You’ve heard a lot lately about “sales and marketing alignment”: How terribly important it is for account-based campaigns … and how so few of us are doing it right.

And the standard sales-marketing response script goes like this:

SALES: Marketing leads are crap.

MARKETING: Sales is lazy. You guys take forever to follow-up on our leads – and you wonder why they don’t convert? [ROLLS EYES]

SALES: They weren’t a good fit anyway. Why would we waste our time on leads that are never going to convert?

MARKETING: Maybe if you actually followed up the same day, they would. Or even the same month …


Sound familiar?

It’s time to flip the script.

Well-aligned departments can serve up results that siloed functions can’t – no matter which side of the isle you’re on.

Read on for 6 scenarios where sales and marketing alignment takes flight – and specific ways YOU can spark alignment within your organization – today.

You’ll learn how to align your sales and marketing teams around data, to boost results in the following scenarios:

  1. Agree on “good fit” criteria
  2. Agreement on what a “qualified lead” is
  3. Hyper-focus on marketing-qualified leads
  4. Kill lead generation channels that don’t convert
  5. Boost conversion with shared goals
  6. Tag-team at events

Read it: Sales + Marketing Relationship Woes? Talk to the Therapist.

Before we get into specific alignment plays, you should know why everyone is talking B2B sales and marketing alignment.

Wait, why is B2B sales and marketing alignment so important?

B2B sales and marketing alignment is only important if your business wants to make money.

  • B2B companies with aligned sales and marketing teams saw 24% faster three-year revenue growth, and 27% faster three-year profit growth, according to SiriusDecisions.
  • If it’s customer retention you’re looking for, well-aligned sales and marketing teams produce 36% higher customer retention rates and 38% higher sales win rates, according to MarketingProfs.
  • Act-On adds: “56% of aligned organizations met their revenue goals, and 19% beat their goals. Among misaligned organizations, by comparison, just 37% met their revenue goals, and just 7% beat them.”

OK – but why is alignment so important NOW?

Sales and marketing have always relied on each other. But the habits and expectations of modern buyers have changed the Sales and Marketing Funnel and muddied the waters around the roles of each.

Modern buyers are just better informed. They don’t need a salesperson for whitepapers or tech specs – all that information is easily available online (and if it’s not – forget it). SiriusDecisions points out that first 67% of a buyer’s decision-making process is completed online – in Marketing territory.

Many companies have not caught up to this new reality.

“The buyer has changed more in the past 10 years than in the past 100. The buyer is in control. … We’re living in the age of the customer, no longer the age of the seller. The required mindset is one of HELPING, not SELLING.” – Jill Rowley, Chief Growth Officer, Marketo (via Salesforce)

Buyers are now entering the sales cycle farther down the Sales Funnel than ever before, pushing the marketing function closer to the bottom of the funnel as well. This has resulted in ambiguity about sales and marketing responsibilities, particularly in the Interest/Consideration phase.

These two departments must coordinate and work together in new ways. Unless YOUR sales and marketing teams can do that, you’re leaving money on the table.

[WEBINAR] Dream Teams: How Marketing Activates Sales to Drive More Revenue

Here are 7 sales and marketing plays to improve lead quality and boost conversion.

1: Jointly identify Fit criteria

Before we start talking about leads, Sales and Marketing need to agree on their target demographic/s: What kind of customers buy from them?

Your Marketing department may be sending Sales any leads that request more information – but if the person isn’t from a good fit account, everyone is wasting their time.

So it’s important to get aligned on what kinds of customers are a fit for your company.

Fit factors for lead scoring:

  • Firmographic information
    Industry, company size, location: Is the company in an industry that you’ve had success with before? Are they the right size to afford and take full advantage of your product? Do their installed technologies compliment your offering?
  • Demographic information
    Title, role, responsibility: Does the lead have budgetary discretion? If they’re not a decision-maker or don’t have authority to sign the check, Sales is wasting their time.

These criteria should be identified and agreed upon by both Sales and Marketing – so when Marketing sends over a new inbound lead or suggests an account to target, Sales can be confident that their time is well spent following up.

If you’re not sure where to start, identify your current best customers – those who have the biggest accounts, who love your service, and who have been customers the longest. Take note of their traits, and use those as Fit criteria for your customers-to-be.

2: Agree what a “qualified lead” is

“Sales leads” mean something different in every organization. For some, a list of names is a lead list. For others, anyone who downloads an ebook becomes a lead. Other organizations break it down even farther, into “hot” and “warm” leads.

A lot of conflict between Sales and Marketing stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about what a “lead” is.

So let’s start there.

Is someone who has read one of your blogs a “qualified lead”? How about if they read 10 blogs? What if they read one blog and attended a webinar? What about one blog, one webinar, and one ebook download?

It’s different for every organization, but whatever it is – both teams have to agree on a clear, quantifiable lead score threshold.

At DiscoverOrg, we break Marketing-Qualified Leads (MQLs) into two categories:

  1. Hot MQLs are “hand-raisers”: People who have requested more information and are expecting to hear from you.
  2. Warm MQLs show implicit interest through their behavior, but they’re not actually requesting more information.

Ask sales and marketing leaders to create a value system for content assets: Assign gated assets a higher score – such as a webinar registration, or an ebook download. Other activities, such as reading a blog, should get a lower score.

Now ask leaders in both departments to agree on a lead score that they consider “warm”: That is, at what point should Marketing pass the lead over for Sales follow-up?

To maximize results prospects should both 1.) meet a mutually-agreed-upon lead score threshold, and 2.) be a good fit.

With Sales and Marketing aligned on what “good leads” are, you can banish the phrase “Marketing leads suck.”

