Blog post

The Sales and Marketing Alignment Gap

By Jeffrey L. Cohen | June 09, 2021 | 2 Comments

SalesMarketingCustomer Acquisition and RetentionSales Execution and Demand Generation

Sales and marketing teams have always been at odds with each other. It’s easy for someone outside the organization — for example, an analyst — to say that they just need to work together to achieve alignment. There are plenty of internal obstacles to overcome, such as people, process and even technology preventing these functions from truly working together. But it can be just as hard to define the areas where they need to collaborate. And more specifically, what overall sales and marketing alignment looks like. 

Sales and marketing alignment is a large initiative that very few organizations talk about. They ask about elements that lead to alignment. Teams want to know how to generate more demand, more pipeline and even how to work together. That is different from being aligned. Alignment implies that both teams are in lockstep from top to bottom. Unrealistic? Maybe. But once you realize alignment is comprised of a series of specific actions that ultimately generate revenue, consider the most important tactics to collaborate on and where to start.

Defining sales and marketing alignment

Defining alignment starts at the tactical level. There is an existing data source that I have access to that can help define sales and marketing alignment. The Gartner Sales Score diagnostic is available to Gartner sales practice clients to “evaluate your sales organization’s functional maturity … across six objectives.” This tool indicates client maturity across the functional activities, so the questions build upon each other to determine level of maturity. There are several questions that correspond to the recommendations made in this discussion about sales and marketing alignment, which not only define alignment, but can help to create its own maturity model in the future. With this in mind, I’m only going to address one of those questions in this post.

The alignment gap is 36%

The question is about the most foundational tactic to generating pipeline and the one with the most unexpected results. When asked whether sales and marketing teams had a common lead definition, only 49% said they did. Since this is a critical element of acquiring new customers, Gartner expects sales and marketing to have developed this common definition in 60-85% of organizations. This creates an alignment gap of 36% (see figure below). More than one-third fewer organizations than expected have a lead definition developed together and agreed upon by sales and marketing.

sales and marketing alignment gap

Closing the alignment gap

The lead handoff is often one of the most contentious parts of the sales and marketing relationship. The marketing leaders complain that sellers never contact the marketing supplied leads. Sales leaders complain about the quality of marketing leads and that’s why sellers ignore them. This creates inefficiencies as well as wasted resources throughout the demand process.

When sales and marketing leaders work together to solve their handoff issues, they will be addressing the alignment gap. A common lead definition is the place to start. Marketing provides their input to the lead definition based on persona information, use cases, broad marketing trends and data from both third party providers and existing customers. These may include attributes such as company size data, industry, technology used and current interests. The sales leader can validate all of this information based on sellers’ experiences closing deals with these types of customers. When both leaders have a hand in defining a high quality lead, their teams are more likely to stand behind the quality of leads and follow up on them.

Obligatory movie metaphor conclusion

If this were a movie from the 1980s, the marketing leader would wake up one morning in the sales leader’s body and vice versa. Each would develop empathy and understanding of the other by living for a day in the opposite role. We don’t have that option, so leaders can only pretend that happened and adopt a new attitude. They can solve the alignment gap by coming together to create and agree upon a lead definition as the first step towards sales and marketing alignment.

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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  • You said, “We don’t have that option, so leaders can only pretend that happened and adopt a new attitude.”

    Actually, there is a proven method to bring empathy toward sales challenges into the marketing org, hire and mentor front-line sellers to become Product Marketing managers.

    FYI, I’m living proof that this methodology will improve the likelihood of successful collaborations between these teams.

    That said, I encourage lively debates about experimenting with alternative approaches when there is a disagreement that creates a roadblock to progress. Don’t avoid friction. Embrace it.

    By all means, challenge the status quo. Especially in the current environment of disruption from the global pandemic. Dream BIG, resist the urge to ‘return to normal’ where mediocrity is the legacy norm.

  • Jeffrey L. Cohen says:

    Thanks for the comment, David. At first I thought you were going to reveal you had invented body switching technology. Regardless, your suggestion is a great one. This is a conversation that starts with empathetic leaders who want to improve their results and there are lots of ways to get there.