A Military Approach to Alignment: One Team, One Fight.

This guest blog was written by Ted Corbeill

I am a recently retired Marine Corps Intelligence Officer who is leveraging military best practices to add value through Sales Enablement.  As I’ve worked to develop and run data-driven sales campaigns, I’ve experienced difficulties stemming from a lack of alignment between Sales and Marketing.  This lack of team work is something I’m not accustomed to, but something that could be overcome by adopting a military mindset.

One Team, One Fight

To coordinate military operations, Marines use the concept of "main effort" and "supporting effort."  The main effort is the commander's primary bid for success and tasked with accomplishing the mission (normally the infantry).  The supporting effort is responsible for ensuring the success of the main effort (normally includes logistics, intelligence, supporting fires, admin, etc.). 

During execution, the focus remains steadfast on mission accomplishment.  If the main effort fails, we all fail.  Therefore, when faced with a decision the supporting effort simply asks: How can I best support the main effort to enable them to accomplish the mission? 

Let’s apply this concept to Sales Enablement.  I consider the sales force to be the main effort and Sales Enablement to be the supporting effort.  Sales is the CEO’s primary bid for success to hit his/her revenue targets.  Sales Enablement is responsible for accomplishing the mission by ensuring sales professionals, the main effort, are highly trained, armed with competitive offerings, and focused on highly qualified leads to lead to a high likelihood of success.  If they don’t hit their numbers, everyone fails.

Two primary ways that Marketing can best support Sales

helping get up the mountain.jpg

1.     Focus sales related activities - My career in military intelligence taught me that timely, accurate, and relevant data is critical to successful execution.  It drives planning and operations; especially offensive operations.  Let me give you an analogy: you’re tasked to destroy an enemy position.  Without good intelligence regarding the enemy’s location, you would be forced to conduct “movement to contact” patrols (i.e., search the area until you happen upon them).  But if you’re provided timely, relevant, and accurate intelligence, you can plan a deliberate, targeting raid at the decisive time and place where you have the advantage and maximize your chance of success.

Sales can be thought of in the same way, especially with new client pursuits.  Without timely, accurate, and relevant data on sales leads, your sales teams are forced to conduct generic prospecting activities (e.g., cold calling). However with timely, accurate, and relevant market intelligence, they could plan a deliberate, focused sales engagement with relevant messaging targeting qualified leads. 


2.     Reinforcing sales related activities - Like supporting arms (artillery or air strikes), marketing can prep the objective to increase the chances of a successful engagement.  Sales campaign specific digital marketing messaging targeted at the campaign prospect list can raise buyer awareness and provide a warm call opportunity where the sales reps are following up and reinforcing the initial messaging.  In some cases, these marketing efforts can produce inbound leads that help support prospecting activities. 

Get Aligned in the Fight

Adapting a one team, one fight mentality can be an excellent way to achieve Sales and Marketing Alignment focused on achieving overall revenue goals.  It’s just one of many military best practices I’ve adopted to create sales enablement programs that drive revenue growth through data-drive insights, business innovation, and collaboration.  You don’t need to have served to adopt these practices at your own organizations.


Ted Corbeil headshot.png

Ted Corbeill is a recently retired Marine Major who is leveraging his military experience to build and lead innovative sales enablement programs to drive revenue growth through data-driven insights, business innovation, and collaboration at DXC Technology.  Before being recruited by DXC Technology (then Hewlett Packard Enterprise), he was a Business Development Executive for a systems integration firm specializing in industrial automation. He is also a Founding Member of the Sales Enablement Society, Dallas Chapter.  Ted received his MBA in Management Information Systems from Iowa State University and his BS in Commerce from the University of Virginia.

The Moment I Knew Sales+Marketing = Genius!

One of the things that I thought a lot about last year was when did I take a stand to say that “Sales and Marketing not only should work together better but they must for the survival of the business.” After much thought, the catalyst event came to mind. This event was so pivotal for me because I not only experienced a change in myself but I witnessed a change in my colleagues as well. So what happened?

I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.

— Mother Teresa

Many years ago I was attending a typical sales meeting. These meetings usually were put together to talk about the state of the business, allow people on the team to network, share best practices, etc. Sometimes these meetings were fruitful and allowed for colleagues to think about the business in a different way; many times even energizing folks to get out there and sell better. More often than not, however, they were too frequent and a superfluous repetition of the same stuff we talked about in the last meetings.

This meeting, however, was differet - little did I know. Our manager had invited someone from the Marketing team to come talk about a new initiative that they were launching aimed at helping Sales become more efficient in selling to customers. While the strategy was not groundbreaking for most marketers it was a concept that wasn’t really common in Sales. What this marketer did so eloquently was explain why the Marketing team thought using this framework was important for the company, how it would help Sales sell more efficiently, and how it could be implemented by each individual in the room as soon as the next day.

The spark of change

And that is when it hit me. This wasn’t just some new strategy mandated from the Ivory Tower of Marketing because they didn’t have anything else better to do, No, this was a tool that could actually help me do my job better. Now it made sense. And not only did it make sense for me but I could see it also made sense for my colleagues. There was an excitement after the presentation that was not typical for a sales meeting. My colleagues were asking questions and trying to figure out with which customers they were going to target first with this new tool. And the questions weren’t those “I just need to seem engaged so my boss thinks I care and that I’m a leader” questions. These were genuine questions to gain a better understanding.

From this point on, I recognized the power of open dialogue between Sales and Marketing. What an opportunity to take advantage of! Each group has skills that are uniquely theirs and they should be celebrated, however when each group is able to understand more precisely how their actions impact the other group it creates a powerful synergy that leads to success.

Beginning doesn't have to be hard

Beginning the journey to Sales and Marketing alignment doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. It can begin with something as simple as a conversation to share ideas.

