Skip to main content

Aligning Sales and Marketing to Create a Collaborative Revenue Engine

By March 5, 2012Article

Editor’s Note: It happens often in many organizations. Salespeople say, “The leads I get from marketing are no good or not qualified.” Marketing folks say: “The salespeople don’t know how to work with the leads we give them.” Why aren’t the two groups better aligned? I talked with Michael Shanker, CEO of Extraprise, about this phenomenon and how to change the situation so the two groups work collaboratively and effectively to increase revenue. What is the starting point for removing hindrances to sales and marketing alignment?
Michael Shanker: The first thing is very simple – sales and marketing alignment must be driven from the top down. It must be evident to everyone that the alignment is important to the CEO or the general manager of the business unit. For changing organizational behavior, it’s also very important for the CEO to drive the alignment as a revenue opportunity, and not a cost-savings initiative.
As an example, one of our clients is a major event manager that also owns TV and radio stations. The CEO attends steering committee meetings and asks tough questions about marketing and sales alignment. The people in those meetings know that it’s very important that they achieve alignment. And they provide feedback to the CEO in the meeting on what they’re hearing – from their own perspective, not simply parroting what the CEO says.
Secondly, a company needs to develop a value proposition from the perspective of the customer.
Third, the CEO needs to figure out what’s possible – what does marketing and sales alignment look like in the company? Then, the CEO needs to set goals for the alignment. So, is it fair to say that if the CEO doesn’t drive the alignment, it won’t happen?
Michael Shanker: The CEO needs to enforce the importance of alignment. But there also are operational changes that need to occur to enable the alignment, and the CEO needs to drive those operational aspects.
As an example, we worked with a client for which it was critical to increase revenues to 18 percent a year (they had been doing 12 percent). The chairman made it very clear that this was the goal. But it turned out that the company’s compensation plan messed up the strategy. They paid more for a field-generated lead than a marketing-generated lead. So when a sales rep got the marketing-generated lead, he would print it out and re-enter it into the CRM system as a field-generated lead to get more money when it closed. Obviously that screwed up all the campaign measurement aspects. A simple comp plan degraded their results.
It takes a top-down perspective to think about all the operational aspects that can impact the sales and marketing alignment and its goals. How does sales force automation or technology help bring about sales and marketing alignment?
Michael Shanker: From a technology perspective, data integration must be as close to real time as possible because leads die very quickly if they’re not turned into opportunities. Also, it’s very important from a technology perspective to be able to measure campaign performance to enable doing it better or differently the next time. Integrating the data and making them available to everyone is a very critical component of sales and marketing alignment. Why is there such a disconnect between sales and marketing as to whether a lead is qualified?
Michael Shanker: First of all, “lead” is not always the correct designation; until they are properly qualified, they’re really “contacts.” The practical consideration – and often the hindrance – comes in the effort to understand the buyer. Back in the early CRM days, it was all about the sales process and sales cycle and understanding it from the selling company’s perspective. For sales and marketing alignment, the company needs to understand the sales cycle and process from the buying company’s perspective.
The marketing team needs to manage the buy cycle appropriately with information and communications that turn a contact into a qualified sales lead. Marketing is simply the first phase of a sales cycle. There’s a lot of talk these days about conducting nurturing campaigns in the marketing phase.
Michael Shanker: Yes, and the nurturing campaign needs to communicate from the buyer’s perspective. An example is a multibillion-dollar global company that achieved extraordinary results from an e-blast campaign. The price point of their product is over $100,000. They had achieved poor results from prior campaigns; people wouldn’t complete the required information because they didn’t want a sales call.
In this marketing campaign, instead of defining the contacts as “sales leads,” they defined “conversion” as getting a contact to fill out a form completely so they could begin collecting information about the contact. They achieved over a 35 percent conversion rate – far more than in previous attempts. They then put the contacts (not referred to as “leads”) into their stream of email communications that informed the contacts more and more about the value of their product and would help them move the contacts forward in the buy cycle. It was a very successful campaign as it was unobtrusive from the buyer’s perspective. What about upselling to existing customers?
Michael Shanker: When a marketing organization can provide value to a sales organization by pinpointing where to sell, it creates alignment. We worked with a client’s chief marketing officer in profiling the company’s existing customer base to determine what a fully saturated customer looked like. They then identified the “white spaces” that had not been penetrated for each customer and marketed into those white spaces. As customers raised their hands, so to speak, through the marketing phase, marketing turned them into qualified sales leads and moved those leads to the sales team. That kind of activity creates tremendous alignment. What are the top three to five characteristics of a collaborative revenue engine? What does alignment look like other than having qualified leads?
Michael Shanker: It’s a picture of what I’ve been describing. First, there is alignment around the value proposition, the program and campaign strategy, the buying personas, and there is tight technology integration. All of this must be worked out together by both marketing and sales. A really good sign of alignment is when sales and marketing people sit together in a room and have conversations on a strategic level about campaign strategies, buying personas, and the multi-channel trigger-based programs they’re going to run.
The second sign of alignment for a collaborative revenue engine is when qualified marketing leads turn into sales leads and quickly end up in the CRM system for action. When a contact response comes in, it gets placed within 12 hours into the right channel for activity. This requires tight integration from a technology perspective. There is no alignment if a lead gets to a salesperson in three days.
There also is no alignment if the company can’t measure the effectiveness of the campaigns. Has the campaign generated the right conversion rate? I prefer a more aggressive conversion perspective, like revenue; but a lot of companies like to look at everything else as well. No matter what measurement methodology the company uses, tight integration from a technology perspective is very important in alignment.
The third sign of alignment is process. Integrating operational processes with the marketing and sales activities is critical.
A fourth indication of alignment, which is extremely important from a tactical perspective, is that the marketing team finds real opportunities for the sales people to pursue. Please share an example of a company where sales and marketing collaboration is highly successful.
Michael Shanker: I observed very effective alignment at a major financial services company. Their marketing organization meets twice a week to collaborate with senior and less senior financial advisors who talk with existing customers. Marketing asks the advisors for ideas for marketing campaigns.
One example of an idea they used from this collaboration involved one-to-one marketing on the phone with existing customers. The financial advisor would say, “You own this, this, and this. Maybe you’d be interested in this or that.” Often the customer would respond, “I’m not interested in those things, but I am interested in this other thing.” As a result, the quality of the sales leads from the marketing function was very high.
Critical to the success of this campaign was the fact that the technology and processes were aligned and well laid out so the financial advisor was able to turn on a dime and address a customer’s interests and need at that particular moment on the phone call. That is a truly aligned marketing and sales organization.
Michael Shanker is CEO, co-founder, and Director of Extraprise, a leader in right-time revenue optimization services for B2B and B2C enterprises. For more information, contact him at