Sales and marketing tension exists within go-to-market organizations around the world.
The sales team is usually upset that marketing is not generating enough high-quality leads. While the marketing team is annoyed that the sales team is unwilling to talk to anyone outside of the perfect customer profile.
Over the past 4 years, I've led marketing at Lattice and worked with sales leaders and account executives to generate tens of millions in revenue. Along the way, we've built a symbiotic relationship and managed to avoid the classic marketing-sales tension.
I'm going to share what I've learned in this post. The post presents nine common problems and corresponding solutions.
Marketing and sales alignment starts with the top-down revenue plan. This plan is typically built by the finance or operations team and created in partnership with the sales and marketing teams. The output of this plan answers a few fundamental questions.
By answering these questions, you can start to build a high-level revenue plan that aligns marketing and sales goals. The numbers in the plan are based on historical data along with some forecast assumptions.
Here’s an example plan:
Once you've determined the overall revenue goal, the next step is to move up the funnel. Start by looking at sales capacity. In the example above, in order to generate $800k in new logo revenue, you’ll need to hire 20 reps who carry a quota of 50k each (you assume that some reps will miss, so you plan for 80% attainment). For these reps, you’ll need marketing to deliver $3,000,000 inbound pipeline and sales to deliver $1,000,000 outbound pipeline. Based on the funnel rates, this means that marketing will need to deliver 375 MQLs and the BDR team will need to set 100 outbound meetings.
The output of this plan is that marketing and sales now have an agreed upon number they both need to hit and deliver. By building a clear plan, you’re able to drive alignment between marketing and sales, show accountability and, ultimately, get a better understanding of the business.
The marketing team needs to be held accountable to the lead goals in the overall marketing plan. They need to create campaigns that drive leads.
When building campaigns, the marketing department needs to consider the goal of the campaign. Are they trying to drive leads this month? Or trying to drive leads in the future? The type of campaign will vastly differ depending on your goals. For example, investing more into Adwords might help you hit your number this month, but writing SEO content will help you get in front of more people over the long term.
Another way to approach this challenge is through the framework of high intent vs. low intent campaigns. Obviously, the common goal is to drive high-intent buyers, but sometimes getting low-intent buyers works as long as you’re talking to the right person ( ICP). An example of this campaign might be a giveaway -- you give a gift card in exchange for taking a demo. The sales cycle for this prospect will be longer (since they are low intent), but you at least got in front of the right person and start to build a relationship.
Sales reps need to turn to outbounding when leads are slower. Extra time can be used to talk to old prospects, build relationships with accounts who are not quite ready to buy and reach out to new prospects to start a conversation. Outbound sales can take longer to drive results, but the sales team can’t just wait around for the marketing team to drive leads.
Both teams should focus on how they can do more with what they currently have and improve the rates in your funnel. This means optimizing everything from your demo form to your closing call motion. From a marketing perspective, this might mean optimizing your website or adding down-funnel programs like a “Meet the CEO dinner.” From a sales perspective, this might mean implementing a process like Sandler to improve the qualification or investing in competitive insights and sales enablement to close more deals.
The first step to improving lead quality is to create a clear definition around what’s a good lead; your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). At Lattice, our ICP was determined by a number of factors - company size, title, geography, industry and buying intent.
From there, you need to operationalize how to determine lead quality and how these leads move through the funnel. This means creating a lead scoring model and using software to help the process.
Lead scoring models take in a variety of inputs and create a quality score ranking that can be used to “MQL” a lead or give the sales team signals around what’s actually working. Lead scoring models typically operate around a few different categories:
Firmographic: What types of companies?
Behavioral: How engaged?
Lead scoring models are never perfect, but they give the sales and marketing teams a language to talk about lead quality. They also help to make sure the right leads are getting passed over to the sales team.
In terms of actually setting up a lead scoring model, there’s a variety of tools that help you do this from marketing automation software (Marketo, Autopilot, etc) to dedicated scoring vendors (MadKudu) to data enrichment providers (Clearbit, ZoomInfo, etc.).
There’s a few things you can do to improve the quality of follow up from the sales team.
