There’s a reason why talking about marketing and sales team alignment is all the rage. It’s the basis of many essential and emergent marketing and sales trends – the move from lead gen to demand gen, the shift to Rev Ops from siloed ops, selling to a committee vs. an individual with account-based marketing (ABM), and making a move towards asynchronous selling.

While there are many upsides to sales and marketing alignment, there are just as many obstacles facing these teams as they attempt to get on the same page.

Below, we break down the top five challenges companies face regarding sales and marketing alignment and offer a few solutions for making team alignment a reality.

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1. Marketing-to-Sales Handoff

The marketing-to-sales handoff seems simple enough: When a lead becomes qualified for sales (a sales-qualified lead or an SQL), one of the marketing team functions is to ensure that the sales team knows about the new potential customer.

What could go wrong?

The answer is…a lot.

There are two areas where this handoff can go off the rails.

The first is the qualifying criteria or the agreement around when the right time is to hand the lead off to sales. Think about these questions:

  1. What are your marketing-qualified lead (MQL) and SQL criteria?
  2. What do you use to ensure that these criteria are met for handoffs day-to-day?
  3. How nuanced are the qualifications?

If your sales and marketing departments have different answers to these questions, the result can lead to handoff nightmares.

The second problem area involves the mechanism for your handoffs. For example, are your marketing leads rotated automatically once qualified, or do they already have an owner before they ever get to that stage? Do you assign your sales rep a task, push a notification, send them an email, notify them in Slack, or some combination of these options?

Tools like HubSpot Marketing Hub and Sales Hub are excellent at facilitating these sales and marketing processes, but these processes only work insofar as they have been defined. The marketing-to-sales handoff must be thought through and agreed upon by both teams to be successful – a task made much more difficult if your teams are not operating in the same systems.

The Solution to Difficult Marketing to Sales Handoffs

To address a less-than-perfect handoff from marketing to sales, have a meeting between your marketing operations and sales operations teams to agree on the complete parameters of your lifecycle stages. This will help push both departments toward the common goal: revenue growth.

Ask your teams what role deal stage, lead score, buying committee makeup, and ICP tier play in the timing and manner of the handoff.

Handoffs can change from team to team, ICP tier to ICP tier, and product to product.

Next, pull some reports to see at what lifecycle stage sales became involved in winning opportunities to objectively determine what has been most successful to date when turning potential customers into actual sales.

Finally, once everyone agrees on the terms of your lifecycle stages and when and how sales should be tapped to jump in, update your CRM, marketing automation platform, and other technology to accommodate these newly agreed-upon handoff guidelines.

2. Disparate Systems

Your sales and marketing teams could use hundreds of tools to run their individual motions.

What’s the result? A list of tech tools the size of a Cheesecake Factory menu for your marketing operations team to deal with.

Data accuracy is everything for marketing and sales activities, especially those requiring a handoff. And the more tools you have, the lower the chances are that your data is reliable.

Too many systems can lead to:

  • Too much context switching and the necessary info not being added to the correct tool
  • System syncing issues and resulting data gaps
  • No single source of truth for decision-making about the success or failure of your efforts
  • Misaligned handoff and scoring criteria

The Solution for Disparate Systems

Disparate systems can be one of the harder problems to solve because organizations may have multiple internal stakeholders and decision-makers involved. Nevertheless, there are a few ways to address this issue.

First, you can look at moving all of your marketing and sales operations into a single tool like HubSpot, where Marketing Hub and Sales Hub can accommodate all of the needs for the alignment between sales and marketing teams and provide a seamless customer experience.

If combining systems is not an option, consider doing an audit of where information is not collected, synced, and updated between systems. Data collection and synchronization gaps can impact things like lead scoring and lifecycle stage updates, which are crucial to keeping sales and marketing aligned. Reporting can also be affected and lead to decisions made on incomplete information.

