Sales and Marketing are both working towards the same goal: securing business and helping their company grow.

But how they do this differs significantly.

Sales is a direct process in which the salesperson talks to the customer and steers them towards making a purchase. This might be in person, over the phone, or using a digital communication medium like email. The process might be very long, taking place over multiple conversations in which the salesperson learns about the customer and their pain points, and helps them understand how the product on offer can help solve them.

It could also be a very short process consisting of a single conversation in which the salesperson lays out the terms of the deal and processes the sale.

Marketing is a much more holistic process that is designed to increase awareness of a brand or product to the target consumer as a whole. Rarely will a marketer deal one-on-one with a customer.

Instead, Marketing will often create “leads” that Sales will pursue and try to convert. Unfortunately, that’s often where the relationship between the two departments ends.

And that’s a big shame.

What Happens When They Work Together

Marketing and Sales are both really important in their own right. No one – myself included – is going to argue with that. Saying that, they are far, far more powerful when united.

“There is no question that, when Sales and Marketing work well together, companies see substantial improvement on important performance metrics: Sales cycles are shorter, market-entry costs go down, and the cost of sales is lower.” July-August 2006 Harvard Business Review

The nature of sales means that salespeople are able to gain first-hand knowledge of customers – much of which would be difficult, if not impossible, to gain any other way.

Marketing is likely to have hard data that shows what sort of information, content or language customers and potential customers respond to.

Unfortunately, too many companies let Marketing and Sales operate as entirely separate entities. This is a huge oversight (and a massive shame for the businesses letting it happen) because together, they are so much more powerful.

In fact, companies that report “strong alignment” between Sales and Marketing have been shown to close more leads, retain more customers, and grow faster than those that don’t.

How to Get Them Working Together

It’s all well and good to state the benefits of getting your sales and marketing teams to collaborate, but you also need to know how to get them to work together effectively.

First things first: you need to inform them of your plans. I suggest a face-to-face meeting with every member of both the sales and marketing teams.

The Initial Meeting

This is key. Your staff needs to understand what you’re doing and why.

That said, it’s important to keep the meeting casual.

You don’t want to scare your staff with these changes and you don’t want them to think they are going to result in more work. Instead, focus on how collaboration will make everyone more effective at their jobs. You want all attendees to leave the meeting feeling positive about what’s happening and excited about the opportunities these changes will offer the company and their own careers.

Explain what you’re trying to achieve, why, and the processes you’re going to implement to aid this collaboration.

In addition to this, there are three topics I strongly suggest covering in this initial meeting:

  1. Friction points in the sales funnel
  2. The ideal lead
  3. Customer personas

Let’s talk about these in more detail.

Identify Friction Points in the Sales Funnel

Your sales funnel is the process your customers go through before, and often after, they make a purchase.

There is no “official” sales funnel – at their most basic, they might look like this:

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But every company, and the process its customers go through, is different. Consequently, so is each sales funnel.

Chances are, both your sales and marketing teams will be aware of the funnel your customers follow (even if they don’t necessarily call it a “funnel”) – but do they accurately understand what it is?

Make this a discussion point for your initial collaboration meeting.

What to do

Ask both teams to describe the sales funnel. If anyone’s unfamiliar with the term, ask them to describe the sales process.

See how the two teams’ descriptions match up. If there are discrepancies, discuss why. Then, make a point of establishing a canonical (correct and final) version. Ensure that each team understands their role in the funnel and which stages they are responsible for.

Next, ask both teams to discuss what friction points they’ve encountered in the funnel. Which parts of it (if any) aren’t working as effectively as they could be?

You’ll probably find that both Sales and Marketing have very different experiences to contribute here. This is why it’s so important to work together.

Likely friction points could be:

  • A lack of IQLs or MQLs (leads at the very top of the funnel).
  • A lack of SQLs (sales qualified leads).
  • High numbers of unqualified SQLs (i.e. poorly or incorrectly qualified leads).
  • High churn rate or low number of repeat customers (i.e. poor customer retention).

You can only tackle these friction points once you know what they are, and you can tackle them most effectively when all parties responsible for creating and converting leads are involved.

