In most companies, marketing and sales are the growth-driving heroes. Both have a strong instinct for what customers want. Both have a direct impact on how much the company sells. And both pull from a lineage of best practices and insight on how to generate more interest and close more deals for more revenue. But in most companies, there is often a misalignment between marketing and sales.

‘Misaligned’ is one of those corporate-speak diagnostic words we might use to describe broken strategies, teams, or mandates. It’s a tidy way of expressing deep frustration — the kind of dysfunction that crops up daily to impede our work. And nothing amplifies misalignment like massive, rapid change.

A closer look at Marketing-Sales misalignment

Marketing-Sales MisalignmentPrior to the digital-age, prospects would go straight from an advertisement to a sales call. But now, advertising sends interested prospects to a website. Sales no longer has the first handshake. Marketing does. We do more work at the top of the funnel before the hand-off, educating and ‘warming’ the leads, helping them refine their understanding of what they need so that when a sales rep gets in touch, the prospect is that much more galvanized in their interest.

But if sales perceives most of what they get from marketing as junk — and doesn’t follow up once marketing hands-off those leads — we invalidate the trust earned by the brand (and the money it took to build it). Marketing has spent time and money prepping for a sales conversation that never happened. Why bother catering to the buyer journey — learning to reflect buyer needs and concerns, anticipating their questions, customizing our approach based on role or industry — if the sales team perceives marketing leads as ‘of dubious quality’, causing them to not take prospective buyers seriously?

This is the crux of the marketing-sales misalignment. Fundamentally, sales doesn’t always understand how marketing brings value, or drives revenue. The dysfunction affects both teams, making them sluggish, slow to respond, and chronically at-odds when both would rather be — and could be — in a state of flow.

The narrative of sales as a lone wolf may momentarily explain the frustration. Marketing may say: No matter what we send them or how good it is, they’ll still just go off on their own. But it’s a crutch to think that way. It perpetuates the dysfunction. It doesn’t pay enough attention to why sales feels this way: 

  • Marketing sends crappy leads not worth my time.
  • An email address is not a lead.
  • I don’t care how good marketing thinks the leads are. I just need more of them — a higher volume, and then I’ll sift through them myself to chase the ones *I* decide are good.
  • My livelihood depends on closing revenue. I have no time for speculation.
  • I do not get paid to sit with marketing and try to explain what I need. Especially when they won’t really listen anyway.
  • Marketers are on-salary. They can’t begin to grasp the pressure we’re under.

To make marketing better, we begin by not turning away from the daily realities and pressures of sales reps. They don’t choose to feel this way. Their experience with junk leads has earned their short-cutting around them. If we don’t begin here — if we lean on the lone-wolf narrative, why should any company invest any money in marketing at all? Why should a company spend millions of dollars on marketing if sales is going to disregard their output anyway?

Clearly, the path to mutual understanding is more nuanced than that.

We would all agree in marketing’s inherent value as a multiplier of sales’ efforts. Awareness helps. Great storytelling, PR, and a high-appeal brand all help. Tailored, excellent content helps. It all feeds the kind of lead generation sales needs to succeed. But at the same time, marketing’s inherent value is difficult to quantify. Sales may say: We just spent a bunch of money on fonts. While I’m out here digging ditches, taking fire in the trenches, they’ve redesigned the flag for our nation. So what. That way of thinking is a crutch, too. 

When one team disbelieves in the value of another, collaboration is impossible. Walls go up.

I’m a marketer, so you could say I’m writing this from a marketer’s perspective. But it’s not just my team that’s affected by the marketing-sales misalignment. When sales doesn’t allow our work to be relevant — for marketing to bring value by cooperating, sharing what they know and need — sales suffers too. They remain self-marooned, immobilized and spinning their wheels in a state of cemented non-cooperation.

It’s fundamentally demoralizing to feel this way about your partner. And marketers work hard. It’s painful for us to hear objections from sales through an impenetrable wall. How can we break through? 

Can we align with sales for the benefit of all despite a mutual legacy of misunderstanding?

Changing the culture of the relationship between Marketing and Sales can feel like an overwhelming task. We can feel pretty cemented in our perception of the problems inherent to the ‘other’, and protective of our turf. So where to begin? As is the case with every entrenched challenge, we start with small steps that change how we show up.

The to-do list: Tactical shifts to build trust and eliminate Marketing and Sales misalignment

  1. Start listening. Always respect the time of sales reps, and be appreciative of the pressure they’re under every quarter. There’s no need to call team-wide kumbayas of a dozen people when you could have informal touch-base meetings with one or two. Prioritize flow and movement.
  2. Lead collaborative, relationship-building meetings with sales by answering the fundamental question they are absolutely justified to ask: “What’s in it for me? Why should I spend my time here instead of on sales calls?”
  3. Next, make sure to say: “We’re going to keep this brief and only ask you the important questions.” Live up to that promise by limiting the length and complexity of meetings or conversations. Be explicit about valuing and appreciating their time and input.
  4. Acknowledge reality. If sales thinks the leads you’re sending them are not worthwhile, make sure they know you care about that. Don’t be defensive. Listen to what they have to say.
  5. Where is the low-hanging fruit in terms of the sales reps? Strike a balance between the rock stars — you’ll need their instincts — and the people most likely to be engaged and willing to help. Compile a list to undergo a pilot collaboration with reps who are either already successful, or who are driven to be more successful.
  6. Ask questions and capture it all, keeping an open mind. Too often, we probe into challenges with an already pre-set notion of what those challenges are. This causes us to explore only until we get a piece of evidence for our already-existing assumptions. Then we stop. Instead, keep asking better and better questions until you hit something unexpected, or that hasn’t been expressed before. Rather than seeking confirmation of the current reality, seek out complexity. Ask: “Who do you want to talk to? What does the perfect lead look like? What’s their title, industry, company size, state of readiness? And what causes you to reject a lead?” The answers, compiled, will serve as the foundation of your lead scoring initially and lead management system longer term. As soon as sales starts seeing more leads that reflect this ideal, they’ll begin to trust the process. This is a golden moment.
  7. In lead management, marketing’s goal is to cut the number of leads we send to sales in half — while doubling the quality. Make this clear from the get-go, as this is a big shift. Don’t be alarmed by the number of leads dropping. Be encouraged. Help sales people understand how a smaller number of higher-quality (ready-to-buy) leads  would affect their whole approach to their work, and their results. Prepare them for volume going down so they’re not sideswiped by it — and make sure they know their input will directly define what ‘good quality’ means going forward.
  8. Collaboration isn’t a one-time project. Think of it more as integration. Send marketing operations to join in on regular sales meetings. Hear all their pain points. Iterate the system to make a difference — and make sure they know you’re iterating. 

With alignment, sales’s knowledge becomes actionable feedback rather than a barrage of complaints. Marketing can listen, adapt, and course-correct. If we work together, sales will no longer have to hunt for cold leads on their own. With alignment, sales will talk to people who are interested and ready to buy. This is what we all want. This is ease for everyone.

In the digital world, buyers enjoy exponentially growing autonomy and control. It is mission-critical to establish trust, as always, but with so much noise and so many choices for every prospect, the funnel has shifted.

Sales still builds trust one-to-one. But before that one-to-one contact, the brand, as conceived and delivered by marketers, warms the room. In the digital world, the impact of marketing’s brand staging can’t be understated. More than ever, in these digital times, we’re in this together.

Rather than reflect on the barriers in the way — on the dysfunction and lack of flow — imagine what it would feel like for every revenue-influencing person in the company to be aligned. Collaborative, supported, appreciated. Imagine.