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Top 5 alignment challenges for marketing and sales teams

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There's a reason why talking about the alignment of marketing and sales teams is all the rage right now. It's the foundation of many important and emerging marketing and sales trends: the move from lead generation to demand generation, the shift to Rev Ops from operations, selling to a buying team versus an individual with account-based marketing (ABM) and the move to asynchronous selling.

While there are many benefits to this alignment, there are also many obstacles teams face when trying to get on the same page. Let's break down the top five challenges marketing and sales teams face when trying to align, as well as some solutions to make team alignment a reality.

The shift from marketing to sales

This step seems simple enough: when a lead becomes Sales Qualified Lead (SQL), it's the marketing team's job to make sure sales colleagues are up to speed.

what could go wrong?

The reality is... several things.

To summarise, there are two areas where this step can go wrong.

The first is the qualification criteria or defining exactly when it is the right time to hand over the lead to sales. Think about it: what are your marketing qualified lead (MQL) and SQL criteria? What do you use to make sure these criteria are met in daily handovers? How well defined are the qualifications?

If your sales and marketing teams would respond differently, there you have the first problem.

The second problem involves the mechanism in which to do the handover between marketing and sales. Do marketing leads automatically rotate once they have been qualified or do they have an owner assigned to them before then? Do you assign your assigned sales person a task, an app notification, send them an email, notify them via a messaging app like Slack or use a combination of several?

Tools like Marketing Hub and Sales Hub are great for facilitating this process, but the process only works as long as it has been defined. For the handover from marketing to sales to be successful, both teams need to discuss and agree how - a much more difficult task if your teams are not operating on the same systems.

1 - The solution to the difficult transition between marketing and sales

To deal with a near-perfect handover from marketing to sales, set up a meeting between your marketing and sales teams to agree the full parameters of the lifecycle stages.

Ask your teams what role the deal stage, lead scoring, who makes up the buying team and the ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) level play in the timing and form of the handover.

The step can change between teams, ICP levels and products.

Next, pull some reports to see at what stage of the lifecycle sales were involved in the opportunities won to really determine what has worked best so far.

Finally, once the terms of the lifecycle stages have been agreed and when and how it should be passed to sales, update your CRM, marketing automation platform and all other technology to accommodate these newly agreed handover guidelines.

2 - Different systems

There are a multitude of tools that your marketing and sales teams could be using to perform their functions.

the result is an almost endless list of tools for your marketing team to operate with.

For marketing and sales activities - especially those related to marketing and sales handover - data accuracy is key. And, the more tools you use, the less accurate the data you handle.

Too many tools can lead to:

  • Necessary information not being accurate or available in sales
  • System synchronisation problems and missing data
  • No single source of truth for decision making on the success or failure of your efforts - do we use the sales tools or the marketing tools?
  • Misaligned transfer and scoring criteria

Solution for different systems

The variety of systems used can be one of the most difficult problems to solve because organisations may have multiple employees and internal teams as well as decision-makers involved. However, let's look at how to address this leap.

First, you can consider moving all your marketing and sales operations into a single tool like HubSpot, where Marketing Hub and Sales Hub can accommodate all your marketing and sales alignment needs and provide a seamless experience for your customers.

If combining systems is not an option, consider doing an audit to find where information is not being collected, synchronised and updated between systems. This can affect things like lead scoring and lifecycle stage updates, which are crucial to maintaining sales and marketing alignment. Reporting can also be affected and result in decisions being made based on incomplete information.

In addition, you will want to perform an assessment of the capabilities of your current systems to ensure they can achieve all of your objectives. Can your systems trigger actions with each other to ensure that both sales and marketing are seeing the same thing? If not, test outside of the native functionality of your tools using platforms such as Zapier or any that allow you to connect systems that are not currently connected within your company.

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3 - Inconsistent data

When you have too many unconnected tools or processes to use the technology, there is no one leading the marketing and sales operations, whether it's both or just one, the data is negatively affected. When you can't trust the data, you are going completely blind when it comes to making decisions that affect your customers.

Bad, inconsistent data not only leads to bad calls because you can't properly forecast your sales team's pipeline, bad data means we don't personalise campaigns, we get the marketing-to-sales transition wrong, we put people in the wrong segmentations, and we oversell or undersell our lead counts.

The right data - reliable, real and up to date - is key to sales and driving the revenue engine. Everyone in your operations, from marketing leaders and executioners, sales managers and reps, to customer satisfaction teams, needs the right data to drive decisions about how they interact with customers.

The solution to inconsistent data

Often, solving the problem of disparate systems will also solve your inconsistent data problems. But in cases where it doesn't, you need to look at other solutions.

If you're not getting the data you need for sales and marketing to align and make useful, insightful decisions, it's possible that your data collection processes are a hindrance.

