Marketing and sales alignment is all the rage right now due to its significant positive impacts to business. However, we find most sales and marketing departments are misaligned, rarely on the same page when it comes to goals, objectives and desired outcomes. While there are many upsides to this alignment, there are just as many obstacles facing teams as they try to get on the same page. Let's break down the top five challenges facing marketing and sales teams as they try to align, as well as a few solutions for making team alignment a reality.
#1 Marketing-to-Sales Handoff
The marketing-to-sales handoff seems simple enough: when a lead becomes qualified for sales (a sales-qualified lead, or an SQL), it’s the job of the marketing team to ensure that their sales colleagues know about it.
What could go wrong?
The answer is…a lot.
To generalize, there are two areas where this handoff can go awry.
The first is the qualifying criteria or the agreement around when the right time is to hand the lead off to sales. Think about it: what are your marketing-qualified lead (MQL) and SQL criteria? What are you using to ensure that these criteria are met for handoffs day-to-day? How nuanced are the qualifications?
If your sales and marketing team may have different answers to these questions, the result can be handoff nightmares. The marketers are thinking, "Why aren't these leads being worked by sales?" while sales are thinking, "Why am I wasting my time even looking at these leads?"
The second problem area involves the mechanism for your handoffs. Are your marketing leads rotated automatically once qualified, or do they already have an owner before they ever get to that stage? Do you assign your sales rep a task, push them a notification, send them an email, notify them in Slack, or some combination of these options?
Tools like HubSpot's Marketing Hub and Sales Hub are great at facilitating this process, but the process only works insofar as it has been defined. The marketing-to-sales handoff must be thought through and agreed upon by both teams to be successful – a task made much more difficult if your teams are not operating in the same systems.
Solutions for Difficult Marketing to Sales Handoffs
To address a less-than-perfect handoff from marketing to sales, have a meeting between your marketing operations and sales operations teams to agree on the complete parameters of your lifecycle stages. Define every stage from "Subscriber", "Lead", "MQL", "SQL" and "Opportunity".
Ask your teams what role deal stage, lead score, buying committee makeup, and Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) tier play in the timing and manner of the handoff.
Handoffs can change from team to team, ICP tier to ICP tier, and product to product.
Next, pull some reports to see at what lifecycle stage sales became involved in winning opportunities to objectively determine what has been most successful to date.
Finally, once everyone agrees on the terms of your lifecycle stages and when and how sales should be tapped to jump in, update your CRM, marketing automation platform, and other technology to accommodate these newly agreed-upon handoff guidelines.
#2 Disparate Systems
There are hundreds of tools that your sales and marketing teams could use to run their individual processes. Doing so can result in an expansive list of tools for your team to work with adding extra steps, wasted time and inaccurate data.
Too many systems can lead to:
- Too much context switching and the necessary info not being added to the correct tool
- System syncing issues and data gaps
- No single source of truth for decision-making about the success or failure of your efforts
- Misaligned handoff and scoring criteria
Solutions for Disparate Systems
Disparate systems can be one of the harder problems to solve because organizations may have multiple internal stakeholders and decision-makers involved and each one has preferred tools. Here are a few ways to address this issue.
- Look at moving all of your marketing and sales operations into a single tool like HubSpot. Marketing Hub and Sales Hub can accommodate all of the needs for both marketing and sales while aiding in the alignment of the two teams.
- If merging systems is not an option, do an audit to identify where information is not being collected, synced, or updated between your systems. These gaps can impact things like lead scoring and lifecycle stage updates, which are crucial to keeping sales and marketing aligned. Reporting can also be impacted and lead to decisions made on incomplete information.
- You will also want to do a capabilities assessment of your current systems to ensure that they can achieve all of your goals. Can one system trigger an action in another system to ensure that both sales and marketing stay on the same page and have the same data?
#3 Inconsistent Data
When you have too many tools, weak processes for using your tech, a lack of operational leadership, or any combination of these things, your data suffers. When you can’t trust your data, you are flying blind when it comes to making decisions that impact your future customers.
Bad data also means you can't accurately forecast your sales pipeline, getting the handoff wrong, bad segmenting, inability to personalize campaigns and too few or too many touches of prospects.
Data drives your revenue engine. Everyone in your revenue operations – marketing leaders and implementers, sales managers and reps, and customer success teams – needs data to drive decisions around how they interact with customers.
Solutions For Inconsistent Data
Often, solving the issue of disparate systems will in turn solve your data problems. But in instances where that’s not the case, other solutions are needed. If you are not getting the necessary data for sales and marketing to align and make insightful decisions, your data collection processes might be the reason. Consider these solutions.
