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How to bridge the sales and marketing alignment gap – once and for all

By John Cheney, CEO of cloud-based CRM vendor, Workbooks

Alignment between sales and marketing should be a priority for any business leader looking to generate growth. Of course, experience tells us it’s easier said than done. Their destination may be the same, but often sales and marketing teams have been at odds when it comes to getting there, relying on different approaches, using different success metrics and speaking different languages.

And yet, sales and marketing alignment is not new to the agenda. So why is it still so difficult to achieve? According to Gartner, less than half of organisations (49 per cent) have a common lead definition that was developed and agreed upon by sales and marketing teams together – more than one-third fewer organisations than expected. At Workbooks, we put this alignment gap down to three things:

    1. A lack of communication
    2. A lack of insight into each team’s customer interactions
    3. Disparate and disconnected technologies

The business impact of these can be very costly. Lack of coordination between sales and marketing is not only a cause of frustration for employees; according to a study by LinkedIn, it wastes an estimated $1 trillion annually in the United States alone. Even for those organisations whose sales and marketing teams appear to operate harmoniously, it’s enough to make you question: “How could we be doing more?”

It starts with you

The first step to achieving greater alignment between sales and marketing functions is to recognise the importance of doing so – and prioritise it for your business. Ensure an open dialogue between the two departments, where you can discuss the important questions: Are sales and marketing goals truly aligned? Are teams communicating as well and as often as they should? Does each function really know how the other is communicating with prospects and customers? Have you agreed common definitions – for example, what is a qualified lead (you might be surprised to hear two very different answers!)? Could teams work collaboratively – and more productively – using shared tools? Ultimately, what financial impact could a better alignment of sales and marketing functions have on the organisation?

Most businesses that probe a little deeper in this way conclude that there is room for improvement. The question then becomes: “How can we make it happen?”

Share goals, performance targets and metrics

Much of the frustration we hear from sales professionals when discussing marketing relate to two things: insufficient focus on revenue generation and unviable or unqualified leads. Marketers, on the other hand, often feel that salespeople do not show enough interest in – or acknowledgement of – long-term brand building, that they are not following up on leads provided, and not providing feedback on why leads may be qualified out.

Spend time at the outset communicating the importance of short-term revenue growth and long-term brand development, and ensure both teams are clear on what the sales and marketing process looks like. Then put in place KPIs that measure both teams on their contribution. Shared goals and KPIs should always be centred around the pipeline and revenue; this will go a long way towards bridging the alignment gap, with both teams agreed on the metrics they will be measured against.

Enable with technology

By 2025, 75% of the highest growth companies in the world will deploy a revenue operations (RevOps) model, according to Gartner; a move away from siloed and linear sales enablement functions towards revenue enablement activities that support all customer-facing roles and connect every single part of the business.

This level of alignment will take time, effort, and commitment across the organisation – it is not something that can be achieved overnight. Technology can, however, make the transition faster, simpler, and more effective. It can also help ensure these changes stick. Specifically, CRM systems can provide a single source of truth, centred around the customer. Using these systems provides access to features such as dashboards and reports where sales professionals and marketers can easily see the sales pipeline and track performance and conversions at each stage of the buyer journey, allocate tasks between departments, and make required changes to marketing and sales campaigns that are visible to all.

Crucially, a CRM system is both a result and a prerequisite of successful sales and marketing alignment; it requires everyone to have agreed a common language, set mutual KPIs, and showed a willingness to work together. But business leaders and their CRM providers must also keep in mind why sales and marketing alignment has yet to be achieved, and these reasons can differ from business to business. Look for a technology provider that wants to understand these nuances, get under the skin of your business, and agree clear business outcomes based on your objectives, to ensure maximum return.

GUEST BLOG: Science and sales – A match made in heaven 

It’s no secret that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having an immediate effect on how businesses operate today. However, one area of business where AI is having the biggest impact is sales, with UK sales leaders anticipating AI adoption in their industry to grow over 150% by 2020. 

Executed correctly, AI now has the potential to revolutionise sales and marketing processes, enabling companies to increase the speed, accuracy and output of lead and revenue generation. AI can not only assist in identifying and targeting ideal customers, but it can be leveraged to align sales and marketing activity and deliver integrated campaigns, ensuring the right person can be contacted at the right time, in the right way, with the right message.

