Marketing and sales teams are famously frenemies. They share common goals—driving revenue for their company—but poor communication regularly gets in the way of these two teams working together. Sales and marketing alignment is no small task, but it’s not a mystery. We know what causes misalignment:
- No shared understanding around who we’re trying to reach.
- Inconsistent methods of measuring success.
- Poorly integrated tech that doesn’t support simple handoffs.
- Frequently assigning blame but rarely sharing credit for revenue results.
- Real or imagined cultural clashes (“Marketers are mired in process and research.” “Sales only cares about hitting targets, by any means necessary.”).
- And, sometimes, a lack of trust and personal relationships.
We also know there are concrete steps every team can take to get back on the same page. Read on to learn how manageable tasks like documenting buyer personas, developing a lead scoring system, and improving tech integrations can achieve the impossible: sales and marketing working together.
Sales and Marketing Best Practices: Why Work Together?
The “marketing vs. sales” challenge is a tale as old as B2B time. It’s always been a problem—but in the modern, multichannel, digital-first era of B2B buying, this misalignment puts customer experience at risk.
Today’s buyers are more reliant on digital information to move them along their journey. Research from Gartner shows that buyers only spend 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers—that’s all suppliers, not just the winning solution. The majority of their buying journey hours are now spent on independent research.
And the B2B buying journey is no longer a linear progression from marketing to sales, with one point of handoff along the way. Buyers are likely bouncing from digital channels to 1:1 sales conversations and back again as they learn about possible solutions, evaluate their options, and work with internal buying committees.
When sales and marketing teams aren’t aligned, those buyers can feel whiplash as they progress through their customer journey. And the teams themselves will have a more difficult time meeting their goals and doing their best work.
Given this new normal, it’s more important than ever that sales and marketing teams work well together. It’s no longer about smoothing a one-time handoff—it’s about ongoing collaboration that delivers a seamless experience.
How sales and marketing teams are (usually) structured
Let’s start at the beginning: how marketing and sales teams are structured. Every organization will have their own approach based on their size, growth stage, and goals, but these basic functions are common across most B2B companies.
Marketing teams usually include:
- Demand generation marketers who are responsible for generating and nurturing new leads.
- Content marketers who strategically produce content across the lifecycle (including sales enablement materials).
- Marketing operations specialists (MOPS) who manage the technology and processes that support marketing (like a marketing automation platform).
- Product marketers who develop go-to-market strategies and positioning.
Marketing teams can include many more roles, like SEO specialists, PR pros, creatives, and brand marketers, but the above teams tend to be the most intertwined with sales functions.
Sales teams usually include:
- Business development representatives, or BDRs, who conduct outbound prospecting or do cold outreach to generate new leads.
- Sales development reps, or SDRs, who vet inbound leads (in other words, leads generated by marketing) with early conversations, usually with the goal of scheduling meetings for senior salespeople.
- Account executives, or AEs, who work with prospective buyers through the final stages of their journey and, ideally, close deals and manage ongoing customer relationships.
- Sales operations specialists who manage the technology and processes that support sales (like a CRM).
Sometimes, SDRs will report into marketing, because they’re working closely with marketing-generated leads. Occasionally, BDRs will report into marketing, because they’re responsible for generating new leads. Sometimes one operations specialist supports both sales and marketing. But usually, these groups are separated into different parts of the org chart, eventually laddering up to the CEO.
That’s where misalignment and miscommunication starts—but not where it ends.
How silos form and tensions build between marketing and sales
We all know what the finger-pointing sounds like when an organization doesn’t meet its revenue goals.
“Sales doesn’t follow up—we worked hard to get those leads!”
“Marketing keeps sending us all these worthless leads—and keeps wasting our time!”
These are incredibly common scenarios. Research from Gartner shows that sales teams typically believe only 44% of MQLs are actually promising. That’s a big problem, because that means one of two things: marketers are wasting a lot of time generating the wrong kinds of leads, or sales has a skewed idea of what “promising leads” should look like.
For two teams with such closely related big-picture goals, there’s often a huge disconnect around what makes a “good lead”, and when best to engage them in one-on-one sales conversations.
This primarily happens when marketing and sales teams lack alignment around:
- Their target audience—who are we trying to reach?
- Their metrics and definitions—what’s an SQL, anyway?
- Their technology and processes—how do our systems talk to each other?
Misalignment also happens when there’s an overall lack of communication, respect, and clear responsibilities. That often comes from the top—when sales and marketing leaders are dealing with office politics, power struggles, and fighting over budgets, their downstream teams tend to lack the organizational support needed to foster healthy collaboration. And when these teams are siloed, it’s easy for common stereotypes around the clashing personalities of sales and marketing professionals to set the narrative.
The costs of poor sales and marketing collaboration
When this constant blame game and lack of collaboration is the norm, not only is the work environment less pleasant, the organization suffers. Poorly aligned sales and marketing teams don’t learn from each other, missing the chance to improve their messaging and talking tracks. Teams waste time on generating, nurturing, and talking with the wrong leads. Leaders develop inaccurate forecasts based on inconsistent metrics. And buyers miss out on a cohesive customer experience.
That’s enough of the negatives. In the next piece in this series, we’ll pivot to how to solve some of these thorny alignment problems through clear planning and strategy.