- Interview your team to see what obstacles are preventing them from adding data. For HubSpot users, do you have the most commonly used properties in the left-side views of the correct records, broken down into sections?
- Look at how you can use automation to streamline your processes and keep your data clean along the way. For example, can you use automation to create contact or company records or move them from stage to stage of a pipeline to ensure that the data surrounding those activities stays accurate? Can you populate or update properties using workflows to reduce manual entry?
- Finally, make sure that all of your systems are sharing data regularly and automatically. This will ensure that everyone and every automation has the right data at the right time. Condensing your tech stack will help keep data consistent.
#4 Misaligned Goals & the Battle Over MQLs
All marketers are familiar with this play: gate content to capture an MQL to then send to a sales/business development rep (SDR or BDR). SDR/BDR then prospects together with marketing to move this person into the coveted SQL lifecycle stage.
Once the lead becomes an SQL, the account executive takes over and closes the deal, won or lost.
This play seems fair enough. It has been used thousands of times by thousands of marketers. But if we’re considering alignment, this play relies on a process full of potential land mines.
If the marketing team has a goal to drive MQLs and they are assessed based on their ability to meet that goal, their sole focus will be on how to get as many gated content downloads as possible.
The problem with this is that the audience most likely to read your content is not necessarily the audience that wants to buy your product now.
If sales is judged by the number of MQLs they convert to opportunities, company friction is baked into the system: the marketing team meeting their goals is out of alignment with sales reaching their goals. Marketing could be exceeding their goals while sales is wasting time sorting through the leads to find the "diamond in the rough" that they can work with.
Teams with a short-sighted focus on generating MQLs rather than revenue and demand will continue to struggle with alignment and will be unprepared to run ABM campaigns or to provide a seamless experience for their customers.
Solutions for the MQL Battle
- Have a conversation between teams about how to set up processes, regular stand-ups and other means of listening to and learning from each other.
Sales can teach marketing a lot. For instance, what happens on calls with MQLs? What objections does the sales team run into over and over? Which content assets do people mention in calls?
Likewise, sales can learn from their counterparts on the marketing side. What content is marketing serving and why? How have they altered the targeting, and how is sales seeing it play out in sales calls? What content is consumed most in deals that result in “closed-won” outcomes?
Once sales and marketing have more understanding of one another, they can make informed choices that help both teams win. Once there is mutual understanding, the teams can begin to have conversations about important choices that can greatly impact the pipeline:
- Should we focus on capturing MQLs or should we ungate content to drive demand?
- Should we define an MQL differently than we currently do?
- How can we support asynchronous buying and get prospects to SQL status before getting sales involved?
This is a much more productive line of questioning than “Why did you send me so many junk leads this month?”
#5 Running Successful ABM Plays
The final alignment challenge in this series is the challenge of running successful ABM plays with misaligned teams. At the end of the day, you just can’t do it!
All of the problem areas outlined above – poor handoffs, disparate systems, inconsistent data, and arm wrestling over MQLs – prevents an organization from running successful ABM plays, especially at scale.
Why is it so hard to reach your ABM goals when sales and marketing aren’t talking? It’s because ABM requires that you’re not only aligned on one single MQL or SQL definition – you have to define an entire buying committee. This means even more handoffs, system, data and goal alignment.
Solutions For ABM Alignment Issues
If you are a HubSpot user, you likely know that you have a plethora of HubSpot tools to use for your ABM plays:
- Target Account property
- ICP Tier property
- Account Overview
- Suggested Target Account AI tool
- Prospects tool to see accounts who have visited your website
- ABM and Target Account dashboards
- Company scoring
- Buying role properties
- Workflow automations
- Chatbot or live chat
- Automated lead rotation
- Ads conversion events
Here are some steps you can take to align your team for ABM:
- Verify that you have been collecting job titles and buying roles. If you have not, go back through your last quarter of closed deals and manually enter this information for the associated contacts or update via workflows. For example, you can make sure to indicate that a certain job title is always a decision maker.
- Create a dashboard to understand the buying roles that have been involved in your recent deals and who usually shows up to the buying table first.
- Have a meeting between sales and marketing to review this information and agree upon the buying committee and who to prioritize.
- Follow the other solutions outlined above to ensure that your teams are aligned on goals, lifecycle stage definitions, handoff protocol, and that your data is clean and your systems are talking.
- Finally, use your Target Account and ABM tools to set up a campaign to support the alignment built between sales and marketing.
Who says that sales and marketing can’t play well together? More often than not, alignment is within reach and just takes a little bit of learning and listening, followed by consistent action, to achieve.