Technology & Sales-Marketing Alignment

Quick Hits

  • Companies without an SMA strategy are missing out on up to 91% of their potential ROI
  • Misalignment between sales and marketing teams costs B2B companies 10% of their revenue every year
  • The average ROI on CRM software is 871%
  • 65% of companies that updated their personas within the last six months exceeded their lead and revenue goals
  • Companies with a strong ICP win 68% more accounts
  • Marketers using automation software report 80% more leads

Sales and marketing alignment (also called SMA or “smarketing”) is the concept of ensuring that your sales department and marketing department are actively communicating, sharing goals and data, and generally aligning their priorities. On paper, this seems like an easy goal — both departments are working for the same company and have the company’s best interests in mind. In reality, getting the two departments to cooperate is easier said than done.

This failure to align goals can be incredibly costly for your company. Consider the following statistics: 

The solution, generally speaking, is communication. In this pillar, we’ll explore how the two departments can be aligned and — more importantly — how technology can make a difference.

Chapter One: Using Technology to Facilitate Alignment

The first step is to build a foundation of technology that will allow your two departments to be transparent and communicate easily with each other. Every company’s exact needs will be unique, but there are some fundamental components you should be keeping in mind:

Shared Digital Assets 

Your sales and marketing departments both rely on digital assets to send to leads and customers, so it makes sense to share the materials you’ve built in such a way that both departments can use them.

Nonetheless, many companies leave each department to its own devices, forcing them to come up with their own unique collateral. At best, this is a waste of time — many of the same materials will be useful in both sales and marketing contexts, so creating them twice isn’t a good use of resources. At worst, two separate sets of digital assets can actually work against each other. When collateral creation isn’t unified, it’s easy to end up with dozens of versions of the same sales materials, some of which aren’t legally compliant or up to date, leading to unrealistic expectations.

Marketing Automation Tools

Automation tools are indispensable for tracking both demographics and user behavior, both of which can help you define a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) or sales-qualified lead (SQL). Based on the data you gather on a specific web visitor or group of people, you can set up lead scoring, workflows for identifying the stage of the buyer’s journey, and other useful metrics.

Once the lead has reached a certain score, they can be handed off to the sales department, who will then be able to see exactly what steps the prospect has taken so far and tailor their sales approach accordingly. If you’re not sharing this information, sales might be receiving leads with no idea what brought them to the company in the first place. They’ll be forced to engage this new lead with a completely generic, unpersonalized approach, leading to lower conversion rates.

Unified CRM Usage

A CRM (customer relationship management) system is one of the most important tools available to any modern company. With a good CRM, you can track the individual characteristics and communications of every customer in your system, allowing you to tailor your marketing and sales approach depending on who they are, where they’re from, their job title, which ads they’ve clicked on, which materials they’ve downloaded, which emails they’ve opened, and more.

It’s essential that both sales and marketing departments have access to the same CRM. It’s even more essential that everyone in both departments makes a strong effort toward transparency and visibility in this area.

The average return on investment for a
CRM is $8.71 per dollar spent”
image: stylized “$8.71 per $1 spent.

Icons of money bags next to a stack of coins in front of a graph with a upward sloping line

A good CRM can facilitate communication between departments, allowing team members from the start to the finish of the buying process to add and change relevant information, but only if everyone is committed to using it properly. We’ve worked with several clients that have all the right technological tools, but whose employees are still using other systems and lower-tech workarounds like spreadsheets.

If data isn’t added to the CRM, analytics will inevitably be insufficient. Sales teams won’t be able to communicate what approaches they took with certain customers, which means marketing teams won’t be able to make informed decisions about how to alter their strategy. Marketers need to know which efforts are leading to successful sales and which aren’t — without unified data and communication, they can’t do that.

Chapter Two: Building a Service Level Agreement

A service-level agreement (SLA) is the core of any SMA strategy. Essentially, it’s a document that spells out the exact responsibilities of the sales and marketing departments with respect to turning strangers into customers. It’s crucial that any SLA be a written agreement — you need a paper trail to ensure that everyone is in agreement about their responsibilities. 

On the other hand, it’s important that your SLA is a living document. Marketing and sales are fluid, unpredictable realms — as you gather data and gain experience in various techniques, you’ll need to adapt your approach and change your SLA accordingly. Here’s what you need to get started on your own SLA.

Establish Joint SMART Goals

SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely. The intention of the goals you set out in your SLA is that they’ll offer not only a clear picture of where you want the two departments (and the company at large) to be in the near future but how to get there. Goals might include “sign five new large clients by the end of the year” or “increase lead volume by 10% in the next quarter.”

