“Supplying high quality leads to sales is our biggest challenge, despite our otherwise successful marketing efforts.” (Name withheld to protect the guilty.)
Really? To what, then, does marketing attribute its success if sales isn’t getting supplied with high quality leads? Recently, the CMO of a large software company told me that generating leads for sales was not his job. In fact, he went on to say that if his CEO ever told him generating leads for sales was his job, he would leave.
Honestly, I am not making this stuff up, and by no means am I singling out this one particular CMO. His sentiment represents a classic example of why marketing and sales have been at odds over the past 25 years. How can sales and marketing be relevant in their respective roles to contribute to successful lead, and ultimately revenue, generation?
In this article, we’ll take a look at how various publications have chronicled the problem and pointed toward solutions. While there has been much discussion over the issue, there’s been very little resolution. One thing’s for sure. There’s no reason we should be dealing with this for another quarter of a century.
As early as 1990, researchers recognized the value of sales and marketing alignment. In the article, “Testing the Applicability of Narver and Slater’s Market Orientation Concept and Firm Performance in Botswana Companies,” Narver and Slater refer to the term “market orientation” which is very closely related to what we are now calling alignment. Unfortunately, it was the lack of alignment that was driving down revenue and profitability.
There have been others, however, who felt that alignment (or lack thereof) wasn’t the problem. In fact, they argued that it shouldn’t even be the focus. Take a look at this excerpt from an article written by Geoffrey James for CBS’ MoneyWatch (“Why ‘Aligning’ Sales and Marketing Never Works,” 2010): “It’s totally ridiculous to ‘align’ Sales and Marketing as if the two group[s] were co-equal. The only real and practical alignment is for Marketing to step back, and respectfully ask the Sales team what they should be doing to help. Submission, not alignment.”
Can you imagine the firestorm this article created when it was published? Even after 20 years the tension was real and pervasive—and continues.
Here’s a cartoon from 2012. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”:
Finally (in case we haven’t been thorough enough), this article from Harvard Business Review, “Put the ‘and’ Back in ‘Sales and Marketing’” (October 2014), does an excellent job of articulating the problem as it stands today:
Nowhere else in the executive suite of a typical corporation are two functions as closely intertwined as sales and marketing. Yet for all the shared responsibility, the marketing and sales relationship has often been a contentious and lopsided one, with sales dominating in B2B sectors while marketing leads in B2C ones.
The joint challenge today for CMOs and heads of sales (or CSOs – Chief Sales Officers) is how they can work together to discover insights that matter, design the right offers and customer experiences based on those insights, and then deliver them effectively to the right people across multiple channels to drive growth. McKinsey research shows that companies with advanced marketing and sales capabilities tend to grow their revenue two to three times more than the average company within their sector.
So, again I ask, if the sales and marketing alignment problem has been recognized for over 25 years, why isn’t more being done about it? More importantly, what can be done about it now?
Sometimes we stew in our problems so long that we lose sight of answers that are staring us in the face. In a recent Salesforce.com blog, Pardot’s Adam Blitzer says to take it one step at a time, and I think he offers a great way to get started. Here’s the breakdown:
- Take small steps to patch up the tensions between the sales and marketing teams:
- Get both teams together and come up with a unified definition for a qualified lead.
- Set-up lead scoring and grading rules. A lead score will ensure that leads are showing enough interest in your company, while a lead grade will determine how well they match your ideal profile.
- Have your system automate lead assignment so that only the most qualified leads are getting assigned to sales for follow-up. The remaining leads can be left to marketing so that they can be placed on lead nurturing tracks, which will nurture them to sales-readiness without any work from sales.
In addition, I assert that a system of checks and balances must be implemented to evaluate leads that are either rejected or ignored. It’s also important to have an active nurturing program to stay in contact with prospects. This added “human touch” goes a long way.
Want to be relevant in your job? Marketing and sales aren’t going to start getting along until they realize they have a shared goal and common value. Marketing needs to focus on generating high quality leads so sales can focus on effective follow-up. What, then, will there be to argue about? Seriously, there’s no reason to drag this out another 25 years.