Sales and Marketing.
The answer to that depends on the company and the leadership of both.
There's a positive shift happening in SaaS where department alignment is getting better, but there's still a lot of room for many companies to grow.
Why is it that sales and marketing for startups can't get along?
Get Back To The Basics
Some companies lose sight of the basic principles of why they exist.
Here's a primer:
Marketing teams build demand.
Sales teams capture demand.
- Why do you prospect and qualify leads? To build pipeline that will turn into revenue.
- Why do you give demos to prospects to educate them on how you can help them? One step closer to revenue.
- Why do you send proposals, negotiate, and follow up? To transact sales or bring in revenue.
- Why do you continually research who your products are best for? To convert better. So, revenue.
- Why do you care about positioning, messaging, and customer understanding? To convert better. So, revenue.
- Why do you create content that educates your buyers before they are ready to buy? Also revenue.
Sure, the tactical approach and grainy details for sales and marketing differ, but they both align to the end goal of revenue.
And, if marketing at your company isn't aligned to revenue, figure it out quick because you're wasting time and resources on vanity metrics.
If marketing doesn't align to actual, qualified leads, and revenue for the business, it's easy to say marketing is 'doing its job' by delivering terrible MQLs.
Here's what Collin Cadmus had to say about marketing and sales alignment:
"The leading cause of misaligned sales and marketing teams is misaligned incentives. Behaviors start with the incentives we put behind them, so if we incentivize two teams in two different ways, we can't expect perfect alignment. For example, if one team is laser-focused on generating MQL's (which is basically just any person in the world filling out a form), but the other team is laser-focused on finding real qualified customers, well, that's a lack of alignment staring you in the face. Secondly, marketers generally need to spend more time in the sales department. They should be required to learn the pitch and even run some demos on their own. That level of sales perspective is what truly aligns the two teams when you pair it with a well-aligned incentive model (i.e., SQL's and revenue)."
Do you see the theme?
When marketers are incentivized incorrectly (i.e., 50MQLs per week), their behaviors align with those incentives. In that case, they'll deliver terrible leads to sales, and the situation will dim the relationship between both departments.
Can you blame the individual contributing marketers in this position? No, they are doing their job.
You can blame marketing leadership.
Change the quality of the incentives for marketing, and the working relationship between departments will mend and grow.
As a previous salesperson, receiving loads of unqualified leads is one of the most frustrating things in the world. It's better to receive no leads at all and be 100% outbound.
Marketing teams who get pumped about the number of leads they deliver with no care about how it impacts their sales team's revenue should get a demotion.
What is the sales and marketing alignment like at your company?
Is it healthy? Toxic? Non-existent?
Below are four steps that sales and marketing can take together so they can live in harmony.
Before we talk about those, immerse yourself in a simple, fundamental sales principle.
We'll expand on it after.
A Quick Sales Funnel Explanation
Qualification of your prospects is an essential step in closing deals. In any industry, ever.
The cycle of intelligent pointed questions that either uncover issues or show prospects what a better future state can look like is arguably the most critical step in the sales process.
Salespeople that cannot execute this have issues selling because selling is about understanding your customer's problems intimately.
Many factors can alter the speed at which prospects move through this funnel. Sometimes prospects move quickly because of a compelling event. Other times, prospects are browsing because they have a small but growing issue. Other times, their budget needs to be exhausted, or they lose it.
To simplify, the main steps of the funnel are:
There are a few variations of this funnel floating around, but the core principle is the same.
- Awareness: The prospect becomes aware they have a problem.
- Interest: The prospect becomes interested in your product/service because they have issues, and your solution could help better their situation.
- Evaluation: This can vary from G2 competitive comparisons to proof of concept engagements to quick reference calls—any point where the prospect hasn't made a decision yet is evaluation.
- Decision: Prospect decides you're the winner.
- Action: An actual sale is transacted for the business. This for that.
This process is straightforward at its core, and surprisingly, many companies get this wrong.
When customers don't buy, it can mean a few things:
- The salesperson moved forward on their timeline instead of the customers.
- The salesperson didn't uncover enough issues or discuss what could be possible for the prospect
- There weren't enough issues for the prospect to become a buyer in the first place.
- The prospect became aware of a superior product or service.
There are many more reasons, but guess what can help these obstacles to drive more revenue for the business?
Here are a few ways content marketing helps your company bring in more revenue:
- Content created for all parts of the funnel educates buyers on their timeline without ever talking to a salesperson.
- Uncovering issues and showing what's possible for prospects on a phone call and demo is fantastic, but you know what's better? Uncovering issues and showing prospects what's possible through content on their timeline.
- Truly superior products and services can be challenging to overcome, but sometimes prospects buy inferior offerings to what you're selling, and they're happy about it. You know why? The inferior offering educated the prospect better than you. They beat you on organic content, videos, case studies, targeting that buyer's issues. And they did it without ever speaking to the prospect.
I'm here to lay out how you can apply the sales process to your content marketing funnel to capture more qualified leads.
Now, let's expand on the previous sales funnel and add in marketing.
The Sale Funnel vs. Marketing Funnel
The sales funnel with no effective content marketing strategy leaves a lot of the prospect’s journey to sales and looks like this:
The sales funnel with an effective content marketing strategy means that prospects educate, research, and quality themselves through your content. It looks like this:
If you're in a software space that sells a non-intensive decision solution, your content marketing your marketing could BE the sales funnel, and you may not even need a sales team.
In this case, your funnel could look like this:
This last funnel doesn't apply to every industry. Some software spaces require a sales touch.
Still, it's an excellent goal to hold close for your content efforts.