Empower people with knowledge so they may excel at what they are good at.
— Jeff Davis

Feedback is Bullshit Without a Loop

Many larger organizations by now know or should know they need to be more agile/entrepreneurial in order to survive. However, this can be extremely challenging in a larger organization for several reasons. One that seems more challenging than it has to be is establishing a structured feedback loop between Sales and Marketing. The reason this feedback loop is critical is that it allows the organization to iterate faster because Marketing gets real-time feedback from the best market research provider – Sales (which is also free). As mentioned in The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, it’s about getting “…through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop with the minimum amount of effort”.

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This data is valuable and necessary. Who best to tell you what the customer really thinks about your product and what should be modified? Enterprise software like Salesforce has functionality that allows for this to happen. A company can start with something as innocuous as a general email address that Marketing can scan to get a pulse of what is happening in the market.

Acting on customer feedback is also key

  1. It allows the customer to know that you are listening to them and willing to respond with product/service modifications.
  2. It also demonstrates to Sales that the organization recognizes them as a partner in the business decision-making process. When Sales feels appreciated it is a tremendous motivator for them to be more invested in the entire selling process.

So…….no matter what method, having a structured feedback loop is important. Just creating a “process” is only one part of the story. In addition, the organization must create a level of trust within Sales to feel comfortable sharing both positive and negative feedback. Without a culture that rewards transparency you might as well not have a feedback mechanism because you will only get glowing reviews and other nonsense so people get recognized for sharing the best reviews from customers. This type of relationship is completely counterproductive and will be a waste of everyone’s time. If you want real feedback, reward real feedback. It will be invaluable to the success of the organization.

It’s like the old saying…Garbage In Garbage Out (GIGO).

Here's What Working at NASA Taught me About Being a Better Marketer

During my time in college, I had the honor of working at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. As a mechanical engineering student, it was my dream job. I would get the chance to work in the space industry, something my 7th-grade science teacher had inspired me to do. It was an opportunity to go to adult space camp. And boy was it fun! Where else do you get a chance to meet career astronauts, train on the shuttle simulator, and sit in mission control where the famous words "Houston....we have a problem" were spoken? And even though I gained a wealth of amazing and memorable experiences, the one that stands out the most was learning how to influence without authority. Of course, back then I didn't know what it was called—but now I understand clearly what lesson I gained from my internship experience.

You can't get things done without people

One of the things you learn very early on as an engineer is that it's a team sport—much like marketing. You simply can't finish projects working in a silo. Can you imagine how many engineers it took to build the International Space Station (ISS) or the Mars Rover?

In business, you typically "own" an aspect of a project and work with others to make it happen. Most projects in a business environment are consensus-driven.

I got the chance to work on testing the joint seals of the ISS to make sure they wouldn't let air in while in space. It was a complicated testing setup that required me to ask for help from many colleagues from different departments.

As I approached the middle of my project, I realized that I needed to have parts made in the machine shop. I was quickly warned that it would take forever to manufacture the parts and that I ought to take that into account for planning purposes. When I asked why that was, I was told that the machine shop workers belonged to a union and simply took their time. I was not satisfied with that answer.

Marketing is a team sport. Learn to work with others

A little respect goes a long way in building relationships

I was on a deadline because I had to return to college, but I had to figure out something about the parts because I refused to leave my internship without a completed project.

During my free time, I went to the office of the manufacturing facility manager. I explained that I was an intern and wanted to learn more about how the facility worked and how my project would come to life. He was shocked that I had asked, and surprisingly, he was more than happy to show me his domain.

What I learned from that tour was invaluable. One welder told me "You must be a new engineer. The others never come over here." And it was then that I not only gained respect from the crew in the machine shop, but also understood that in order to get things done, I needed to make my projects personal—not just a job number from some random engineer.

You have to understand how to execute the tactics to set the right strategy

From then on, I went to the machine shop on a regular basis. Sometimes I just said "Hi" and other times I asked the crew to teach me how the machines worked. I was not only building relationships with the people that I depended on to manufacture the parts I needed, but also learning exactly how the parts that I had designed on paper were built.

I was starting to understand the connection between design and product. By the end of my internship, my project was completed ahead of time. What's more surprising, I was able to get some of my projects pushed through faster than senior engineers simply because I went down to the machine shop floor and asked for a little help.

Marketers operate in a world that requires building consensus and getting people to do things without being their boss. It's a delicate balance of driving strategy and preserving relationships. It also requires the ability to communicate clearly and articulate your vision so that others can understand what you and the team are trying to accomplish.

Great marketers can balance driving strategy and preserving relationships.

A key aspect of creating strategy that many marketers miss is understanding the tactical implications of their decisions to the front line; in other words, understanding exactly how their ideas will be executed. While working at NASA, I learned a valuable life and career lesson. I now understand the importance of being able to work with people to achieve breakthroughs for the team.

Best holiday gifts for Sales from Marketing

For many sales leaders Sales and Marketing Alignment might look like a tall order that may have marginal impact on the business. We, however, have an overwhelming amount of data that suggest that alignment is one of the effective strategies in impacting revenue growth. 

In a previous post I shared a study that showed us that aligned business showed significant improvement on 6 key business metrics:

  • Growth in number of qualified leads
  • Increase in lead conversation rates
  • Growth in new account acquisition
  • Growth in customer retention rates
  • Growth in average account billing size (Increase in order size)
  • Revenue growth

Even with a forward-thinking sales executive, the question still remains - what should I be asking from my marketing colleagues as we move toward alignment. In any organization if you want salespeople to make a significant change in their behavior you are going to have to sell them on how it is going to help them sell more effectively. Thus, the sales leader must be able to clearly articulate exactly how completing alignment activities will help them achieve quota. 

What the CMO CAN bring to the table

In a March 2015 study authored by Laura Ramos at Forrester Research, B2B CMOs where asked what was the most important thing they could do to help sales succeed. I think this is a really poignant question as it helps sales executives know what exactly marketing can offer them and empowers them to explore how their marketing teams can offer the same benefits. The top five based on the study were as follows:

  • Increase the productivity of customer/opportunity acquisition.
  • Target the right accounts and help sales pursue them. 
  • Develop the right content to increase brand awareness
  • Supply sales with tools to frame conversations in customers terms
  • Bring customers together to explore topics and educate them. 