James Isilay, Founder and CEO, Cognism, outlines how lead generation has transformed to become far more scientific than ever before, and how companies that use relevant, intelligent, accurate and timely data will reap the rewards.

The sales funnel is broken 

The introduction of GDPR undoubtedly disrupted the way marketing teams carry out inbound digital marketing and sales strategies. However, it has been a long overdue wake up call for the industry: organisations have realised the poor quality of their data which until now, has resulted in inefficient and ineffective marketing outreach.

GDPR has forced companies to take a look at the data they are using and how they are using it. A key aspect of the regulation is ensuring that data is fully up to date; a welcome side effect of this is that it means every outreach is more relevant and effective. And it’s not just about ensuring the contact details are up to date: it is about leveraging detailed, up to date insight to rapidly identify new revenue streams.

Strategy and data 

Customer and prospect data can be an incredibly valuable resource, but it can also be a liability. Poor quality contact and lead data is certainly one of the most frustrating aspects of any B2B outbound sales campaign. From job changes to company acquisitions, data is always in motion. In fact,  approximately a third of CRM data degrades every year with most sales teams using data that is 60% out of date. Improvements to the sales process must be supported by a completely different approach to data sourcing: static CRM is no longer good enough, so B2B sales organisations need access to fresh, accurate and GDPR compliant data.

New business relies on new opportunities. From identifying an existing customer that moves to another company or champions promoted within an existing customer, there is always an opportunity to upsell or find a new prospect. In order to regain data confidence, fix the broken sales funnel and ultimately achieve revenue growth, a more scientific and strategic approach to data sourcing is required.

Data with a fourth dimension

Relevant data is essential if businesses want to ensure they are reaching the right contacts. In addition to the two dimensions of company and people, adding the third dimension of events and fourth dimension of real-time data completely transforms the way in which a business can identify and reach its total addressable market. But how can companies bring the science into their sales strategy and ensure their data is fresh and up to date? The answer is AI.

Bringing science to sales 

From LinkedIn Profile to company websites to corporate announcements, these data points are crucial sources of information for the sales team when it comes down to adding a fourth dimension of time into data. Artificial Intelligence powered data tools can provide a deep data resource, allowing sales teams to access the information they need to ensure strategic and effective outreach. Data profiles include skill sets, education, time in certain roles, even specific technologies that are in use which is everything needed for a successful sales call to identify hot leads.

This sales intelligence extends across the globe and into every industry allowing B2B lead generation to be based on specific triggers allowing the sales team to hone their pitch and improve responses. The fourth dimension of time remains key in this strategy as it enables the sales team to exploit specific events such as funding rounds or geographic expansion and target the right prospect at the right time.

What makes this strategy truly smart and strategic is the feedback that is provided by Revenue AI. With each new outreach campaign, responses are fed back into the system, providing further insight and a better understanding of personas and their reaction to specific messaging – it is Revenue AI’s constant feedback loop that ensures the sales and marketing activity retains momentum and continues to deliver value.

Conclusion

With current outreach activity wasting time by using out of date contacts and failing to maximise revenue growth, the case for sales to be underpinned by a scientific strategy is clear. Few companies have achieved a truly scalable, integrated and harmonised B2B sales operation that maximises opportunities, but those who have are certainly reaping the benefits and seeing significant growth.

Like science, B2B sales success is all about the metrics – it’s about understanding and refining the process and ensuring that the right team structure is in place. With the right sales model that is underpinned by AI, a company can quickly and effectively explore and exploit a source of accurate, fresh, real-time data to achieve fast, targeted and timely B2B lead generation and sales activity that is effective and efficient.

Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

GUEST BLOG: Fixing the broken sales funnel

Business agility and the ability to respond fast to new sales opportunities has never been more important and a strong, intelligence-led sales model is essential to maximise opportunities. Yet in this post GDPR era, sales models have never been weaker or less efficient. A lack of data confidence is undermining outbound activity, leaving companies reliant on increasingly expensive inbound campaigns that are not delivering.

To fix the broken sales funnel, organisations clearly need to use to fresh, accurate and GDPR compliant data. But that is just the start: successful sales activity is underpinned by a scientific, structured and metrics driven approach that leverages multi-dimensional real-time data, as James Isilay, CEO, Cognism, explains.