The first thing to do is to interview your team to see what obstacles are preventing them from adding data - do they have the most commonly used properties on the books correctly grouped and organised into sections? If not, make a note of this as something to improve.

Next, discuss how you can use automation to strengthen your processes and keep your data clean in the process. For example, can you use automation to create records or move them from one stage of a process to another to ensure that the data affecting those activities remains accurate? Can you duplicate or update properties using workflows to reduce manual entry?

Finally, make sure that all your systems share data regularly and automatically. This will ensure that each and every automation has the right data at the right time. And, of course, condensing the number of technology solutions and/or tools will help you maintain data consistency.

4 - Misaligned targets and the struggle to achieve MQLs

All marketers are familiar with this game: content to capture an MQL to then send to a sales/business development representative (SDR or BDR, respectively). That SDR/BDR then prospects, in collaboration with the marketing department, to get this person to the coveted SQL lifecycle stage.

Once the lead becomes a SQL, the account executive takes over and closes the deal, whether won or lost.

This move seems fair enough at first glance. It has been used thousands of times by thousands of marketers. But when it comes to alignment, this move is based on a process fraught with potential pitfalls.

Think about it: if the marketing team has the goal of driving MQLs and they are evaluated on their ability to meet that goal, their sole focus will be on how to get as many content downloads as possible.

what's the problem with that? Well, it turns out that the audience most likely to read your content is not necessarily the audience that wants to buy your product now.

If sales are judged by the number of MQLs they convert into opportunities, the company's friction has been built into the system: the marketing team that meets its targets is not aligned with sales hitting its targets.

Teams that focus on generating MQLs rather than revenue will continue to struggle with alignment and leave themselves ill-equipped to execute ABM campaigns or deliver a seamless experience for your customers.

The solution to the MQL struggle

Reach out to your sales colleagues and have a conversation about how you can establish processes, regular meetings and other means to listen and learn from each other.

Sales can teach marketing a lot - for example, what happens on calls with prospects, what objections does the sales team run into over and over again, what content material is brought up on calls?

On the other hand, the sales department can learn from their peers in the marketing department - what content is marketing using and delivering and why? How have they changed the segmentation and how does the sales department see it in calls? What content is consumed most in deals that results in "closed" outcomes?

Once sales and marketing know each other better, they can make informed decisions that help both teams win. Once there is a mutual understanding, the teams can start having conversations about important choices that can have a big impact on the pipeline:

should we focus on capturing MQLs or should we unlock content to drive demand?

should we define an MQL differently than we currently do?

how can we support asynchronous buying and get prospects to SQL or sales qualified opportunity (SQO) status before engaging sales?

This is a much more productive line of questioning than "Why have you sent me so many bad leads this month?"

5 Winning execution of ABM campaigns

The final alignment challenge in this series is the challenge of executing winning ABM strategies with misaligned teams. Because, in that case, it's impossible!

All of the problem areas described above (bad handoffs, different systems, inconsistent data and fighting over MQLs) prevent a company from successfully executing ABM activities, especially on a large scale.

why is it so difficult to achieve ABM goals when sales and marketing don't talk to each other? It's because ABM requires you to not only be aligned on a single MQL or SQL definition - you have to define an entire buying team, yes, who together will make the hiring decision. This means even more handoffs, system, data and goal alignment.

The solution to ABM alignment problems

If you're a HubSpot user, you probably know that you have a wealth of HubSpot tools to use in your ABM plays:

  • Target Account Property
  • ICP Level Property
  • Account Summary
  • IA Suggested Target Account tool
  • Prospect tool to see which accounts are visiting the site
  • ABM and Target Account Panels
  • Company Score
  • Properties Buying Roles
  • Automations with Workflows
  • Chatbot or Live Chat
  • Automatic Lead Rotation
  • Ad Conversion Events

Here are some steps you can take to prepare your team for ABM

  1. Verify that you have been collecting job titles and buying roles. If you haven't, review your latest quarter of closed deals and manually enter this information or update it through workflows. For example, you can make sure to indicate that a certain job title is always a decision maker.
  2. Create a dashboard to see which buying roles have been involved in your recent deals and who tends to go to the decision maker first.
  3. Have a meeting between sales and marketing to review this information and agree who makes up the buying committee and who to prioritise.
  4. Follow the other solutions described above to ensure that your teams are aligned on objectives, lifecycle stage definitions, handover protocol and that your data is good, correct and your systems communicate.
  5. Finally, use your ABM and target account tools to set up a campaign that supports the alignment created between sales and marketing.

who says sales and marketing can't play well together? Most of the time, alignment is within reach and all it takes is a little learning and listening, followed by consistent action, to achieve it.

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