7 Keys to Strengthening Your Sales and Marketing Partnership

It is no surprise to anyone today that businesses are under increasing pressure to perform as our economy seems generally stuck in too low a gear. But whether times are good or bad, all companies from small businesses to large enterprises will benefit tremendously from getting the proper alignment between its Sales and Marketing channels.

While we’ve got a full plate of challenges in our business unit, one major relationship that is working well is the alignment between our Sales and Marketing teams. Our positive relationship comes from deliberate and considerable activity. Here are seven keys that complement each other. Ideally, you can use them as a checklist to fine-tune or improve how your Sales and Marketing team work better together:

1. Ensure Shared Goals:

One of the powerful ways to align is by having the Sales and Marketing leadership share the same revenue growth and contribution goals. Often, a company will make the mistake of letting Sales primarily focus on revenue growth and Marketing focus on contribution margin. In our division, the same financial goals are shared by both teams.

This alignment also ties in to the annual bonus targets with the entire senior leadership team carrying the same targets. Performance appraisals are weighted across a variety of functional specific targets with 50% of those goals being the shared financial targets.

2. Give Sales and Marketing Equal Say on Shared Investments:

With IT needs always outstripping development and maintenance funding, it is critical that Sales and Marketing leaders agree on the major investments for the year and agree on prioritization. Is it better to invest in IT to drive sales productivity or new pricing and billing capabilities? Is investing in more customer care the right thing to do? The answers will be different for every company, but without Sales and Marketing both having a seat at the IT prioritization table, you are guaranteed to sub-optimize. Getting prioritization agreed to early on informs the organization of what’s important —  and of most value— while it helps curtail performance excuses down the road.

3. Give Sales Early Input on New Plans and Trials

Often, Marketing uses sophisticated analytics to determine new opportunities for growth. They then “know” what the right thing is to do to improve performance in a particular geo, category or customer segment. However, without real buy-in from Sales, companies risk getting a false read on the plan or set themselves up for less than stellar execution in the marketplace. We recently completed an insightful customer segmentation analysis that illuminated several opportunities to improve. Good arguments could be made to target four of the nine customer segments. Sales and Marketing leaders reviewed the analysis together and hashed out the best way to attack the opportunity. We targeted a group of 10,000 customers as the first improvement wave. Then, at our annual kick-off meeting, Marketing leaders presented each local sales manager with customized playbooks and customer lists to go after the opportunity during the sales breakout meetings. The Bottom line was that  shared decision-making translated to shared commitment and a great launch.

4. Provide Regular, Simple Updates To Each Other

Traditionally, building trust across the Sales and Marketing organizations has been difficult for some companies. Additionally, the rapid pace of business and numerous initiatives means there is always the opportunity for a ball drop. I’ve found that keeping each other up-to-date with simple, frequent updates is better than waiting for monthly updates or formal read-outs. While those are important, trust comes from hundreds of little deposits from daily calls and updates in addition to the more formalized communication. So, here’s a quick tip to check on the health of this critical relationship:  How often are your Sales and Marketing leadership communicating? Ideally, they are in sync with daily unplanned calls, planned calls, SMS and emails and other communication.

5. Get Marketers in the Field – Regularly!

Marketing, especially relatively new hires, has got to get “real” and there is no way to get more real than being in the field. The moment of truth isn’t found at headquarters but with customers. That’s where all of the pricing, products, promotions and plans come together. That’s also where the competitive learning is gleaned. Simply stated, the Marketing leadership team must be in the field regularly and making meaningful calls. We’ve continued to simplify our product packages and bundles based on the difficulty we’ve observed Sales having with the intersection of pricing plans and promotional offers. We’ve moved more than 100,000 customers into simplified bundles. Product performance issues also rear their heads in the field.   A well-intentioned marketing organization can take too much comfort in analytic reports. One real-world interaction with an underwhelmed customer strips away the veneer of a great theory like nothing else can.

6. Build a Great Communications Channel Between Sales & Marketing

Earlier, I addressed the critical need for leadership to be in sync but that tight communication has got to extend throughout the organization. We have biweekly calls with mid-level leadership. We also have Monday morning meetings to ensure consistency across the US.  Every Thursday, Marketing summarizes all key issues, product news and relevant info for Sales complete with short PowerPoint decks to allow Sales leaders to efficiently and effectively share the news. We also have an intensive web communication campaign with key information being categorized and available to the reps.

7. Hire With the Right Mindset

Hire with the right mindset. I’ve found that the best marketing organizations have a “sales oriented” mindset. A great marketing team will have key personnel that have “carried the bag.” Out of my seven direct reports, four have had significant sales experience and/or responsibility ranging from 5 to 20 years. We reap daily benefits by having enhanced credibility in our daily interrelationships with Sales and improved Marketing effectiveness. We do this by not wasting time on plans that just won’t work in the field as we leverage our institutional knowledge and experience.

In short, dynamic companies recognize Sales and Marketing work best when they work together well.

Now, it’s your turn.  What have you found effective to get Sales and Marketing working together?  Be specific and let us know what has worked for you.  We look forward to your comments.
Ken Ray Interactive and Advertising Solutions Chief Marketing Officer AT&T About Ken