Defining Sales & Marketing Optimization

The need to do more with less, faster has brought sales and marketing to figure out how to work better together.   There is antidotal evidence that over one-third of all B2B companies starting talking about improving their sales and marketing alignment in the middle of last year.  Most of the talk is around lead management – how to get more leads and sales to follow them up.  And there are the inevitable side conversations about marketing or sales leadership and if it is time for a change. These are all good conversations as it means people are open-minded to change on some level.

Much has been written about the signs of misalignment but little on what sales and marketing alignment really means. We all bandy about the term, sales & marketing alignment, assuming a widely accepted definition exists that all understand and subscribe to.  I haven’t found one, have you?  What I have found is that ‘alignment’ means different things to different people based on their orientation to the problem.  For many sales leaders (not all) and technology solution vendors it means anything from automated lead management, sales force automation to marketing delivering higher quality leads.  Some CEOs think sales & marketing alignment means they’ve stopped bickering, marketing is delivering more leads or that sales is finally following up on the leads that marketing gave them.  Consultants lump into ‘alignment’ anything from developing outbound campaigns, improving product marketing to sales operations and leadership coaching.  And to most marketers, it means whatever it takes to get Sales off their backs and to regain some level of credibility and clout within the organization.     

If we’re going to improve sales & marketing alignment through best practices, we need a comprehensive definition that we all can work with.   I’ve scanned a large number of sales, marketing and leadership books and have yet to find a succint, comprehensive and balanced definition.  Most take the position that misalignment is marketing’s fault. In eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, Ardath says “marketing stands to reap huge benefits….by aligning with sales.” (page 175). Ardath’s book is an excellent for a long list of other reasons.   However, we need a definition that reflects alignment as the mutual responsibility of marketing and sales.  Christopher Ryan gets closer to that in his book How to Create an Unstoppable Marketing & Sales Machine where he defines it as “synchronizing the marketing and sales functions …with a service level agreement (that) outlines the duties and objectives of each department.”  

 I’ve put a stake in the ground and defined sales & marketing alignment at a higher, more strategic level:

 “Sales and marketing collaboratively working toward the common goal of profitably increasing revenue and customer excellence through shared processes, resources and metrics.”

What does this definition say? Alignment is more than just leads.  At the heart of alignment the two teams are working toward the same goal with a common understanding of resources.  Companies achieve this through a three stage journey that integrates activities, processes and team structures and reinforce alignment with a culture that emphasizes shared accountability and institutionalizes it with common technology platforms.  

What do you think? Do you agree and how would you improve my definition?

Comments (5)

  1. Christopher Ryan -
    January 31, 2010

    Christine, this is an excellent article and thanks for raising the issue. Your definition of marketing and sales alignment is a good one, but as you suggest, it can mean different things for different organizations. And failure to align can have huge negative consequences. I find that CEO’s have experiences and tendencies that tend to guide them towards a marketing-centric or sales-centric approach, instead of a blended approach that would optimize revenue, profitability, etc. I am speaking about the subject of marketing and sales alignment Feb 4: http://bit.ly/8nXMcd. Let’s keep the discussion going.

  2. Charles Born -
    January 31, 2010

    Just an observation – I find too many marketing people hide behind the mechanics and tactics of marketing without understanding how to sell or having ever sold or learned how to sell. The best marketers I’ve had on my teams have sold and understand the trials and tribulations of selling.

  3. Christine -
    February 6, 2010

    CustomerThink has syndicated this blog and this post triggered a lot of thoughtful dialog. Check it out at http://www.customerthink.com/blog/defining_sales_and_marketing_optimization

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