Start Aligning Your B2B Marketing and Sales Processes

We talk a lot about marketing and sales alignment at Ariad Partners, but for some of our B2B clients, this is a new concept.  Most of our clients are familiar with the concept of a sales process, and some are familiar with lead management processes. But, sales and marketing alignment?  What’s that?

Many B2B marketers are focused on lead generation – getting new leads in the door and handing them off to sales as soon as possible.  They keep track of the number of leads they pass to sales and consider it a success if they make their target number.

And that’s where it ends for them.

On the other side of the equation, salespeople zero in on converting leads to sales. They’re not always looking at the big picture of where a lead is in the buying process, nor what happened with the lead before it reached the sales department.

Can you see the disconnect here?

Aligning marketing and sales creates common goals for the two often disparate departments. It creates metrics and milestones that both teams work toward, together.

The keystone to a successful marketing and sales strategy is communication between departments. In a recent Mad Men episode, there was a snafu where the partners of the recently merged ad firm hadn’t communicated, resulting in the firm having not one but two juice companies to work with (their policy was to work with one company in a given industry). The situation gets awkward when the partners have to decide which company to let go. This is just an example of where poor communication — or lack thereof — will get you.

Here are just a few examples of common complaints you’ll hear if your marketing and sales departments aren’t communicating well:

  • Marketing sends us junk.

  • Sales can’t close leads.

  • We waste our time with leads that marketing sends us.

  • Marketing sends us leads that are just names, but they aren’t really leads.

  • We can’t tell which leads are “hot” or “cold.”

  • Marketing doesn’t understand what a lead is.

Communication is essential to alignment. It helps sales understand how marketing develops leads, and provides insight to marketing about how sales processes the leads once they’re qualified.

Don’t believe me? Look at the numbers. Companies who are highly aligned in sales and marketing saw 32% year-on-year revenue growth in 2011, according to Aberdeen.

Marketing Sherpa’s Approach

If you’re like many B2B marketers, you find challenge in generating enough high-quality leads, and the lengthening buying cycle doesn’t help the process either. Marketing Sherpa took a unique approach, called FUEL, to maximize efficiency at every step of the sales process.

The first step of FUEL is to Find and attract leads. You do so by developing buyer personas and value propositions, and by developing effective inbound and outbound marketing tactics. Next, you Uncover qualified leads. This is where that communication between sales and marketing comes into play. Define types of leads, and develop lead scoring strategies to determine what constitutes as a quality lead.

After this, Establish automated marketing processes. This helps you parse the larger amounts of data that are coming through your lead pipeline and set up the appropriate automation process for each type of lead. And finally, Lift results. Because FUEL encourages better alignment, you should be seeing better results through this process. Then it’s lather, rinse, repeat.

How to Start Aligning Marketing and Sales

Every approach to this process is different, but here’s a place to start. We’ll revisit each of these steps more in depth in future posts.

1. Define a Lead. All leads aren’t created equal, so make sure sales and marketing agree on what makes a qualified lead for the company. For example, maybe a lead indicates a specific business need, has a certain title, visits your website multiple times, or downloads a whitepaper.

Just as important – identify what does not constitute as a lead. Maybe an individual hasn’t worked through what the business need is, or has only visited your site once.

2. Define the Stages of a Lead. One good lead will be at a different stage in the buying process than another. Your stages might look like this:

  • Prospect: Searching for information

  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): Exploring brands that provide solution to problem

  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): Budget set; ready to move forward

  • Sales Accepted Lead (SAL): Sales validated the lead and moving forward with it

This is fairly simple but serves as an example. Don’t forget to determine who owns the lead and what happens at each stage. For example, if sales doesn’t feel the lead is ready, what happens? Don’t let it drop into a black hole. Maybe it goes to a business development rep to continue for further qualification, or back to marketing for more lead nurturing.

B2B Leads Down the Drain

Don’t let your leads end up here…

3. Define Lead Criteria.
What makes a lead hot or cold? How will a lead be treated at each stage from number 2? When will a lead be passed from marketing to sales? What metrics will you track, and who will track them? These are all criteria you need to define, with input from both sales and marketing.

4. Map Out the Transition from Marketing to Sales. This might not look the same for leads in different stages of the buying cycle. But clearly outline at what point a lead is handed from marketing to sales, and whose responsibility it then becomes.

5. Assess Results. Did this process eliminate more of the unqualified leads and result in higher conversion? If not, go back to the start and look at the process you’ve developed with the two departments. Are there leads being lost at some point?  If so, find out where. You can determine where your weaknesses in this process are, and address them.

No matter what your own sales and marketing alignment strategy looks like, make sure there’s plenty of open communication among all participants. There should be complete visibility between sales and marketing so that the two are helping one another succeed, rather than impeding the company from maximizing revenue.


Photo credit and thanks go to Kristin Wall and Neuroventilator