July 14, 2009

Cancel the Blamestorming Session: 3 Tips to Marketing / Sales Alignment

Historically, the relationship between marketing and sales has been (to put it politely) problematic, with lots of finger-pointing, and lots of valuable sales leads falling through the gaps between the two functions. But in an age of cautious spending, no company can afford to have sales leads disappear because of poor internal processes. To pull through the downturn successfully, you need sales and marketing teams that work together seamlessly and effectively… you need sales and marketing alignment.

And while sales may once have been the alpha in a not-so-happy-marriage, today the tables have turned. In the digital era, B2B marketing is not just responsible for getting names into the top of the funnel. They must also build relationships with those contacts, nurture them over time, provide guidance and information at every stage, and bring them to the point where they are qualified opportunities ready to convert.

Let’s cancel this week’s blamestorming session…
Here are 3 tips to promote effective sales and marketing alignment:

1. Score Your Leads Collaboratively

Effective lead scoring is essential to ensuring that only well-qualified leads are handed over to sales. The focus should be on bringing marketing and sales teams together to agree on the definition that will be used to score leads at each stage in the funnel. Establishing this together will avoid finger-pointing later, and will enable you to develop appropriate content for leads at every stage.

Together, the teams should decide on the criteria for scoring potential buyers all the way from a basic name entering the top of the funnel, through engaged party, prospect, lead, and finally opportunity. Lead scoring will consider factors such as the prospect’s interaction with your website and social media profiles, the amount and type of content viewed, shared and downloaded, information given in registration forms, and the results of any direct mail, events or other activities.

More importantly, don’t forget to score for negative behaviors, too. Activities like unsubscribing from emails or negative social media comments are signs that a prospect no longer wants to engage. Again, these definitions need to be agreed upon between both teams.

2. Stop Valuable Leads From Falling Through the Cracks

Once you have decided on how to define and score activities during the complete sales funnel, you will also need to set the ground rules for when a lead should be handed over to sales. Handing over only highly-qualified leads means Sales focuses all of its efforts on leads that are ready to convert, resulting in increased revenue and a better B2B marketing ROI.

But what if the weeks or months pass and the lead doesn’t move on to the next stage? That’s when many leads tend to fall into a limbo where neither marketing nor sales feels responsible for them. With budgets tight, marketing has understandably wanted to focus on getting more sales leads into the funnel, and on pursuing the ones that show a greater propensity to buy. There simply hasn’t been time or money to lavish attention on stalled leads that may never become customers.

But now, technological advances have made it possible to nurture leads over the long term cost-effectively, by keeping in regular automated contact and providing useful content based on what you already know about the lead.

But lead nurturing can’t be conducted independently by sales. There needs to be regular two-way communication between the functions, so that sales knows what activity the lead has undertaken and what messages and content have already been communicated to them. There also needs to be a smooth process for sales to hand back leads that have failed to convert, so they can be put back into the funnel for further nurturing.

3. Use Metrics to Show What’s Worked

One of the biggest challenges for any marketing team is to demonstrate how marketing spend is driving revenue for the business. Done properly, regular lead scoring and comprehensive lead nurturing deliver ample data that demonstrate how leads have been progressed through to conversion.

You still need to choose the right metrics. To truly demonstrate marketing’s value, you need to be measuring things like marketing program performance, impact on revenue and profit per customer.

Key Takeaway

Marketers, avoid a shotgun wedding by creating a long-term, healthy and happy relationship with sales.  Strive to understand their needs like they understand the customer.  Rely on them for the great information they bring from the field.  Work together to define your ideal lead.  That information will inform all of your marketing activities.  The rest is doing your due diligence when it comes to getting the job done.  While your role may be getting those leads into the funnel, it’s also about keeping that funnel clear of debris.

By Jennifer Pricci

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