The first is more communication. Every time the marketing team runs a campaign they need to talk about it with the sales team. Before the campaign, the marketing team gives the sales team a heads up around what to expect. And after the campaign, the marketing team makes it extremely easy for the sales team to follow up on the leads. This is everything from sending emails with suggested follow up messaging to the right Salesforce reports. Of course, sales enablement requires partnership with the sales management team who can help hold the sales reps accountable.
The sales management team implements a system that holds the reps accountable. One simple way to do this is through reporting and dashboards. These dashboards show follow up times, anyone who hasn’t been followed up, and generally how these leads moved through the funnel.
Lastly, many companies make organizational changes to make sure that sales-marketing campaign followup is really tight. This can sometimes mean that the SDR/BDR teams and the Demand team all become one team. By having one VP/Director, run the team, it can be easier to make sure that everyone is moving in lockstep and that the sales team is taking the right steps to follow up on campaigns.
The sales team is ultimately responsible for closing deals, but there’s a number of things that the marketing and sales team can work on together to improve close rates.
The first step comes down to a simple question - why are leads not closing? Answering this question means starting a research project that surfaces customer insights. If you have a great CRM, then you might be able to glean some insights by just looking at the deal data and analyzing close won/lost reports.
But more likely, you’ll need to hear it from customers yourself. Set up Win/Loss Interviews to better understand why you’re winning and losing deals. This involves an account executive setting up a product marketer for a phone call with a Closed Lost prospect. After a couple of these calls, patterns will start to emerge around why you’re losing deals. Of course, Gong calls are another great way to get more insights and understand what’s actually happening on these calls.
You’re also likely losing deals to a competitor, so by strengthening your positioning against these competitive threats then you’ll be able to close more deals. Again, the product marketing team can help. Product marketers makes competitive battlecards that act as a self-service way for sales reps to get the information they need to close deals.
But taking this a step further, the product marketing team sets up competitive office hours where they are able to address any competitive questions that are on the sales team’s mind. For big enterprise deals, I highly recommend pairing a product marketer with an enterprise AE to work a deal together. The product marketer can be there to provide support and insights throughout the process whether it’s on a demo call or crafting the perfect follow up email to a competitive question.
Marketing and outbound sales are inextricably linked. Without a brand presence, prospects are less likely to respond to your emails, but it goes further than that.
At Lattice, we found that the overwhelming majority of our outbound sales deals started with a marketing touchpoint. Think of this as an alley-oop. The marketing team runs a campaign that gets a prospect’s initial interest and then sets up the sales team for the slam dunk. This motion of campaign + outbound sales touchpoint is a powerful one. It can help engage prospects who are not ready to buy, but also help to accelerate deals already in the sales funnel. For example, a webinar with a guest speaker or a customer/prospect dinner.
Additionally, sales and marketing need to work together to identify what messaging resonates with prospects. As the sales team builds sequences, they partner with marketers to explore different positioning and take a systematic, data driven approach. This starts by determining what subject lines will drive people to open emails (Open rate). And then move to the “Open to Reply/Click Rate” to determine whether the content of the email works. I’d recommend that sales-marketing teams do frequent reviews of sequences to determine what’s working best, but to also ideate on new message themes for sequences.
Most importantly, Marketing and Sales need to be going after the same accounts and this starts with the CRM database and an account based marketing strategy. To start, agree on a target list of accounts and then build a database of contacts using a data vendor like ZoomInfo. From there, build coordinated campaigns. For example, marketing sends direct mail to accounts to warm them up before sales starts sending them emails. By working together, you’ll be able to focus your company and team energy on the accounts with the highest propensity to close.
Alignment starts at the top of the organization. It’s important for the Head of Marketing and Head of Sales to work closely together. At the very least, this means weekly one-on-one meetings where the two leads talk about challenges and opportunities between the two teams. Alignment between the two leads sets the tone for the rest of the organization.
Marketing and Sales relationships cascade down the organization. Sales managers meet with marketing managers regularly to understand what they are working on and how to resolve challenges between the two teams. The goal with all of these one-on-one meetings is to make sure there are clear moments for communication, but also to help build relationships with each other. These relationships are critical for building trust and empathy between the two teams.
It’s also common for marketing and sales teams to have regular standing meetings where they review everything from the funnel to upcoming campaigns. These meetings are a great place to share formal status updates, brainstorm ideas, host training and/or review important metrics.
