• October 1, 2014
  • By Paul Greenberg, founder and managing principal, The 56 Group

Mastering the Alignment of Sales and Marketing

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Back in 2008, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, two of the technology industry's most prominent and longtime luminaries, wrote a white paper titled "Sales and Marketing: The New Power Couple." In it, they identified a trend then at a nascent stage, the alignment of sales and marketing. To be clear, they weren't talking about the merger of sales and marketing, but rather the alignment of the objectives of sales and marketing, which took the ostensible form of marketing being responsible for revenue one way or the other. This—and subsequent work by other organizations, including the Aberdeen Group—as well as the growing desire by companies to provide some tangibility to marketing's key performance indicators, led to an increasing acceleration of this important trend. It also led to marketing automation software companies such as Eloqua and Marketo going overboard and calling their marketing automation applications and services "revenue performance management," which made them sound like they were selling accounting software. I guess we can chalk that up to enthusiasm over the rise in interest and importance of marketing technology, which saw a dramatic upturn around 2011.

But something happened, from about 2010 or 2011 onward, that sped the trend toward alignment, for different reasons. Customers began demanding relationships with companies on their own terms. Engagement became the watchword of the day. Sales and marketing had to change their approaches in how to deal with customers. The need for sales and marketing alignment was accelerated, not around revenue objectives per se—though that, of course, remained as important as ever—but around how to address a customer from the first interaction to the closing of the deal. The transformation to the era of the digital customer forced businesses to begin to realign not just their departments but also their business models, objectives, processes, strategies, and programs, plus, of course, what they wanted to do to enable all of this.

Think about it this way. Acquity Group's 2014 Procurement study found that buyers have already been through 80 percent of a traditional business-to-business buying cycle before they ever contact a vendor. They have unprecedented access to information that they previously needed the vendor to get for them. And the information they have is not just from the vendor itself. It's information they have gotten from the vendors online, of course, but it's also information about the vendor, the products and services that interest them, and competitors that they have learned from subject matter experts and their peers, made easily available via a variety of digital channels and media. So by the time the potential buyer has contacted a vendor, there is, in large part, a decision well on the way to being made.

What does this mean for sales and marketing? It means that today's vendor has many tasks to complete pre-meeting that don't involve face-to-face conversations with these prospective buyers, but do involve communicating and engaging with them. If I were to give it steps (those who are into the marketing funnels, etc., forgive me in advance, please), the process would look like this:

1. Get the prospect's attention. Unlike in the past, when a marketer's initial job was to distinguish his company's offerings from that of his competitors, it is now his job to capture the attention of the potential prospect against all the other messages (competitive or not) that are bombarding him every day. Some say it's 3,000 messages per day. Some say prospects read 267 messages per day. Who knows exactly? Whatever the exact number, it's a big one.

2. Keep the prospect's attention. Once you have a prospect's attention, you have to keep it until this potential buyer becomes more deeply interested in who you are and what you specifically do. This means learning as much about the company as you can and then providing your prospect with as much personalized content as is needed to keep him engaged and learning what he needs to know. At this point, your prospect can make decisions about purchasing based on his company's specific needs.

3. Make the prospect a marketing-qualified lead. Score the prospect via whatever criteria and system you have, and invest time in helping your prospect understand what it is you do that supports the outcomes she is looking for, on a corporate and individual level. This is when you tell a prospect a lot about yourself, primarily because you've piqued her interest enough to do that without her wanting to move on to another vendor.

4. Nurture prospects as a marketer until they become accepted by sales. Keep doing what you need to for them to learn, and 

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