Now that you know where your biggest points of friction are in getting leads, converting them, and keeping your customers, you need to decide on the best ways to reduce that friction (or get rid of it altogether).

  • A lack of IQLs or MQLs may be mitigated by switching up how you approach SEO and PPC (or implementing organic and paid search strategies if you’re not already).
  • You might increase SQLs by ensuring Sales and Marketing are collaborating effectively to create content that’s answering common bottom-of-the-funnel queries and pushing IQLs and MQLs to the next stage of the funnel.
  • If Marketing is wasting the sales team’s time with too many poorly-qualified SQLs, ensuring Marketing understands what makes a great lead could tip the scales in the right direction.
  • You could make a positive difference to customer retention through effective customer follow-ups, loyalty schemes, or by improving your customer onboarding experience.

“For most businesses, there are two key milestones that need to be reached before a customer can reach their full value potential:

  1. The moment they sign up for your product, and…
  2. The moment they achieve their first ‘success’ with your product

A disproportionate amount of your customer churn will take place between (1) and (2). That’s where customers abandon your product because they get lost, don’t understand something, don’t get value from the product, or simply lose interest.

To minimize that initial churn, smart businesses focus on onboarding: the process by which you help a customer go from (1) to (2).” Len Markidan, head of marketing at Groove

I would also encourage you to look at how marketing automation can help you reduce friction points not only more effectively, but more efficiently.

“Thousands of marketers today rely on email marketing to generate results. They send blast email after blast email to their entire list of prospects and customers, hoping the message resonates with some of them and gets them to purchase. But does it work? Hard to tell.

Perhaps it works for you sometimes, but the reality of the situation is this:

  1. You’re wasting your valuable time and money marketing to someone who may not be interested in what you’re sharing.

  2. You could be burning your list (i.e. annoying your contacts and causing them to jump ship leaving you with no opportunity to market to them in the future).” Alyssa Rimmer, Director of Marketing for New Breed Marketing, writing for HubSpot

If you’re doing something similar to what’s described above, you’re already utilizing marketing automation, but you’re probably not utilizing it as effectively as you could be.

To improve the effectiveness of your marketing automation, you need to implement workflows that send targeted messages in accordance with how the recipient has previously interacted with you.

Let’s say your marketing and sales teams work together to create an ebook designed to target a specific pain point that’s common to your bottom-of-the-funnel leads.

You distribute an email campaign targeted at all your current IQLs (Information Qualified Leads).

A few days later, you send a reminder to those who haven’t opened the email or downloaded the ebook.

Those who have opened the email but not downloaded the ebook get a different email. They’re asked if they had any problems accessing the book or if it wasn’t applicable to them. They’re then asked if they would like information on anything else, instead.

A different email is sent to those who have downloaded the ebook. They are thanked for downloading the book and offered additional content that may help move them further along the sales funnel.

A customer who accesses the additional piece of content is likely now an SQL. That final action may trigger a notification to sales that the lead is ready to be contacted by a member of their team.

This is marketing automation done right, but it becomes all the more effective when Sales and Marketing are working together to create lead-generating content and email workflows.

Define the Ideal Lead

Less than half of companies say that their sales and marketing teams have a formal definition of a qualified lead.

This is a problem.

Poorly-qualified leads are a massive pain point for salespeople, and why wouldn’t they be? Like all of us, they only have so many hours in their day and so many people they can schedule time to talk to. Salespeople do not want to be spending time “nurturing” leads that aren’t ready to buy (or would never buy from you, period) and you shouldn’t want them to.

“Many companies don’t do enough upfront work to qualify their new sales leads. They simply pass every single sales lead through to the sales team, even if the prospect is nowhere near ready to buy or is even a good fit for what the company sells.” Gregg Schwartz, writing for iAcquire

Better quality leads means more conversions for your sales team (and for you). So how do you improve the quality of your leads?

By getting Sales and Marketing to work together to define the ideal lead.

Generally, your salespeople will be guiding the way in this conversation. They are the ones on the front line with your leads and are responsible for converting them, after all. Their experience is priceless.

That said, your marketing team should have access to data collected earlier in the sales cycle that can prove invaluable in defining the ideal lead, too. Ask them to identify shared traits in those that convert (as well as those that don’t).

