How I Achieved Alignment with my VP of Sales

I've talked to many leaders about the need to align B2B Sales and Marketing. Through those exchange of ideas, I've learned a lot about where a majority of companies are in their journey toward alignment. Now that a significant amount of attention has been directed at alignment, we are starting to see more research that helps us better understand its impact on revenue. This evidence has given more leaders confidence in taking an alignment initiative between Sales and Marketing serious. However, two major challenges persists -(1) knowing what good looks like and (2) knowing how to get started. Because of this, I wanted to share my thoughts on how I would go about aligning with my sales counterpart.

As the CMO, I think its important to have an idea of the areas that need to be addressed in order to achieve better alignment between our teams before having a sit down with my VP of Sales (let's call her Janice). I want to ensure that we can establish a clear roadmap, metrics and milestones to help us stay focused and in sync as we begin transforming the company.  Doing this work will also help us secure the support of the CEO (why not call him Mark) which is vital to the success of any alignment effort. 

The key areas that need to be addressed in any alignment effort are: Communication, Process and Data. These are the top reasons for misalignment according to a recent study published by Inside View. Using these areas of friction as a framework, we can start to organize our thoughts and efforts around what we need to be focusing on while hopefully causing minimal distraction for our teams.

So now that I a general idea of the areas that Janice and I need to address, where do we actually get started? In my opinion, a broken process is probably the root cause of many of our problems. Then, let's start there!

If marketing is to effectively support sales, then we need to start by getting everyone on the same page regarding what success looks like. If you don’t invest the time to align on the big picture, then don’t expect to move the needle when you look at lead quality and quantity.
— Jim Dickie, Research Fellow at CSO Insights

Process - Focus on pipeline Revenue

One of the most impactful opportunities in an alignment effort is to focus on creating a robust prospect-to-customer process. The most effective way to do that is to ensure that both teams focus on the pipeline revenue. This laser focus on revenue ensures that everyone knows exactly where we are in hitting our revenue target and also know how their work directly impacts us achieving that goal. Marketing should be able to say "Yes! We are 98% to goal." just as the sales team already does (at least that's want Janice tells me). 

Janice and I would talk about each part of the traditional sales funnel and the resources/processes necessary to win at each stage. A very popular topic for both of us would be everyone's favorite topic - lead gen. I would want to go beyond just talking about how we are going get new leads and talk about the things that are going to enable us to get the right leads - quality over quantity. Some of the things we would cover would be:

  • Customer Personas - who are we targeting and what business problem(s) are they struggling with?
  • Positioning - What is the unique value that we offer that no one else can and how do we communicate that clearly and consistently?
  • Messaging - How do we speak the language of our customers so that it is easier to connect with them and start a conversation?
  • Market Intelligence - How can we empower our sales people to have higher-value conversations with prospects that position them as a strategic advisor rather than just a sales rep?
  • Content - How do we thoughtfully produce content that addresses the needs of the customer and key stakeholders at each stage of the buyer's journey?

Data - Insights enable growth

Janice and I are both data-driven folks so that's a great start. Data is in the DNA of the company. However, data is not enough to win. We need insights to help us make informed and intelligent business decisions. Before we get to that though we need to first ensure we are even looking at the same numbers. With all the new additions to our Revenue Stack (sales + marketing tech) we need to do an audit to make sure we are speaking the same data language. This tech audit also allows us to see where gaps and redundancies exists. And there is one metric that wins above all. We start every meeting together by addressing it. You probably guessed it.....Revenue!

Beyond just having data to be "data-driven", we would focus on using that data to produce insight into what is happening at all stages of the pipeline and how our teams can address any suboptimal performance issues throughout the buyer's journey. I would also want to focus on Marketing's contribution to revenue so that I can clearly evaluate the ROI of my team's efforts and specific campaigns. This is also a chance for Janice to determine where her sales team needs coaching. One example for me would be using customer LTV (Lifetime Value) as a benchmark when making decisions on whether to spend marketing budget on specific demand generation efforts. Here are some other KPIs we would cover in our joint sales and marketing meetings:

  • Revenue goal attainment
  • End-to-end conversion rates
  • Sales cycle length
  • MQLs to opportunity ratio
  • Opportunity to customer ratio
  • Top revenue-producing channels
  • Content utilization by Sales
  • Average deal size

When sharing data we would continue to ask each other "So, what does that mean for the business?" to ensure we are getting at business insights and not just doing a data review to check a box. These insights are the fuel for our growth. 

Communication - Collaboration is about People 

In order for us to win together, Janice and I are going to have to learn how to collaborate - for real. One thing that I have learned is transforming into a truly collaborative relationship takes time and has many stages. We can not just say we are going to collaborate. We must take into consideration how we as leaders can create an environment that supports this effort and provides the necessary resources to do so.  If we want Sales to tell Marketing what is/is not working but don't encourage honest feedback or give them an organized way to give it, then we really aren't serious about creating this communication link between our teams. 

 1 The original Collaboration Continuum, which included Networking, Coordinating, Cooperating, and Collaborating, comes from Arthur T. Himmelman, Collaboration for a Change: Definitions, Decision‐making Models, Roles, and Collaboration Process Guide. January 2002, Himmelman Consulting, Minneapolis, MN.

1 The original Collaboration Continuum, which included Networking, Coordinating, Cooperating, and Collaborating, comes from Arthur T. Himmelman, Collaboration for a Change: Definitions, Decision‐making Models, Roles, and Collaboration Process Guide. January 2002, Himmelman Consulting, Minneapolis, MN.

And if there is no other area I get right around communication, I want to ensure I do whatever I can to get feedback from the sales team. What I've realized over my time as CMO is that sales is my fastest and cheapest market research. Speed to market is the vital differentiator many times in B2B. Having this close relationship with my sales colleagues is extremely important to me as a marketing leader. A side effect of this effort is that it also helps gain credibility and trust with Sales; something that many marketing teams don't have. 

Janice and I also discuss how often we would meet to check in on our progress on alignment. As folks who hate superfluous meetings this can be tricky. We both realized though that you have to inspect what you expect and the only way to do that is to have joint sales and marketing meetings on a regular basis. Meeting frequency depends on the size and maturity of the company, however for a new initiative like this I think monthly leadership and quarterly team meetings sound reasonable. The leadership meeting would focus on the data and figuring out if our alignment efforts are effective and positively impacting revenue. The joint team meetings would focus on major cross-functional metrics/insights, our attainment of our revenue goal thus far, and any wins achieved by cross functional teamwork to continue to promote cohesiveness between the teams. I would also use these meetings as a way to identify opportunities for the sales and marketing team members to work on special projects or find ways that they could actively learn from each other. 

After all that work Janice and I go to Mark as the "Revenue Engine" team and let him know how we plan to transform the organization. And because we jointly represent how the company makes money he gladly supports our efforts 100%. High five, Janice!

you me and we sharing faces.jpg

Empathy creates unity

What Janice, Mark and I realized doing this work together is that we have to create more empathy between our teams so they understand and appreciate each other more. We realized that even we struggled to always understand what each was dealing with on a daily basis. How then, were our teams supposed to get it? We are all sure that this empathy is going to be the glue that brings our teams together and charge them up to achieve better results as a unified force.

I'm excited to "create togetherness" between our teams and drive revenue!


Jeff Davis

The Sales + Marketing Alignment Summit, Chicago, IL