I head up sales for my company, ion interactive, and my husband is our CMO.

There are many benefits to having sales and marketing so, ahem, close. When both are connected by wedding rings, one hand always knows what the other hand is doing; strategic and tactical initiatives are almost always decided together. And challenges are solved in unison.

In other words, our company ran like our marriage, with sales and marketing truly and totally aligned. Or so I thought.

Guest Post from Anna Talerico, EVP and Co-Founder of ion interactive.

Imagine my surprise when our promoted-from-within director of sales sat in his first executive leadership meeting and identified sales and marketing alignment as the number one challenge he wanted to solve in the first 90 days of his new role.

Yep, that really happened.

Once I got past the obvious embarrassment of not being aligned with the department my husband leads, it was time to get serious. According to Aberdeen Group, companies that optimize the marketing/sales relationship grow 32% faster, while companies who fail to nurture that relationship actually see their business decline.

I realized pretty quickly that strong alignment wasn’t just nice to have. Communication and support between the marketing and sales teams are critical for the success of any company.

Out with the Old

Before we ultimately shifted our strategy, sales and marketing alignment simply meant that both teams knew what the other was doing and were generally in agreement about the best way to move forward. The average exchange between my team and theirs sounded something like this:

Marketing: “I’d like to do another email drop with Acme Advertising Solutions. Seems like we got a good cost per assigned lead last time, and we opened up some solid pipeline from that campaign.”

Sales: “Great, yes, we love those campaigns with Acme! We get lots of fresh leads, and they generally respond to our outreach. Go for it! We’re so happy and supportive of what you are doing! Rainbows! Puppy dogs! Glitter!”

Or, just as commonly:

Sales: “Please give us a new asset so we can address this common objection we are hearing.”

Marketing: “Here you go! Presto! Abracadabra! Your wish is our command.”

Ah, if only alignment were that simple. But that’s the la-la land I was living in. I can admit it.

Which is not to say we weren’t a smart, data-driven organization. Marketing kept tabs on a wide-range of key data and tracked cost per lead, cost per-assigned lead, pipeline generated by campaign source, cost per customer acquisition, and everything in between. We tracked deal velocity, average sales cycle, closed/lost analysis, closed/won percentages, and every other pipeline stage percentage. Plus lots more. We were swimming in great, useful data.

Of course, you might know the punchline by now. We both had data that was great for running our departments, but we never jointly discussed or analyzed that data in a meaningful way. And we weren’t alone. Many brands face a disconnect when it comes to sharing data between teams.

For example, around 80% of leads generated by marketing are never contacted by a sales rep. That’s a pretty big breakdown in communication. And it’s made even scarier when coupled with the fact that ineffective content marketing results in a loss of $958 million annually.

The key to recouping those losses could be finding ways to combine data and planning together. Studies show that aligning sales and marketing results in a 108% improvement in lead acceptance.

In with the New

During the first months focused on changing our sales and marketing relationship, we forced ourselves not to provide status updates, or “keep each team in the loop.” Instead we committed to going a level deeper to understand what was driving strategies, tactics, and initiatives. We analyzed our department-specific data together to uncover new insights. We evaluated the “why” behind everything we did.

A simple sales request for a new piece of content wasn’t met with “Sure, we’ll jump right on that, whatever you need,” but with, “Sure, tell me more about what you are experiencing on the phones that makes you feel like you need this? What types of buyers are presenting this challenge? When in your sales cycle do you experience it?”

Improved communication led to more effective content. Turns out, a new brochure isn’t always the best solve for a sales challenge. Who knew?

Our Improved Sales and Marketing Alignment Actually Works!

The outcome of our tighter alliance included some pretty big wins.

When we began measuring more than just pipeline created by campaigns, which had always been a primary indicator of success, we found that some of our “most successful” campaigns were actually duds in terms of new revenue generated.

What’s worse, those “duds” ended up tracking to some of our biggest marketing expenditures. By looking at these measurements from both sides of the marketing and sales coin, we were able to re-allocate significant marketing spend and, by funding the campaigns most likely to deliver actual new customers, we increased our win-rates.

I am immensely grateful our new sales director was willing to tell the emperor she wasn’t wearing clothes, in his challenge of the status quo. The results have been higher win rates and more efficient spend. Way better — and more measurable — than simply “one hand knowing what the other is doing.”

Image Source (Public Domain): Wikimedia.

Anna_Talerico_400px_headshotAnna Talerico, EVP and co-founder at ion interactive, leads the company’s sales & client service organizations. Her background is in digital project management, strategy, and marketing, and she has a BA in social psychology from Florida Atlantic University.

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