The Missing Pieces Standing in the Way of Sales and Marketing Alignment

Meghan Keaney Anderson

Meghan Keaney Anderson
VP of Marketing, Hubspot

The Missing Pieces Standing in the Way of Sales and Marketing Alignment

Alignment is the great elusive goal of so many scaling businesses. How many meetings have we all attended where greater alignment was a topic at hand? How often have we felt, despite best intentions, disconnected in our strategies across teams?

Misalignment is a side-effect of growth. It happens when people, systems, incentives and data proliferate -- and it results in fissures that over time become entrenched friction in your business.

Over the years companies have gotten better at identifying misalignment as a major barrier to growth, and chief revenue officers have made forging a tighter relationship between sales and marketing a key strategy. And yet, for many scaling businesses, sales and marketing alignment remains a challenge.

That’s because alignment is the product of more than just good intentions. It takes a specific shift in operational practices, tech infrastructure and incentive models. Never has that shift been more important or the need been more evident than in the months after the pandemic crisis hit in earlier this year. The rapid onset of changes in buyer behavior after the pandemic hit had the effect of shining a bright light on the many operating fissures between teams at growing companies that required not only immediate repair but also long-term re-evaluation. In my recent interview on The Forecast, I dive deeper into why.

An uneven crisis requires a highly adaptable response

Over the last year, HubSpot has tracked marketing and sales performance data at more than 70,000 companies worldwide. One of the commanding themes coming out of that data was that the health and economic crisis impacted sales and marketing differently this year. While sales response rates understandably went down in the months after many businesses shut-down their offices, marketing engagement went up—particularly the use of online chats and educational content.

Our initial takeaway was that budget conscious customers are spending longer in the discovery phase and really educating themselves before they engage with a sales rep, but we’ve also seen that heightened engagement continue with marketing, showing perhaps a longer-term trend in how prospects and customers engage with companies online.

Another evident trend in the data is that this crisis has hit industries, segments and regions differently. Because of that, the relationship between marketing and sales has to become a lot more precise. It may be that a portion of your target audience is slowing down its purchase timeline while others are accelerating. Even if you’ve made segment strategies before, it may be worth revisiting your lead scoring now and adjusting the tone of your marketing and sales outreach depending on the segment. The two teams have to communicate to set a joint strategy based on conversations. Intel from sales conversations can help marketers get laser focused on demand gen, allowing them to drive more quality leads.

At Hubspot, we plan our content series based on real-time feedback and data that we’re seeing from sales calls and pipelines. Knowing the questions customers ask our sales team helps us to be more proactive about creating content to anticipate their needs. Before we go to market with a new product or campaign we test that messaging with our sales team and they in turn give us input on what they’re hearing is most resonant with buyers.

Adaptability starts with a shared view of the data

Sales and marketing have to build a strong foundation together, based on the same data, which means that the teams need to agree on what success looks like. It’s a common practice to have two separate monthly reports, one for sales and one for marketing, but that quite literally leads to two different perspectives into the customer experience and a disjointed strategy. That’s troublesome in standard times, it’s a major blocker in times of rapid response. The two teams should agree on the metrics everyone will be reporting each month to ensure both departments are seeing the same inputs and working towards the same goals.

From there, marketing and sales can land on a service level agreement (SLA), based on the number of quality leads the sales team relies on marketing to generate each month. If marketing agrees to meet those demand targets, sales agrees to work them and hit a projected close rate. Having a pre-existing model for that SLA can help you quickly adapt that commitment when the landscape changes, correcting new imbalances and ensuring business continuity. This mutually beneficial agreement will help your team play from the same targets and make needed adjustments easier to diagnose as the numbers come in.

Working from shared data and having open conversations about emerging gaps or barriers helps teams get into a cycle of quickly diagnosing and addressing slow-downs and opportunities.

The necessity and potential of revenue operations

Open conversation, shared data and mutually set goals are key ingredients to alignment, but even with all that, you need someone whose job it is to bring those things together into an unbreakable operating system for your business. No one sits at the intersection of more of these key factors than operations professionals.

In the past, some have viewed revenue operations as a mechanic that reconciles data or fixes problem areas in systems, but this year as more of customer engagements move online and touchpoints proliferate across teams and systems, ops professionals will become the strategic engineers of the end-to-end customer experience. They are the glue that unites data, systems, reporting and roles in a rapidly changing company and buying experience. By empowering and centralizing operations professionals in your organization, you can build the strong foundation for not just marketing and sales alignment, but company and customer alignment too.

About the Author

Meghan Keaney Anderson is the VP of Marketing for Hubspot. She leads the creative and editorial, product marketing and academy teams for HubSpot. Together with her teams, she's responsible for the company's brand, podcast, and overall editorial content as well as the company's product launch and positioning strategy. Meghan is host of the Growth Show Podcast.

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