According to research from LinkedIn, 87% of sales and marketing leaders believe that alignment between their teams is essential to business growth — but an even higher majority say it’s nearly impossible to accomplish.
It seems that sales and marketing alignment is the thing that everybody wants and nobody actually gets.
So, what’s the answer? How can you get sales teams and marketing teams to work together seamlessly? Is it shared meeting time? Overlapping goals and objectives? Blended management structure? Lavish monthly retreats at far-flung resorts with lots of yoga?
It is even possible?
The first step to bridging a divide is acknowledging that the divide exists. There are some fundamental challenges here that we can’t ignore: Sales and marketing are each responsible for different things (even though these things are intertwined). They spend their days differently, often report to different bosses, and are compensated differently.
Still, none of these things is insurmountable. Your sales and marketing teams can unite around shared goals and initiatives — and they can work together more smoothly.
The key is focusing on this one thing: Your sales and marketing teams actually do have the same job, when you think about it in a big-picture sense. Both teams focus on educating your customers.
Sure, they do it in different ways, but the end goal is the same. We’ve found that this mindset shift — from a sales focus and a marketing focus to an education focus — is critical for aligning your teams around shared objectives.
Below, I’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of bringing your sales and marketing teams together in 2024, including real steps you can take today to start moving in the right direction:
Why a framework needs to come first
How to get your teams to focus on education
8 steps to align your sales and marketing teams
We’ve learned from hundreds of businesses
At IMPACT, we have a unique perspective on this age-old challenge of sales and marketing alignment.
On one side, we have our own training and coaching business. For this, we have sales reps and marketing pros who work together to grow our revenue.
On the other side, we have our work with clients. We coach and train a diverse group of businesses from a range of industries, and part of our focus is bringing their sales and marketing teams together.
So, when we describe steps you can take to unite your teams, we’re speaking from deep experience, both internally and with our clients.
Do we have all the answers? Of course not. But we’ve been around the block a few times and have a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Below, we lay out real-world steps you can take to bring your teams together so that your company can become stronger and more resilient.
Start with a framework… and some long-term goals
At IMPACT, we’re big fans of Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. In the book, Harnish recommends setting your course by focusing on what he calls a big hairy audacious goal (or “BHAG” for short). Sort of a “where do you want to be in 10 years?” type thing. Your BHAG might seem far-fetched today, but that’s okay. It’s going to take a long time to get there.
Once you have your BHAG in place, you start planning backward. Like this: “If in 10 years we want to sell 50,000 of our product each year, what do we need to do in the next six months to start moving toward that goal?”
This BHAG should unite your company and provide cascading goals and priorities for everyone in your business, including sales teams and marketing teams.
As you break down your BHAG into more manageable smaller goals, you can begin to recognize the steps that will get you there. The BHAG starts to seem less daunting because you’re not focused on the mountaintop, just on the next part of the trail you’re on.
Having a BHAG doesn’t guarantee sales and marketing alignment, but it does establish a cohesive identity for your company, which is critical to bringing teams together.
With a long-term goal in place, you’re on your way.
Sales and marketing teams must focus on education
When you zoom out, you start to see that sales and marketing professionals have the same job: to provide prospects with the information they need to become customers. Whether this is on a website, in an article, or in a sales conversation, the goal is always education.
At IMPACT, we teach our clients to embrace They Ask, You Answer — a sales and marketing framework that focuses on that one question: What does your customer want to know?
We believe that you should be willing to address any customer question openly and honestly on your website, even if those questions get into uncomfortable territory like price and competitors.
When sales and marketing teams think of themselves as educators — when they realize that no question should be out of bounds — they can begin to align their efforts. They perform different functions, but those functions are complementary:
Your marketing team educates organic searchers and site visitors so they can become leads.
Your sales team educates leads so they can become customers.
You want your customers to have a seamless experience, all the way from first touch through final sale. The only way for this to happen is for sales and marketing to work together.
Sales teams need to know everything they can about website copy, nurturing email content, articles, ebooks, and more.
Marketing teams need to know everything they can about the sales process, including prospecting and customer questions.
This focus shift is critical, but it won’t do much unless it’s accompanied by actions.
In the next section, I’ll detail some valuable first steps you can take to bring your teams together.
Sales and marketing alignment in 8 steps
In many cases, sales and marketing teams might have entrenched opposition that’s lasted for years. It’s naïve to think that this can be wiped away overnight.
Instead, it will take a good deal of sustained effort on the part of many team members to fix the misalignment.
Below are eight steps you can take to start moving toward a future of full alignment.
1. Develop and track shared KPIs
Sales and marketing teams usually report and track completely different key performance indicators (or KPIs). Marketing is responsible for things like traffic and lead generation; sales is responsible for new business and revenue.
I’m not saying marketing departments should suddenly be held accountable for closed deals, or that sales should be on the hook for traffic growth. Rather, each team should know exactly where the other stands on its quarterly goals. This data should be regularly updated and accessible to all team members.