Get your wishlist together

This list can be a starting point for a sales leader as he/she evaluates the proposal of aligning with marketing. Even with an overwhelming amount of evidence of the benefits of better alignment, leaders must still keep in mind that part of their job will be changing the hearts and minds of many who have a done it a certain way for a long time. If we focus on the opportunity of alignment we can more easily get our colleagues on board and motivate them to want to collaborate with each other.   

Is it time for a new sales funnel?

There has been talk lately of the traditional sales funnel being outdated as it does not truly capture the way in which B2B customers interact with sellers today. It has been estimated that buyers are 57% through the buying process before they reach out to vendors and that during that buying process the average size of the purchasing group is now 5.4 people [CEB]. With these two changes in the market it can be understood that the buyer's journey is no longer linear. 

In fact, more and more business are moving to a subscription business model where renewals and upsells hold significant importance. How does this change the way we look at customers? We can no longer just focus on closing a deal as the future value of the customer is too important. We have to reframe how we engage with prospects and look at establishing a relationship that will lead to future growth opportunities. This new model is referred to as a continuous engagement model. It focuses on 4 stages - Find, Engage, Close and Grow

Figure: The Accenture Dynamic Customer Experience Model

Figure: The Accenture Dynamic Customer Experience Model

The benefit of this model is it more accurately captures the behaviors of prospect as they seek information from a myriad of sources to help them make informed decisions. Also, depending on the timing of their buying cycle they may engage with us via a webinar, email, event or demo then go silent and re-engage with us at future date. The current sales funnel might not accurately capture that interaction and consider it a closed-lost deal. However, if a sales team is aligned with their marketing colleagues we can discuss how to stay engaged with the prospect account that keeps our solution top of mind and continues to give them a compelling reason to interact with us. 

While I do agree the continuous engagement model more accurately depicts how prospects interact with sellers in today's market, I think it can be challenging to quantify the conversion rates for each stage thus making it more difficult for the sales organization to forecast what they need to do in order to achieve revenue targets. In contrast, this model does help each group, if they are aligned, better understand the "pull through" opportunity when the prospect engages with the company. 

Is the current sales funnel out of date?I don't think completely. However, what we do know is that more companies are acting like subscription businesses and so we have to adopt models that help us better understand our business and what is really happening with our prospect interactions. I think before moving to the continuous engagement model fully, an organization will have to commit to better aligning sales and marketing so that they can use the model to inform what decisions should be made at each stage of engagement and what action or content should be used to support that event in the best way. 

Creating “Togetherness” to Drive Revenue Growth

In today’s business environment it is becoming more and more important to have strong alignment between Sales and Marketing. The Aberdeen Group’s research shows that companies that optimize the marketing/sales relationship grow revenue 32% faster. This is clear evidence that the dysfunctional and sometimes toxic relationship between these two functions can no longer exist if the organization is to succeed against the competition. Some may ask then why don’t we just appoint an executive, like a Chief Revenue Officer, and make them work together?

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My simple answer is….management is not the only problem. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way these two functions see each other and a clearer understand of their interdependence. I call it creating “Togetherness”. It’s that sense of understanding that we are all in this together and if we don’t work together well we won’t be able to generate revenue and then we all loose. It’s when Marketing thinks about the impact that their work has on generating revenue and ask how will Sales be able to execute this strategy. It’s when Sales interacts with customers, learns new insights and proactively thinks that I need to share this information with Marketing to add to the collective knowledge of the company. It’s when both Sales and Marketing understand that everything they do should be focused on generating revenue for the company. This is “Togetherness”.

Companies that optimize the marketing/sales relationship grow revenue 32% faster.
— Aberdeen Group, 2016

Having a career in both Sales and Marketing, I have seen first-hand the missed opportunities for each group to work together better. The majority of the times I have witnessed an alarming misunderstanding of the value their peers of the other function bring to the table. It’s estimated that Sales reps ignore 50% of marketing leads [Source: The B2B Lead]. Anytime you have either Sales or Marketing dismissing the work of the other, you have an enormous problem in your organization. The perfect strategy without execution is worthless. I cannot think of two business functions that need each other more than Sales and Marketing. So I propose doing more to help Sales and Marketing understand the value of their colleagues.

The perfect strategy without execution is worthless
— Jeff Davis

What can Sales teach Marketing?

One of the many missed opportunities that I have noticed is involving Sales early in the planning process for the brand/product strategy. Marketing usually knows the macro-level market better than Sales. However, when it comes to understanding the potential roadblocks to execution and the subtleties of tactical delivery, Sales almost always understands this better. Many times there are shifts in the environment that Marketing is not aware yet. By having Sales on board working in tandem, Marketing can avoid major avoidable missteps that can help them be more competitive.

I would suggest a few things to Marketing:

  • Include Sales early in the development of strategy for the brand/product
  • Review the viability of realistic execution when it comes to establishing strategies
  • Continuously elicit feedback from Sales and use this data to help evaluate business KPIs (key performance indicators)

There is a wealth of knowledge that both Sales and Marketing can share with each other. If the organization is truly committed to making this relationship work they must invest the time to share best practices between these two teams so they can learn to appreciate one another. When it comes to Sales and Marketing Alignment, achieving “Togetherness” is the ultimate goal.





What Marketing Can Do for Sales to Help Them Win! [Podcast]

I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to have a conversation with Will Barron over at The Salesman Podcast about Sales and Marketing Alignment. I had the chance to share my thoughts on how salespeople can leverage their marketing colleagues to close more business.

In this episode, I talk about the following:

  1. What exactly Marketing can do for salespeople, the information Sales can ask for and how Marketing can directly support Sales in prospecting.
  2. An overview of what Marketing is doing that Sales is simply just not aware of. (HINT: It involves helping close more deals.)

Hope you enjoy and share the episode!

The original podcast episode link can be found here

Alignment Is About People, Not Technology [Podcast]

Very excited to have the chance to share my thoughts on Sales and Marketing Alignment strategy on The Quotable Podcast by Salesforce. Take a listen...

