How to Align Sales and Marketing on Strategy

If you need to know how to align sales and marketing on a common strategy, check out this second part of our series on revenue collaboration.
Article Outline

In our last piece in this series, we talked about the downsides of sales and marketing misalignment. Enough of that! Let’s talk about how to align sales and marketing on a common strategy. We’ll cover topics like defining a target audience, setting shared metrics and definitions, and buttoning up technology and processes.

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Read on to learn how working together for a common goal can align sales and marketing teams.

How to align sales and marketing on ideal customer profiles and buyer personas

If you don’t already have a well-documented ideal customer profile (ICP) and easily accessible buyer personas, then your sales and marketing teams could be on radically different pages about who you’re all actually trying to reach. (And if you do have them, consider revisiting them on a regular basis to address and changes in strategy—and to keep them top-of-mind for all teams.)

Develop your ICP

Your ICP describes the firmographic details of the type of company you agree would be the best fit for your product or service. Industry, size, revenue—these are all quantitative data points that can inform your ICP. Align marketing and sales on your ICP to deliver a shared understanding of what kinds of leads you want to prioritize. Startups or enterprise orgs? Financial services or SaaS companies? 

Developing and documenting your ICP doesn’t mean you’ll only sell to or target one type of customer. But it helps every team prioritize their work and their budgets, and get better at their jobs. 

  • BDRs can better prioritize their time when prospecting or conducting cold outreach.
  • Demand gen marketers can strategically plan ad spend for targeted campaigns. 
  • Content marketers can determine what kinds of case studies resonate, and produce more of them. 
  • SDRs can become more adept and efficient in qualifying conversations.

With an ICP in place, you know the kind of companies you want to target. Then, you can narrow in on the individuals within those organizations with buyer personas.

Buyer personas

If an ICP describes a company, a buyer persona describes an individual working at that company—your actual human buyer. And your sales and marketing team should consider your buyer personas their best imaginary friends.

Buyer personas are fictional composites of your ideal customers, with details that make them feel real for your team. When done right, buyer personas are developed with market research, first hand experience, and customer listening—making them the ideal group project for marketing and sales teams. Marketers can provide industry research while salespeople can share insights from their daily conversations with actual buyers. 

Buyer personas usually include things like: 

  • Fictionalized name and biography
  • Demographics (gender, location, job title, experience level, etc.)
  • Behavioral traits (including how they like to research and solve problems)
  • Interests (what they care about, both inside and outside of work)
  • Needs (what’s missing and what movitates them in their professional lives)
  • Pain points (what stresses them out, keeps them up at night or gives them a headache every morning)

Most organizations have multiple personas, especially for products where purchasing decisions are shared among a team or committee. For example, you may have an executive decision-maker and an individual product user at the same company with significantly different motivators and pain points. 

Sales and marketing teams can use buyer personas to tailor content, conversations, and overall messaging. When a blog post or piece of sales collateral is crafted with a specific buyer persona in mind, it should make your buyer feel as though you understand them, you know their pain points, and you probably have the solution to their problem. 

How to align sales and marketing on goals, metrics, and definitions

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Not sure how to align sales and marketing? Get in step around key strategic elements first.

Even if marketing and sales teams are perfectly aligned on their ICP and buyer personas, that doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing throughout the buying journey. Everyone needs to be speaking the same language and tracking the same metrics as leads are generated, nurtured, and progressed throughout the shared marketing sales funnel. 

Define MQLs and SQLs together

In most B2B companies, sales and marketing teams measure success not just by how many deals they close or new customers they acquire, but by the number of MQLs (marketing qualified leads), SALs (sales accepted leads) and/or SQLs (sales qualified leads) they generate each month or quarter. 

Revenue goals—and often individual bonuses—depend on outcomes like:

  • Demand gen marketers generating a minimum number of MQLs
  • Marketing teams handing off a certain amount of SQLs to the sales team
  • SDRs following up with SALs within a certain timeframe

But often, sales and marketing teams don’t have a shared understanding of what constitutes an MQL, SAL, or SQL in the first place. So when overall revenue targets are missed, it becomes a hot topic of debate about who dropped the ball. That’s when you hear accusations about marketing handing off too few (or too many low-quality) leads, or sales failing to follow up on the leads generated by marketing.

