The ties that bind sales and marketing: 3 steps to alignment

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Getting sales and marketing teams to work together is a big and complex topic in most organizations, small or large. Doing it poorly, it becomes a Dilbert cartoon where sales and marketing are blaming each other for missed opportunities and poor sales results. Done well, it can lead to great results and efficient use of resources. Something about which small businesses need to stay vigilant.

Business leaders in sales and marketing must fight for alignment on multiple levels. First an alignment on strategy, then on organization design, and finally goal setting and measurement that deploy effectively to deliver results.

  1. Strategic Alignment

On the strategy front, the executive team (on which both sales and marketing are represented) has to have a singular strategy. At Planar, we have found it useful to depict it in an infographic style and repeat it regularly in all-hands meetings, monthly staff meetings, and hanging in people’s offices as a reminder. The goal for this document and the conversations are to describe the key elements of our strategy for profitable growth. The what, who, and the how, if you will. Getting alignment here is absolutely critical to everything that follows. If the leaders of the organization have ambiguity about the direction, so will everyone in the organization. People will not always agree on specifics around execution or resource allocation, but having a common vision of where we want to go as a company is critical for alignment.

  1. Organizational Alignment

Next up is organization design. Pull up an organization chart of your marketing and sales functions and one thing is bound to jump out at you. The org chart doesn’t really matter. The real key to functional cooperation is the white space between the functions. Where does one job end and the other begin? Who has authority and responsibility for what? No matter what people’s titles might be, where and how does the work get done is more important than the titles in the boxes.

And this organizational design needs to be approached without ego and with a high degree of trust. For instance, several years ago, we made the observation that most of the work done in the role of “channel marketing” was driven more by an understanding of our business plans with individual customer accounts and resellers, than it was driven our brand or product objectives which marketing was driving. As a result, we decided sales management was in a better position to manage this function and “channel marketing” moved into sales. This changed the interface points to the organization, but was overall much more efficient and effective in allocating our MDF, co-op, managing sales incentives and the other functions of channel marketing. If I had held onto that role in the marketing team on principle or didn’t trust that the funds would be allocated well, then we wouldn’t have achieved the same results.

  1. Goal Alignment

And finally, goal setting is where the rubber hits the road for alignment. You have heard it said that you improve what you measure. That is very true in the fast-paced world of marketing and sales. William Efird says that things move as the speed of accountability. The metrics that you emphasize matter.

For the past three years at Planar, we have done a “plan on a page” that works as follows. On the far left hand side of the one-page table, we outline the annual corporate goals and initiatives. These are both financial and non-financial results for which we are all striving that are part of our strategic plan (see #1 above).

Then as you move across the document, we have identified key sales and marketing priorities related to these goals. The activities, initiatives, and major campaigns related to each of these main goals.

And finally, we have identified shared metrics. Goals that sales and marketing will strive to achieve together and hold each other accountable to achieve together. Most can’t be achieved without the others’ assistance. Most are measured quarterly, and some are tracked monthly and monitored continuously for progress and course correction. Marketing can’t blame sales for bad lead follow-through or sales can’t blame marketing for poor quality leads, if the teams agree to specific measures and work together constantly to achieve the best results for the company.

The process of putting this together each year is an exercise in alignment that serves us all year long as teams work together to achieve (and sometimes adjust) the goals.

I’ve had a recent reminder about the power of alignment. In addition to my work with Planar, I recently joined the board of a local non-profit Marathon Scholars who identifies high potential, low income 4th grade students and gives them their first college scholarships and walks with them all the way to graduation. A marathon, indeed! The mission is what drives the organization. The “sales” and “marketing” functions might be called “development” or “educational programming,” but the need for alignment is similar. In this organization, in order to serve the students recruited into the program, the organization must recruit donors and volunteer mentors in adequate numbers to ensure the student’s success. And vice versa. Donors without students is waste. Volunteers with donors is impaired. All of these need to align and it would be obvious if they didn’t. That same visibility is required in any organization or business to drive alignment.

General Von Moltke famously quipped that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Business plans certainly can suffer the same fate. Dwight Eisenhower called plans useless, but “planning indispensable.” I would add to these that plans, even well-intentioned strategies, organization designs, and goal setting, might not outlast the battle, but with trust, communication, and a clear vision, the team can survive and thrive even when changing conditions force realignment.

As long as we realize that the things that connect sales and marketing are not a tug-of-war rope, but rather a cord that ties things together in teamwork.

Author information

Jennifer Davis

Mrs. Davis joined Planar in 1998 and has held a number of diverse and increasingly impactful roles in marketing, business operations, and global customer service and now heads Planar’s Marketing departments. Her contributions to Planar span a wide variety of markets and technologies, including digital signage and architectural displays. Prior to joining Planar, Mrs. Davis worked for Intel Corporation and held a senior marketing management role at a software start-up. Mrs. Davis holds a BS in Business Administration and History from Warner Pacific College and an MBA from Pepperdine University.

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