One of the main principles in today’s B2B tech world is that sales and marketing teams must be aligned. You hear it all the time, right? How those squabbling tribes need to find a happy middle ground and work together as a cohesive revenue-generation team.
No more finger-pointing. Hold hands instead. Give peace a chance. And so on.
But out in the real world, where Christine Maxey lives, the idea of those teams being completely united is a myth.
“When you ask people how aligned they think sales and marketing are, they probably will say, ‘It’s great!’” said Maxey, director of enterprise solutions at LeanData. “If they’re being really candid, they might admit that there are some challenges or that they’re focused on different goals. But in reality, they’re not aligned at all.
“Sales and Marketing Alignment is a misnomer,” Maxey added.
That belief, of course, goes completely against the current trend of thinking that businesses have to at least try to get their sales and marketing teams more in synch. Alignment is even a sacred principles in the Account-Based Marketing movement — where companies focus their efforts on their best-fit prospects with highly personalized outreach.
Maxey agrees that sales and marketing should be partners. But aligned? That’s where she breaks with conventional wisdom. In fact, she’s willing to play devil’s advocate.
“Maybe they never should be aligned,” Maxey said. “Maybe it helps the company to have that internal dialogue. Creative friction is a healthy thing. I haven’t seen a lot of companies where marketing ops and sales ops — the two areas that really drive alignment — are entirely on the same path. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.”
It’s great that the two teams agree to a go-to-market strategy, she said. But that’s not alignment. That only comes when there’s agreement on an execution plan and how to measure the results. But many companies get in trouble because they skip that last part about attribution.
One of the inherent problems, of course, is that the teams obviously have different objectives. Sales lives and dies by the short-term quota. While marketing helps to feed that sales engine, it also is thinking longer term about creating brand awareness.
“It’s like a left brain-right brain thing,” Maxey said. “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. They’re just two different mindsets. That’s why I expect them to say they’re aligned but perhaps not realize they missed the most important step on alignment. They have to define and agree upon success metrics and the assumptions behind them.”
Maxey has this example. Let’s say you’re having company over to your home. You and your spouse agree that the house needs to be cleaned before the guests arrive. Sounds reasonable, right? But your definitions of what constitutes “clean” could vary. And that might very well lead to a disagreement with your significant other.
In a lot of ways, sales and marketing friction is no different. It’s why Maxey believes the process has to begin with defining success metrics. For sales, it’s straightforward. It’s all about the revenue. It’s a little more challenging for marketing. There’s often lingering skepticism about marketing’s claims regarding its influence over opportunities created and revenue generated.
“Too many marketing teams have all the new information that allows them to target the right companies, but then they go ahead and do the same old things,” Maxey said. “Part of that is because marketers haven’t upgraded their reporting. And if they have, there’s an inclination to tweak the numbers and not the process. It’s like ‘If my reporting isn’t looking good, maybe my span of influence isn’t 100 days. Maybe it’s 365 days! Oh, now the reporting looks better.’”
She isn’t going out on a limb here, either. Research firm SiriusDecisions has determined that only 48 percent of B2B marketing organizations regularly measure marketing influenced pipeline. Maxey spends every week talking to potential customers who are struggling to measure attribution. She demonstrates how LeanData’s lead management solution can enable marketers to track the real influence of their campaigns with hard numbers.
Lack of faith in marketing’s attribution numbers is a primary cause for tensions between sales and marketing. But strong reporting can serve as a bridge between the teams.
“You never want it to become a blame game,” added Maxey, a former business analyst and sales operations lead at Pivotal Software. “Accurate reporting builds trust in the relationship. It forces everyone to support the strategy — from execution to measurement to iteration. Marketing is happy because it can confirm that leads are getting to the right place. Sales is happy because it’s getting the right ones. The reporting tells you if there are any problems. It’s not that complicated.”
Think of attribution as the referee that makes the tough calls between two, hard-charging teams. But sales and marketing need to collaboratively agree on those metrics, how they will be measured over time and how the process will be evaluated. That way, the seeds of trust will be planted.
Meanwhile, Maxey said it’s OK for sales and marketing to sometimes agree to disagree. It’s going to happen, and it’s not the end of the world. But the important thing is that they sit down, craft a plan and decide the best way to implement the strategy.
“It doesn’t mean that we can’t change it,” Maxey said. “Absolutely we can. But let’s go back into the room and change it together.”
That would be reaching an agreement. And that’s not a myth.
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