Sales and marketing alignment isn't just a nice thing to have - it's the linchpin of successful businesses in today's rapidly evolving market landscape. When these two powerhouses work in tandem, they amplify an organization's reach, impact, and bottom-line results. As barriers between teams dissolve, efficiency increases, and customer understanding deepens.

I'm Brady Cohen, and throughout my professional journey, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative power of harmonious sales and marketing relationships.

Join me as we delve into the five practical steps that can bridge the chasm between these two pivotal departments and set the stage for unparalleled growth and collaboration.

Prefer to listen? Check out Brady's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast 👇

Why is sales and marketing alignment so elusive?

Throughout my tenure as a fractional CMO, I've had the chance to navigate various business environments and industries. No matter where I've been - whether it's manufacturing, software as a service, healthcare, or higher education - I've observed consistent patterns in sales and marketing dynamics.

So, why, despite understanding the importance of sales and marketing alignment, do we still find it so elusive? I believe the root of this problem can be traced back to several key factors:

Lack of communication

Often, individuals engrossed in their daily tasks fail to communicate.

Take a salesperson, for instance. Their primary focus might be their sales target for the day, week, or month. Simultaneously, the marketing team might be working without inquiring about the sales team's needs, the feedback they receive from customers, or their insights from the field. This siloed approach leads to both parties operating without an understanding of the other's perspective.

Absence of relationship-building

The communication gap is, in essence, a result of a broader issue - lack of relationship. To foster effective collaboration, it's essential to be deliberate about cultivating relationships.

If sales and marketing teams aren't intentionally connecting and engaging in productive discussions, they miss out on forging these critical bonds.

Understanding and appreciation

Relationships stem from understanding and valuing what each side brings to the table. There might be various reasons for the absence of this understanding. Perhaps there's a leadership vacuum where no one's pushing for better alignment. In some situations, there might be lingering tensions between the two departments. Whatever the cause, addressing these challenges is crucial.

To truly align sales and marketing, we must prioritize fostering solid working relationships, promoting mutual understanding, and appreciating the unique contributions each side offers.

5 steps to achieve real alignment between sales and marketing

Let’s dive into my five crucial steps to sales and marketing alignment.

1. Seek mutual understanding

The cornerstone to aligning sales and marketing lies in mutual understanding. Everyone desires to be heard and understood. Imagine diving headfirst into creating marketing campaigns without understanding your customers, sales team, or the entire buying process. The essence is to truly grasp each other's perspectives, challenges, and goals.

Initiating the conversation

The initial approach should not be confrontational; rather, the emphasis should be on establishing a safe space where open dialogue can flourish. It's not a matter of "us vs. them."

The objective is to create an environment where individuals are not on the defensive, and potential criticisms are not taken personally. This daunting task begins with leadership. The heads of both sales and marketing departments, or their respective representatives, must come together to start this conversation.

The discussion should revolve around strengthening the relationship, evaluating current operations, and recognizing areas of improvement. An essential aspect of this dialogue is posing questions like: Is marketing adequately supporting sales? If not, why? And what can be done to enhance this support? It's time to put all the cards on the table.

Setting goals and actions

While an open dialogue is the starting point, the real work begins when we start actioning insights derived from these conversations. It could entail more frequent communications, sharing data, or even in-person interactions with customers. The leadership needs to document these goals and corresponding action steps.

One such goal might be extending this dialogue beyond leadership, inviting broader segments or specific groups from both sales and marketing to pilot particular initiatives. As every organization is unique, finding the right mix of participants for these discussions can be pivotal.

The power of active listening

Lastly, leaders need to practice active listening. It's paramount to stay open-minded, refrain from getting defensive, and genuinely consider ways to enhance operations. The ultimate aim is continuous improvement. Merely participating in these conversations and showcasing a commitment to better alignment signifies a move in the right direction.

2. Prioritize action through embedded collaboration

One of the most effective ways to truly bridge the gap between sales and marketing is to embed members from one team into the other. It might sound like a daunting move, but consider the value in immersion.

By placing a marketer within the sales environment or vice versa, both teams gain deeper insights into the daily challenges, processes, and value propositions each offers.

The value of embedded roles

Using my experience at Goodyear as a benchmark, embedding myself in the sales division - despite being rooted in marketing - brought forth numerous benefits. I forged relationships with salespeople that might have otherwise remained distant or superficial. Being right there in the thick of things, I could genuinely comprehend the sales team's day-to-day encounters, which inevitably altered my perspective and approach.

This arrangement went beyond mere observation. I was present at meetings where I could offer updates on marketing initiatives, future campaigns, and gain feedback before cementing any ideas.

Having such firsthand access to sales viewpoints, especially before finalizing marketing strategies, proved invaluable. This two-way dialogue meant that we, as marketers, could be agile and adjust our tactics in real-time based on the feedback from the sales frontlines.

