Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sales & Marketing Alignment?

Every time the subject of sales and marketing alignment comes up it seems like everyone is in violent agreement (regardless of which of the two disciplines they come from) that this needs to be a priority and the time has come once and for all to get everyone on the same page if not the same team. And yet, this rarely seems to actually happen and so year after year sales and marketing alignment continues to be a conversation topic rather than a strategic imperative. (Of course there are companies who have executed this quite brilliantly but they remain exceptions).

Why is it so hard to accomplish this alignment? It must be hard after all if everyone agrees it should happen but very few attempt it, right? But this is where I struggle because I don’t believe it is that difficult at all. There seems to be a level of deliberate inaction. The reluctance seems to be born out of a fear of role dilution and the steady erosion of traditional lines of demarcation resulting in the blurring of skill-sets and expertise.

In the traditional paradigm everything was relatively neat and tidy. Marketing with their creative talents and distribution channels (mail, email, web, conferences etc.) would create campaigns based around features & benefits and then channel the responses/leads to the sales organization. The sales organization would then initiate contact and begin a sale cycle - two very different skill-sets operating on two very different playing fields. Marketing was the king of the “one-to-many” communication and Sales was king of the “one-to-one” communication.

However, the times they are a changin’ to quote Bob Dylan. The traditional channels for distributing marketing messages are being usurped. Social Media with its intense level of both personal outreach and self-selected communities has created a world where firing off an email marketing campaign (or a snail mail one for that matter) and waiting for the response no longer has the same impact.

In this new paradigm Marketers have to get up close and personal with the target audience and engage directly with them. They have to become more adept at answering questions and providing information to that audience. The handover to Sales is less clean and defined because as I discussed in a previous post, the prospect may be looking to gather a whole raft of information before they ever want to engage with a “sales person”. So where does that leave the Marketer? In reality it means they are likely to have to develop some selling skills and at times kick-off the sales process themselves and if the sale is more transactional in nature it may mean they actually complete the sale. The lines as you see begin to blur significantly.

But what of the sales person waiting for that hot lead from Marketing? Well their world too is being changed by Social Media and professional networking. If the Marketer has kicked-off the sales process by their engagement through non-traditional media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn groups, YouTube etc. then the sales rep needs to understand the history of that communication and be au fait with these new media and how they are being used by prospects and they need to speak the lingo (oh yes there is a social media lingo). In essence the Marketer and the Sales person need to work collaboratively and overlap like never before. Again more lines are blurring.

The Sales person’s prospecting and engagement with prospects is also changing as I discussed in the post on the 21st Century Sales Rep Challenge. Now that they are required to prospect and engage through all these non-traditional media they have to become adept at provocative, sound-bite sized communications to try and catch the attention of the well-informed prospect who is being deluged by information and outreach from all your competitors. It sounds like the Sales rep needs to develop some communication skills traditionally associated with Marketing doesn’t it? The lines are so blurred now I can hardly see them!

So is it really about Sales and Marketing alignment after all or is it about Sales and Marketing integration? If traditional workflows are being forever altered what does this mean for traditional roles? And let’s face it, there are no more traditional roles than the Sales rep and the Marketer…

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