Technology can play a major role in helping you set goals. You don’t want goals to be too achievable because you’ll hit them immediately and lose momentum. You also don’t want them to be too difficult — employees who consistently fail to hit targets will lose morale. By examining your past company data, sales numbers, seasonal spikes, industry trends, and even individual employee performance, you can find goals that are achievable but challenging.

Importantly, your SMART goals do not delineate the individual responsibilities of the sales and marketing teams — they simply offer company-level objectives that both teams will play a role in achieving.

Define MQLs and SQLs

To properly delegate responsibility, you’ll need to have very clear definitions of what constitutes a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) or a sales-qualified lead (SQL). These definitions will be extremely subjective from one organization to the next, but they might take into consideration demographic and behavioral information like:

  • Customer age
  • Location
  • Salary
  • Job description
  • Company size
  • Purchase history
  • Materials downloaded
  • Pages visited
  • Emails opened
  • Social engagement

Again, there’s no universal definition of an MQL or SQL, but you need to find one that makes sense for your particular company or product.

Generally, there’s a progression from MQLs to SQLs. If a person visits a website and signs up for the newsletter, they’ve checked all the boxes to become an MQL. It’s not until they download a whitepaper, ask for a quote, or watch a product demonstration webinar that they become an SQL for the sales team to actively pursue.

Once again, your existing customer data and analytics tools are your most powerful asset. Comb through previous leads, both those that converted and those that didn’t, and look for commonalities and patterns. Ask your sales team, too — are there particular types of customers that simply weren’t ready for the sales pitch? Was there additional information that might have swayed them?

By defining these two types of leads, you enable a smoother handoff between departments (more on that in a moment). Marketers know exactly when to hand off to sales, and salespeople can be confident that incoming SQLs are ready to talk.

Determine Lead Handoff Criteria

There’s no single moment that a prospective customer goes from browsing to actively interested to “ready to buy,” but you’ll need to establish internal criteria for when your marketing team cedes responsibility to your sales team.

Often, this process is handled with lead scoring. Lead scoring is simply the process of assigning a number to a given characteristic of a lead, then adding them up to see which leads are most likely to convert. You might assign points based on a lead’s job title, the size of their company, their annual revenue, or the industry they’re in. For B2C contexts, you can assign values to their purchase history or similar interests. 

Lead scoring also typically includes actions like purchase history, downloads, opening emails, and asking for quotes. Lead scoring includes negative scores, too — there are some prospects who might be interested in what you’re offering but aren’t worth your time to pursue.

Lead scoring manually would be arduous at best and impossible at worst, depending on volume. Luckily, your existing technology can be a huge help. A good CRM can not only fill in relevant information by scraping public profiles like LinkedIn, but it can then automatically assign lead scores to each prospect based on the criteria you define. 

The lead scoring criteria for marketers and salespeople don’t need to be the same, but you should be tracking them simultaneously. When a lead reaches the right score, your marketing staff knows immediately that it’s time for the sales team to take over.

Define the Sales Process

One of the largest sources of tension between marketers and salespeople is what happens after the handoff. As marketers see it, they’re handing over dozens of high-quality leads to the sales team, but the company still isn’t hitting its targets. Marketers have a tendency to blame salespeople for failing to close properly. But just as it’s crucial to spell out MQL requirements to place clear expectations on the marketing team, you need to lay out clear expectations for the sales team.

To facilitate this, your SLA should include a clear definition of the sales process. This should include the stages of a sale, the number of contacts the sales team is expected to make, the timing of these contacts, any materials the sales team should provide to prospects, and anything else you think is important.

Agree on KPIs

Finally, your sales and marketing teams need to be in sync with each other regarding the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you’ll use to measure success. These are similar to the SMART goals mentioned above, but more granular and specific. They might include the number of MQLs generated by marketing materials, the number of SQLs handed off to the sales team, the conversion rate of those SQLs, or a lead-to-conversion ratio. These KPIs will change over time, but the important thing is that both teams are in agreement as to what’s realistic.

Chapter Three: Using Technology to Find Better Leads

While it’s true that lead volume is a valuable goal, the quality of your leads is arguably more important. The math is straightforward: doubling your conversion rate by bringing in higher-quality leads will have just as strong an impact on your bottom line as doubling your total lead volume. The difference is that there’s an inevitable diminishing return to focusing on lead volume — your target market is finite, and eventually, you’ll run out of people to pursue.

Instead, leverage your technological tools to raise the quality of the leads you bring in. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to pursue different people entirely, though that’s a factor — if you sell enterprise-level solutions, small businesses may not be worth your time. Instead, lead quality often comes down to the way you approach prospects in order to maximize their likelihood of converting. 

Create Detailed Buyer Personas

If your organization hasn’t established detailed buyer personas, now is the time to start. A buyer persona (or a few of them, depending on the diversity of your offerings) is one of the most powerful tools your business can create and use to bring in the right customers and avoid the wrong ones.

