7 Ways to Align Marketing and Sales Teams

The disconnect between marketing and sales is an age-old story.

Research shows that 90 percent of sales and marketing professionals believe their strategy, processes, content, and culture are not aligned. This has major consequences for both the marketing team and their sales counterparts.

“If your sales and marketing teams are not aligned, it’s going to be much more difficult to hit your number,” says Mitchell Hanson, director of demand generation at ZoomInfo. “You’ll spin your wheels and get frustrated, leading to turnover, lost productivity, and reduced budget because you can’t get a return on investment.”

However, when your teams are in sync, you’re well-positioned to drive conversions and increase revenue. The good news is that if you’re ready to achieve true cross-departmental alignment, we’re here to provide you with proven tactics to implement.

So, what is sales and marketing alignment?

Sales and marketing alignment is an agreement between both teams to share goals, priorities, and even key performance indicators (KPIs). The goals: deliver a seamless experience for the prospect or customer, increase conversion rates, and ultimately boost revenue. It’s a symbiotic relationship in which both teams mutually benefit by supporting one another.

“Sales and marketing alignment means you’re two sides of the same coin,” Hanson says. “You each have unique perspectives while maintaining a healthy amount of tension to challenge each other and keep improving one another’s functions.”

You can achieve sales and marketing alignment in a number of ways. Let’s dive in.

7 Methods for Better Sales & Marketing Alignment

1. Get executive buy-in and prioritize company-wide adoption.

In order for your marketing and sales teams to come together, you must communicate and prioritize the importance of their alignment. Start by getting executive buy-in. Use data to highlight just how harmful misalignment is and how much money it’s cost.

The following metrics will give you a good idea of how misaligned your teams currently are: 

Percentage of marketing-generated leads that sales follows up with.

How many leads are you agreeing to send to sales every day, week, and month? Of those leads, how many are the sales department actually calling and emailing? If this number is extremely low, you likely have one of two problems: the leads you’re producing aren’t good enough, or sales isn’t doing the appropriate follow-up. In most cases, it’s a combination of the two.

Percentage of marketing-generated leads that result in opportunities.

This number will give you better insight into the quality of leads you’re generating. High sales follow-up that doesn’t result in a significant number of opportunities can indicate low-quality leads.

Average number of touches it takes to convert a prospect into a customer.

How many times must sales or marketing communicate with a prospect before they actually make a purchase? If this number is high, it’s a good indicator of misalignment. Perhaps marketing isn’t providing the right content or messaging at the beginning of the engagement, or maybe sales is taking too long to follow up. Either way, it’s a clue to investigate further.

Once you’ve established how big the gap is between marketing and sales, use these same numbers to illustrate how much more successful your organization would be if your teams were aligned. Although marketing and sales alignment starts at the top, it can’t just stay there. Everyone in the organization must be involved and willing to participate.

2. Create and maintain an open line of communication between both departments.

The key is frequent communication. And by frequent, we mean every day.

We suggest that you start by holding a kick-off meeting with sales and marketing leaders to explore and understand the following questions together:

  • What does the marketing team need from the sales team?
  • What does the sales team need from the marketing team?
  • From start to finish, what does the standard sales cycle look like?
  • What does our ideal customer profile look like for each product?
  • What does a bad lead look like?
  • Which content and campaigns tend to attract the most high-quality leads?
  • What can each team do better?

From there, have daily stand-ups with key stakeholders on each team to stay in close contact with your peers on the other side of the house. 

“It’s hard for us to ever not be aligned,” Hanson says. “Every day at 1 p.m. we have a 15-person meeting including demand generation, search marketing, analytics, inbound and outbound SDRs, sales dev, and others to discuss how conversion rates are looking and how we’re tracking for the week and month.” 

This approach also allows you to quickly identify gaps and get ahead of any problems. 

3. Share definitions and goals.

One of the leading causes of misaligned marketing and sales teams is separate goals and success metrics. Think about it: if a marketing team is told to generate a certain type of lead without any input from sales, how do they know if they’re even targeting the right buyer?

It’s vital that you establish a shared set of goals and universal definitions. We recommend the following.

Strategize:

Develop a shared plan that maps leads to prospects and prospects to revenue. Identify “fit factors” to help score leads. Firmographic information like company size, industry, location, and tech stack, as well as demographic information like a contact’s title or their budgetary control, can determine whether a lead is a good or bad fit. It’s also important to agree on a lead scoring model. 

Define:

According to a Gartner study, only about half of sales and marketing teams report having a shared definition of what constitutes a lead. 

Work to reach agreement on the definition of a marketing-qualified lead (MQL), a sales-qualified lead (SQL), and where account-based marketing (ABM) fits in — and get specific. Break down the difference between “warm” and “hot” leads, and how you prioritize which accounts to pursue. The more detailed your definitions, the less room there is for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. 

Think big picture:

Take a full-funnel view of conversion rates and costs. This means constantly analyzing where leads come from, how much they cost, which ones turn into revenue, and ultimately which campaigns you can duplicate to generate more of them.

Report and Communicate:

Share dashboards, reports, and KPIs where possible. Meet regularly to discuss your findings.

Evaluate:

Constantly challenge assumptions and improve the customer acquisition and retention processes.

