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Communication essential to sales and marketing alignment

A lack of communication between sales and marketing teams can derail internal processes. Here's how to ensure collaboration between the two factions.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Sales teams complain that their leads are poor or they aren't getting enough support from marketing. At the same time, marketing counters that it has sent over hundreds of promising leads, but sales hasn't taken the time to go through them. Both are familiar grievances that reveal a deeper organizational flaw: Sales and marketing teams aren't working together effectively.

The disconnection of marketing and sales departments often comes from the separate, siloed tracks they operate on. They fail to share information with each other when they should work in lockstep. They are treated as separate entities and usually frustrate each other with miscommunication.

To work together, both departments must agree on common definitions, such as what actions and behaviors move a lead along in the sales process, so that the action of one team is understood by the other.

Achieving sales and marketing alignment

Marketing and sales productivity relies on alignment concerning key business strategies. Both departments must agree on what comprises the customer experience and each must appreciate their respective roles in shaping it. Marketing often focuses on customer targeting, product pricing and promotions, while sales is concerned with prospecting, sales funnel management, customer relationship development, upselling, cross-selling and so forth.

Marketing is the navigator and sales is the pilot.

But spelling out individual responsibilities is only a basic step in appreciating how each department must work together and rely on one another.

While some characterize sales and marketing's working relationship with the analogy, "Marketing designs and calls the plays; sales runs the plays," my preferred metaphor is, "Marketing is the navigator and sales is the pilot." Communication between navigator and pilot is essential to the successful arrival at the right place at the right time with satisfied passengers in tow. The navigator inputs the destination, describes the route, prepares alternative routing and selects altitudes that will provide a smooth experience and on-time arrival to the passengers. The pilot takes off for the destination and follows the route as described by the navigator but constantly engages in two-way communication with the navigator about needed changes given shifting realities, such as weather or other circumstances.

The pilot doesn't blindly accept the navigator's directions; he appreciates the expertise of the navigator but continually refines the journey and ensures the two sides are on the same page. The same must occur between sales and marketing teams to foster alignment and collaboration.

Evolving roles

While communication is necessary, sales and marketing have to contend with changing roles in their organizations that have contributed to the disconnect between the departments.

Until recently, marketing's role in the organization could be summed up as "figuring out the growth strategy for the company." Now, the expectation is broader and better summarized as "ensuring the brand promise is delivered throughout the customer journey." Marketing is tasked with paying attention to the customer experience more than ever before. Sales teams were typically told to "get the deal and then get the next deal." Now, sales plays a broader role in ensuring a good fit between customer need and product or service offered, or ensuring that whatever is being sold solves a real problem for the customer.

Communication between both parties and alignment on customer needs are key elements that have contributed to the shifts in these roles. But good communication has to be an everyday occurrence for a company to reap the benefits of sales and marketing alignment, which might need a fundamental change in routine tasks. Communication might mean weekly meetings or sharing information in a CRM platform.

Sharing data-driven insights, however, is the critical ingredient that fosters communication between teams. Sales and marketing teams must initiate a free flow of data pertaining to various metrics, analytics and real customer insights. Meetings should be a place to share the latest data on trends and concrete facts on customers rather than a time focused on anecdotal stories on customer interactions.

Marketing and sales efforts should be based on market realities, not a design from marketing that assumes a perfect world or one that solely accounts for the internal interests and agenda of the brand. Sharing of data needs to be dynamic and multifaceted. Marketing must accumulate the data needed to answer the right questions and to be effective with the product offer. While sales is a proxy for the voice of the customer, the customer lives and interacts with the brand in an omnichannel world where data jumps among many different touch points and engagement channels. Direct sales data is crucial, but so is data from digital channels, such as online expressions of demands and preferences and interactions on social and mobile platforms, which can affect how organizations gauge advertising effectiveness, customer service and finance practices.

Understand the customer journey

A well-functioning partnership between marketing and sales requires understanding the customer journey across touch points. To do so, the business has to constantly assess the quality of each interaction a customer has with a company throughout marketing, sales, customer service and other processes. Next, the brand must identify who is accountable for what at each touch point. Accountable parties at each stage in the process are not always employees on the front lines with customers. IT, finance, legal, supply chain management and HR are all units that can significantly alter how sales and marketing interact with one another and, ultimately, serve the customer.

Customer journey maps are powerful tools in breaking down the customer experience and its influencing elements, such as the sales and marketing relationship and their back-office enablers, into actionable priorities and insights. It is critical for any customer journey mapping effort to include the customer and not be an introverted exercise. They must be viewed objectively, include multiple departments in a collaborative atmosphere and be documented and revisited to ensure continuous understanding and alignment.

Communication is key in this process as it is in any alignment between departments. Customer experience improvements must be constantly refreshed as the brand's knowledge about the market and customer expectations is updated. Don't you hope the pilot and navigator are continuously communicating -- such as when the weather changes or they encounter other traffic in the air?

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