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team rowing in unison

Aligning Sales and Marketing

team rowing in unison

There’s so much talk about aligning sales and marketing, and all the challenges that coincide with this seemingly insurmountable endeavor.  Frankly, as a long-time Chief Marketing Officer, I’ve never had issues keeping sales and marketing aligned.  Although, there have been individuals who have tried to buck the system over the years.

Here’s a quick story about that…

After being hired as the Chief Marketing Officer for a private equity-funded, early-stage enterprise software firm in the Midwest, but prior to my start date, the company hired a VP of Sales who was in the process of relocating from the Silicon Valley.

Three weeks later, this sales professional had moved from California and started work.  I gave Alex a warm welcome, let him know after he had a few days to settle in, we’d sit down together to talk, and set a date and time.  He said, “Good, I look forward to it!”

After exchanging pleasantries and listening to details about his relocation, our conversation turned to business matters. I began telling him I don’t micromanage executives and give them almost complete autonomy, that I always welcome new ideas, and simply ask for the sound business rationale that supports those ideas.

In addition, while we’d be interacting almost daily, just like the other individuals who report to me, I need a brief, informal status report at the end of each week merely providing an overview of the proverbial “lay of the land” for me to utilize for my status reports to the CEO.

Suddenly, Alex abruptly shot up out of his chair and loudly exclaimed, “I don’t report to you!  I report to Sara!”Lack of Sales and Marketing Collaboration

Surprised, I asked if that’s what the HR department told him.  Without responding, Alex bolted down the hall for the CEO’s office.  A few minutes later he walked past my office looking defeated, went into his office and slammed the door.  Soon after, from my office window, I saw him leave the building, get into his car and zoom out of the parking lot.

Sara, the CEO came down the hall, popped into my office, and told me about Alex asking who he reported to, then storming out when told he was to report to Stephen, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer.

Sara went to Alex’s office, saw he wasn’t there, and asked if he’d been back to meet with me.

“No, he just left in his car.”

Sara and I both wondered if Alex would ever return.  He returned the next morning with a big chip on his shoulder and an indignant demeanor; both of which remained for several months.  However, sales and marketing were well aligned and operated effectively.

What Just Happened?

Even though Sara was only two years into her first stint as a CEO, she wasn’t going to let a member of the executive team “go rogue” because of a bruised ego. The CFO/COO, CTO, CIO, an executive assistant, and me as the CMO were already reporting to the CEO, and that was the number of direct reports she was comfortable with at that juncture.

While Sara was still a newbie as a CEO, she’d been a practicing medical doctor the previous 20+ years, and was very diplomatic with a warm bedside manner.  Managing a big-headed sales executive paled in comparison to years of dealing with narcissistic surgeons, power-hungry hospital administrators, or delivering a grim prognosis to a patient.

The Elephant in the Room

What goes wrong in companies that causes the alignment of sales and marketing to increasingly veer off-track?

It’s an organizational behavior problem and in short, CEOs put up with defiance.  They tolerate sales executives pushing back against a simple fact that makes them feel uncomfortable – sales is a function of marketing.

“The business enterprise has two –and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.” ~Peter Drucker

The advent of the Chief Revenue Officer title being used for the senior-most executive responsible for sales may or may not report to the CEO; that’s a decision for the CEO, corporate board, and/or business owner(s).

However, this is situational, and there’s a strong propensity for the Chief Marketing Officer to be responsible for growing companies’ revenue.

Unity is Strength

Regardless of their job titles, it’s crucial that the top-ranking individuals responsible for sales, and for marketing, be in lock-step with each other professionally.

No, that doesn’t mean their families have to vacation together.

It means there’s professional cooperation between them and their departments and a comprehensive understanding there should be absolutely no rivalry between the two executives or any individuals in their charge.

Whether these executives are company employees or functioning in their roles as highly-experienced consultants, there are job descriptions or agreements defining the scope of work.  That is, these individuals will be held accountable for their performance, which will be measured in part on the behavior they consistently demonstrate depicting genuine unity.

Leaders Choose to Lead

The leadership team must make it known throughout the organization that collaboration between marketing and sales is imperative – and why.

