starters, automatically routing marketing-qualified leads based on a score or rank can help, since your sales team is able to focus its time and energy on leads that are ready to buy your products and services, eliminating the lead-distribution bottleneck that occurs with manual processing.

But that still leaves questions regarding how quickly marketing will get leads into sales’ hands (e.g. within the hour, day or week) and how they will get there (e.g. email sales alert, CRM notification, direct push to rep’s lead queue). And once a lead is in sales’ hands, what happens? Use an SLA to address process specifics such as:

  • Transparency: How will leads be tracked? How can sales gain visibility into previous marketing interactions with a prospect? Should salespeople provide feedback to marketing on lead status, and if so how?
  • Timeline: How long does sales have to accept and engage leads? How quickly should a salesperson have before directing a lead to a nurturing campaign?
  • Tactics: Once a lead is in sales’ hands, should marketing continue to communicate with the prospect? If so, how will you coordinate efforts so a lead isn’t inundated with messaging?

3) Measure the right data.

For a salesperson, there’s nowhere to hide if performance isn’t up to par—either you hit your numbers or you didn’t. For this reason, generalized marketing reports such as “We’ve generated 172 hits in the press, resulting in 100K impressions” or “We tallied 50,000 hits on our website” don’t always resonate with salespeople. They want to know specifi­cally how these efforts bring in leads.

Marketing can help bridge the gap by making its reports as specific as possible. If marketing can say, “We generated 20,000 contacts, 1,000 became leads, 400 got qualified and 50 became buyers,” not only will sales better understand the value marketing brings, those in the c-suite will, too. Make sure your marketing reports include this type of data.

In addition, organizations should consider evaluating the marketing team based on metrics such as sales-qualified leads generated. That kind of mutual stake in sales’ success is almost guaranteed to build trust between the departments.

So, what tactics have you found effective for aligning marketing and sales? Share your success stories below.


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