We have to understand how the buyer goes through this journey with us and then adapt our processes to fit that.
— Jeff Davis

Focus on the opportunity of Alignment

As I dig deeper into understanding how to achieve Sales and Marketing Alignment, I find the need to remind myself that all is not lost and we should focus on what can be. I, like everyone else, has experienced setbacks, disappointments and downright failures - getting the dream job that turned out to be a nightmare, moving to a new city full of hope and excitement about a new chapter only to find it was completely different than what I expected, having a manager that was neurotically insecure and treated everyone in their path terribly, questioning my professional value...the list goes on.

What helped me move on was training my mind to focus on what I learned during those experiences and get excited about the opportunity for what was next - for me. I took that time of discouragement to learn how successful people did it with material like the YouTube video series created by Evan Carmichael. I became of student of success. 

I say all this to offer that CEOs and executives focus on the "opportunity of alignment" to help employees understand the vision of why things must and should change between Sales and Marketing. Yes, focusing on negative things is sticky and gets people's attention. It even gets people to act in the short term. Misalignment, however, is not a technology, product or process issue. It's a people issue. And, if you want to change hearts and minds, you need to "sell" what can be.

What if...

  • ...sales followed up on the majority of leads from marketing because they trusted they were high quality, worth their time and most likely would lead to new business. 
  • ...sales and marketing could go into large key accounts together, wow the team and close business.
  • ...marketing really understood the type of collateral support Sales needed and could focus their extra time on innovative marketing strategies that took the customer experience to the next level.
  • ...as a part of on-boarding each team learned how to leverage the other to be able to do their jobs even better.
  • ...sales and marketing received awards for working together to create significant business wins. 

As leaders we must focus on painting a picture of what the B2B business world could look like if/when we get this thing moving in the right direction. I want to work in a world of possibility not dwindling options. Let's give people a vision to strive for instead of the fear of what is inevitable if we do nothing.

Utilize the power of - "What if?"

6 Business Performance Metrics of Aligned Organizations

When talking about aligning Sales and Marketing, it is imperative to focus on its impact on business performance. I continue to stress the need for all of us as leaders to propagate insights from credible research to the C-suite so that leaders of the organization can make informed decisions as it relates to sales and marketing alignment strategy.  This will assist in building a strong business case for allocating resources to improving alignment.

Arguably, there are no funcitonal areas in the organization more responsible for creating revenue than sales and marketing
— Robert M. Peterson, Ph.D et al

I had the privilege of recently reading a study conducted by Northern Illinois University in conjunction with Miller Heiman (Journal of Selling - Volume 15, Number 1). The study was titled "The Upside of Sales and Marketing Alignment". In the study, they were able to uncover 6 performance metrics that resulted from sales and marketing alignment. Detailed findings from the study can be seen below in Figure 1. They share that Sales and Marketing alignment leads to the following 6 business metrics:

  • Growth in number of qualified leads
  • Increase in lead conversation rates
  • Growth in new account acquisition
  • Growth in customer retention rates
  • Growth in average account billing size (Increase in order size)
  • Revenue growth
Figure 1: Likelihood of Improved Results Among Aligned Organizations

Figure 1: Likelihood of Improved Results Among Aligned Organizations

Marketing's role in Collaboration

The study also revealed that the best approach to lead generation involves both the sales and marketing function. With so many b2b businesses struggling to generate a significant volume of quality leads, this finding is extremely important. What this means is that Marketing can not successfully do this alone and needs input from Sales to get it right. This is where having a Feedback Loop in place becomes imperative. Salespeople are in the field/on the phone every day talking with prospective customers and they are many times the first to hear what is working and what is not. The organization must use this tribal knowledge to iterate on strategy to attract new and qualified leads for the business. The study also demonstrated that Marketing must go beyond just lead generation to acquire more customers and should also strive to:

  • Enhance the quality of customer relationships
  • Increase contact density
  • Build contact authority inside the customer's organization
The marketing function in an aligned organization does not stop at lead generation for customer acquisition. Rather, when working together with the sales team, it continually strives to enhance the quality of customer relationships, increase contact density, and build contact authority insde the customer’s organization.
— Robert M. Peterson, Ph.D. et al

Why Sales doesn't value collaboration

There were also some significant findings on why Sales is resistance to sometimes working with Marketing in a collaborative way. Salespeople will always defer to activities they view as adding customer value in the attempt to close more business. If Marketing is not able to communicate how the activities they do help in creating customer value, salespeople may "harbor prejudice, disrespect, and distrust for marketers." It then is the job of management to demonstrate the value that both teams bring to each other in order to encourage them in being credible allies. This effort must include more than just interaction and must be focused on actual collaboration which would entail information sharing, mutual understanding, and a common vision. This is why I believe my three-part framework for alignment is a credible start to moving the organization toward alignment. The framework focuses on taking a System Approach to the customer, creation of Shared Goals, and establishing a formal Feedback Loop for Sales and Marketing to share business intelligence. 

Figure 2: A Sales and Marketing Alignment Framework

Figure 2: A Sales and Marketing Alignment Framework

Insight for the C-suite

I think at this point, many leaders in the organization know about the importance of aligning Sales and Marketing or at least have seen the increase in focus on this topic. What I think this study does is further help us understand the precise business metrics that are influenced by alignment. This makes having the conversation about business outcomes a bit easier. We can identify if these identified outcomes (i.e. revenue growth, increase in lead conversion rates, etc.) are important to the overall strategy of the business and then make a case for why putting more resources toward alignment is not only a necessary but imperative decision in moving the organization to where it needs to be to achieve business goals.  

4 Things Salespeople Can Learn From Marketing

I’ve always said that marketers can learn a lot from salespeople and the same is true in reverse. One difference that great salespeople have is that they understand the value of time. The key killer of using time effectively is lack of direction. Marketers have the discipline of thinking strategically about the business and taking the actions needed to respond. Salespeople should do this as well.

Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.
— Zig Zigler

Doing this exercise helps salespeople in that it forces them to think about their territory, identify high potential targets, and effectively go after the business.