If the sales team isn’t hitting its numbers, the marketing team can help by providing buyer’s guides and other sales enablement materials to help shorten the sales cycle and close more deals.
If the marketing team isn’t driving enough demand, sales reps can use their first-hand knowledge of customers to make sure the sales enablement content and copy are on target.
After all, more traffic certainly benefits the sales team — and everyone benefits from a shorter sales cycle and more revenue.
Each team needs to see its success connected to the work of the other team.
2. Share wins and updates
For teams engaged in inbound marketing, it can be hard for the rest of the company to keep up with what content has been planned and published.
To remedy this, at least once every quarter (and probably every month), marketing should let the whole company know what content has been published, who helped produce it, and how it has aided traffic and sales. This helps with transparency and also gives credit to sales and service folks who were involved in the content creation process.
At the same time, make sure to celebrate sales as well. If a big deal closes, shout it out in a company update or on Slack. Even better: Use your CRM to track that customer’s journey through your site. Was there a piece of content that brought them there? If so, let the whole company know.
3. Expand professional development opportunities
If you want your sales team to be excited about the work your marketers are doing, send them to a marketing conference. Or, have them read an important marketing book.
Have your marketers do the same thing for sales. See what’s trending, what’s exciting, and what’s possible.
A shared learning experience is going to give your teams a shared vision of the future — and a shared lexicon of vocabulary to talk about it.
But not only that. Such experiences create camaraderie that’s sure to benefit your entire organization.
4. Run a regular content brainstorm together
I know that everyone is skeptical of adding new meetings to the calendar, but this is a crucial one. Once a month, have a content writer sit down with your sales team to brainstorm a list of content topics that speak directly to your buyers’ needs.
These meetings ensure that sales is invested in the content creation process — and knows what’s coming out.
What’s more, when marketers hear directly from sales reps, they become closer to your buyers. As a result, their content is more likely to resonate with potential customers who come to your website.
5. Perform a buyer’s journey audit
Have a salesperson and a marketer work together to audit your entire buyer’s journey, from content to conversion offers to email sequences to sales conversations.
Next, create a list of action items that can smooth out inconsistencies and align your messaging to buyers across their entire experience with your company.
Perform this type of audit once a year going forward.
6. Plan internal teach-ins
Marketing and sales have much to learn from each other:
Sales can help marketing by sharing:
First-hand knowledge of customer needs
Objections that come up in the sales process
Marketing can help sales with:
Using the CRM effectively
Email best practices
Upcoming content plans
Once a month, have an informal lunch-and-learn (or another type of gathering) where one person can share tips or insights with another team. An announcement for a lunch-and-learn might look like this: On Thursday at 12:30, Alice will be showing everyone how to build a reporting dashboard in HubSpot.
These lunch-and-learns should be informal and on a drop-in basis. If people see the value, they’ll show up and learn.
7. Spend time learning about each other’s work
Team alignment won’t happen without dedicating the necessary time. If you’re a team leader, tell everyone that these are expectations going forward:
Everyone in the marketing department will spend an hour a week watching sales call recordings.
Everyone in the sales department will spend an hour a week reading new blog articles, watching new videos, and looking through email sequences and website copy.
This is a relatively small commitment that will yield huge gains.
8. …but remember, none of this is likely to happen without leadership
It is often said that the most valuable commodity in any organization is time — and it is the leadership team that divides up and doles out time, thereby conveying to the team what’s most important.
There will be resistance to adding new meetings or announcing new initiatives unless it comes from leadership.
If you want your sales and marketing teams to work well together, it has to start at the top. Alignment can’t really happen unless leadership makes it a priority.
When we try to do something new, something hard, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns. Without leadership establishing the structures to make sales and marketing alignment a priority, it will quickly fall by the wayside.
The first step toward alignment? Deciding it’s a problem you want to solve
It’s not easy. Sales and marketing teams are both filled with busy professionals doing their best to build brand awareness, generate leads, and close deals. We can all be guilty of having tunnel vision — and it’s likely that your marketing team and your sales team don’t totally understand or appreciate the work that the other is doing.
Sales feels the pressure of the entire organization on their back. If they don’t bring in revenue, the company can’t make payroll. They might see marketing as out of touch and unable to deliver quality leads.
Marketing feels underappreciated, rarely thanked for the leads they generate, while sales gets the glory and the large commission check.
All the more reason to work together.
Today, buyers do a great deal of self-education before they’re ready to make a purchase. Much of the buyer education that used to happen in the sales process now occurs before the future buyer is even considered a lead.
This means that more and more customer acquisition depends on your marketing materials.
Far too many companies fail to realize this, and they consider marketing to be an expense. In fact, it is part of the revenue acquisition part of your business, inextricably linked to sales.
When you commit to bringing your marketing and sales teams together and aligning your sales and marketing goals, you ensure a seamless experience for your customer, all the way from awareness to purchase.
Such efforts will do wonders for business performance.