5 Ways to Align Sales and Marketing for Harmonious Lead Management

November 3, 2015 Richard Bayston

Leads are generated by sales and marketing at different stages of the funnel. Sales people look at the leads marketing passes on to them and typically have two complaints: there aren’t enough of them, and they’re insufficiently sales-ready. Marketers think sales people don’t pursue leads with sufficient vigor, and they often never see the leads salespeople generate.

Marketing gives sales leads they can’t use; sales generate leads that need to be marketed to before they’re sales ready.

What if everyone’s half right, for the wrong reasons?

Sales and marketing need to be aligned, integrated and behaving like they’re in the same business.

But only 10% of businesses feel like that’s how their sales and marketing departments work. If you’re one of the 90%, you could be missing out on the benefits of aligned sales and marketing departments. These include marketing goals, like 36% higher customer retention; sales goals, like 38% higher sales win rates; and most importantly, business goals like 20% annual revenue growth.

We need a new way of looking at the customer purchase process. A linear perspective isn’t working well enough: We need to say goodbye to the funnel. It was always a rough approximation, just a way to visualize what was going on. And now it’s a model that’s outlived its usefulness.

In fact, to make just that point, here’s a reimagining of the conventional funnel, courtesy of Forrester:

sales funnel

Image Source: Buyer's Journey by Lori Wizdo Forrester Research 

Doesn’t look so common sense now, does it?

Funnel Alternatives

There are several alternative models to the conventional funnel:

funnel alternative

Image Source: McKinsey Consumer Decision Journey by McKinsey

The Consumer Decision model shows several feedback loops between initial consideration and purchase. It’s great that it includes loyalty; but the top-of-funnel awareness and engagement that generates many leads isn’t emphasized.

sales funnel example 2

Image Source: The Customer Life Cycle Is A Better Fit With Modern Marketing by Forrester CMS Wire

Forrester’s circular ‘life cycle,’ shown at right, emphasizes the (hopefully) circular nature of client relationships. It’s not about stuffing as many folks as possible down the ‘funnel,’ and we can make major gains by increasing lifetime customer value and loyalty. It’s always good to be reminded of that, and Forrester’s model emphasizes discovery as an active process and engagement as a vital stage of sales.

sales funnel example 3

Image Source: 5 Stages of the Real Buyer's Journey by Scott Brinker Chief Marketing Technologist Blog

Brinker’s more impressionistic 5-stage analysis allows for multiple feedback loops built around something that’s at least recognizable as a funnel, but that starts with the premise of a journey - something the customer does, not something we do to them.

What do we learn from these? The funnel is simplistic and inaccurate. It’s a general issue - but we don’t have to use it. All these alternatives have their strengths and weaknesses - I like Brinker’s best, for what that’s worth - but they all offer a different perspective. We can construct more accurate, useful models for ourselves, from our own data. And if we ever hope to have what’s happening on paper - or, you know, screens - match what’s happening on the ground, we need to do that.

This matters because a more accurate mapping of our customer journeys underscores the point that sales and marketing need to work together. Not always integrated, they must be aligned - pointing in the same direction. How can we make that happen?

1: Single Customer View (SCV)

A single customer view means the customer retains their identity throughout all your business processes. They don’t show up defined by one set of characteristics in Sales, another in Marketing and a third in Customer Service. Instead, you’ll use a system that shows a single customer as a single customer.

Every interaction - every call, social message, email and website visit - will be logged to the customer, not to the relevant department. Without this, it’s inevitable that either sales and marketing will drown in each other’s data or there will be so much confusion and duplication that you’ll irritate customers away.

Make It Happen:

The three biggest obstacles to SCV cited by marketers are tech-related: poor quality data (cited by 43%), siloed departments (39%) and the inability to link different technologies (37%). Probably the most effective way to combat this is to look to the new range of marketing CRMs like AgileCRM, Infusionsoft or maybe Jumplead if you’re a local business. These tools allow you to collect data from a range of sources and feed that directly into combined marketing and sales CRM tools.

2: Speak the Same Language

What’s a lead? Depends who you ask. A conversion? Depends who you ask. How can two departments co-operate when they’re divided by a common language? You need to agree on a company-wide set of definitions for common sales and marketing activities and objectives to move forward.

In particular, common definitions and agreed-upon practices and areas of responsibility for sales-qualified leads, marketing qualified leads, contacts and opportunities should be in place so everyone knows how to use the system.

Make It Happen:

The most effective way to do this is to map what you hope to achieve against your purchase process. Make it buyer-oriented, then you can aim sales and marketing behavior based on that.

3: Where Is the Company Trying to Go?

Sales and marketing pull together best when they’re pulling for a clearly-understood common goal. The biggest indicator that there’s too little communication between sales and marketing is when they measure success differently. Align your goals at the business level to align sales and marketing. If success for marketing is more opportunities then that’s success for sales too. 

If you’re using a fairly standard funnel-like model you might want to measure success by number of MQLs (marketing qualified leads) passed to sales, and number of MQLs that close. That way you’re keeping tabs on the most crucial funnel transition points. If you’re using a wider model other metrics might be more appropriate, including retention, or a cross-funnel-phase metric like how many warm leads book meetings. The important thing is that you choose metrics that reflect business goals and that they’re the same for everyone.

Make It Happen:

Use your buyer journey map to figure out what your most vital metrics are, then ensure that they’re attached to customer profiles in your marketing CRM.

4: Give Sales and Marketing Access to Each Other’s Data

Sales and marketing can spend all their time asking each other for information. Or they can have a meeting twice a month for fifteen minutes, like now. Or they can have access to one data corpus that includes data from both departments, effectively letting them look over each other's’ shoulders.

That’s important: when sales pick up the phone, they have a list in front of them telling them which emails the opportunity has received, which they’ve opened, which stages of the purchase model they spent most time in, and more. Ideally they’ll be receiving personalized email drips based on feedback, social data and a segmented list, so sales will know what tone of voice the opportunity prefers, how they like to be addressed, their interests and more. That makes sales’ job way easier and more effective: research is presented to them, so they don’t have to look for it, or make unprepared phone calls.

There’s an opportunity to expand on this, though. Marketing can be interactive, as when leads click through from emails, visit your website and navigate within it, comment on blog posts, or engage on social media. Instead of just giving sales staff access to that information when they look for it, set up an internal system that automatically informs them when it happens.

Internal emails that notify sales staff when these events take place can serve to align sales and marketing more closely, and to ensure that sales staff are quick out of the blocks when it’s time to make that call.

Make It Happen:

An integrated marketing CRM allows sales and marketing staff to have access to data from all channels, throughout the buyer journey. 

5: Have Each Others’ Backs

Sure, it’s nice to hear a ‘great job!’ from the guys across the way every once in a while. But what we’re talking about is being ready to catch dropped passes. Sales and marketing need to be ready to pick up seamlessly where each other leave off. That includes when leads travel differently than straight down the purchase model.

Make It Happen:

This can mean passing lost-deal campaigns, retargeting and too-cold leads back to marketing. In the other direction it can mean rigorously ensuring that only really warm, sales-ready leads get flagged for calls. Note that these fixes all share one thing in common: they assume that sales and marketing are on the same side!

About the Author: Richard Bayston is a freelance blogger and copywriter covering tech, digital marketing and content strategy for SMBs. I’ve also been known to write on health and fitness. Find out more: Richard@RBCopywriting.com or @RBCopywriting. The rest of my time is spent arguing amicably with my wife and Googling the answers.

Featured Image Source: Team Work by Easa Shamih CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

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