connect_the_dots_sales_marketingThis post originally appeared on the Sales section of Inbound Hub. To read more content like this, subscribe to Sales.

Smart sales and marketing leaders know how important it is to collaborate with cross-functional teams. In a perfect world, the two teams would be working in tandem and complete harmony with one another.

Unfortunately, the reality is that marketing and sales teams are often at odds, unable to see eye-to-eye on information management, lead generation, and customer education tactics. Even something as straightforward as a blog post can cause conflict between sales reps who want to highlight product reviews and customer testimonials, and marketers who want to produce educational content that talks about anything but the brand.

The fact is that it’s crucial for these two teams to find common ground. Your customer relationships depend on it, and Greg Alexander, founder at marketing and sales consulting firm Sales Benchmark Index, explains why:

“Prospects are evolving faster in the marketplace than sellers. If I’m a senior executive at a large company (or a consumer), and I become aware of a problem that needs to be solved, I’ll start looking for information fast. I need vendors to educate me — to put me in the right direction. The challenge is that this process needs to happen quickly. Executives are so busy, working 70-80 hours a week. They’re understaffed and underfunded themselves. It’s crucial that they have resources available to educate themselves — to learn on their own time.”

In other words, sales teams provide a direct lens into customer communities while marketers empower sales teams to aggressively scale their efforts through content and customer education resources. Here are three high-impact ways for Marketing and Sales to join forces:

1) Position Marketing as a content creation engine and Sales as a learning and distribution engine.

At this point, every marketer knows that content is important, which is why they’re ramping up budgets for blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, and in some cases, video. But even after investing resources in content creation, they’re experiencing two major pain points:

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1) The ability to brainstorm topics that resonate with high-value audiences, and

2) The ability to quickly and efficiently ramp up distribution.

For the most part, content can be hit or miss — it’s common within marketing programs for a handful of articles and traffic sources to drive a high proportion of website traffic.

This imbalance creates an inherently unstable business model. In an ideal world, your web traffic would be evenly distributed across all of your content — with a healthy and diverse mix of traffic sources. That way, you won’t have to worry about a traffic source tanking or an article suddenly becoming unpopular.

Ambitious marketers are constantly on the hunt for article ideas and distribution channels, but they often overlook a crucial, untapped resource that’s sitting right next to them. What’s important for your marketing team to keep in mind is that sales reps constantly have their ears to the ground within key customer communities. They’re in a great position to field customer questions your way and distribute content assets as part of everyday conversations.

As New Breed Marketing‘s Sierra Calabresi puts it:

“Your sales team makes up the front line. They’re the ones on the phone speaking with the leads your marketing team generated. While they can see what marketing offer this lead was generated from, their conversation isn’t going to revolve around content. They’re going to be asking questions about their business challenges, their goals, and determining if your company would be a good fit.”

Following this approach, marketers will develop a steady pipeline of ideas as well as an additional distribution channel.

2) Stop chasing different metrics for ROI — unite around a common goal.

Top-performing marketers and sales reps are often tied to aggressive KPIs. The problem with these KPIs, however, is that they sometimes fail to line up between teams — which means that sales and marketing teams are incentivized to pursue separate paths.

Let’s take leads as an example.

If a marketer’s performance is measured by number of leads (as opposed to qualified leads), they’ll be incentivized to ramp up volume rather than quality — forcing sales reps to spend more time sorting through prospect information than closing deals. If sales reps are measured by new revenue generated, they’re less likely to spend time on up-selling existing clients and securing repeat business — and Marketing’s efforts on the ‘repeat business’ stage of the conversion funnel will consequently fall flat.

Instead of choosing a bevvy of different metrics, unite around one or two that best align with your revenue model. In a B2B SaaS company, for instance, these metrics might be average recurring revenue and customer acquisition cost — or a ratio between the two. Sales and marketing teams must work in tandem with each other to optimize this ratio. If they veer off course from one another, the math won’t work.

Choose metrics that encourage collaboration and force sales and marketing teams to work together.

3) Create structure to accomplish your communication goals.

Everyone knows that communication is crucial for success in business, so we won’t belabor the point. As much as we value communication, however, we find it hard to prioritize collaboration, simply because there aren’t enough hours in the day.

The more access to technology that we have — and the more flexibility we have in our careers to work remotely, the harder it becomes to schedule meetings and actually talk to one another. Mike Volpe, CMO at HubSpot, encourages marketing and sales leads to take the following steps to remedy that:

  • Encourage weekly meetings between Marketing and Sales.
  • Build relationships between multiple layers of each team.
  • Mix Marketing and Sales desks together.
  • Build many types of feedback loops including rating leads on CRMs and periodic surveys on lead quality.
  • Agree on terminology so that you’re not confusing jargon.
  • Rely on conversion and demographic data to communicate effectively.

As technologies become more complex, it’s important to get back to the basics. Establish etiquette for what information to share via IM vs. email. Choose your video conferencing technologies ahead of time. Be thoughtful about how you want to communicate so that dropped calls and technical barriers don’t hold you back.

In joining forces with Sales, marketers should remember to stay balanced — and remain connected with product, customer service, and engineering teams, too. This process will look different in all organizations, and the best way for us to move forward is to learn from the processes our colleagues at other organizations are using. 

What valuable lessons has your team learned in cross-collaboration? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.

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