This is something that should be discussed in your initial meeting and in subsequent meetings. Data and knowledge will be gained over time that can help refine the description of the ideal lead, so it’s important to revisit the topic.

What to do

Ahead of your initial meeting, ask your sales and marketing teams to do some prep work.

Sales should think carefully about the best leads they’ve been sent and what it was that made them that way. Marketing should collect customer data and identify shared traits or patterns in behavior.

Develop Customer Personas

The process of defining the ideal lead benefits all, but it’s first and foremost for the benefit of your salespeople.

Developing customer personas is a similar process, but this one primarily benefits your marketing team.

The idea is to create at least one (but usually more) highly-descriptive personas that embody the customer (or customers) your company is trying to target. They should illustrate typical customers at each stage of the sales funnel. Done right, they should prove to be invaluable when devising marketing campaigns.

“Buyer personas (sometimes referred to as marketing personas) are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers. Personas help us all – in marketing, sales, product, and services – internalize the ideal customer we’re trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans. Having a deep understanding of your buyer persona(s) is critical to driving content creation, product development, sales follow up, and really anything that relates to customer acquisition and retention.” Pamela Vaughan, Manager of Web Strategy at HubSpot

One key step in creating customer personas is to talk to your customers. Ask them questions. Find out as much about them as you possibly can.

You can do this through pop-up surveys or post-purchase surveys. It also pays to arrange in-depth interviews with a handful of your best customers – it’s a great opportunity to really dig deep.

You can (and should) also leverage your salespeople in this process. The hands-on experience they get with your customers means they should have knowledge and information you’re never going to get from a survey. Chances are, you’d struggle to replicate it even in a face-to-face interview.

What to do

Ahead of your initial meeting, ask your salespeople to create profiles of the three most typical customers they talk to. They don’t have to be overly-detailed at this point (although the more detail they can add, the better) but there should be enough information to start painting a picture of the customers you, and your salespeople, deal with most often.

Ask your marketing team to bring along any information they already have about your customers, whether this has been gained through surveys, interviews or purchased demographic data (chances are, if you’ve not tried to create customer personas before, you’ll only have purchased demographic data to go on).

In the meeting itself, start to bring this information together. Identify common traits in the typical customers your salespeople have described, and where possible or necessary, merge them together.

Use data provided by your marketing team to flesh out the personas and decide which ones you’re going to work with from this point on.

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Remember that you’re not looking to finalize your personas in this initial meeting. Once your team understands the purpose of personas, they should be able to go away and build on them. Your goal initially is to get in place – at a minimum – an outline for each of your customer personas.

So, that’s three key discussion points I encourage you to cover in this initial meeting. In summary, by the end of this meeting you should aim to:

  • Ensure that all involved understand what’s happening, why, and the processes involved in facilitating this collaboration.
  • Get everyone at least a little excited about what’s happening and how it can benefit them.
  • Identify your sales funnel.
  • Identify friction points in that funnel.
  • Define the ideal lead.
  • Draw up some basic customer personas (at a minimum – it’s fine if they’re more than basic, too!)

The Ongoing Process

That initial meeting is critical, but the real magic happens after. Let’s look at how you can ensure this collaboration continues.

Collaborate in Meetings

Both Sales and Marketing should be able to bring knowledge and ideas to the table that can benefit the other party. This is why collaborating in meetings ought to be your first step in getting them to work together successfully. Specifically this means…

Setting monthly department head meetings

If you don’t do this already, ensure your heads of departments are meeting up on at least a monthly basis. This is an opportunity for them to discuss their teams’ plans for the coming month and the results of their actions the previous month, and to establish how their teams can collaborate for even better results in the future.

Brainstorming sessions

If your marketing team usually brainstorms amongst themselves, it’s time to invite Sales along to the party, too.

Your sales team is on the front line with customers. They may well have ideas that those who are a little more behind-the-scenes would never think of. Their input in brainstorming sessions could be invaluable.

Of course, bear in mind that an effective brainstorming session should include no more than 10 participants. If, combined, your sales and marketing teams exceed this number, arrange for members of your sales team to take part in brainstorming sessions in rotation.