Enhanced flow of information

With this kind of arrangement, you don’t just boost communication; you foster a continuous flow of relevant and timely information. By being directly linked, I could effortlessly bring the sales team's on-ground observations back to the marketing group, ensuring that our strategies were always in sync with the prevailing market conditions.

Positive momentum

The momentum between sales and marketing can easily be derailed without sustained effort. Embedding team members ensures that the momentum not only continues, but accelerates.

The energy from both sides starts to merge, challenges are addressed promptly, and resolutions are achieved faster. This integration nurtures not just functional collaboration but also a genuine camaraderie between the two departments.

The essence of it is relatively straightforward: when sales and marketing genuinely understand each other's worlds, they are better equipped to support, strategize, and succeed together.

Different shades of involvement

Not every marketer would be involved at the same level. When I was with Goodyear, I actively participated in sales calls, equipped with an agenda and specific questions. While a good portion of my time was spent shadowing sales personnel, I also conducted independent interactions with customers. This hands-on approach often led to unfiltered feedback. I'll admit, sometimes the feedback was tough to digest, but it was these genuine conversations that provided rich insights.

Moreover, the value wasn't only in the insights I gathered. The customers appreciated the active interest from someone beyond their regular sales contact. It conveyed the message that their feedback was valuable not just to the sales department, but to the organization as a whole.

Selective field visits

Regarding the involvement of the entire marketing department, I believe a selective approach is best. It might be impractical and counterproductive to send the entire design team or other specialized teams to the field.

Instead, capturing the essence of field visits through select representatives can suffice. When I conducted interviews with dealers, I filmed them and later presented edited versions to the broader marketing team. This approach allowed the entire team to hear feedback directly from the customers, even if they weren’t physically present during the interactions.

Bridging the two worlds

It's essential to remember that this isn't a one-way street. Just as marketers should understand the sales landscape, sales teams should be in tune with marketing's strategies and challenges.

Including sales representatives in marketing meetings or brainstorming sessions can facilitate a symbiotic exchange of information and insights. When sales and marketing teams genuinely listen and respond to each other's concerns and insights, the organization as a whole stands to benefit enormously.

It's about making both teams feel heard, understood, and valued. When the two teams work in synergy, the overall strategy and execution become more cohesive, leading to better results. This isn’t just a concept; I’ve seen its transformative effects firsthand.

3. Engage with customers directly

We've all heard the age-old adage: there's no substitute for experience. And in the realm of marketing, direct experience with customers and the sales process is invaluable.

Firsthand insights vs. filtered feedback

Being physically present during interactions with customers or sales pitches provides an unfiltered view of the scenario. You get to hear praises, objections, doubts, and queries in their most genuine form.

When relying solely on a sales team's feedback, you might get an overview, but it's often colored by their personal experiences, interpretations, and possible omissions. By witnessing these interactions firsthand, you get the complete picture, warts and all.

The power of asking the right questions

Every department, whether it's sales or marketing, has its set of specialized concerns. Thus, when marketers interact with customers, they might ask questions that a salesperson might not think of, and vice versa. This doesn't make one set of questions more valuable than the other; it merely broadens the scope of insights.

For instance, marketers might be more concerned about the effectiveness of a campaign, while sales might focus on closing the deal. When both sets of eyes and ears are present during an interaction, the combined feedback is richer and more comprehensive.

Strategic abortions and tweaks

It might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes, the most valuable feedback is the one that stops you in your tracks. There have been initiatives that we considered launching at Goodyear, which, after interactions with dealers and customers, we decided to shelve. The reasons could range from them having tried something similar and failing to just not seeing the value in what we proposed.

This kind of feedback is gold. It saves resources, time, and helps avoid potential public relations pitfalls. These on-the-ground interactions essentially serve as a real-world testing ground for our strategies and initiatives.

Evolution through feedback

It's essential to approach these interactions with an open mind and heart. The feedback received can sometimes be brutally honest, but it's these genuine pieces of advice that drive evolution. It pushes us to refine our strategies, mold our campaigns better, and ultimately serve our customers in a more efficient and effective manner.

Moreover, the insights drawn from these interactions are not just about stopping initiatives or identifying challenges. They're also about recognizing opportunities, gaps in the market, or even potential innovations that can be acted upon. The sheer dynamism of these interactions makes them invaluable.

The direct interaction between marketers and customers isn't just about aligning marketing with sales; it's about aligning the company with its customers. When you bridge this gap, the path to success becomes clearer and more attainable. As I've always believed, listening isn't just about hearing; it's about understanding. And understanding is the cornerstone of any successful marketing initiative.

4. Celebrate wins and learn from losses

The next step to sales and marketing alignment is to ensure a consistent flow of information. This is a key aspect to consider after a few months into the alignment process. It's absolutely critical that successes and failures are communicated transparently.

