Marketing and Sales Integration – Why ‘Alignment’ is No Longer Enough

by Chris Horn

The concept of more effectively aligning marketing and sales is far from new, with a wealth of literature highlighting the value of getting these two critical divisions collaborating more closely. Amongst the key benefits are tighter management of leads and opportunities, improved targeting, more efficient and effective use of sales time, greater ROI on marketing spend, increased revenue – the list goes on.

However despite these promised benefits, most organisations have struggled to genuinely achieve marketing and sales alignment. It’s an exceedingly difficult challenge – one that requires overcoming the historical cultural differences and functional silos embedded into an organisation over a long period of time. Against this backdrop of legacy challenges, the rise of the ‘new’ digitally-empowered buyer has dramatically increased both the imperative and complexity of breaking down the age-old divisions between marketing and sales.

With today’s customer preferring to self-educate online, they’re increasingly interacting across multiple channels (and hence the functions supporting these channels), switching between them far more frequently and demanding more relevance than ever before. This far more dynamic buyer’s journey has profound implications for how marketing and sales need to work with each other. The goal of alignment is no longer enough to meet customer expectations. Genuine operational integration of marketing and sales functions is now required to deliver the more agile and seamless go-to-market approach necessary for success.

Across our marketing and sales transformation projects, we’ve observed five broad stages which organisations typically pass through as they work towards marketing and sales integration. As building momentum and buy-in for change is one of the key challenges many organisations face internally, we’ve presented each stage of this maturity process from the perspective of the customer as this highlights both the imperative and pay-off.

The five stages of marketing and sales integration – from the customer’s perspective

  1. Detached

    Customer perspective: “It’s like dealing with separate entities


    In this stage marketing and sales don’t understand what the other does and are oblivious of any need to work collaboratively. Not only are each function’s processes entirely separate, intersecting only rarely, both marketing and sales teams are unaware there’s a problem. Sales contact data is often not in a CRM and marketing is working off separate databases from sales for campaign execution. Customers have the same conversation multiple times and if they switch channels, they have to start back at square one.
     
  2. Conflicting

    Customer perspective: “Your departments aren’t on the same page


    This stage is characterised by channel silos, each with their own targets and incentives, essentially competing with each other for new customers. Often this is between marketing and sales but can commonly be between channel teams within each of these functions as well. There is commonly frustration caused by activities undertaken by other teams, with processes regularly intersecting but clashing with each other. The business is aware that there is a problem but hasn’t yet acted to solve it. There is commonly quite deliberate separation of prospect and customer data as channel teams seek to quarantine their information. The end experience for the customer is frequently confusing and the business looks disorganised as silos are exacerbated by competition.
     
  3. Progressing

    Customer perspective: “I’ve had some great experiences, but also some clunky ones


    In this stage the business has recognised the importance of bringing marketing and sales closer together and some combined initiatives have been launched. Marketing and sales don’t really understand what the other does yet, so the majority of focus is improving this understanding and communication. A key problem at this stage is the risk of ‘sizzle and fizzle’ – immediately following the launch of collaboration initiatives there is a period of focus, however this quickly drops away due to a lack of embedding. Typically, some attempts have been made at launching campaigns and sales follow-up activity utilising shared data, but this is far from being business-as-usual
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  4. Aligned

    Customer perspective: “It’s typically a pretty good experience


    Marketing and sales now believe each can help improve the other’s results. A range of joint initiatives and planning sessions have both teams speaking the same language and understanding each other well. Leaders are behind the importance of alignment and regularly drive efforts to this end, resulting in sustained focus. Improvements to marketing and sales processes have made them more complementary, however they’re not yet hardwired into the database and technology tools marketing and sales utilise day-to-day to perform their roles. As such, full customer visibility, consistency and speed are the primary issues and causes of the remaining clunks in the customer experience.
     
  5. Integrated

    Customer perspective: “It’s always a great experience. Highly recommended.


    Marketing and sales rely on each other to perform and are significantly enabled by each other’s activities. Integrated databases provide a single view of the customer, with each team able to access the data they need to be relevant in the right channel at the right time. Marketing and sales teams meet regularly and review common dashboards and KPIs. Critical pinch points such as lead handovers and sales lead acceptance are closely monitored and continually fine-tuned. Complementary marketing and sales processes are hardwired through technology platforms, enabling marketing and sales to be efficient and effective, whilst delivering a consistently strong and relevant customer experience.

A holistic approach is required

While high-performing organisations have always sought close alignment between marketing and sales, new levels of operational integration are required to deliver the experience today’s customer now expects. Many have made good progress in improving communications and understanding across marketing and sales functions, but to deliver lasting and significant change, a more holistic approach is required.

Legacy functional silos must be genuinely dissolved, with new levels of connectedness and collaboration necessary to hardwire relevant marketing and sales execution around the customer. True operational integration – spanning the people, process and technology elements – will be the only way to adapt the organisation to the new customer environment, so it can sustainably deliver the agile and seamless go-to-market approach vital for success.