Pie chart with 60% being coral and 30% being gray

65% of companies that updated their
personas within the last six months
exceeded their lead and revenue goals.

Essentially, a buyer persona is an idealized version of your perfect customer. Internally, it often takes the form of a character like “CEO Charlie,” complete with name and cartoon portrait, but this is just for shorthand purposes. What’s more important is that you spell out exactly what the perfect customer looks like, using whichever criteria matter most to your organization, for example, you might say that your perfect customer:

  • Lives within 50 miles of your office
  • Uses social media platforms at least once a day
  • Has an income of at least $100,000
  • Commutes by car
  • Eats out at least once a week

A typical buyer persona will contain much more detail than the above bullet points and can even include somewhat ephemeral characteristics like a customer’s risk tolerance or eagerness to adopt new technology. Keep in mind that you may never find a customer who checks every box — in fact, that’s sort of the point. A buyer persona isn’t a realistic customer profile, it’s a yardstick against which other prospects are judged.

Some of the characteristics of your buyer persona will be easy to intuit. You don’t need advanced data analytics to specify the location, industry, or budget of your ideal customer, for example. But your CRM and other technology can be a huge help in narrowing down the more specific criteria that you’re looking for. 

Create a Detailed ICP

An ideal customer profile (ICP) is very similar to a buyer persona, but there are some differences worth noting. A buyer persona tends to focus on the characteristics of an individual, while an ICP is more about the company as a whole. As a result, B2C companies tend to lean on buyer personas, while B2B companies rely more on their ICPs. However, both profiling tools can be useful for both types of business. ICPs might include:

  • Budget/revenue: how much revenue does a company need to afford your services?
  • Company size: how many people should the company employ? A startup might bring in millions of dollars, but if they only employ 10 people, they might not want your advanced HR software.
  • Industry: are there particular verticals that your product is best suited for? Consider parallel verticals, too — if you’re targeting bike manufacturers, bike retailers might also be relevant.
  • Location: if your business is completely digital and cloud-based, location might not seem relevant, but it’s worth considering time zones, language barriers, and potential legal issues with doing business in other states or countries.
  • Compatibility with existing systems: your product might need to be integrated with a VoIP phone system or a particular piece of software. If your ICP doesn’t have the right tools, they likely aren’t worth pursuing.
  • Particulars of internal corporate structure: do you want to work with companies that already have an IT department or companies that don’t have any internal IT staff?

Once you identify companies that fit your ICP, you can start looking for the individual decision-makers at those companies. That’s where a buyer persona comes into play — you might want to contact someone at the company with a particular job title who’s in charge of software purchasing. You could also take another tack and focus on the people at the company who will eventually be the end-users of your product in the hopes that they’ll see the appeal and run it up the ladder.

Your CRM and other analytics technology should play a significant role in building both your buyer personas and ICPs. Look through your existing database for characteristics that your best customers have in common. Consider which customers have stayed the longest, renewed the quickest, or made the most repeat purchases — these are the customers you want more of. 

Finding the Right Prospects

Once you’ve determined what the perfect customer or company looks like, you can use the technology at your disposal to find those customers. For individual customers and decision-makers at B2B prospect companies, social media is the perfect tool. Every major social platform allows you to target your marketing and advertising to people with the characteristics you select, so take advantage of those targeting tools.

The Power of ABM Targeting

Account-based marketing (ABM) isn’t a new idea, but it’s been given a significant boost in popularity in recent years thanks to technology that makes it much easier and more powerful. The basic idea behind ABM is that rather than sending out marketing materials and then nurturing the leads that come in, your organization chooses particular organizations you’d like to work with and creates tailored marketing campaigns for those accounts.

To get started, a tool like HubSpot or SEMRush can help you find companies that fit your ICP, allowing you to select the vertical, company size, and other criteria. Once you’ve identified the company, tools like Apollo and LinkedIn’s advanced search can find the individual decision-makers at those companies so you can direct your messaging toward them directly. Don’t forget to integrate any ABM efforts into your CRM so you can track lead scoring and nurturing progress, then hand them off to the sales team when the time comes.

Companies with a strong ICP win 68%
more accounts.

Bar chart with a gray bar labeled "Without ICP" being half the size of a coral colored bar labeled "With ICP"

Chapter Four: Using Technology to Nurture Leads

Your CRM is at the core of your lead nurturing process — every part of the progress you make, every point of contact with a customer, and every communication back and forth should be catalogued in your CRM so you can track them.

A CRM will also help you broaden the picture of your prospect. When you first generate a lead through your website, you might have no more than an email address to work from. But thanks to the prevalence of public data on social media sites, that email address can open doors to a wealth of other information.

