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Four Steps to Better Alignment Between Marketing and Sales


A couple years ago I posed the question, “Do you have crappy engineering leads or lazy sales people?”  Since then, alignment between sales and marketing has gotten better, but we still hear sales people saying,   “The leads we get from marketing aren’t leads at all. They’re just a bunch of people who have filled out a form to get a white paper.  It’s a waste of time to call them.”

Even if your marketing team is doing a better job of qualifying leads than they used to, the sales team may still be discounting them.  That hurts.   How badly?  Well, according to the consulting firm Sirius Decisions, organizations with tighter alignment between sales and marketing achieved 24% faster revenue growth over a three-year period.

So how do you get better alignment? One place to start is by meeting with the leaders in your company to get sales and marketing to agree on a number of key criteria.  Here’s what you need to get agreement on:

Step one – Agree on Your Target Customers

The first and most important thing is to agree on what is a lead.  Many marketers don’t understand clearly what makes a good prospect for their sales teams.  At the very least you should agree on:

  • What industry (ies)
  • What sizes of company / stage of development
  • Which geographies
  • What roles within those companies are the most likely to influence a purchase
  • What specific needs / problems are they trying to solve?

Step two – Agree on When to Pass a Lead to Sales

The next set of criteria to negotiate is what stage of the buying cycle constitutes a lead that should go to the sales team.  Increasingly, the responsibility for nurturing falls on marketing.   That may be why 38% of engineering marketers say they are getting more budget in 2016 as compared to 2015.  But having more budget is a two-edged sword.  As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben might say, “With greater budget comes greater responsibility.”

For example, one of our customers told me that their sales team does not value “web leads”, as the conversion rate was too low.  The reason that these leads were poor quality was not because they were digital, it was because they hadn’t been properly qualified. 

The sales team was right.  These leads weren’t ready to engage in a sales process. To build successful customers, the marketing team had to accept responsibility to nurture them further.  Management expectations have changed.  They now expect the marketing teams to cover more of the sales process than in prior years.

This is the case for many engineering marketers due to an oft-quoted change in the traditional buying funnel:



Source: Marketo


Step Three: Agree on What Will Happen to Every Lead

This is an important requirement to build accountability and trust.  If sales can rightly request that the marketing team delivers leads that meet certain criteria, the marketers in return need confidence that those leads will be pursued on a timely basis.  Specifically, you need to decide:

  1. Where do the leads go? To individual sales reps? To an outbound call center for further qualification? With this information in hand, you can design a smooth process to ensure that leads don’t get lost in the shuffle.
  2. When will the leads be acted upon? Sooner is always better.  Extracting a promise from the sales team will result in a higher conversion rate. 
  3. How will marketing hear about the successes and failures? Is there an integrated marketing and sales automation system?  Do you need to connect your marketing automation system to your CRM?  That’s often not as tough a job as it sounds, and is usually very worthwhile. In smaller companies, you might be able to do it without involving IT.

Step Four: Agree on your Goals and Metrics

If your mutual goal is revenue, decide on what part of the process that marketing will be measured on.  In the Engineering Marketers’ 2016 Survey, we found that the top priority for marketers in 2016 is sales qualified lead generation.




To get better alignment, you need to go further to understand how many leads you need to deliver to help the sales team achieve their sales goals.  And you need to agree on the level of qualification of those leads.  If you have lead scoring (and I’m sure you do!), a minimum score may be the best way to confirm qualification.

In summary, better alignment comes from sales and marketing working together to gain agreement on:

  1. Which prospects Marketing will target
  2. What stage in the buying cycle is appropriate for a hand-off to Sales
  3. What Sales will do with those leads and when
  4. Mutual goals and metrics

Please help us learn from each other by sharing in the comments section the practices used at your company and the challenges you are facing.



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