Sales & Marketing Still Not Aligned? Who Owns the Fix?

Posted by Dan McDade

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on Aug 24, 2010 11:31:00 AM

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ScalesI mentioned in an earlier blog my interview on the July 29 debut program of the Sales Lead Management Associations’ SLMA Radio, a series of regular talk show broadcasts touching on industry news and events and featuring interviews with industry experts. (Listen to the archive.)

My conversations with sales and marketing executives continually place sales and marketing alignment—and the lack of it—in a “top five” list of most-talked-about challenges, and I wanted to share with you comments on this topic from that interview.

Life is good when sales and marketing are fully aligned. The two organizations work in harmony on lead generation, lead qualification, lead nurturing and closing sales-ready buyers. Correctly deployed resources and effective processes just click, and they result in more sales, increased revenue and lower costs. Alignment heaven.

But when the two groups are out of sync, the path to alignment heaven takes that nasty detour south. Marketing complains that sales isn’t accepting its leads. Sales complains that marketing leads aren’t qualified. Marketing complains that sales doesn’t enter feedback in the lead database. Sales complains it doesn’t have time to nurture mid- and long-term sales prospects. “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” Yul Brynner might add.

While it would be easy to place blame and point fingers, neither marketing nor sales executives are really at fault as both groups have their own prudent self interests at heart. But the ongoing costs of non-alignment—inefficiencies, wasted dollars and lost sales—make it imperative that sales and marketing get on the same page as quickly as possible.

To that end, I propose a straightforward solution where sales and marketing can’t or won’t align on their own. Assuring sales and marketing alignment is grounded in the answers to the following three questions:

  1. What do sales and marketing need to agree on?
  2. How are agreement and alignment going to be assured?
  3. Who is going to assure agreement and alignment?

1. What do sales and marketing need to agree on?

At the very core, sales and marketing have to absolutely agree on four key points:

Lead definition and follow up actions

Sales and marketing must agree on lead definition and follow up actions based on these definitions. We see both lack of agreement on lead definitions as well as agreement on definitions but inconsistent follow up actions in handling leads. For example, Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) have been sent to sales with the belief that sales will accept them as Sales Accepted Leads (SALs), but sales allows them to languish unattended in a marketing/sales purgatory. And SiriusDecisions notes another purgatory inside sales when sales makes one or two contacts with SALs but discontinues action when they don’t quickly convert into Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). 

Market definition

Sales and marketing must agree on the criteria for defining the target market. If either sales or marketing thinks the market is larger than it really is, resources and dollars will be wasted chasing too many low-value prospects. If either marketing or sales thinks the market is smaller than it really is, opportunities are lost when appropriate high-value prospects are not uncovered and engaged.

Offer and messaging

Sales and marketing must agree on the focus for the offer as well as clear messaging for solutions and services. In the absence of agreement, marketing may believe the best offer is for one or more point solutions while sales is committed to selling an enterprise solution. This disconnect will wreak havoc on results.

Results measurement

Ongoing alignment must be measurable. For example, sales and marketing demonstrate great progress toward full alignment the closer the percentages of MQLs to SALs and MQLs to SQLs get to 100%. This means each step in the process needs to be measured and reported on regularly.

2. How are agreement and alignment going to be assured?

Organizations where sales and marketing have reached productive and profitable alignment are to be congratulated. It’s organizations where one of the following is occurring that I’m directing my comments:

  • Sales and marketing can’t align on their own.
  • Sales and marketing won’t align on their own.
  • There is an assumption that they are aligned, but they really aren’t.

How are agreement and alignment going to come to these organizations and become ingrained? Here’s what needs to happen: management needs to name a single, accountable person with mediation and arbitration skills who continually measures progress and takes action to make sure things are on track.

A single accountable person—Companies with unaligned sales and marketing groups need to have a single person responsible and accountable for agreement and alignment. In the absence of consensus, this person needs to step up, understand the real problems and take action. 