Firstly, if their email address is attached to their business, you can use CRM integration tools to scrape the relevant information about their company — its size, revenue, and location, for example. If they’ve used the same email address on their company’s biography page or on LinkedIn, you can gather a wealth of information about the individual as well. Of course, you should always check new leads against your existing database to see if they’ve followed you on social media, subscribed to your email list, or downloaded content from you before. This sounds complicated, but there are plenty of CRM tools that can complete this entire process automatically the moment a new email address comes through your website.

The more you know about your prospect, the better you can tailor the marketing and sales experience to their unique needs and characteristics. You can send them content that’s related to the content they’ve already consumed. You can compare them to previous clients with similar characteristics, then use that information to make educated guesses about their pain points and priorities.

Most importantly, keep track of everything. Your CRM should include notes about who has reached out to a particular prospect, when they reached out, and the results of the conversation. If the client has to be handed off to another marketer or the sales team, it’s important that the recipient of that lead is up to speed on your interactions so far.

Lead Nurturing and Automation

Thanks to modern marketing tools, much of the above process can be automated. If a potential customer downloads a particular resource, you can follow up a few days later with a related one that previous customers have also enjoyed. If someone watches the product demo video on your website, you can reach out to offer a more specific demonstration of how your product would work for them. If a prospect visits your pricing page, offer a tailored quote.

Marketers using automation software
report 80% more
leads.

Gray bar on a chart labeled "Without Automation" being 1/3 the size of a taller coral colored bar labeled "With Automation"

 

Chapter Five: Customer Success

The importance of sales and marketing alignment doesn’t end when a customer signs on the dotted line — in fact, that’s when the most important part of the process is about to begin. Firstly, your existing customers are one of your most valuable assets. They’re the most likely to buy again, the most likely to upgrade or purchase related products, and they can be a significant source of referral traffic and revenue (assuming you keep them happy). 

That referral traffic is especially valuable since it comes with the credibility boost of an existing customer. According to one advocacy platform, referred customers are four times more likely to make a purchase, bring a 16% higher lifetime value, and are kept at a 37% higher rate of retention than customers acquired through other means.

The second crucial reason to monitor and assist your existing customers is feedback (more on that below). Just because you managed to sign a new customer doesn’t mean they’ll be a good customer, and you need to be able to learn from your mistakes. 

Adoption and Churn

Keep track of how your existing customers are using the product. The exact nature of their interactions will depend on your company, but basic interactions like how frequently they log into a dashboard, whether they’re opening emails, and whether they’re installing software on multiple machines are common behavioral indicators.

As you gather data, you’ll start to develop a definition of “adoption” for your particular product. Adoption, in this sense, is the moment when your customer becomes reliant on your product and integrates it into their lives. Once a customer has adopted a product, they’re likely to keep using it. Think about your current email client — chances are, you’ve got everything set up just the way you like it, and you’re unlikely to switch from Gmail to Yahoo unless something drastic changes about one platform or the other.

The flip side of adoption is churn, when customers try out your product but fail to adopt and end up abandoning it. We’ve all tried a free trial of some piece of software and decided not to sign up for the paid version because we didn’t see the utility, putting us squarely in the “churn” category for that company.

Counterintuitively, there may be categories of customers who are relatively likely to convert, but unlikely to adopt. While they’re still a source of revenue, you might also be spending a significant amount of time and effort to nurture and onboard them, only to lose them a month or a year later.

As time goes on, you’ll be able to use your technology suite to pinpoint the symptoms of adoption and churn. It may be that customers who install your software on multiple machines are most likely to adopt. You might find that customers who don’t finish the educational onboarding materials or open your newsletters are likely to churn. Whatever those indicators are, your CRM and other analytics tools can help you find them.

Chapter Six: Incorporating Feedback

One of the primary purposes of all this analysis is to bring it back to meetings between the sales and marketing teams. Better alignment is born of shared goals and a mutual understanding of what a good lead looks like for your particular company and product, and the analysis from your CRM and other tools can provide you with the best possible picture of your customers and prospects.

As you learn more about what kinds of customers are more likely to convert, more likely to adopt, and more likely to become advocates, you can incorporate this information into your SLA to set yourself up for success. You’ll learn more about which sales techniques are most successful, refine your definitions of MQL and SQL, and adjust your expectations for lead volume and conversion.

Some Final Thoughts

Without modern marketing technology, this kind of detailed analysis and constant adjustment wouldn’t be possible. Instead, you’d be forced to rely on educated guesses to inform your strategy, likely resulting in wasted time and resources. Thanks to the advances in analytics and data collection available to modern businesses, guesswork is becoming a thing of the past. With the power of data on your side, your internal alignment will be stronger than ever.

 

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