Take, for instance, if we've launched new sales enablement tools or new landing pages. We need to determine their effectiveness. And to do this, the marketing team should come to the table equipped with data regarding sales, conversion rates, landing page visits, and more.

Conversely, the sales team should provide feedback on what they observe firsthand – what's resonating with potential customers, what's not, and any hurdles encountered.

This collaboration allows for a convergence of insights. For example, while marketers might be pleased with a certain conversion rate, the sales team might argue that the quality of leads is not up to par. If such discussions don't take place, we risk falling back into the old disjointed patterns. It's essential to maintain the momentum we've built. Thus, we must establish systematic ways to share information.

During my time at Goodyear, sales teams would log their notes into a CRM. These notes were then summarized and shared in weekly reports. These reports were a window into real-time feedback from customers. Whether a new promotion was launched or a new product hit the shelves, I always ensured I was updated with these insights. Understanding the pulse of your customer, their preferences, and grievances is invaluable.

And here's something crucial: It's one thing to have access to this information. It's another to actively engage with it. Market intelligence shouldn't be taken for granted. It's paramount that both marketing and sales teams share such data and insights. This fosters a culture of celebrating joint wins and learning from shared losses.

The value of digital data and metrics

Today, we have access to enormous amounts of data, especially in the digital realm. But while we can measure nearly everything, it doesn't mean we should. It's about focusing on the key metrics that truly matter and using them to paint a picture of what's working and what isn't. Transparency and openness are vital. We must be prepared to accept feedback, both positive and negative, to make the necessary adjustments.

This notion of focusing on the right metrics is paramount. Often, a gap between marketing and sales arises when both teams value different metrics. For sales teams, understanding how marketing metrics directly influence their sales goals is key. This alignment is about sharing the right information.

If anyone is pondering which metrics to prioritize, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. It's imperative to collaboratively identify those metrics that resonate with both sales and marketing teams.

At Progressive, for instance, we emphasized attracting preferred customer types. This influenced our marketing strategies, media placements, and brand positioning. Aligning on such shared objectives ensured cohesive strategies between sales and marketing.

Yet, regardless of the company's size, gaps can exist. I recall times at smaller agencies where, despite being closely involved in end-to-end campaigns, data and results weren't always shared. It's not about making excuses, but emphasizing the importance of taking the time to review and learn.

Regularly pausing to assess past campaigns, understanding outcomes, and planning improvements is beneficial not just for business outcomes but also for fostering a culture of continuous learning.

Continuous learning for better results

The crux of the matter is the desire to learn. Many professionals are eager for feedback – not just for validation but to enhance their skills, be it designing a better landing page or drafting more compelling emails. They're motivated by a simple goal: to serve their customers better. This spirit of learning and the passion for growth underline the importance of sales and marketing alignment. It's not just about the numbers; it's about the collective drive to excel and deliver unparalleled value to our customers.

5. Maintain the momentum

Reflecting on a recent bike ride, I'm reminded of the significance of maintaining momentum. While there are times you need to slow down, it's crucial to find ways to press forward.

Many organizations initiate projects with great enthusiasm but faltering momentum down the line. For instance, staff may become too busy or double-booked, and meetings are missed, causing information to be shared less diligently. Such lapses in commitment can't be allowed to happen.

For an initiative to truly make a difference, it's vital that the enthusiasm and commitment don’t wane. Leadership must not merely set an initiative in motion but ensure it sustains its drive. If momentum isn’t maintained, trust and credibility are at stake. When leaders don't follow through on their commitments, teams may start questioning the importance of the projects they're working on.

The role of leadership in nurturing momentum

Leadership plays a pivotal role here. It's not enough to kickstart a project; it's equally important to make sure it doesn’t lose its pace. Regular updates, open sharing of information, discussing both progress and challenges, and emphasizing inter-departmental collaborations are critical. For instance, ensuring that meetings between sales and marketing continue is vital for alignment.

Transparency is key. If a marketing campaign underperforms, it should be communicated openly. Being vulnerable and candid about setbacks can help in building trust and fostering a culture of openness.

Building inter-departmental relationships

Relationships within an organization are foundational, and they take time to mature. Trust is cultivated through consistent and transparent behaviors. Rather than keeping setbacks under wraps, use them as opportunities to learn and improve collectively.

Consider having regular meet-ups, perhaps quarterly or biannually, where the core team can come together. Such sessions can serve as platforms to review progress, discuss challenges, and recalibrate goals. It’s an opportunity to refine strategies, consider broader involvement, and determine if new training or resources are needed.

Aligning sales and marketing is not just about launching an initiative. It's an ongoing commitment that demands proactivity, consistent momentum, robust relationships, and transparent communication. It's about nurturing an ecosystem where both departments collaborate seamlessly for collective growth.

Once you've put Brady's steps into practice, why not share your findings with a global network of CMOs and marketing leaders? And well you look at that, the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel is just that place, and you can sign up for free!