Once upon a time, salespeople used to tell customers what they wanted and why they wanted it. None of us needed the infamous Pet Rock from the 1970s but millions of common stones, poorly dressed up as pet avatars, were sold at by this method.
Times have changed. Sales no longer controls the flow of information in the buying process, the customer does. If customers have a question about a product or service, they can Google their answer and receive it instantly, privately, and from a variety of sources. Customer 1. Sales 0. But the game’s not over.
One of the most significant consequences of this change in leverage is that marketing teams now play an equal role to sales in new customer acquisition and have a huge and increasing influence on the sales pipeline and the sales outcome.
This is what we mean by sales and marketing alignment: when sales and marketing work together to improve the process for customer acquisition (lead generation, lead nurturing, lead qualification and sales closing).
How Can Marketing Help Sales Close More Leads?
They key is for marketing to understand and embrace the specific buying process used by prospective sales prospects. Not a dreamed up process that marketing wants the prospect to use… the real thing. At IMR we call this the buyer’s journey, which represents the three essential stages in every buying process: awareness, consideration, decision.
The awareness stage addresses a buyer who is just becoming aware of a problem or topic and is interested in learning more. A buyer in the consideration stage has identified a problem, but is conducting research and considering various solutions. A buyer in the decision stage has had objections addressed and is ready to make a decision on a solution.
Part of the job of inbound marketers is to gain insight into the buyer’s need for information at every stage of the journey. Marketing can then pass the knowledge gained about each prospect’s unique needs, priorities and objections on to sales so that sales can engage qualified leads with greater insight and understanding of the specific requirements to close the sale.
For example, you wouldn’t want sales trying to sell to a lead in the awareness stage because that lead is only looking for helpful information (trying to close this lead is tantamount to the proverbial car sales person pouncing on the person just entering the lot for the first time); pointing them towards relevant blogs or a white paper download would be more appropriate.
In an aligned organization, it’s marketing’s job to help sales more fully understand the qualified leads they get and the information that would be most valuable to them.
The report below is an example of what we show to our clients’ sales teams when identifying what leads are worth the time to sell to. This is the tool we use at our agency to educate sales on the process of where a lead is at in the buyer’s journey. This is the sort of information that sales is interested in because it allows them to see which leads are worth approaching as far as selling and which leads need more nurturing.
What is great about this tool is that it not only helps us identify leads, but the quality of those leads. It also illustrates the point that not all leads can be treated the same, meaning that leads vary in their stages of the buying process. As you can see above at the top funnel, information qualified leads are just awareness stage leads in the sense that they just need general information to educate them on a subject matter. The goal here is not to sell them, but to educate them so they can move further down the funnel.
How Can Sales Help Marketing Generate Better Leads?
But in the aligned organization, achieving the outcome of closing more satisfied customers in less time is a two way street. Sales has some advantages here. The recognition that sales is a measurable, repeatable process has been around for more than 40 years.
Good sales are synonymous with good process. The online search revolution at the beginning of the last decade is what has enabled marketers to embrace their art in the same process-driven way, so marketers need a lot of input from sales at this point.
Sales can help marketing improve their lead generation and qualification process by showing the marketing team which leads are higher quality (making it further along the sales process) and why.
As an example: the marketing team passes along two “sales qualified leads” to the sales team. One lead signed up for a demo online, and the other lead signed up for a free consultation. The lead that signed up for the demo never made it past the first stage of the sales process, while the lead that signed up for the free consultation ended up making a purchase after going through a four step process with sales.
Sales noticed that this happened consistently across “sales qualified leads” and told marketing that they need to improve their messaging and “set better expectations” on the demo signup page.
If sales doesn’t tell marketing about unqualified leads that got passed as qualified, the same type of low quality leads will keep showing up at the top of the sales process. By having the two departments communicate with each other, you can improve sales outcomes by giving both sales and marketing a complete understanding of what’s working and what isn’t.
Integrate Technologies to Measure and Improve Processes
New technologies like SalesForce and HubSpot have automated both sales and marketing, but companies still struggle to get these two systems to work together. Automation is perhaps the most effective tool for measuring ROI. I emphasize the word “measuring” because it is a common misconception that marketing automation can be set once to communicate with sales or that sales automation can be set once to interact with leads. These triggers have to be tested and improved constantly until arriving at a successful process.
The truth is that your marketing automation platform is only as good as the information that you put into it. If unqualified leads are being passed to sales automatically, it is up to marketing to update these triggers to become more accurate. Marketing automation is truly valuable when it allows you to make investment decisions based on ROI. ROI is built from sales’ return on marketing’s investments.
The objective of marketing and sales alignment is knowing when a process is working and when it isn’t, so you can keep improving your sales and marketing strategies.
Next week, we will discuss how to effectively approach and follow up with awareness stage leads.
Originally published Aug 4, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023