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How Sales and Marketing Leaders Can Team Up to Drive Growth


While sales and marketing leaders don’t have a history of being the best of friends, CMOs that are strong in both disciplines just might stick around longer than their marketing-specialist peers. Even though it seems logical that the most successful CMOs come from deep marketing roots, the fact is, only 30 percent of CMOs hail from a marketing background.

Even more surprising: 13 percent of CMOs come from sales. If this percentage seems high to you, take a step back to consider the increased pressure marketing leaders now face to drive revenue.

Given that context, having someone with sales expertise in the CMO seat makes absolute sense. After all, more than 90 percent of CMOs have a growth mandate, according to Forbes, but only one in eight have what it takes to become “high-performing growth CMOs.”

But what if you don’t have a sales background? Are you destined to fail as a CMO? Nothing could be further from the truth, because if you commit to breaking down silos, you can have something even more valuable: sales and marketing alignment.

In this article, we’ll dive into the dynamics of the sales and marketing relationship, discuss some their shared challenges, and uncover lessons marketing leaders can learn from their sales counterparts that can strengthen alignment, and help them get closer to meeting their growth goals.

The changing dynamics between marketing and sales

Once upon a time, sales and marketing leaders and their teams sat in siloed departments, with different goals and objectives. Back then, the marketing team was responsible for drumming up leads, quantifying, and passing them over the fence to the sales reps. Sales then followed up with the leads, closing the sales.

Problems with this model soon became evident. Sales began complaining that the leads marketing fed them were low quality, while marketing criticized sales for not following up on the leads they worked so hard to provide. One Marketo study found that sales reps ignore 80 percent of marketing’s leads.

On the satisfaction front, research shows that while 42 percent of marketers say they are satisfied or very satisfied with sales colleagues, only 35 percent of sales reps feel the same way about their marketing peers.

While many organizations still experience this push and pull between the two departments, those that work to align marketing and sales are the ones winning out over their competitors. One study shows that alignment extracts 208 percent more value from marketing, while another  finds that alignment results in 36 percent higher customer retention rates, and 38 percent higher sales win rates.

Obviously, getting sales and marketing to work collaboratively pays off. And because leaders of both organizations share so many of the same challenges, getting them to play nicely together may not be as hard as you think.

The shared challenges of sales and marketing leaders

To help jumpstart alignment between sales and marketing, it helps to see where their shared interests and challenges lie. In this section, we’ll review a few of these challenges.

Pressure to prove marketing ROI: Marketers are under pressure to show how their initiatives contribute to the bottom line, but to do this most effectively, sales has to be part of the equation.

By developing shared metrics and objectives, sales and marketing leaders can ensure their teams are both working toward moving the needle on revenue. Moreover, 78 percent of sales and marketers say that revenue growth is the number one way to measure sales and marketing alignment.

Alignment and integration: Even though alignment is challenging, there’s reason to be optimistic. Seventy-nine percent of sales and marketers agree or strongly agree that they have a collaborative relationship with each other. And 74 percent of marketers say that collaboration between sales and marketing has improved over the last year.

Higher interdependency: Whether they like to admit it or not, the simple fact is that sales and marketing need each other. While cultural differences sometimes throw them off course, both sides benefit from having a healthy relationship.

Preventing potential conflict can be as simple as speaking the same language, such as agreeing upon the definition of a market qualified lead (MQL). However, establishing common goals and metrics, as well as basing compensation on those numbers, sends a clear message that everyone is working toward the same purpose.

3 things marketing leaders can learn from their sales counterparts

For all of the differences between sales and marketing, there are many things they can learn from each other to strengthen their alignment. The following tips serve just as well for a sales executive interested in moving into a CMO role, as they do for marketing executives who want to get a better understanding of their how their sales colleagues think.

1. Keep your focus on the close, not the lead.

Heinz Marketing offers this tip to sales people who are transitioning to a marketing leadership role, reminding them to keep the same revenue-driven mindset that drives them to close a sale.

However, this advice is just as applicable to marketers. In years past, being accountable for revenue contribution was something only sales had to worry about. But now that CMOs are being held accountable for revenue, this is a tip that will serve them well.

“Nobody makes money until the lead is closed,” writes Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing. “And smart marketers both learn from what happens after the lead is delivered (to make future lead production better) and work collaboratively with sales to provide tools, messaging, case studies and more to increase both immediate and long-term lead conversion. If you’re coming from sales into marketing, continue to assume the goal is the close, and nothing before that.”

2. Use your expertise to strengthen alignment.

Sales leaders have a tremendous opportunity to use their expertise to increase collaboration between departments. After all, they know exactly what sales reps need — from leads to sales enablement tools — and can share this knowledge with marketing to ensure that their work aligns to fulfill those needs and drive growth.

Shane Blandford, director of marketing and innovation for Konica Minolta Australia, has his roots in sales, and he draws on that foundation to help strengthen ties between sales and marketing, notes an article in CMO.com.

“Traditionally, it has been difficult for marketers to understand sales people,” he said. “But I did, because I’m a sales person by background. I could form a bridge between sales and marketing, because I could understand both sides.”

Even if you’re a marketing leader without a sales background, you can still build bridges like these by interacting frequently with the sales team and gathering feedback on a regular basis.

3. Never lose sight of your metrics.

For salespeople, the quota is their guiding light. They always know how close — or how far — they are from hitting their number. Marketers should have this same awareness of their own metrics, whether they want to know how their social media content is performing, or where they are in relation to the competition.

A marketing analytics platform makes it easy for marketers to know where they stand by providing them anytime access to clear performance insights.

To learn more about common challenges that affect sales and marketing leaders, download the Marketing Leadership Survey.

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