What I propose is using the fundamental Marketing Mix framework (aka the 4 P’s) and transforming it into a tool for salespeople.

The 4 P’s for Sales

Product – Know you product inside and out. Good sales people are well informed about their product and understand the solution it offers to the customer.

Place – Know where your customers are…and then go there. Go beyond just selling to people where all the other vendors are and understand where they go to get information about making decisions about buying your products. Blogs, social media, physical locations, etc. If you are there you can be a part of the conversation. If you are not…your competition probably is.

Price – Understand the buying decision for your target customer. What “price” do they have to pay to buy your product? Their time? Reputation? Just the pain of doing something different? The better you understand what the customer has to give up in order to buy your product the better you can proactively respond to their potential concern or objection.

Promotion – How do you make the customer aware not only that your product exist but why they should care? This is really about consultative selling and positioning the product in a way that resonates with the potential customer.

Mind your business

Salespeople should and typically know their business better than anyone. But there is always time to step back and think like a marketer. It will help in being more focused and more strategic. In the end, it makes life easier and will translate into more sales.



Want to Better Align Sales and Marketing? Consider Storytelling

This guest blog post was written by Jeremy Shere over at tribknowledge.com

Ask anyone in marketing or sales if they think the functions need to be better aligned, and they’ll almost certainly respond with an unqualified “Yes!” Then ask how we ought to break down the barriers keeping marketing and sales at arm’s length, and you’ll likely get a litany of shopworn, if valid, ideas—marketing and sales need better channels of communication … we need to talk each other’s language … marketing and sales leaders need to spearhead the alignment.


And yet, these things rarely seem to happen. Why? Many factors contribute, but I’d like to suggest that, in many ways, it comes down to storytelling, or more precisely, a problem with the stories that marketing and sales leaders tell themselves about themselves and about each other. For sales and marketing to become better aligned, senior leadership, as well as managers and rank-and-file employees, need to revise these stories in a way that enables both functions to reimagine who they are, what they do, and how they can best serve each other to work toward a common goal.


Why Stories Matter

It’s something of a cliché that sales reps need to be good storytellers. And it’s the role of marketing, as commonly understood, to provide reps with the stories they need to close deals. I’m suggesting that in order to do this effectively, marketing and sales need to take a step back and reevaluate not just their respective roles but the internal stories they tell to reinforce and entrench those roles—stories that all too often serve to erect and solidify barriers.


Before drilling down into what that means and what it looks like, we need to consider how storytelling works and why it matters. Telling stories is a uniquely human endeavor. No other creature on Earth has the ability to imagine a scenario, bring it to life with language (written, verbal, pictorial, etc.), and share it with others who may respond with stories of their own. Every culture around the world features some form of storytelling, and there’s strong evidence that modern humans dating back to prehistoric times have relied on storytelling to solidify social networks by marshaling storytelling’s unique ability to elicit understanding, trust, and empathy. Storytelling may have evolved in the first place as a way to assert control over the environment by finding meaningful patterns in the chaos of nature. Furthermore, consciousness itself, our sense of who we are and how we want to be perceived, can be seen as a type of what psychologists calls “narrative identity,” comprised of the stories we tell ourselves, and others, about ourselves.


Companies large and small use storytelling for a similar reason—to establish an identity that resonates internally and externally. Companies craft stories to build and promote a brand; to foster corporate culture; and to inspire and motivate employees. And most companies understand that, at least when it comes to brand building, storytelling is a dynamic process. As the global economy evolves, so must the stories companies tell to remain competitive and meet the demands of a rapidly evolving customer base. But when it comes to internal storytelling, too often those stories remain stagnant as leaders fail to revise them to keep pace with industry trends. After all, it’s much easier to not meddle with the tried and true stories that make employees feel comfortable in their roles and that have served the company well in the past.


But the internal stories that companies rely on cannot be immune to the forces reshaping the business landscape, especially insofar as those forces affect buyer behavior. The storytelling impulse may be hardwired into our brains, but the stories we tell are not fixed. They evolve and change and can be deliberately edited and rewritten to foster behavioral and cognitive change. That’s how psychotherapists help their patients; a similar tactic can help sales and marketing find common ground.

We need to look hard at the stories we create, and wrestle with them. Retell and retell them, and work with them like clay. It is in the retelling and returning that they give us their wisdom.
— Marni Gillard

 Stories marketing and sales tell themselves about themselves

A typical story that marketing leaders tell themselves and their teams may go something like this … Our job as writers, designers, and other “creatives” is to use our skills and business savvy to produce content that helps sales reps connect with customers and close deals. Of course, it’s important that we work with sales, but while they’re focused on dealing with individual prospects and serving existing customers, we have a broader view of the market and are uniquely positioned tell stories that speak to a wide range of potential customers. It’s up to the sales reps to figure out how to use the brochures, datasheets, blog posts, and everything else we create for them. Sure, it would be great to collaborate more closely with sales, but we’re already pressed just to keep up with the projects coming down the pike.


Meanwhile, sales leaders tell stories that may go something like this … While we appreciate marketing’s efforts to create content for us, the truth is that those materials are often useless, focusing way too much on our company and our products and services and not nearly enough on prospects and their business. And so, we end up creating our own materials. We’re grinding every day to win new business and protect and grow our market share, fending off competitors, handling objections, and struggling to differentiate the products and services we sell. In the absence of relevant marketing materials, we do what we have to do to get things done.


See the problem with these stories? They’re self-focused, defensive, and aimed more at defending territory instead of reaching across barriers and sparking genuine collaboration. When sales and marketing leaders tell these stories often enough, they become entrenched and feed the forces of inertia that lead to both functions doing the same old thing for no better reason than that’s how it’s always been done. Even if sales and marketing leaders know better and recognize the need for change, they convince themselves and their teams that change is too hard and time consuming. And so, the status quo remains entrenched.


What happens when marketing and sales leaders revise their stories?

