marketing sales alignment breakthroughLack of marketing and sales alignment has been a weak spot for decades at almost every company. What’s the silver bullet? Customers. They’re the shared interest and driving force (other than money) for both marketing and sales. And when you stop to think about it, customers are the source of money . . . and as the old saying goes: follow the money.

So it’s actually company-customer misalignment that’s at the heart of the matter. We’ve traditionally taken the wrong perspective altogether about both alignment quandaries. “Customers do NOT want a relationship with a brand,” said Christine Crandell in her keynote presentation at the recent Marketing Operations & Technology Summit. “Customers are religious about the experience they need: how can you help me get my outcome?! Neither marketing or sales is inclined to talk about the outcome sought by customers, which is necessary in shifting their orientation to customers.” Crandell is widely known as a marketing and sales alignment authority. Her presentation opened everyone’s eyes to some breakthrough discoveries at the Summit. Here are my notes:

Marketing-Sales Misalignment Consequences

  • Distrust due to friction between departments is transparent to customers.
  • Tail-chasing is a zero-sum game; nobody wins.
  • Culture of distrust “gets into the paint”, perpetuates itself, and drives attrition: communication suffers and silos prevail.

We tend to focus on products to shut out the noise of these consequences, rather than deal with trust and harmony that are essential to alignment. Aligned companies see customer-focus as the rallying point to get to the outcomes needed both by buyers and sellers.

Drivers of Company-Customer Misalignment

  • What you say to the marketplace versus what your reputation is — you can get an objective view of your reputation through sentiment analysis and social graphs.
  • When passing leads/opportunities to sales, seeds of doubt are sown because marketing’s voice is different from sales’ voice: customers need a single voice and dialogue, not multiple.
  • When sales passes the customer to service, it’s a punt, which breeds more doubt for the customer. By the way, the first 90 days after purchase is particularly critical in B2B software: if something is not rapidly resolved, the customer has already made the decision to churn at some time down the road or right away.
  • At renewal time, mis-steps often occur through self-serving communications or remedies.

There are three maturity levels in marketing and sales alignment: (a) ambiguous, (b) collaborative, (c) aligned. In most companies, customer ownership is ambiguous, like two ships that pass in the night — nobody really knows what other parts of the company may be duplicating or doing simultaneously with any given customer. When companies do strive for marketing and sales alignment, it’s typically a collaborative, rather than aligned, ownership of the customer life cycle, that still lacks consistent, smooth transitions end-to-end.

Collaborative Versus Aligned Marketing & Sales

  • Collaborative marketing/sales: CMO owns the customer, and customer journey maps and personas are created.
  • Aligned marketing/sales: shared metrics, goals, rewards, budget.
    • Organized completely differently: organizations are combined and sit together, with interspersed seating.
    • Primary skills include data scientists, behaviorists, strategists, and cross-functional collaboration savvy.
    • Marketing has clear roles in the sales cycle weekly: demos, presentations, and they’re out on sales calls.
    • No “us versus them”, but “we”.
    • Firm rule: no conversations outside the marketing team about click-through rates and other marketing talk. The only things marketing talks about outside itself are booked revenue, pipeline, renewals, and customer satisfaction.
    • CEO owns the customer — not the CMO. Aligned organizations do not need a Chief Customer Officer (CCO).

Who’s doing this? Christine shared insipring examples from Tintri, a smart storage technology provider and Moxie, a real-time customer engagement software provider.

How to Align Marketing & Sales
First, you need a champion, and the CFO may be your biggest advocate. The CFO typically has the ear of the CEO, and can grease the skids for you. Second, thoroughly understand buyers. Customer journey mapping can help you see your business through buyers’ eyes, and these insights act as a “decoder ring”, guiding everything marketing and sales need to do. The decoder ring is an avenue for sales to see how marketing can help them.

Re-design processes to fully support touch-points. Mix marketing personnel into sales bullpen. Go on the road to get in tune with buyers. Change the compensation strategy of marketing team so that each marketing role is compensated on revenue and customer experience, with the reciprocal for sales. Be strict about whether the whole company made the number or didn’t. You will absolutely see alignment after that.

The CEO must own company-customer alignment, set tone for values, drive customer experience insights into the strategic plan, and be transparent to customers.

Sales and marketing alignment is part and parcel of becoming a customer-aligned company, and vice-versa.

My take on company-customer alignment:
For customers, it’s about who makes it smooth-sailing to achieve the capabilities they’re seeking — which goes beyond your product or service per se. The capabilities customers are seeking should be the guiding light for everyone in your company. They shape expectation sets, which are a more sound segmentation criteria for personas and customization of the marketing mix, sales and service approaches, and operations and innovation than any other criteria.

When marketing takes the lead in guiding the rest of the company’s alignment with customers, the enterprise can rapidly adapt to emerging market opportunities. And this can make marketing a highly respected value center.

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