“Mimic the workflow that sales would have to do if they didn’t have any support,” says Nina Wooten, director of demand generation at ZoomInfo. “Understand their criteria for a good-fit lead, what are they actually doing in terms of process workflow, and then replicate that and scale it out for them. Everyone benefits and conversion rates are better.” 

Sales & Marketing Alignment Case Study:

At ZoomInfo, our marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) are organized into two categories:

  1. Hot MQLs: These are “hand-raisers” — people who have requested more information and are expecting to hear from you.
  2. Warm MQLs: Potential customers that show implicit interest through their behavior, but don’t actually request more information.

Our sales and marketing leaders created a value system for content where gated assets (such as webinar registrations or ebook downloads) score higher than ungated assets (such as blogs). 

Leaders in both departments agreed upon a lead score that they consider “warm”: that is, at what point marketing passes the leads over to sales to follow up.

4. Establish Service Level Agreements

A service level agreement is a formal contract between marketing and sales that outlines what each department is responsible for and how each task will be executed. It should be created during initial meetings between marketing and sales leadership.

Using the goals and definitions mentioned above, set clear expectations for each team and the metrics you’ll use to measure success. Marketing goals can include leads generated, qualified leads generated, opportunities created, and revenue produced. 

Sales goals can include follow-up time, frequency, and the percentage of leads that the sales team is expected to follow up with. Emphasize checks and balances as well as give and take. Everyone needs to be held accountable for doing their part.

Sales & Marketing Alignment Case Study:

Here at ZoomInfo, our success with implementing an SLA for inbound leads serves as a testament to its value as a marketing and sales alignment tool.

ZoomInfo had long struggled with warm MQLs. We tried giving them to our sales development team, then tried our special sales SWAT team. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the conversion rate above 4 percent.

To align our sales and marketing teams, ZoomInfo created a sales role 100% dedicated to calling warm marketing-qualified leads. (Yes, calling them.)

Our conversion rate increased from that stubborn 4 percent up to 15 percent. We found the sweet spot is 150 dials (yes, dials) per day.

If your warm MQLs aren’t converting at a rate that delivers enough revenue, consider increasing your lead score threshold to ensure those leads are truly interested and a good fit for your product or service.

5. Evaluate and consider removing lead channels with low conversion rates.

While generating leads is great, they don’t matter if they don’t convert. Identity low-performing channels and reallocate your resources elsewhere. Examples could be paid content syndication, social media platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn, or display advertising. Don’t forget that the ultimate goal is revenue, and if you’re not producing revenue, you need to make adjustments.

“Look at all of the conversion rates down the funnel,” Hanson advises. “You could have a really high MQL-to-demo rate, but a low win rate. Align on what you want the vertex of efficiency to be. If you can lower your volume a little bit by chopping off a portion of low-performing leads, that could raise conversion rates.”

6. Re-engage and reactivate cold leads.

When a lead turns cold — don’t let them fall off your radar. This is an excellent opportunity to work with sales to bring them back into the fold. 

For traditional inbound leads, establish regularly scheduled go-back campaigns. Segment between those who requested a free trial versus those who requested more information. After a lead has aged past a certain timeframe without engaging (such as 45 days), trigger an automated email on behalf of an SDR, focused on what the lead originally requested. If the lead doesn’t respond back, target another decision-maker on the account. If they do respond, the SDR can pick it up from there.

For warm MQLs, perform a similar go-back motion. Segment based on the type of content the warm MQL consumed (a whitepaper about a specific product versus a webinar about a particular pain point), automate an email that speaks to their interests, and then your SDR can jump in only if they respond.

“Sales doesn’t have to do the actual prospecting work or list cleanup because marketing does it for them,” says Wooten. “Do the back-end work so they don’t waste their time trying to discern who’s still interested or a good fit. They can just jump right into selling once you’ve re-engaged them.”

7. Invest in technology that supports alignment.

Bridge the gap by working with technologies that integrate to eliminate silos, facilitate better communication, and give each team more insight into the other’s daily activities.

More specifically, three tools that will make both sales and marketing’s lives much easier are:

  • Intent data
  • Enriched data
  • Conversation intelligence

Intent data is a source of truth telling salespeople and marketers who they should prioritize in their outreach. It shows who is in-market to purchase a solution like yours right now and where they are in their buyer’s journey. Based on who sales and marketing have agreed is a good fit, marketing can immediately jump on high-value prospects with personalized ads and messaging.

Enriched data refers to having accurate and complete data. Data changes astoundingly fast. That’s why it’s vital to have a tool that will automatically append and update your dataset with the latest information. This allows both sales and marketing to reach out to prospects and customers quickly and with confidence.

“Data quality is an insurance policy to have a very happy go-to-market family,” Hanson says. “It makes everything easier. You know who to target and how to get ahold of them.”

Conversation intelligence captures and analyzes phone calls, video meetings, and emails to unearth insights that enable teams to target potential customers with greater precision. It particularly helps product marketing and demand generation teams understand the hopes, dreams, and fears of customers and prospects.

Marketing and sales alignment is no longer optional.

“You have to equally address the full go-to-market continuum,” Hanson says. “You can’t position one function as more important than another. You have to allow for equal seats at the revenue table.”