It’s a problem as old as companies themselves, but 2017 brings fresh challenges and solutions to the age-old problem.

The Problem: The Roles of Sales and Marketing is Changing

Aligning sales and marketing has always been a difficult proposition. Molly Soat of the American Marketing Association defines the problem most succinctly when she writes “For most companies, marketing’s job is to generate leads, and sales’ job is to turn those leads into clients. In practice, though, marketing and sales need to work in tandem, aligning their roles and goals to ensure that ROI becomes the responsibility of the whole organization, not individual teams.” And therein lies the difficulty- getting sales and marketing to work together has always been difficult because the two departments have, historically, seen themselves as being in separate departments with separate goals. While in a perfect world they would work in tandem as an ROI achieving machine the reality is much more complicated, and has only gotten more so in 2017 and an already difficult proposition has become more challenging.

How have the roles of sales and marketing changed in 2017? According to sales and marketing expert Craig Rosenberg “The top third of the sales cycle has gone away. Salespeople believe that the beginning of the traditional sales process has evaporated and that buyers are self-servicing their needs instead of engaging with salespeople.” This viewpoint is backed up by the sales and marketing leaders at Marketo. According to their most recent research, marketing is now responsible for the  buyer’s journey all the way through evaluation, with sales only stepping in for the final stages of evaluation and purchasing. This essentially shifts the responsibility for educating a potential buyer to marketing, a role that traditionally had been held by sales.

Aligning sales and marketing is still important, as seen when Forbes writes “71% of C-level executives noting that sales productivity is ‘critical’ to future growth.”  The sales masterminds at SMA write “There is a whole lot of evidence that closer Sales+Marketing Collaboration lifts Sales Productivity, and I can show you that a lift of just 5% in Sales Productivity can yield a 20% increase in profit. So, Sales+Marketing Collaboration should be a BIG DEAL” (ibid). But if the situation has gotten more complicated as buyer’s preferences and behaviors shift in the digital marketplace of 2017 then the C-level also needs new tools and strategies to accomplish their goals.

That is what we offer in this post- this is an overview of how to align sales and marketing, giving the C-level reader a step-by-step guide to getting started the right way and ensuring that their sales and marketing teams stay aligned in the future.


The C-Suite Provides the Vision

According to Fergal Glynn and the American Marketing Association “In a lot of places, there’s huge tension between sales and marketing teams. In sales, they don’t appreciate all the different work that marketing can do, and marketing doesn’t understand all of the different situations that the sales team faces. The very first step is an executive agreement.”

That is why the first step begins with you, the executive. Part of providing leadership for your organization comes in the form of just getting these departments together for the conversation to begin in the first place. And, once that meeting is being held, the executive needs to be a strong, clear voice for defining the different roles of marketing and sales within the organization. Now, as for what those rules should be we recommend research into your own customers. In this case, marketing handles the buyer’s journey through evaluation with sales taking the lead through those crucial last steps of evaluation and purchase.

Define your target

The next step in aligning sales and marketing to define the target audience, with the end goal of getting sales and marketing to agree on who they are even talking to in the first place. This is a crucial step because all further actions depend on a clear understanding of the audience for your industry, then sales and marketing can finally begin to collaborate effectively.

Why do both departments need to be involved in coming up with this “ideal buyer?” According to Craig Rosenberg “Sales and marketing must agree on who the target buyer is, what they do every day, what they care about, and why they buy. This effort should not be owned by only marketing or only sales. Instead, this should be a joint activity.” This is essentially echoing what Molly Soat identified as the key to aligning sales and marketing in the first place- ideally throughout these meetings they will transition from working in a silo to working in tandem.

Invest in Sales Performance Software

The modern take on the old standard of sales performance management are software platforms with a strong focus on data analysis that put valuable information on every opportunity, lead and account within easy reach of both sales and marketing.

While there are many different sales performance software options out there (many of them start with the CRM itself) there are a couple of guidelines on what to look for when you are thinking about purchasing a platform for your organization.


  • It should be scalable.
  • Data collection and automated analysis should be key.
  • The visualization or presentation layer should be understandable and accessible.
  • There should be one for both sale and marketing.

Of all of these criteria perhaps the most important is the last. If sales and marketing are working from a single source of truth then there will be fewer miscommunications and you can foster a corporate culture where the two operate as a single unit instead of separate entities.

This step is truly important, and with good reason. According to the Savo Group, “55% of top-performing companies are investing in sales performance technology and programs to drive sales productivity.” 

Perfectly Align Your Content

If the statistics are correct and marketing really is responsible for both attracting and educating prospective buyers then there is only one way for any organization to do it effectively: content marketing. Everyone in marketing has heard the now old adage “content is king,” but the true power behind the throne happens when sales and marketing come up with a content strategy together.

So how does this happen? Simple- have sales and marketing talk about the hot-button issues in the industry and then, together, come up with blogs, videos and other content that will educate prospective buyers in the right way so that when they finally do speak to a salesperson at the very end of the funnel they are ready and willing to take that final step into purchasing.

The marketing gurus at Hubspot recommend as much when they write”Your sales reps are talking with prospects all the time and know what is getting them excited about your company.” They should then be able to share this information with your marketing team so that the message the marketers are delivering and the promises the salespeople are making at the end of the process perfectly align.

Decide on Lead Generation Metrics Together

Now that you know who you are talking to, what content they are interested in and have a sales performance platform gathering the data on how everything is performing you can really put that data to good use; lead generation metrics. Traditionally this is where sales and marketing have tended to butt heads most frequently. Marketing works hard for every lead that they get and when they pass them on to sales they are proud and happy about them. When it turns out that sales doesn’t think the leads are as great or they are not what they are looking for then miscommunication and inefficient operations are a result. The minds at Marketo define this quite well when they write  “The problem is that, traditionally, Marketing defined the qualities of an MQL [Marketing Qualified Lead], and Sales decided what made someone an SAL [Sales Accepted Lead] or SQL [Sales Qualified Lead]. This partially explains why Sales sometimes feels that Marketing hands off unqualified leads – Marketing doesn’t always know what Sales is looking for!”

So how do you fix the problem? Easy- consult the data in your sales performance platform or CRM to discover which leads the marketing department generated went all the way down the pipeline faster and led to more revenue than any other lead. This way you can not only direct marketing to the most fruitful best practices but sales can know that every lead coming down the pipeline is qualified according to what works best for your particular organization. Essentially it is using the data your company is already producing in a new and more efficient way.

Aligning sales and marketing has always been a challenge to the CEO or COO because these different areas of the business have been seen as fundamentally different. As a result they have traditionally worked in silos, missing out on communication and often working against each other rather than as a cohesive whole. However, if you follow these steps you can start seeing the amazing results that happen when the two work in tandem.

If you would like to learn more about aligning your Sales and Marketing teams, download our free E-book “The War is Over: The ultimate guide to aligning sales and marketing”.