With mediation and arbitration skills—This person needs to have the expertise to broker and implement a consensus among sales and marketing stakeholders, a consensus that delivers agreement on and commitment to the four key points discussed above. In the absence of a consensus, this person needs to have the authority to make a decision and say, “This is the way it’s going to be.”

Who continually measures progress—This person has worked with all stakeholders to translate the four key points into measurable, no-wiggle-room objectives and to closely monitor weekly and monthly reporting.

And takes action to make sure things are on track—Assessing progress, strengths and limitations to make the tough calls needed to get things back on track, this person says, “Hey, I just want to make it clear. This wasn’t a suggestion. This was a mandate. So here’s what’s going to happen.”

3. Who is going to assure agreement and alignment?

You may be wondering, “Who’s going to do this, and what is the name of this person’s role or title?”

Taking on the question of role name first, I’ve put together a “top ten” list of what the role could be called. Be warned! The first few are tongue-in-cheek, but the list progresses toward and concludes with what feels like a workable solution.

10. Grand Poobah of Alignment

OK … more than tongue-in-cheek … patently absurd. Who could respect a role name that Fred Flintstone co-opted from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera?

9. Alignment Kingfish

Yes to implied leadership, but, again, way past irony. And there is the added risk of calling up Huey Long’s image. 

8. Alignment Wizard

While wizards possess significant skill sets, we require both more decorum in our role name search as well as a belief in management science over magic.

7. Alignment Guru

A guru brings wisdom, ethical guidance and recognizable leadership, but our search calls for more authority.

6. Alignment Chieftain notes this title conveys leadership but qualifies it by adding, “Among many peoples, chiefs have very little coercive authority and depend on community consensus for implementing recommendations.” Our search pushes us for a role name with attributes of power that go beyond consensus building.

5. Alignment Architect

The role we’re defining does include organizing and structuring, but we need the added elements of conflict resolution and the power to make binding decisions.

4. Alignment Strategist

We’re getting warmer, but—similar to “architect”—this role name lacks bite.

3. Alignment Czar

Czar has the feel of a freestanding or dedicated role—like an individual who has the sole title of “czar.” We’re looking, however, for the name of a role that can be added to an individual’s existing organizational title. Additionally, there can be a negative connotation about how the word has been used in political contexts.

2. Alignment Authority

Getting warmer. on authority: “the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes.” The downside is the sense that “authority” may convey the idea of an entity rather than an individual. We’re looking for a role name for the latter.

1. Alignment Arbiter

Finally! delivers a role name that matches our requirements with “arbiter”:

“A person empowered to decide matters at issue; judge; umpire.”

“A person who has the sole or absolute power of judging or determining.”

The Alignment Arbiter would work to reconcile sale’s and marketing’s points of view and arrive at a consensus on each of the four points discussed above. But in the absence of a consensus, the Alignment Arbiter would be empowered to arrive at a binding mandate to assure sales and marketing are on the same page in these four areas.

Who’s going to be the Alignment Arbiter? Unless sales and marketing executives can reach consensus on their own, accountability and responsibility for assuring alignment must be elevated to as high within the organization as is necessary to effect change. Accountability and responsibility for alignment therefore ultimately rest with C-level and other senior executives, one of whom will need to become the Alignment Arbiter to assure successful sales and marketing alignment.

What’s going on in this regard within your company? Have sales and marketing reached agreement and alignment on their own? Or have you turned to an Alignment Arbiter to settle differences and get everyone on the same page? If so, what executive is the Alignment Arbiter in your organization? I’d like to hear your comments.

Who should mediate when sales and marketing alignment issues get in the way of results (lack of common lead definition, fuzzy market definition, offer problems)? What level in the organization is required for successful alignment and what should this role be called? Alignment czar? Alignment arbiter?


By Dan McDade

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Topics: Lead Generation, Marketing & Sales Alignment, Lead Management

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