I’m a Marketer, Not a Magician – How to Better Align Sales and Marketing

How to Get Better Sales and Marketing Alignment

Today, September 8th, is Star Trek Day, marketing the anniversary of the series’ debut on television in 1966.

It wasn’t planned, but the timing couldn’t have been better for me to use one of my favorite Star Trek quotes in a marketing and sales context.

In the series, one of the characters, Dr. McCoy, was famous for saying things like, “I’m a doctor, not a brick layer,” or “I’m a doctor, not an escalator.”

If you’ve been in marketing very long, you’ve probably come across some of the unrealistic expectations non-marketers can have of what we do, especially those in leadership roles.

While it’s flattering to think we can do some of the things they think we can, most of the time we can’t. Especially, when we’re not working in concert with our sales team or truly understand our customers.


Short-Term Thinking is Bad for Everyone

The current obsession with short-term results is nothing more than a focus on one thing – satisfying investors. It’s also easier to manage and think about than a long-term focus of a year to two years. It’s more controllable and people love to have control.

Do you remember that time when you had to research a new tool, platform, or service and the end of the month (even worse, the end of the quarter) came along and the salesperson you were working on ratcheted up the pressure, not to mention the discounting?

I bet you didn’t like it. Who likes to be sold or pressured into making a quick decision? No one.

Even if you purchased the product after being pressured and offered discounts, did you feel good about it? Did you have the same enthusiasm for the product that you previously had?

As a salesperson, have you thought about the position you’ve put your prospect in? They now have added pressure to convince their boss to purchase something they, themselves, aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger on yet.

And why do companies aggressively discount their products or services just because it’s the end of the month or quarter?

They do it to meet the imaginary quota they’ve set for themselves during an imaginary time frame. Because, for some reason, “long-term” investors really care about quarterly results.

What if they focused on a longer horizon? Do you think customers would be happier? Would margins and profitability be better? The answer to those two questions is ‘yes,’ by the way.

What happens when a company is more profitable? You guessed it, they can invest more into the company in the form of resources and people. That investment compounds into more growth and profitability and the wheel keeps turning.

Just think, if you were profitable, you wouldn’t need to rely as much on investors, would you?


Marketing Must Talk With Customers

A lot of times, as marketers, we’re advised to talk with our sales team to better understand the customer. After all, they’re the ones talking with them every day, right?

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good place to start, but you’re going to want to talk with your customers as well. And not just the customers that love you, but prospective customers as well.

In an interview with Andrea Lechner-Becker, CMO at LeadMD, Chris Walker said, that by talking with paying customers and potential customers, “you’re going to get different stories. If you just go and talk with the people who love you, you’re going to get one story. If you go and talk to all of the people who use your competitive product or use whatever the status quo is you’re going to get a very different story.”

Understanding these stories is the key to great marketing. You’ll begin to understand their psychographics and behavior. Their fears and desires. All of this will help you a) create more accurate personas and b) be able to create marketing and copy that bifurcates.

What I mean by bifurcates, is that you can become really clear who your product or service is for, just as much as who it’s not for.

This is important, because being able to do this may temporarily cause leads to decrease, but you will see a huge improvement in lead quality.

After all, Meredith Hill once said, “when you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.”


Marketing Doesn’t Work for Sales

I hear the phrase “marketing supports sales” or “marketing works for sales.” That’s the wrong way to look at things.

Marketing and sales are both working toward the same thing- increase revenue, profitability, and secure the company’s future. This can only happen through creating value, delivering on brand promises, and fostering a great experience, not just for customers, but prospective customers as well.

Marketing is a long-term endeavor. Marketers can’t just flip a switch and drastically shorten the awareness and consideration phases people go through. They can maybe be more clear in setting the expectations between prospective customers and what your product or service has to offer, which might speed things up a bit. But they’re not magicians, pulling quality leads out of a hat – quality is the key.

Speeding up the marketing process will only slow down the sales process. Speed produces poor quality leads, which leads to wasted time for the sales team.

Instead, view the relationship between sales and marketing as a partnership. Sales and marketing strategies should be developed jointly by the sales and marketing leaders.

Developing and executing strategies in silos is sure to create a massive disconnect.

As a result, effective communication between sales and marketing leadership, as well as the sales and marketing teams, needs to become a priority.


Make it Easy to Communicate and Set Expectations

In order to improve communication between the sales and marketing teams, you need to make it as easy as possible.

Things like Slack or Microsoft Teams can do just this and work great whether your teams are in the same location or distributed.

Sales and marketing leaders should have regular and frequent check-in calls to ensure both are on the same page with the current strategy, campaigns, and projects.

Include the sales team at the beginning of marketing meetings that discuss project and campaign outcomes and analytics. The same is true of sales meetings covering a new, focused push into a specific market or company.

It’s important to encourage the sales team to share details of conversations they’ve had with customers that show things are working as expected or uncover unexpected blind spots that marketing should address.

This can be an opportunity for marketing to coach the sales team on messaging and other communication details that will help them improve their engagement and close rates with leads.


OKRs Can Create Better Alignment

Finally, another way to create better alignment between sales and marketing teams is to use OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results.

The concept of OKRs is not new. It’s been around for a while, most notably, used by Andy Grove at Intel in the early ‘80s.

John Doerr would later put them on the map by introducing them to Google in the company’s early days.

According to Doerr, in his book, Measure What Matters, he lays out, very simply, what is meant by objectives and key results.

An objective “is simply WHAT is to be achieved, no more, no less.”

Key Results “benchmark and monitor HOW we get to the objective.” They are measurable and can be verified as complete. In other words, you can show your work and prove that it’s done.

Why can OKRs create better alignment between sales and marketing? The reason, is because the objectives are backed by greater company goals.

For example, if leadership has set a company objective of increasing revenue by 30% in a given year, then marketing and sales teams can create their own objectives, and the key results needed to achieve them, based on reaching this larger company goal.

Sales might create an objective of increasing sales phone calls by 40% each month or quarter. The Key Results are the various tasks or actions that will need to take place in order to make this happen. Such as, email 100 prospects each week. Emailing 100 prospects is measurable and you know when it’s done.

For marketing, it might be to increase MQLs (marketing qualified leads) from 200 per month to 275 per month.

These MQLs will help the sales team reach their new objective of increasing prospective customer phone calls, which will help the company reach its broader goal of increasing revenue by 30%.

At the end of the day, everyone should be pushing toward the same, macro objectives and goals. There shouldn’t be silos or communication walls between sales, marketing, or any other business unit for that matter.

The onus is on everyone- not just marketing or sales – to make things better. Sales needs to better communicate downstream with marketing and marketing needs to get out of their comfort zone and talk with customers- paying and prospective.

But, above all, collaborate and act like you're a part of something larger than the sales team or marketing team. If you can, act like what you’re doing is even bigger than the current state of the company.

Because it is. It’s a long game. A marathon. Not a sprint.


Photo by Fengyou Wan on Unsplash