But even the most seemingly calcified stories are not immutable. Much like a good psychotherapist can help a depressed or anxious patient gain control over the negative thoughts clouding their mind by interrupting the narrative feeding those thoughts, savvy marketing and sales leaders can better align marketing and sales by revising the stories that define each functions’ boundaries. Doing so requires a new and frankly more honest and open approach to telling those stories.

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A revised narrative—one crafted and articulated by marketing and sales leaders working together--might look like this: The overarching goal of this company is to maximize profits by selling as many of our products and services as possible. Everyone who works here is dedicated to that goal, and to that end everyone must recognize that our sales reps are the key players. By virtue of their direct and constant interactions with prospects and existing customers, our reps have the best and deepest knowledge about what matters most to those people and what it takes to convert a prospect into a paying customer. Consequently, everyone else in the company needs to be constantly engaging with our reps and sales leaders to learn from them. Especially marketing. Marketing directors, managers, writers, and designers need to use what they learn from reps about the swiftly evolving realities of buyer behavior and psychology to produce materials that truly support reps’ efforts to position themselves as strategic partners. In practice, this probably means producing fewer product-focused datasheets and brochures and blog posts and producing more content aimed at helping reps educate prospects about how industry trends will affect their business. Marketing can also use their storytelling and content production skills to create content that helps reps share best practices and learn from each other.


Now, this version of the story may seem reasonable in theory, but in reality, it often rubs against the grain, especially in organizations that pride themselves on being non-hierarchical and where no one function is more important than or subservient to another. But even the most advanced, liberal companies are hierarchical to one degree or another, and recognizing this reality doesn’t have to constrain creativity and block the flow of ideas. In fact, telling stories that embrace this hierarchy can unleash creativity and generate new ideas.


For example, if marketing was to fully embrace its role as an enabler of sales and to that end work closely with reps to understand what kind of content they need, marketing would get hip to new concepts and ideas for content. For example, marketers may learn that sales reps value learning from each other; newer reps, especially, are eager to learn from their more experienced colleagues. And so, marketers could then use their creative powers to create materials that facilitate peer learning by interviewing experience reps and creating stories in various media to share that knowledge and experience with the entire sales force.


Marketers may also learn from sales that email, while convenient, is often not an effective way to communicate with and enable on-the-go sales reps because the reps don’t have time to check and read all of their mail. So, instead of crafting and pushing out yet another email-based newsletter, marketers should consider other channels, such as audio and video.


Leaders must lead

The point bears repeating: none of what I describe above will happen unless marketing and sales leaders make it happen. No matter how much marketing and sales foot soldiers may grumble about their respective silos, the walls won’t come down unless their bosses and their bosses’ bosses take the lead in fomenting change. And to do that, senior leaders must change the stories that undergird and fortify the status quo.


Revising well-established stories is not easy. People tend to cling to the stories they know and resist attempts to change those stories or replace them with new ones. But the effort is worthwhile; true change, and better alignment between marketing and sales, can’t happen without it.

Jeremy Shere Headshot.jpg

Jeremy Shere is founder of and lead producer for Tribal Knowledge, a company that helps businesses reinforce sales training through peer learning by producing audio and video stories featuring sales reps sharing best practices and insights from the field.

Jeremy is also a published author and producer of the forthcoming "The Sales Training & Coaching Podcast."

Get Aligned or Lose Your Competitive Edge

I do my best to share Sales and Marketing Alignment thought-leadership whenever possible. The video below is of Tracey Eiler, CMO at InsideSales. She talks candidly about why Sales and Marketing Alignment is such a hot topic right now and why executives are being forced to address it or lose their competitive edge. 

Be sure to subscribe to The Alignment Blog Newsletter (here) to get monthly updates on curated content about Sales and Marketing Alignment. I hope you enjoy!

That Functional Approach to Sales and Marketing is Killing Your Business!

Let’s start by defining a System Approach (closed loop system) to Sales and Marketing alignment. 

A closed loop system tracks inputs from the front end, all the way to the results at the back end, and provides reporting for the entire process.

Why do I think a system approach is required to increase Sales and Marketing alignment? Well…today’s business environment is less about size and more about adaptability (even Charles Darwin would agree). How can you be adaptable if you are not able to work together efficiently?

Technology encourages competition

Technology has assisted in evening the playing field thus, giving smaller, more agile companies an advantage. We are no longer just able to put our heads down and “do our work”. It is imperative for the organization to achieve alignment in what needs to be accomplished for the survival of the whole. Arguably, this relationship is nowhere more important than between Sales and Marketing. Many Sales and Marketing organizations today work like an uncoordinated team during a 3-legged race at the family reunion. Even though the goal should be the same – to cross the finish line first – they have no coordinated effort and are only on the same team because they are forcibly linked together. What if the organs in your body worked together in that manner? Do you really think your heart is more important than your liver?

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
— Charles Darwin

The key difference between a functional versus a system approach is not communication…but communication style. The vulnerability of operating in siloed functions is that the output is only as good as the input. It’s as simple as what we learned in high school algebra: f(x) = 3x +4. If you put ill-informed, inaccurate, biased information into the function how can you expect to achieve magically superior outputs?! This is essentially what companies are doing that allows one group to tell another group what to do without any established feedback loop. In addition, this myopic action also explains why the iteration process, if it even exists, takes an incredibly long time. Simply put, this type of relationship is unsustainable if attempting to achieve success.

Strategies to move toward a System approach to customers

  • Discourage relationship hierarchy between Sales and Marketing.
  • Create a method for honest/candid feedback between Sales and Marketing that includes more than just leadership.
  • Ensure that everyone’s goals and incentives are aligned.
  • Reward inter-functional work that leads to results.
  • Conduct alignment meetings regularly to review and adjust business strategy as needed.


What I learned at the Sales Enablement Society Meeting

I had the pleasure of speaking at and attending a Sales Enablement Society (SES) meeting recently. SES is an international organization that is dedicated to increasing the visibility of the Sales Enablement function in the organization as well as more acutely defining it's scope and relevancy in moving the company toward better alignment. It's exciting to see more people add to the conversation of how we can better align Sales and Marketing to drive revenue - so I couldn't be happier to be involved with them. 