And management needs to articulate macro-level objectives across their departments so everyone within the organization has a rock-solid understanding of what the companies’ objectives are, what the destination is, and how the company plans to reach its clear destination.

This level of understanding needs to down through the company so every person in the organization comprehends the importance of their specific role – and how their responsibilities contribute to the big picture – every spoke in a wheel is every bit as important as the next.

If any of the spokes come loose, are bent, or break, the entire wheel becomes increasingly wobbly, no longer rolls smoothly, and will eventually fall apart.

Loose Cannon

Imagine if an employee decided to make waves and took a printed copy of their job description, tore it up, and stated to everyone in their department that they aren’t going to take on the responsibilities for their position, and would only do the portions they want to – and only when they feel like doing them.

Wouldn’t that be a textbook example of insubordination?

Yes, of course it would.

Run a Tight Ship

Leaders within the organization must foster a healthy culture where “all hands on deck” is the expectation and the norm.

They must make it clear, “This X marks our destination.  This is where we’re going. Everyone on board here needs to be rowing in unison to help ensure we arrive at our destination.”

aligning sales and marketing like a team rowing in unison
Everyone rows together.

Everyone rows together.  Not rowing isn’t an option.

Don’t Rock the Boat

Even worse, the equivalent of holding an oar down in the water to create parasitic drag as friction are things like personal agendas, ulterior motives, high drama, “empire building” and other forms of corporate politics are as detrimental to an organization as a torpedo is to a ship.  Saboteurs are not welcome on our voyage and will disembark at the next port of call.

Toe the Line

Sales and marketing are crew members on the same boat together just like individuals in product development, engineering, R&D, operations, accounting, customer experience management, information technology, and so on.

That should be reason enough for marketing and sales to be aligned.  In addition, there are a number of benefits to this alignment that less disciplined companies miss out on that have significant opportunity costs.

Storm Warning

In 2018, Harvard Business Review published findings from research conducted with executives at over 150 B2B companies.  The results of the research are both eye-opening and sobering – it indicated that the number one reason why organization’s annual revenue stagnates or declines is the misalignment of marketing and sales.

This disarray is an issue internationally, so much so, that the estimated cost to businesses around the world exceeds one-trillion dollars annually due to sales and marketing being out of sync.

Research conducted by Boston-based, Hubspot shows that B2B companies lose 10% or more of their annual revenue because of the misalignment between sales and marketing.

Get Onboard

Conversely, Hubspot also states companies with ‘tightly-aligned’ marketing and sales achieve 24% faster three-year revenue growth and 27% faster three-year profit growth.

The CMO’s Agenda report, published by Aberdeen Group indicated that by successfully aligning marketing and sales, companies can:

  • Generate 32% higher revenue
  • Retain 36% more customers
  • Achieve 38% higher win rates

The research also indicated this high alignment generates higher brand awareness and average deal size.  And according to Adobe subsidiary, Marketo, “sales and marketing alignment can help businesses become 67% better at closing deals.”

Stem the Tide

With so much to lose and so much to gain, are you going to allow marketing and sales to be disconnected in your organization?

If so, why?  There isn’t a single drawback.

And please don’t buy-in to the flawed thinking that getting sales and marketing to function as one unit is a multi-year process because that simply isn’t true and you can get underway immediately.

The Challenge of Leadership

Simply choose to get things squared away by making a difference and taking charge of the situation.  Lead your origination out of the rough waters of lost opportunities and set sail towards increased revenue, much better customer retention rates, and higher profits.

Great leaders are known for admitting mistakes and taking complete ownership for what went wrong. People learn from their mistakes and try a new tact to improve.  Explain what the brighter future of the organization is going to look like – people will follow.

Show people within your organization that the company is taking a new tact to ensure marketing and sales share the same platform and are one entity – not two rival departments.

Spread the word throughout the company and make the choice to lead by example. That means demonstrating a new attitude – that means no longer modeling the behavior – or tolerating behavior that depicts marketing and sales as adversaries.

In order to develop healthy organizational behavior, you have to develop healthy behavior yourself.

Copyright © 2021 Stephen Monaco  All rights reserved.