3: Create (& enforce) an SLA for inbound leads

Inbound leads are great – but simply tossing them over to the Sales team and crossing your fingers that someone will follow up isn’t a sufficient strategy. Unsurprisingly, these leads don’t usually convert very well: They’re just not a priority for most teams.

To ensure a coherent strategy for inbound leads, create an SLA between the two departments.

Hubspot suggests this process:

  1. Calculate the Marketing Figures and Goals
  2. Calculate the Sales Figures and Goals
  3. Set up Marketing SLA Reporting
  4. Set up Sales SLA Reporting
  5. Review metrics daily to track progress

This way, consistent, timely follow-up is baked into the process.

We struggled with this at DiscoverOrg, too. We tried giving warm MQLs to our Sales Development team. We tried giving them to our special Sales SWAT team. We kept hearing “Something is broken in Marketing.” No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the conversion rate over about 4%.

But we didn’t want to spend money on Marketing functions – that were generating results – without generating a return. We needed those leads and didn’t want to lose them.

To align our Sales and Marketing teams and actually do something with all those leads, DiscoverOrg created a sales role 100% dedicated to calling warm Marketing-Qualified Leads. (Yes, calling them.)

Our conversion rate went from 4% to 15%!

The sweet spot, we found, 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.

4: Kill lead channels with low conversion

Kill ‘em dead. Even if they deliver tons of leads. That’s right: Marketers should drop the channels that deliver leads that don’t convert, whether that’s paid content syndication, a social media channel, display advertising, or anything else.

If this sounds like a bad idea – your Marketing and Sales department are not aligned.

Look at it like a business problem: Resources are being spent on something that is not effective. That money could be invested elsewhere with a higher return.

Because often Marketing KPIs are centered around volume of leads, views, and clicks – a channel that delivers a lot of leads is usually a good thing. But the story doesn’t stop there. Together, the two teams must keep their eyes on the actual goal: revenue.

If Sales can’t convert them to customers, everyone is wasting their time – no matter how many leads are coming in.

5: Retarget cold, dead leads

This idea always raises a few eyebrows: Retarget your cold leads? The people who weren’t interested?

Yep. Here’s how.

Together, Sales and Marketing can identify cold, or “stalled” opportunities that aren’t progressing. Marketing then gives them the Account-Based treatment, by remarketing to them: Put them into a nurture email campaign, serve them display ads, target them with direct mail … then have Sales start calling again.

Alignment is critical for this strategy. There may a good reason why the lead or opportunity was closed; it may not have been a good fit. Additionally, to ensure a coherent story and logical progression, Sales and Marketing must be aligned on the process and progression.

When we started retargeting closed opportunities with a combined Sales-Marketing play at DiscoverOrg, our win rate was 80% higher than our regular win rate on these leads.

[WEBINAR] Dream Teams: How Marketing Activates Sales to Drive More Revenue

5: Boost conversion with shared goals

One major reason for misalignment here is that the two departments usually have different goals:

Sales professionals are often paid on commission, or get bonuses from, how many demos they book, their rate of conversion from demo to opportunity, and/or a percentage of closed-won deals.
Marketers’ KPIs are generally tied to website traffic, click-throughs, and number of leads generated.

One of the easiest ways to align Sales and Marketing departments is to give them common goals that are tied to conversion rates.

If Marketer’s quarterly bonus is tied to conversion rate instead of number of leads, you probably won’t need to tell them twice to kill the channels that don’t convert.

6. Tag-team at events

Events are expensive, but they can be a treasure trove of great leads: A large room of leads that are largely pre-qualified simply by being there.

But as with most business success, it takes two to tango. An event can be a smashing success if Sales and Marketing work together.

This insightful post by our Director of Demand Gen describes an example, starting from the Marketing side of the house:

Suppose we’re sponsoring a conference for recruiters in Austin, Texas. I’ll look at the conference roster, and at social media, to see who will be there. Next, I identify which of those are a good fit for my company’s solution.

I then consider what titles my companies are likely to send – probably a local Sales Development manager – and I segment the lead list by geolocation (not the headquarter location – these can be different).

From there, I build targeted contact list and craft a super-specific message, crafted to their role and the experience they’re hoping to get at the show – and email these clients and prospects before the show. I might invite them to stop by our booth, or to an off-site dinner or happy hour with one of our reps.

I make sure the attending sales rep has this list of target names, and makes plans to visit and/or reach out to every single one while they’re on location.

…and they definitely follow up within a day or two of returning home!

Now, when Sales attends the event, they’re meeting prospects who have heard of your company, are familiar with the value proposition – and they’re a lot more likely to take your sales rep up on an invitation to coffee or happy hour!

The sales rep can take even more advantage of the investment in the event by meeting with existing clients and keeping existing relationships warm and positive.

In this way, you can return from the event with a long list of meetings, next steps, and booked demos.

That’s a whole lot warmer than a stack of business cards.

Again, unless Sales and Marketing work together before, during, and after the event, you won’t see great results.

The success of an organization depends on all departments pulling in the same direction. When Sales and Marketing teams are aligned, results are simply better. A lot better.

On its own, a Sales department might be able to achieve a 3-4% conversion rate. And on its own, Marketing might be able to bring in some hand-raisers and convert them into a sale at a similar rate.

But for conversion rates of 20%, 30%, 40% – what we see on a good alignment day – everyone has to be on the same page. The sum is more than the parts.

DiscoverOrg was built for Sales + Marketing alignment. Give us a call to see how that works.

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About the author

Patrick Purvis

As Senior VP of Revenue, Patrick manages sales and customer success at DiscoverOrg, where he is responsible for strategic account growth. Formerly Chief Revenue Officer, Purvis is a graduate of Oregon State University where he studied Economics.