I was able to share some research that I conducted as well as a recent article published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) titled "How Aligned is Your Organization?". In my presentation I talked about some of the many reasons that sales and marketing professionals thought there was a "disconnect" when it came to working with their counterparts. Some of the reasons I received from the survey I conducted were:

Reasons for Misalignment

  • Goal misalignment between Sales and Marketing
  • Marketing and Sales don't really have an idea of what the other does on a daily basis
  • Management taking a functional approach instead of a system approach to achieve business goals
  • No established feedback loop to allow Sales and Marketing to iterate strategies based on customer feedback
  • Marketing not understanding the need for Sales to establish and maintain long-term relationships with customers
  • Marketing superiority, Sales pride

HBR takes the conversation up a notch and talks about the reasons for enterprise misalignment. The reason I share this information is that I want to continue to encourage us as leaders to raise the level of the conversation so that we can begin to develop frameworks that help us think more strategically and really move the organization forward in a thoughtful way. In addition, I think it will be these types of educated and informed conversations that will be able to get the attention of the CEO and get him/her to take action. HBR's reasons for enterprise misalignment included the following:

  • Enterprise leaders are unaware of the risks of misalignment.
  • Nobody “owns” enterprise alignment. 
  • Complexity makes enterprise alignment that much harder. 
  • Activity is mistaken for progress.

Beyond my presentation there was great conversation from some very passionate and knowledgable folks. Below are some of my key takeaways for the evening. 

  • The new selling ABC stands for "Always be Curious" when engaging prospects
  • Sales Enablement is critical to both organizational culture as well as sales culture
  • Culture is the way people in the organization think, act and interact
  • Encouraging a culture that allows new ideas to breathe longer is the only way to stay competitive and agile as an organization. 

I look forward to future Sales Enablement Society meetings and hope to have the chance to have more passionate conversations about how to move the organization toward better alignment. If interested in engaging more on this topic with your colleaagues and peers, make sure to check out their upcoming national conference in Dallas on 10/25 - Sales Enablement 2017

4 Metrics You Must Track for Alignment

One of the key distractors to achieving Sales and Marketing Alignment (SMA) is having misaligned goals between Sales and Marketing. It has been estimated that “most companies spend 30-40% of their revenue on Sales and Marketing” [Marketo]. With a spend that high it is imperative that these two functions be moving in the same direction and be able to assess what success looks like. If they are not able to set goals on the same metrics then there is no incentive to work together nor the ability to hold colleagues accountable. This is a dangerous combination for any business.

Most companies spend 30-40% of their revenue on Sales and Marketing
— Marketo

There has been a significant change in how customers buy. With the proliferation of information and influence of social media, customers are more savvy than ever about products/services and don’t engage Sales until much later in the buying process. The image above shows the shift in how the buying process has changed. With that being said, it becomes more important to focus on the customer journey to purchase and making that path as seamless as possible. Where many organizations struggle is the hand-off between Sales and Marketing. Many potential customers will fall out of the funnel for any number of reasons. And, unfortunately in today’s market there exist fewer opportunities to re-engage customers once they have had a poor buying experience. This makes it more important than ever for Sales and Marketing to be aligned through all touch points with potential customers and ensuring that they are getting the attention they require, are presented with the relevant information they seek, and are able to make a purchase when/where/how they want to. This can only be achieved when Sales and Marketing are in-sync.

Drive to Unified Metrics

Of course, there are going to be different metrics that each function tracks that uniquely impact their business. However, performance for the organization should start with looking at an agreed upon and unified dashboard that includes those KPIs that both Sales and Marketing should be held responsible for and need to keep top-of-mind as they go about their business. Leaders must establish a clear set of metrics that both Sales and Marketing leaders are aware of, track on a regular basis, and routinely use to make strategic business decisions. This will also allow sales and marketing colleagues to have a North Star when they are executing their assigned tactics. The question should be…”does what I’m doing help us achieve our goal of XYZ”.

The goal of Sales and Marketing Alignment is to create “Togetherness” where both functions are completely committed to make generating revenue the #1 priority
— Jeff Davis

So what exactly should be those imperative metrics that organizations need to be looking at to ensure SMA is achieved? Of course, this can be challenging for any organization because the way Sales and Marketing look at their business is fundamentally different. Marketing usually takes a long-term strategic view while Sales is more focused on short-term milestones and quota attainment. However, the one metric that should be consistent for any organization focused on SMA is Generating Revenue. End of story. Close the book.

The key metrics used to evaluate SMA performance should be broken down to reflect the Buying Funnel (i.e. top of funnel, middle of funnel, bottom of funnel). This ensures that you can see multiple data points throughout the system and leads to a clearer picture of where bottlenecks may exist

The Sales and Marketing Alignment dashboard must haves:

Percent Attainment to Target Revenue – All conversations should start with the review of where the organization is in regard to attaining the target revenue goal.

Lead Generation Metrics – These metrics should be focused on top of the funnel activities to ensure that the team is getting the attention of high-quality leads. Metrics should include: Increase in SQLs (MoM), Increase in total SQL volume (QoQ), % of leads per marketing channel.

Service-Level Metrics – These metrics should be focused on the middle of the funnel with the objective of getting leads to convert to purchase as quickly and efficiently as possible. Metrics should include: Lead Response Time, % of Leads that exit the Buying Funnel w/o Purchase, Average # of Follow-ups to SQLs.

Revenue Generation Metrics – These metrics should be focused on the bottom of the funnel and the ability to convert leads to purchase. Metrics should include: Average Sales Deal Size, Average Marketing Deal Size, Average Sales Cycle Length, Cost of Sales/Marketing to Revenue Ratio, Average Lead to Customer Close Ratio.

Focus on Strong Metrics

By focusing on metrics that are strong indicators of revenue generation, Sales and Marketing can start to increase the importance of shared goals that will make a difference for the organization. Then by promoting these shared goals throughout the organization the incentives of both groups will become more aligned and team member’s actions will begin to reflect this alignment.