At Lattice, one of the best tricks we’ve used to align marketing and sales teams is by simply sending a single weekly email with all of the relevant marketing campaigns and content. We call it the Marketing Love Sales email and it has everything from the campaign of the week to follow up lists to the latest content we published.
AEs are really busy, so by centralizing all of the information and having it be a “push” communication. It’s built a great habit on the sales team, where they know where to look when they want more information on the next great marketing campaign.
Build a revenue operations team that centralizes marketing and sales operations. This team becomes the non-biased arbitrator around go-to-market numbers. This team does all of the standard operations work from setting up software systems to creating processes to building dashboards and reports. By centralizing the team, you reduce bias from the go-to-market organization.
Rev Ops teams are a growing trend among SaaS companies. I’d recommend checking out ProfitWell’s guide on Rev Ops teams.
Most companies start in a niche and expand. You might start selling to software companies, but then eventually realize that in order to grow fast enough you need to move to other industries
This can be a big challenge for companies as it requires changing the go-to-market motion. Sales teams need to change how they sell and marketers need to change how they approach brand building and lead generation.
In order to solve this challenge, the first step is for the marketing and sales team to agree on the industries or personas where they want to expand to next. Once you have outlined a few potential industries/personas, then the next step falls on the product marketing team. The product marketers start a research project to figure out how to position the product for these new audiences. This means everything from competitive research to customer interviews. At the end of this research, the product marketers synthesize the information into positioning briefs which will inform asset creation.
Once you feel good about this new positioning, it’s time to test the messaging in the market. This happens both from the marketing and sales perspective. Marketing makes new collateral, sets ups solutions pages and explores different campaigns to reach these new audiences. And the sales team starts going after these new verticals in their outbound sales process.
Importantly, the marketing and sales teams need to work together to develop a custom pitch for these new audiences. The way you sell your product to a software company is likely very different from a law firm.
Along the way, it’s important for the marketing and sales team (and rev ops) to help measure what success looks like. These new audiences won’t have the same results as your core ICP to start, and that’s okay, but you still need to figure out what success looks like and to determine if you keep going after this same audience.
The best way to enter a new vertical is to create a customer case study showing how your solution worked for a specific industry or vertical. When brainstorming new verticals to enter, I'd recommend starting with your customer base and looking for happy customers who are the fringes of your ICP. For example, you might focus on selling to software companies, but you have one really happy financial services customer. I’d work with the CX team to secure a case study and then use that story to approach other financial services customers. By sharing a case study of a similar customer, they’ll be more inclined to trust that you can help their business.
The marketing team needs to change their mindset from just driving leads to generating revenue. The marketing team needs to be responsible for the full-funnel. And while AEs will lead the process down-funnel, there’s a number of ways that the marketing team can support the sales process.
This starts with product marketing and sales enablement. The product marketing team helps to arm the sales team with whatever they need to close a deal from competitor insights to custom collateral to a new pitch deck. The product marketing team constantly works with the AEs to identify new assets that can be created that will improve close rates.
Additionally, the marketing team creates down-funnel campaigns that help AEs nurture relationships and close deals. At Lattice, one of our best campaigns were dinners with prospects. The marketing team would host the dinner at a fancy restaurant, build a fun agenda and then work with the sales team to invite prospects. We’ve found that the best way to get a deal across the finish line is by building a real human relationship with the prospect and avoiding some of the formalities of the core sales process.
The dinner is just one example of a down-funnel campaign, but there’s a long list of campaigns you can do to help close deals. We’ve also worked with Forrester to create an ROI study of our business and sent Direct Mail packages to accelerate deals.
Importantly, when crafting these campaigns, the marketing team needs to coordinate with the sales team to make sure their campaigns will resonate with the prospects and there is a coordinated follow up approach to help turn those prospects into a customer.
The Sales and Marketing relationship is complicated and takes a lot of work to get right. But when you do, revenue accelerates.
These nine problems are not an exhaustive list and I’m hoping to update this article with new problems and solutions over time. If you’re encountering a sales-marketing challenge, i’d love to hear from you and maybe I’ll add it into this article. The best way to get in touch is via Twitter or by signing up for my newsletter and responding to one of the emails.