Blog post

Let’s Talk About Sales and Marketing Alignment

By Jeffrey L. Cohen | April 28, 2021 | 4 Comments

SalesMarketingCustomer Acquisition and RetentionSales Execution and Demand Generation

Sales and marketing alignment exists, but not as broadly as it should. It is not strategic enough to rise to the level of executive conversations. Neither sales leaders nor marketing leaders are pulling aside their colleagues and kicking off alignment projects. It is just not a mission-critical priority.

How do we get leaders thinking and talking about building more collaboration between sales and marketing? Show them how it can make a difference in their results. Every executive leader watches a dashboard and has numbers they need to meet. Tying new initiatives to those targets helps them gain visibility. When sales and marketing operate in silos, that limits each team from achieving its goals.

Sales and marketing leaders collaborating
Source: Getty

CMOs need more leads

Ask any CMO if they want to generate more leads. Do they want an increase in the volume of leads at the top of the funnel? This increase demonstrates a growing affinity with the vendor’s solution. Marketing organizations are tracking this number, so yes, they want more leads. They just need to know how.

Oh wait, what if the CMO is more enlightened than that and they are more interested in generating more quality leads, not just more leads. Well, this is a marketing org that is tasked with generating a specific number of marketing qualified leads or MQLs. It is a key number in their demand funnel and in many traditional marketing organizations, the place where marketing measurement stops. They too, are interested in learning how to increase the volume of MQLs.

CSOs want more revenue

We don’t even have to ask the Chief Sales Officer if they want more pipeline and more opportunities. That is the best indicator of meeting their sales number. And again, we know they want revenue. Give them a way to exceed their revenue targets for the quarter and they will pay attention.

Sales teams can impact marketing

At the most basic level, the marketing team is responsible for identifying potential customers and making them aware of the vendor. Sales leaders can help define what their best customers look like to help marketing target the more likely buyers, thereby generating more leads. This can be done in an informal process or by creating an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) with quantitative and qualitative data. The important part is that it is done by sales and marketing teams together. The functional leaders can encourage this collaboration.

Remember the CMO who wanted better quality leads? Sales can help here too. Marketing is responsible for determining how the organization describes itself and how its solution addresses the challenges of potential customers. Marketing knows how to do this at a broad, persona level, while the sales team has experience discussing those challenges with individual buyers. They know what’s relevant and what makes a difference in closing sales. Sharing these insights helps marketing deliver more compelling messaging, which connects with better quality prospects. When marketing is speaking the language of the buyers, it results in more MQLs.

Marketing teams can impact sales

When the sales and marketing teams come together to identify the customers to pursue, they should also define the qualification criteria for each stage of the funnel. A marketing qualified lead is frequently the loosest in terms of criteria and usually is based on engagement with content. A sales qualified lead meets basic firmographic and technographic criteria and results in a scheduled sales meeting. And an opportunity has the strictest criteria of all.

It is important for sales teams to have a say in what qualifies a lead. Almost two-thirds (64%) of B2B sales reps were more likely to follow up on a marketing-supplied lead if the qualification criteria had been agreed upon by sales, according to a Gartner survey of 1215 B2B sellers. Sales ownership in the process drives more action, but also identifies prospects more likely to become customers. Following up on better qualified leads gets sales more meetings and more opportunities.

There are lots of reasons why sales and marketing alignment does not occur in organizations, but leaders need to understand that it can make a difference. It can have measurable impact in driving real results for both marketing and sales. This starts with the CSO and the CMO coming together to talk about it.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • John Elmer says:

    Excellent summary of the dynamic as it exists today between sales and marketing. There is a emerging recognition of “revenue operations” as the next step in aligning marketing and sales. The HubSpot CRM platform has recently introduced innovative tools for managing marketing and sales operations under a RevOps framework. Hoping to see further insights from Gartner on this type of structure.

  • Jeffrey L. Cohen says:

    Thanks for the comment, John. RevOps is often a more advanced approach that can be considered once sales and marketing are already working together. Gartner has published research on RevOps, but we are seeing that many organizations still need guidance on the basics of the two functions working together.

  • Premjith Alampilly says:

    The blog covers a very important point about alignment between sales and marketing. It is well understood and I feel that leaders understand the importance and its implications.

    The key question though are the following?

    1. Are goals set for the leaders for these teams aligned?
    2. Is there a threat of marketing teams looking at here and now requirements only if they are too well aligned with sales goals?
    3. How does leadership measure marketing efforts? How is it attributed to success and failure of organizations ability to meet its goals?

    4. Will the alignment be more in modern organizational structures of SAAS businesses?

  • Jeffrey L. Cohen says:

    Thanks for the questions:
    1. The leaders of the sales and marketing functions need to set the aligned goals together.
    2. Marketing’s long-term goals must remain, but their joint goals set with sales focus ultimately on meeting revenue numbers, while paying attention to conversion rates at each stage of the funnel.
    3. With marketing goals tied to revenue, this adds a quality measure to their metrics. It is not just about generating a number of MQLs, but how those ultimately convert to customers is part of their success.
    4. Yes, SaaS businesses are more likely to be more aligned because their high-growth requirements that are not possible without sales and marketing not working together.