Blame gets assigned, but without a shared vocabulary, actually solving problems and improving performance is nearly impossible. So it’s imperative for sales and marketing teams to get in the same room, get granular, and nail down what defines a lead at every stage of the funnel. 

To give you a head start, here’s the functional overview of each type of lead—and how they can be defined in detail: 

Marketing qualified leads (MQLs)

MQLs are leads that the marketing team considers worthy of attention. You need to gather some specific level of information to assign this status, and this is where you can get down to brass tacks with sales: is first name and email enough to constitute an MQL? Or do you need the company name? What about company size? Do you want to exclude leads based on undesirable attributes, like belonging to an industry far outside your ICP, or using a email? 

Sales accepted leads (SALs)

SALs are sales accepted leads, or MQLs that the sales team has received from marketing and considers warm and relevant enough to spend time on. Get agreement on what that means: Has an SDR initiated a conversation? Confirmed the lead is actually employed at a relevant company? Do they need to be in a specific role to be considered an SAL?

Finally, SQLs are leads that have been thoroughly vetted by the sales team and everyone agrees they have a good chance of becoming a customer. Again, define what this means: maybe they’ve had a 1:1 conversation with an SDR. Maybe their role, company size, and current buying intentions have been confirmed over email. 

One caveat here: not every company includes SALs in their processes, and that’s fine. If your organization wants to go directly to SQLs, it doesn’t really matter. The whole point is that everyone agrees on what threshold a lead needs to meet in order to progress to the next stage.

When marketing and sales teams agree on these granular definitions, it helps everyone avoid wasting time on leads that aren’t likely to become customers. It helps your marketing team know what information to prioritize on dynamic forms, and build effective progressive profiling. It makes reporting much easier. And it removes excuses for failing to follow up on good leads.

Sales and Marketing in Action: Progressive Profiling

Progressive profiling allows full-service agency The Marketing Guys to prioritize and capture the most relevant information about leads during webinar registrations. Marketers use that data to refine future engagement and the sales team has visibility to tailor conversations. 

Of course, the quality of a lead isn’t just based around what company they work for or what their title is. To really improve your lead quality, you need to look at behavioral signals that indicate how interested they are in buying your product—so you know when to nurture, when to have a conversation, and how to keep the buyer moving in the right direction. 

Enter lead scoring.

How to use lead scoring to align sales and marketing

There’s no single, uniform point when a lead is ready to go from marketing to sales. It all depends on your buying journey, the complexity of your product, the number of people involved in decision-making, and the preferences of your audience. Plus, that “hand-off” to sales might be more of a back-and-forth along the course of today’s non-linear buying journey. 

That’s where lead scoring can be immensely useful to keep sales and marketing teams aligned—and to automate a time-consuming process. 

Lead scoring is a quantitative framework you can use to rank and prioritize leads based on their actions and characteristics. Demographics like job title and company size, as well as behaviors like visiting certain webpages or downloading specific content, are assigned points—based on a hierarchy the sales and marketing team develop together.

For example, if a prospect checks out your pricing page, that’s a good sign they’re interested in buying your product—and it warrants a high score. But if another lead visits your careers page, that means they may be more likely to apply for a job than buy your product—so they might receive a low or even negative score. 

Your sales and marketing team should sit down together and develop the prioritization and scoring of all the different kinds of behaviors prospects can take. Then, you can determine what the total score would be to prompt a movement from lead to MQL, then MQL to SAL. You might decide that certain behaviors, like requesting a demo or starting a free trial, should catapult a lead directly into SAL territory. Over time, smaller indicators like reading case studies, attending webinars, and downloading a comparison guide could add up together to move a lead to the next stage of their buyer’s journey. 

Again, there’s no clear-cut answer on when a lead is ready to move from nurture campaigns to one-on-one conversations. That’s only for your sales and marketing team to decide—together. 

Sales and Marketing in Action: Lead Scoring

The sales and marketing teams at cloud services provider automatically score lead behaviors along the customer lifecycle. Marketers use lead scoring to segment and nurture prospects, and then escalate leads to SQL status once a certain threshold is met—triggering a notification to the sales team within their Microsoft Dynamics CRM. 

Once your lead definitions and scoring system are agreed-upon and documented, it’s time to put them into practice. And for most teams, that means integrating your technology.

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