Sales and Marketing Alignment: What the Experts Have to Say

Sales and Marketing Alignment
The lack of synergy between sales and marketing regarding lead generation is so common as to risk cliché.

The CMO Council recently published a report entitled “Closing the Gap: The Sales and Marketing Alignment Imperative.” Among other key findings, the study revealed that “there is an urgent need for marketing, sales, and channel management to align and embrace technologies, processes, and programs that enable wider and deeper customer conversations, as well as leverage the knowledge, influence, and access of the channel and continuously refine the delivery of products and services in the most painless, seamless, and satisfying way.” Although that’s definitely more than a mouthful, the points made are important ones and likely resonate with most marketers.

I’ve been in the marketing game for a long time, and the whole sales and marketing alignment thing is near and dear to my heart. Without exception, the issue of alignment has reared its head in one form or another at every company for which I have worked, and I can tell you that the effort you put forth in that area can pay huge dividends.

One of the preeminent experts in the field of sales and marketing alignment is Rod Sloane, author of the book, Alignment: The Secret to Getting Your Sales and Marketing Teams Working Together. Sloane says, “If you wait until next year to start your sales and marketing alignment, then you are not only in danger of getting run over by your competition, but you and your team’s earnings will drop, and some may even lose their jobs. Sales and marketing alignment is not all about the technology you employ. It’s about your people, your language, and your culture.”

Why is Sales and Marketing Alignment Difficult for Most Organizations?

In a recent interview with Bill Golder of Miller Heiman, Brian Carroll, author of the popular book, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale: Boost the Quality and Quantity of Leads to Increase Your ROI, says, “I think it’s because organizations aren’t taking a holistic approach that considers all of the marketing and selling components on a total, complete, and ongoing basis. The lack of synergy between sales and marketing regarding lead generation is so common as to risk cliché. Marketing feels that sales doesn’t follow up on marketing-generated leads. Sales counters that the leads aren’t any good, and the information they provide isn’t helpful. My experience confirms that this communication breakdown affects nine out of ten companies.”

In addition to Brian’s points, I think another reason that sales and marketing alignment is such a thorny issue lies in how each of those disciplines views its role in contrast to the other. For example, marketing often sees itself as the strategic player and sales as the tactical delivery mechanism for the strategy. In contrast, sales often sees itself as the primary driver for the business, with marketing relegated to a sales support role.

How Alignment is Like Golf

Ardath Albee, author of the highly acclaimed book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, says that golf has a lot in common with the sales and marketing alignment process. “Marketing tees it up and takes a swing. The more they know about the course (the buyer) and the conditions surrounding it (the buyer’s needs), the more forward progress they can make. If they take a misstep and hit the ball out of bounds, they must return to take a drop and start again. When marketing gets the ball on or near the green, sales takes over to execute the short game with as few additional strokes (sales calls) as possible.”

Ardath’s analogy is a great one. However, I would add that the sales team also needs to be involved in the process of helping marketing select the right club and stance (marketing tools) for each hole, as well as assisting with gauging the distance, wind speed, and other course (market) conditions.

Automation, Culture, and Compensation

“Counter to popular belief, adopting automated lead management alone will not result in sales and marketing alignment. Without the requisite culture and process changes, these systems will go through the same adoption challenges as CRM and SFA systems. And sales and marketing teams won’t use them, no matter what carrots and sticks are applied,” says Christine Crandell, a renowned global marketing, sales, and business development strategist. “One of the ways to change corporate cultures so that alignment becomes sticky is to change marketing’s compensation structure. Ask any CMO, and they’ll tell you that’s a sensitive subject. People don’t like it when you ‘mess with their money.’ But we need to make these changes if marketing is going to dramatically and systematically improve the top line.”

I can vouch for Christine’s stance on how compensation can affect alignment. When I was the CMO at BearCom Wireless, our marketing team’s bonus program was predicated on reaching several financial goals, most of which were sales related. Specific examples included revenue generated from sales leads, shopping cart orders, and customer extranet site orders, as well as the total cost per lead and overall company revenue. Making sales-related metrics a key component of the compensation plan for my marketing team positively impacted thought processes, behavior, and accountability on a daily basis. And the final results spoke for themselves.

Enlightenment on Alignment

So what impact does sales and marketing alignment have on the business beyond just commissions and bonus programs? The results can be significant. Hugh Macfarlane, founder and CEO of, conducted an alignment benchmarking study by surveying 1,400 professionals in 84 countries around the world. The study found that the businesses that have the greatest degree of alignment:

  • Grow 5.4 points faster than their less-aligned counterparts when compared with businesses in the same industry
  • Close 38% more proposals than non-aligned businesses
  • Lose 36% fewer customers to competitors

With results like that, what more needs to be said?

A final thought: “When it comes to directly engaging targeted prospects, the fault line between sales and marketing should be invisible.” ~Carlos Vidal