Integrating Marketing and Sales Execution

by Chris Horn

In my previous post, I detailed the six steps organisations need to consider in order to operationally pivot to the customer – the first stage of our three-stage roadmap for digital go-to-market transformation. In this post, I’ll explore the second stage – Integrating Marketing and Sales Execution.

First, let’s briefly recap the key changes and initiatives typically actioned prior to embarking on stage two. By now you will have firmly set the foundation for digital go-to-market transformation. Cross-functional sponsorship and business-wide understanding for transformation is gaining traction. You have a deeper understanding of your key customer segments and are beginning to lay the process, content, channel, data and technology foundations necessary to drive new customer interactions. Rather than being just a good intention, customer-centricity is now a genuine operational imperative – with the business fully committed to fundamentally reorganising around the customer.

With this ‘customer pivot’ complete, the business is positioned to begin the next stage of transformation, where the much more difficult process of functional integration takes place. The key challenge in stage two is working out how you can add value to customers with the right interaction, in the right channel, at the right time. To this end, you will test, prove and evolve a whole new marketing and sales execution engine; redesign processes, evolve operating models and hardwire new and more automated ways of working through technology. However this is far easier said than done, with a number of formidable challenges standing in the way of genuine integration of marketing and sales. Firmly entrenched cultural and functional silos, in particular the age old division between marketing and sales, will need to be broken down and reconstituted around the customer.

So what does the path towards marketing and sales integration look like? Across the marketing and sales transformation projects we’ve undertaken, there are typically six important steps organisations need to think about and work through:

1. Adapt role and channel mix
 
The imperative to deliver more relevance and value to a much savvier and self-informed customer, while at the same time reduce cost to sale, requires a fundamental evolution of both organisational design and the channel mix. Clearly defining roles, goals, KPIs and incentives is key to ensuring the right people are aligned to the right opportunities. Given that marketing now owns far more of the buyer’s journey, KPIs and incentives must position marketers for a new era of outcomes and accountability. For sales, more specialised roles are typically required to deliver a higher level of thought leadership and value.
 
While new marketing channels will inevitably form a large part of your channel mix, new sales channels will similarly be required. An inside sales team is a common solution to both efficiently matching high value specialists to opportunities, as well as delivering greater coverage across lower value customer segments, at lower cost.
 
2. Build capabilities and buy-in
 
In order to drive lead generation across multiple new digital channels and effectively operate new technology, both marketing and sales will need to develop a host of new capabilities. Given the far greater volume and variety of customer interactions generated across digital channels – providing more data than ever about what customers are looking for and thinking about – data analysis skills will be critical for both marketers and sales reps. Marketers must also develop the capability to sustainably produce a greater quantity and quality of content that cuts through. Sales will need to develop greater commercial acumen and deeper industry, function or solution expertise to generate greater insight and value in customer interactions.
 
A significant pain point at this stage is gaining sales buy-in for new and more integrated processes. Sales can often feel displaced or threatened by digital initiatives, particularly those driven by marketing. For your pilots to successfully build sales acceptance, it helps to start with a simple premise – sales won’t buy in until they feel it. As such, you will need to prove the value of transformation to every single salesperson. Articulating the benefits of a digital future to sales – one where they spend less time doing admin and more time fostering relationships with customers – is the first critical step. The best way of demonstrating the value of marketing and sales integration to all concerned is through proof in the form of pilots. If your pilot will affect the day-to-day role of salespeople, ensure new processes are simple, enabling and interwoven into their day-to-day tools.

3. Design cross-functional planning processes
 
With the buyer’s journey now spanning multiple channels and functions, there’s a need to enhance cross-functional planning processes to ensure that the customer is cohesively supported at each stage. This means that organisations need to shift from a sales-led account planning process to one that is more collaborative.

Typically what needs to be determined is the role and specific activities of each function against each stage of the buyer’s journey. Creating clear progression rules and defining the most effective activities each party needs to carry out at each stage helps facilitate buyer progression and minimise clunks across their buying journey.

4. Design marketing and sales lead handover processes

With a more fluid buying process, it’s critical to establish an integrated process to ensure sales can quickly and effectively follow up and convert marketing-qualified leads. The first step towards achieving this is for marketing and sales to agree on a clear, single definition of what a qualified lead is. Arriving at a definition involves gaining a deep understanding of how a prospect behaves at each step in the buyer’s journey. Firstly, what are the trigger points and behaviours which demonstrate progression through the buyer’s journey and indicate sales readiness? Secondly, what is the appropriate accumulation of customer activity, interest and intent to warrant sales involvement? With this criteria established, you can leverage technology tools to automate and scale the handover and recycling of leads between marketing and sales.

Once your lead handover process is implemented, there are two key objectives to keep in mind – ensuring that follow-up happens, and that it happens in a consistently effective way. Often standing in the way of a seamless follow-up process is the fact that sales face fundamental capacity and prioritisation challenges. Therefore it’s essential to put in place either dedicated resourcing, clear operating model demarcation or service level agreements which will create the capacity and accountability for lead follow-up.

5. Develop an integrated operating rhythm
 
As you introduce new and more integrated marketing and sales processes, it’s unlikely to all be smooth sailing. Therefore there’s a critical need for a continual discussion and review process to be in place in order to enable early course-correction. A finely-tuned and integrated marketing and sales operating rhythm needs to emerge, one that will provide the tactical agility to respond to external shifts, as well as deliver new levels of cross-functional integration and collaboration. Joint marketing and sales forums and dashboards are key to ensuring focused execution in key market segments. Critical pinch points such as lead handovers and sales lead acceptance need to be closely monitored and continually fine-tuned. And to help increase support for transformation initiatives, it’s essential to regularly monitor and showcase results.
 
6. Hardwire technology-enabled execution
 
With so many more customer interactions happening, as well as more handovers back and forth between marketing and sales, technology and automation are essential for running and scaling your new go-to-market engine. One of the key challenges is working out how to get the right data, in front of the right staff member, in order to deliver relevance at the right time. There are a wide variety of ways to achieve this, but it’s more than likely that CRM, marketing automation and CMS platforms will form the core of your technology stack. Once these are bedded in, you can really start to get the most out of your technology by optimising with automated processes, workflows, actions and alerts.
 
Conclusion – Pilots play a critical role
 
When you first get going with marketing and sales integration, it’s important that you don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. The key to success is to run commercially-focused pilots that can tangibly prove the value to all concerned. When done right, pilots are a powerful tool for driving change initiatives and accelerating marketing and sales integration. By demonstrating the value of transformation initiatives, they can help bring people on board, de-risk funding decisions, test hypotheses and learn in a controlled way, as well as embed new ways of working into business-as-usual.
 
Stay tuned for the next instalment in this three-part series where I’ll explore the third and final stage of digital go-to-market transformation – delivering relevance, at scale.