Science not Art

Fewer good prospects. Delayed decision making. Ever lengthening sales cycles. A lack of predictability in the sales process. For many companies, the sales funnel is looking less than impressive. Yet while the temptation is to blame new restrictions of data privacy created by GDPR on the other, there is little value in playing the blame game. What companies require is a solution.

Where is the sales funnel broken and how can it be fixed? Understanding the ‘where’ is key – and something that far too many companies fail to address. How many good sales-people have been fired, when the problem was poor data? How much time has been wasted on prioritising the wrong prospects or failing to correctly identify the total addressable market?

A broken sales funnel cannot be repaired just by adding technology, replacing salespeople, or addressing data quality – although these are without doubt essential components of sales success. Without a robust, clearly defined and, critically, measured sales funnel, organisations will struggle to maximise sales opportunities.

Sales is a science, not an art; and companies need to take a far more metrics-led approach to sales models and management. Breaking the sales funnel down into its constituent parts, measuring performance and comparing results at every stage of the funnel to an equivalent industry standard benchmark is an essential step in understanding the current position.

This means not just tracking the number of phone calls made but the number of dials, number of connections and the number of conversations. How many conversations then convert to meetings or product demonstrations; and meetings to opportunities and then closed deals?  And, of course, never overlook quality – it is essential to measure the quality as well as the volume of leads to optimise sales performance.

Breaking down the prospecting activity into this detail is essential to reveal the specific point – or points – of failure; and to create a clear view of what needs to change to turn sales around and transform bottom line performance.

Intelligence Led

There are three core components of a successful sales funnel: people, process and technology.  Getting the right people to undertake specific components of the sales activity is key.  Break the process down into distinct areas and have specific KPIs for each to measure activity levels and outcomes. Allocate well trained and focused individuals to cold outreach, and more experienced individuals to deal closing. This is a far more effective model that will definitely improve performance.

Provide clear benchmarks to set performance expectations – and use them. If an individual’s performance is not hitting the minimum standard, jump in. Determine the problem and address it – whether that is through training or new messaging. Being proactive is essential to ensuring the funnel continues to perform effectively.

High Quality Data

Supporting these people with great data is, of course, fundamental, especially given the GDPR data privacy compliance requirements. Bad data is one of the most frustrating problems for any sales team. From the time wasted calling contacts who have moved on, to targeting companies that recently spoke to a colleague or, even worse, invested in a competitive product, bad and outdated data is a major barrier to sales success.

Combining good, accurate and continually refreshed data with a CRM system is an essential part of the model, ensuring data is up to date and shared across the sales function. With access to a deep, accurate and GDPR compliant customer data resource, the sales team can gain confidence and avoid time wasted in irrelevant outreach. But that is just the start. By adding events to the typical two dimensional company and people data – and ensuring this information is continually refreshed in real-time – companies can completely reconsider the sales funnel. From transforming the understanding of the total addressable market to using purchase triggers and decision making personas to prioritise activity, the use of revenue driven AI can deliver significant bottom line improvements.

From new job titles to funding rounds, even office expansion, there are a number of triggers that can be used to more effectively drive the timing and messaging of outreach campaigns. And, by feeding persona specific responses to different marketing messages back into the CRM system, the process can be continually improved. Essentially, Revenue AI provides a positive feedback loop.

Conclusion

Extending the metrics led marketing model from inbound, where performance and return on investment is continually assessed, to outbound is perhaps a cultural change for experienced sales people. But a sales funnel reliant upon an old school contacts list and perceived market opportunities is all about the ‘art of sales’ – it will never stand up to a competition embracing a science led, metric driven approach.

There is an enormous universe of prospective customers – and salespeople do not know every single company in the market, whatever their perception. New companies appear, others disappear; new funding rounds fuel growth; big wins result in business expansion. Without intelligence and a robust, process driven sales model, a company will never have an accurate handle on the total addressable market or a way to identify and prioritise outreach.

With current global economic uncertainty, opportunities are thinner on the ground and those companies with a broken sales funnel will struggle. In tough times companies need to be able to effectively and efficiently target the best opportunities, at the best time, with the right message. It is the companies with the smartest sales model that will succeed.