Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sales and Marketing Alignment: Operational Challenges Might be a Good Sign

I often get asked how one measures success in aligning marketing and sales. Alignment is a fairly fuzzy concept, so it’s hard to find a definitive metric to look at in order to determine alignment. However, there are some very interesting signs of great progress that I have seen a number of times that are worth highlighting. One of those signs is when the different operational styles of marketing and sales become an observed problem. That is actually a symptom of growing alignment between sales and marketing.

What does that mean?

Sales and marketing are very different organizations with very different natural ways of operating. Marketing, even in forward-leaning organizations that have invested heavily in lead nurturing, is often organized around campaigns or events. Sales, being very much a people discipline, is organized around sales people’s time.

This operational style become very apparent when your sales and marketing teams become very closely aligned around the sales lead handoff process. In this process, leads from marketing are handed to sales for follow-up, and sales calls in to those leads to engage with them and work towards an opportunity. However, the natural propensity of marketing to run campaigns or events, which generate a point-in-time spike in leads, begins to conflict with the sales team’s ability to follow-up on those leads, which is governed by the number of sales people on the team, and the number of hours in a day.

It is usually very difficult to make instantaneous adjustments in the number of sales people available to call hot leads, and the number of hours in a day is even more difficult to adjust. This leaves a challenging disconnect. As we’ve addressed earlier, the ability to connect with leads successfully is very dependent on the speed with which you follow up, so this disconnect has significant implications on sales success.

If a marketing campaign generates a spike of marketing qualified leads on a Monday, for example, and those leads are passed to sales, there will likely be an overwhelming number of leads for that Monday. The calls will spill over into Tuesday, and Wednesday, where the sales team will face declining success rates due to the elapsed time, and by Thursday, the sales team will be out of leads.

A far better solution would be to “throttle” marketing campaigns so that a more steady stream of leads flows to sales. Not all campaigns can be throttled, but many can. If there is to be an outbound email marketing campaign that generates leads, it is better to split it into 5 equal sections and spread it over 5 days than it is to send it all at once. Not only will the sales team not be overwhelmed with leads on one day, but the increase in successful connections they make will keep them busier with the same number of leads as in the original scenario.

When marketing and sales begin to get more closely aligned, the operational differences between the two groups become more apparent. Many of the challenges your teams will face in shifting their operations to be better in synch are actually signs of a growing level of alignment.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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