A full-funnel goal forces you to continue to educate your customers through content for every step of their decision-making process.
If you can take one thing away from this post, that's the goal of content marketing:
"How many questions can I answer for my customers through content?”
If your product or service is sound, then 'educating as much as possible' means educating enough with the end goal of purchasing what you have to offer.
We’ll revisit that funnel in a bit.
Here are the four steps you need to take to align Sales and Marketing to drive revenue.
1. First, you Need A Content Marketing Strategy
Organic growth takes time but can be an enormous driver for your business.
If you've never done this before, you can hire an agency or do this in-house.
In-house marketing (most of the time) is more closely aligned to the business. But, some agencies are fully embedded into your processes and are an extension of your marketing team. Taking this path makes a lot of sense if you're an early startup and don't have the resources to scale content marketing.
When it comes to organic growth, you don't have time for testing the waters and trying things in-house or trying different agencies for months.
Some agencies only handle content and don't regard strategy. They can take a lot off your plate in the writing department, but wasting resources on articles you don't need is another step in the wrong direction.
Some agencies only handle the strategy but don't execute it. So, you have a great strategy in place, but executing content with your small team is too much to handle, so a backlog of content builds up while you're managing other operations of your growing startup.
After you have a strategy in place, in-house or agency side, it's time to take the funnels we had above and align teams on topics.
2. Create A Blended Sales & Marketing Funnel
Assuming that your content marketing strategy is in place, let's take a sales funnel and divide it into two parts.
Then, let's add in sales information, like this:
Based on this sales information and putting ourselves in our customers' shoes, what are content areas we can focus on to answer solution-related questions that qualify leads?
After you do this exercise, you might end up with something like this:
Content needs to be created for prospects AND existing customers.
Doing this helps customers adopt the software faster, extract the most value for their organization, and validate why they chose you in the first place.
Sales engagement may stop after the actual transaction occurs, but that doesn't mean that the customer won't be landing back on your website to look for info to maximize the output of their investment.
Don't make this alignment funnel more complicated than it needs to be.
Put yourself in the prospect's shoes. If you were a potential buyer at these stages, what information would help you, which also shows your solution is a possible fit?
Please keep it simple.
These stages will give you a baseline idea of how to approach content marketing for your company.
On paper, you look great if you've gone through this process.
The next thing you need to do is align your sales and marketing leadership.
3. Sales + Marketing = BFFs
Nothing beats customer research directly, but to speed up the process, the next best thing you can do as a content marketer is talking to the salespeople at your company.
Salespeople are the frontlines of your organization. They talk to prospects every day, hear and overcome objections, get rejected for various reasons (some related to the product). Salespeople are full of intimate customer and product knowledge that you can extract information from.
Ongoing discussions between sales and marketing leadership is the next important step.
If you want to speed up the quality and amount of content ideas you can use, then speak to sales leadership. It's their job to know objections, details that move deals forward, and other areas of the solution better than anyone else.
Company organization structures vary, so this leadership discussion may need to happen between the VP of Sales and the CMO.
It may be a meeting between the marketing manager and a director of sales.
Titles don't matter here. The responsibility does.
- Sales: who is responsible for managing and overseeing the qualification of leads and pipeline?
- Marketing: who oversees the management of the blog content strategy?
Once you have these two people or sets of people, marketing needs to extract the information from sales on an intimate level. When you highlight close details of your solution within your content, it drives legitimate interest.
Another crucial area to establish between the two departments related to content marketing is "at what point is sales primarily responsible for a follow-up?"
This topic starts to turn into a much larger conversation around deal cycles, the solution's complexity, and customer-specific preference.
Another way to look at this topic is "what areas can sales educate prospects in that marketing is currently not?"
If you're in the early startup phases, this gap may be vast, and therefore sales will provide a lot of value to prospects.
But, if marketing has a vast amount of information readily accessible for prospects, then a sales touch may be redundant, or worse, an annoyance.
Think about these areas of overlap and the way you interface with customers in your discussions.
4. Grow Fond of Each Other
Sales teams, don't discount the work that your marketing department does. They are thinking about the brand. They are driving awareness of your product and service (even if it's small to start), they are engaging with thought leaders, influencers, and much more.
Use the content they write to educate your customers further. No matter how intelligent the prospect and how good of a salesperson you are, your prospects like to research on their own time, not yours.
Supplementing your sales process with high-quality content hardens your sales process and helps further qualify prospects when you're not speaking to them. Send them quick emails with valuable content that answers all of their surfaced and unsurfaced questions.
Marketing, don't assume that your salespeople are worthless if they aren't bringing in revenue quickly. Sales is challenging, and lack of revenue can sometimes be an underlying symptom of a more significant company-wide problem.
Salespeople are attacking leads in strategic ways, cold calling, and pushing through the face of rejection.
Talk to the salespeople about what they are hearing. Meet with all of them. Every tiny detail that the salespeople hear from prospects are content marketing ideas.
These details are nothing small. The audience you serve is looking for something, and these details come up in conversations with salespeople.
Sit on calls with them. Have them walk you through a demo. Ask a lot of curious questions. You will get a lot more insight than expected if you put forth the effort.
As you make this routine, content topic ideas will become obvious and can be used to drive revenue.
Final Thoughts - Take Action
Don't let your sales and marketing departments form a toxic relationship.
They should work in tandem and drive sales together. Stick to the above points and outline the above funnels with specific info from your products and solutions, and work to align.
Keep in mind that this isn't a 'set it and forget it' type of engagement.
As customers, products, industries, and other factors change and evolve, sales and marketing should be working together to drive revenue.