What Causes Misalignment in an Organization?

As the conversation continues around the need for Sales and Marketing Alignment it is easy to focus on what tactics can be executed in order to achieve better alignment. There is great content coming out to help us better understand how to implement Account Based Marketing (ABM), the importance of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and more.  I, however, want to take a step back and ensure that we all understand what is causing the misalignment in the first place. I'm a firm believer that you can't fix a problem until you truly understand the underlying cause(s).

In a recent article published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the authors looked at what makes a truly aligned enterprise. In it they discuss alignment being a "tightly managed enterprise value chain" that links the enterprise's purpose, business strategy, organizational capability, resource architecture and management systems. What also came out of this article is four reasons for misalignment within the organization:

Four Reasons for Misaligned Enterprises

  • Enterprise leaders are unaware of the risk of misalignment
  • Nobody "owns" enterprise alignment
  • Complexity makes enterprise alignment that much harder
  • Activity is mistaken for progress

I think that all of these are accurate and valid reasons for why companies are misaligned overall and also highlight why the sales and marketing functions struggle to drive revenue together in the most efficient way. If we are to create a truly robust sales and marketing alignment strategy we must be prepared and willing to address these key issues that HBR has identified as the reasons for why enterprises are not aligned. 

HBR Value Chain.png


Asking the right alignment questions

Sales and marketing leaders must ask questions like "Does are CEO understand the risks associated with not aligning Sales and Marketing?", "Is our leadership ready to "own" making sure that all decisions made focus on aligning Sales and Marketing?", etc. This is the only way in which we can really start to have a productive conversation around what strategies need to be implemented to move the organization forward to better alignment. 

While the recent focus on new B2B tech solutions is exciting, many times as HBR states, this activity of adopting new tech solutions is seen as progress without establishing adequate KPIs and reviewing if progress toward driving revenue growth is really being achieved. 

Again, as leaders, let's start with asking the harder questions before potentially wasting time and money on short-term and short-sighted solutions. 


Framework for Success: Marketing and Sales Alignment

I think that most B2B leaders across industries would agree that Sales and Marketing Alignment is a necessary transformation that needs to happen. This is a historical relationship that has suffered for many reasons. As more and more focus and information starts to be generated about this alignment, my fear is that executives will lose sight of what is important - the shiny object syndrome. Thus, it is my intent to help drive for clarity while using the great research and insights we get from industry experts. We can have all the greatest insights, research, and thought-leadership, however, if we can't make it actionable for today's leaders then it becomes useless. We need to focus on creating a framework for success.

Organizations without strong marketing and sales alignment are 2.1x as likely to see both marketing and sales teams struggling.  --Aberdeen Group, 2017

With that thought in mind, I would like to ask the question -  "What are the common elements of organizations that are getting Sales and Marketing Alignment right?". The reason this question is so important is that we need to focus on those common traits that lead to success. This will allow executives to set business strategies that address these "universal" themes that have a higher likelihood of leading us to success than getting wrapped around specific tactics that may or may not be applicable for each individual business. When we are able to focus on indicators of success that are agnostic to our business we can then tailor strategies that uniquely address our business and then choose the "sexy" tactics that are aligned with those strategies. It takes a lot of discipline, however, for an organization to do this. It is much easier to give a knee-jerk response to the CEO or board by saying "we are going to add X tactic this quarter to drive revenue" when we all know that is not the root cause of the problem.

Common Elements of Successful Alignment

Aberdeen Group published a recent study titled "Foster Marketing and Sales Alignment, or Forget About Hitting Your Goals" that helps us identify some common elements of companies that are getting this alignment issue right. Keep in mind that Aberdeen uses a maturity class framework based on 5 key performance metrics to determine how aligned organizations are around sales and marketing.

5 key performance metrics to evaluate sales and marketing alignment of an organization (Aberdeen):

  • % of companies "effective" or "very effective" at managing profitable marketing and sales operations.
  • Current lead acceptance rate (sales from marketing)
  • Current % of revenue attributed to marketing
  • YoY improvement (decrease) in sales cycle length
  • YoY improvement (increase) in total company quota attainment

By looking at Figure 5, you will find that the 2nd and 4th element have the highest difference. This is a clear indicator that there is a symbiotic nature to creating success on both sides of the fence. For instance, Marketing is able to be more successful with MQLs, lead gen, etc because they are communicating with Sales and better understand what they should be focusing on. In turn, Sales is more likely to be vested in trying to convert those leads into sales and they will have a higher likelihood of actually closing business because Marketing has already taken the time to "hear" what Sales thinks will lead to successful customers. What I also found notable was that sales and marketing teams are 53% more likely to ensure they are using a relevant value proposition compared to other less aligned organizations. This speaks to the importance of the organization telling consistent, compelling stories to potential buyers.

So, while the top two common elements with the biggest difference as compared to less aligned organizations (marketing success that fuels sales success and vice versa) may be a bit more challenging to execute immediately, the other three (1. relevant value proposition, 2. consistent usage of CRM and related tools and 3. alignment to buyer's journey) may be a bit more tangible as company executives look at starting the journey to better alignment. I think these common elements can start to be woven into the fabric of the business without a complete overhaul or fundamental change in strategy. This will help face less resistance from both groups.

Focus on Frameworks

As companies agree to take on the task of aligning their sales and marketing organizations, I think it will be very important for leaders to step back and really think about what are successful organizations already doing from a strategic standpoint and try to modify their organizations to mirror those traits. We must continue to push for relevant frameworks and best practices that help organizations customize what Alignment means for them.

Launch of The Alignment Blog Newsletter!

I'm excited to announce the launch of The Alignment Blog Newsletter! Its goal is to become the best-curated source of information for CEOs and Sales/Marketing leaders to stay informed about the latest thought-leadership on sales and marketing alignment. With the increased focus on helping these functions work together better to drive revenue, it is more important than ever for business executives to have access to data-driven content that helps give insight on how to do things differently. Subscribe here and share with other professionals that will benefit from this content. Stay tuned for more thought-provoking material soon.