With the launch of the Sales & Marketing Alignment Report from Drift and LeadMD last month, we introduced what I believe to be both the most accurate definition of true alignment as well as an actionable framework to understand the tactics that create and maintain it. This is huge, especially considering the amount of time, effort and, frankly, hand-wringing that goes into discussing alignment.
One thing is clear: modern sales and marketing teams agree that alignment is critical to achieving customer-centricity. As much as aligning marketing and sales teams may sound like table-stakes, it’s important that we recognize how freshly minted that agreement is. In the last decade, and the last five years more precisely, the rise of account-based popularity has been a big driver of that collective handshake.
After surveying 350 C-level professionals in marketing and their counterparts in sales, at companies with revenues of at least $25 million, we have a uniquely valuable data set to quantify what was previously a nebulous conversation.
(collective sigh of relief)
Here are six key findings we uncovered.
Alignment perception is unreliable.
Ninety percent of the leaders we surveyed believe their sales and marketing teams are aligned. This sounded great, until the research proved otherwise. So why does it matter that we’re all largely bought into a false sense of alignment?
It matters because we can’t change anything until we know it’s a problem. If we keep thinking we’re aligned, we’ll never be intentional about fixing misalignment since we don’t even acknowledge it’s there. And if we don’t, some of our most important business outcomes will suffer. There are some real (and negative) dominos that will fall as a result. So, the first step is to be honest and view the data without bias.
As a result, we created a matrix to help leaders figure out where their business stacks up on the alignment spectrum, as objectively as possible. We’re calling it the Sales & Marketing Alignment Index (SMAX). Based on where your company is in terms of revenue and pipeline, you can get a pretty good idea of whether your sales and marketing teams are aligned or out of sync, so you know where to focus your attention.
Effective alignment focuses on the customer and internal collaboration.
As is the case with most good business practices, alignment has a North Star: the customer. The companies that led the pack in our research were united in their understanding of their customers and in the way that they led them through the customer journey. They also had strong interpersonal relationships both with one another as well as the with customer, strengthening collaboration and empathy.
Here are some of the tactical actions this translates into:
- Sales and marketing engage in joint in-person strategy and planning sessions
- They practice joint internal storytelling and work together to create case studies
- The two departments actually sit near each other and have face-to-face discussions regularly
- They share KPIs, most of which are focused around the customer (e.g. retention, satisfaction, etc.)
- Marketing team members accompany sales on customer visits once per quarter or more
Laggards in alignment use non-customer KPIs and don’t share tech or data.
The companies that demonstrated the least alignment still often shared KPIs; but they weren’t KPIs focused on their customer. Qualified lead targets and even pipeline creation align the two teams just enough to foster the perception but fall short of truly aligned performance.
Laggards also revealed that while both the sales and marketing departments use technology and the data it provides, they do so in a siloed manner where the reciprocal team doesn’t have much input. Sales Enablement software was often at the center of this disconnect where sales teams were rarely using messaging as supplied by marketing but then creating their own outreach which marketing found to be poorly constructed.
It was clear in the research that both of these aspects furthered the divide between sales and marketing, rather than removing it. Whereas, teams that were truly sharing customer-centric KPIs (like bookings, LTV, and even customer churn) technology had a better understanding of both who the customer was as well as messaging that resonated with them because they had to gain that alignment in order to succeed.
Alignment alone won’t save the day.
If you’re looking for a magic bullet, sales, and marketing alignment isn’t going to fix all your problems. Even the most well-aligned companies are subject to fluctuations in budget restrictions, seasonality and other factors that can rock the boat of success. This was evident in the impact alignment created across segmentation criteria like industry and organization size, where similar alignment scores created varying impact. Sales & marketing alignment can help support your goals, but it won’t be a replacement for a solid strategy, strong leadership, talent, and constant optimization.
Joint leadership doesn’t result in better alignment.
We had a hunch before commissioning this study, that companies with a central leader over both sales and marketing would perform better in terms of alignment. It makes sense that if both teams report to one executive (namely, a chief revenue officer), they’d have to be more aligned… right? Wrong.
Our findings revealed that having a CRO in place, to whom both sales and marketing report, didn’t make an impact on alignment one way or the other. It still may make sense for a business to have such a role, but it’s just not a factor that boosts alignment.
Alignment shouldn’t be the goal, but it is a wise path.
With all this focus on sales and marketing alignment, you might think that your main objective should be alignment. But that’s not the case. The reason that alignment is so important is because, when done well, it can drive critical business outcomes (like pipeline and revenue)
Without it, these performance results can suffer.
So, the bottom line is simple, our businesses need sales and marketing alignment in order to thrive. The complexity comes when we realize alignment is an accelerator on the path to success, rather than the destination itself. If we are able to couple self-awareness with a culture of innovation, the strategies and tactics revealed within this report provide a clear blueprint for revenue performance improvement.