7 Steps To Sales And Marketing Alignment

Michael Brenner on Feb 1, 2011 in Sales Alignment

Ask any practitioner in B2B Marketing what their greatest challenge is and chances are they will say “how to align sales and marketing.” Why is this so difficult? I mean we are all after the same goals for our companies: revenue, profit, happy customers. And we all want to keep our job, get a raise or make a bonus.

But something always gets in the way. Is it because our departmental goals are different? Or is it the way we measure those outcomes? Is it something bigger and ethereal like our business perspective or is it the time horizons we work in?

How do I know this is a big issue? 4 of The Hottest B2B Marketing Insider Topics are on sales alignment including How To Align Marketing With Sales and Marketing Leads: Quality Vs. Quantity. The main points:

  • Sales is the customer of marketing. So help them to sell. 
  • Both quality and quantity of leads is important.

Recently, BtoB Magazine provided a snapshot of a Forrester report that stated that only 8% of companies surveyed feel a tight alignment between marketing and sales. The biggest hurdle to achieving integration was in fact long-term marketing thinking vs. short-term sales thinking (cited by 58% of respondents). This was followed by opposing objectives and even “not enough time.”

Additionally, Kris Bondi (@kbondi) VP of Marketing at Luma recently wrote about the Five Classic Mistakes to Avoid in a Decentralized Sales and Marketing Organization. She lists “not listening to the field,” “giving sales the wrong materials” and “keeping too much control” as some additional obstacles to sales alignment.

When I started my career in sales, we had colleagues who “gave away the store.” So our company had to develop margin thresholds. Even then, some customers felt as if they weren’t exactly sold what they were promised. So we instituted customer satisfaction (this was before the Net Promoter Score) as a sales objective. Add the emergence of Sales 2.0 and I can tell you that sales people understand long term thinking.

So how can marketers help to see the sales perspective? Well I think nothing helps bring two people together more than the old adage of walking in their shoes. With that in mind, here are my B2B Marketing Insider tips to gain sales and marketing alignment:

  1. Go on a sales call. It’s important to hear how your product or service is sold by a sales person. Hear how it’s positioned. Listen to the questions, concerns and “objections” from the prospective customer.
  2. Learn how to deliver your company’s elevator pitch. You should be able to articulate your company or solution’s unique selling points.
  3. Watch a demo. For us software folks this is extremely important but no matter what you are selling, you should be able to stand at a company trade show booth and speak to an interested party about the major features and benefits.
  4. Speak to a customer. Get to know what they bought, why the bought it and why they are happy and willing to refer you to their friends.
  5. Get a revenue goal. I know this is scary for a lot of marketers but it is vital to help you understand the sales perspective. It doesn’t have to be big or a large part of your performance review but put it in there.
  6. Joint planning. If you both agree on the strategic objectives, you can take the different approaches you need to reach the common objective.
  7. Go out to dinner. Have a few drinks. Do whatever it takes to unwind and gain some rapport. Get to know your sales colleagues as people and it will be much easier when the budget gets cut and you need to have a serious conversation about which event needs to go.

But that’s just my view. I’d love to hear yours. 

You can also come here me speak at the Philly BMA event on Aligning Marketing and Sales To Increase ROI on Feb. 16th, 2011.

Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 12 comments
  • Jeff Ogden

    Great post, Michael and well said. A smart CMO once said to me “The problem is that marketing looking for Mr. Right and Sales looks for Mr. Right now. Differing timeframes is a core problem. But you tips go to the heart of ironing out those differences.

    Have fun in Philly with my friend, Paul Mosenson, Michael.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    Find New Customers “Lead Generation Made Simple”

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Jeff! I think we (sales and marketing) can both learn from each other but nothing better than to learn from the customer! Thanks for stopping by and will say hello to Mr. Mosenson

  • Bob Perez

    Very nice post Michael. Having recently made the shift from sales management to full time marketing (been wearing both hats for a while) I can personally attest to the value of seeing things from a sales perspective. As you say in #6 and #7, simply spending time with sales personnel, particularly your sales counterpart is always helpful. I meet regularly with our Sales Director and it’s proven to be very beneficial. I would also recommend,where applicable and perhaps sparingly, getting them involved in vendor relations. For example, I’ve invited sales management to calls with our marketing automation vendor to discuss issues directly related to his sales staff. Later today, the Sales Director will sit in on a call I have scheduled with the vendor that we use for Live Chat on our website. His direct reports are the primary operators, so rather than always interfacing with me about the product, I thought it might be helpful to give him an opportunity to hear directly from the vendor and to contribute at higher level to the success of the project.

    Thanks for the post. Good insight.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thank you Bob! Great addition on the vendor involvement. When I was with a smaller company I definitely had the sales leader define and articulate CRM requirements and with Marketing Automation setup.

  • kenny

    How many times. smarketing, smarketing and more smarketing 🙂 🙂

    Seriously, I actually think the terms sales and marketing are hurtful. The closer we get to blurring these disciplines the better.

    Great points above as always.

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Kenny. I have suggested this before as well. I think it’s happening in some pockets and might be starting to spread. Let’s the keep the momentum going!

  • Lee Kellett

    All good points. The one that I would change (or add to) is #2. As the Marketing person, I always work with Sales to develop the ‘elevator pitch’. This is a great excercise that helps bring Sales and Marketing together. We come up with our value proposition, differentiators and quick biz description together and I usually put the words together for the 30 second pitch. Now our story and our missions are a bit closer!

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Lee, Thanks for the clarification. We should be working with our sales colleagues to co-create the materials we use to describe the value our solutions can provide.

  • Bill Strawderman


    I agree there’s nothing like a common objective (#4 revenue) to drive alignment. In complex sales cycles with multiple influence paths… that line of sight can become pretty fuzzy. We should endeavor to metric whatever is closest and “grow” from there. It’s better to be uncomfortable with measurement than comfortable with non-measurement.


    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Bill. And agreed. Revenue is a sticky thing for many complex B2B companies like yours and mine. There is no one touch that drives a sale. So focusing on results from sale on back and across our many touch points is so important.

  • Louise Borglund

    Great post Michael!

    Here is my experience from working with marketing for over 10 years.

    Sales often blame marketing for sending them uninteresting cold leads from campaigns, trade shows etc. As Jeff said above, the leads are far away from “Mr Right now”. (Great saying by the way Jeff). And, on the other hand, marketing often blame sales for not beeing interested in (or I have even heard “too lazy to call”) the great leads they have been identified through different activities… Part of this can be solved by your great tips above.

    In addition to that I think that when sales feel that marketing actually are sending over “Mr Right now”, they will get very interested in working more closely with marketing.

    My tips is to set up a lead nurturing process which actually enables marketing to send over warmer leads to sales in the end. The sales manager will be knocking on the your door for more… I promise. 🙂

    Greetings from Sweden,

    • Michael Brenner

      Louise, thank for your comments and hello from the USA. I hope you see a nice early Spring. I agree with you on the hot leads. I have always sought to maximize the budget on all of the highest quality lead generating programs. Lower quality Programs should only come next.