Get Sales Involved in Content Creation

Idea generation should be only the start of how you bring your sales team into your content creation. There are many ways they can help during the content creation process, too. This might include:

  • Shortlisting ideas that resulted from brainstorming sessions.
  • “Testing” ideas on prospects. A simple “Is this something you would be interested in/would it benefit you?” can go a long way.
  • Reviewing research and briefs and adding their two cents where possible.

They don’t have to be there every step of the way, but some input from Sales at key stages of the creative process could prove to be priceless.

Remember to encourage your salespeople to share content where possible, too.

This is mutually beneficial. It increases the visibility of the marketing team’s work, and may help salespeople close leads when the content answers questions in more detail than they’re able to.

Facilitate Sharing and Communication

Make it easy for both departments to share information and communicate. This is critical if you want your sales and marketing teams to develop natural working relationships.

To do this you can:

Arrange social events

For Sales and Marketing to work together as effectively as possible, it’s important – just as with any people who collaborate at work – for them to like each other.

Casual social events in which the pressure of work’s lifted and your staff is able to relax and be themselves can help drive bonds that extend inside the workplace, too.

This is something I’ve always pushed as being especially important at all companies I’ve worked at – not just between Sales and Marketing, but for all members of staff.

I’ll pay for some beers at happy hour or take teams out to lunch. Sometimes I might just buy a box of donuts. Anything to get people away from their desks and bonding in ways that don’t involve their work is great in my book.

Utilize an internal collaboration tool

Tools like Slack facilitate better communication between teams. They act as a platform for sharing updates and information and they enable staff members to stay in touch and up to speed regardless of where or when they’re working.

They’re invaluable for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of internal communications. Nothing I’ve tried personally has worked better.

Tech Republic’s Nick Heath covered a great case study from The Sunday Times, illustrating just how effective tools like Slack can be. Quoting production editor Matthew Taylor’s description of how reporters and editors at the paper were sharing ongoing news stories, the article states:

“Every day they would post all the stories they wanted to follow into a Google document, then email that document around to everyone and have [a new] one every hour. It would just go on and on and on and the data was lost almost immediately. So I was like, ‘That’s insane, you’re insane’. You have to find a better way to do this.

So we just built a Slack channel up where all these links and Tweets are all posted. That’s been fantastic.”

Tools like Slack are customizable to the needs of your company. Slack, specifically (it’s what I use – I’m unsure how the competition differs), has two primary functions: channels and direct messages.

Direct messages are essentially an instant messaging service. You use it to have private conversations with one (or more) coworkers.

Channels are like “groups.” Each channel will have a theme and users can “subscribe” to channels that are relevant to what they do. You can also create private channels, if you want to restrict subscribers to specific people.

What this means in this context is that you might create a channel for your sales team, another for your marketing team, and ask all members of each team to subscribe to both channels. You might then also create a “Sales and Marketing” channel that’s used for any information or updates that could apply to both teams.

65% of sales reps state they have problems finding content to send to prospects. Used correctly, Slack presents an easy way to overcome this.

In summary, your ongoing sales and marketing collaboration process should include:

  • Monthly head of department meetings.
  • Collaboration between sales and marketing in brainstorming sessions.
  • Input from sales throughout the content-creation process.
  • Regular social events.
  • Use of an internal collaboration tool that facilitates communication between teams anytime, anywhere.
  • Effective sharing of content and other resources between Sales, Marketing, and customers.

Do your sales and marketing teams currently working together? In what ways do they collaborate, and how effective do you find it to be? Do you plan to encourage increased collaboration after reading this article? As always I’m keen to hear your thoughts – comments are just below, if you have a moment to share them.

Header Image: Pixabay

  1. Very Insightful article. I don’t know of anything else to add, but I’d like to say that to be able to achieve a good working relationship between sales and marketing, mutual respect between these two teams must be established. They must know and respect how each department works. Fostering unity between sales & marketing is not an easy process, but once it is achieved, I believe that it would be a worthy venture.

  2. Thanks for a very interesting article. Sales and marketing can do wonders when they work out the best plan of action. We’re using marketing automation with getresponse, but it’s our marketing team that mostly handles it. I guess that we should really make sales more involved in this too.

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