Additionally, you will want to assess your current systems to ensure they can achieve your shared goals. For example, can your systems trigger actions in one another to ensure that sales and marketing stay on the same page? If not, check outside your tools’ native functionality using platforms like Zapier or Workato.

3. Inconsistent Data

Your data suffers when you have too many tools, weak processes for using your tech, a lack of operational leadership, or any combination of these things. When you can’t trust your data, you are flying blind when making decisions that impact your customers.

Bad data doesn’t just lead to bad calls because you can’t correctly forecast your sales team’s pipeline.

Bad data means we don’t personalize campaigns, get the handoff wrong, put people into the wrong segmented cohorts, and over or under-touch our prospect accounts in the sales funnel.

The truth is data drives your revenue engine and should inform your sales and marketing efforts. Everyone in your revenue operations – marketing leaders and implementers, sales managers and reps, and customer success teams – needs data to drive decisions around how they interact with customers throughout the buyer journey.

The Solution to Inconsistent Data

Often, solving the issue of disparate systems will also solve your data problems. But in instances where that’s not the case, other solutions are in order.

If you are not getting the data you need for sales and marketing to align and make insightful, helpful decisions, your data collection processes might be in the way.

When you’re thinking about your process, the first thing you should do is interview your team to see what obstacles prevent them from adding data. For example, do you have the most commonly populated properties broken down into sections in the left-side views of the correct records? If not, note this as something you can improve.

Next, look at how automation can tighten up your processes and keep your data clean. For example, can you use automation to create records or move them from stage to stage of a pipeline to ensure that the data surrounding those activities stays accurate? Can you duplicate or update properties using workflows to reduce manual entry?

Finally, ensure that all your systems are sharing data regularly and automatically. This step will ensure that everyone and every automation has the right data at the right time. And, of course, condensing your tech stack will help keep data consistent.

4. Misaligned Goals & the Battle Over MQLs

All marketing professionals are familiar with this play: Gate content to capture an MQL to send to a sales/business development rep (SDR or BDR, respectively). That SDR/BDR then prospects in concert with marketing to move this person into the coveted SQL lifecycle stage.

Once the lead becomes an SQL, the account executive takes over and closes the deal, won or lost.

This play seems fair enough on its face and has been used thousands of times by thousands of marketing teams. But if we’re talking about sales and marketing alignment, this play relies on a process laden with potential land mines.

Think about it: If the marketing team has a goal to drive MQLs and they are assessed based on their ability to meet that goal, their sole focus will be on how to get as many gated content downloads as possible.

What’s the issue with that? Well, it turns out that the audience most likely to read your content is not necessarily the audience that wants to buy your product now.

If sales reps are judged by the number of MQLs they convert to opportunities, company friction is baked into the system: The marketing team meeting their goals is out of step with sales reaching their goals. Sales and marketing misalignment!

Teams focusing on generating MQLs rather than revenue and demand will continue to struggle with alignment. As a result, they will leave themselves ill-prepared to run account-based marketing campaigns or to provide a seamless experience for their customers.

The Solution to the MQL Battle

Reach out to your sales counterparts and discuss how you can set up processes, regular meetings, and other means of listening to and learning from each other. Create feedback loops between marketing and sales teams.

Sales can teach marketing a lot. For instance, what happens on calls with MQLs? What objections does the sales team run into over and over? Which content assets and marketing messages do people make mention of in calls?

On the other hand, sales can learn from their colleagues on the marketing side of the house. Marketers should give the sales department insight into the marketing strategy. What content is marketing serving and why? What buyer personas are marketers creating content for? How have they altered the targeting, and how is sales seeing it play out in sales calls? What content influences the buying journey most and what assets are consumed most in deals that result in “closed-won” outcomes?

Once sales and marketing understand one another more, they can make informed choices that help both teams win. Once there is mutual understanding, the teams can begin to have conversations about important choices that can greatly impact the pipeline:

  • Should we focus on capturing MQLs, or should we ungate content to drive demand?
  • Should we define an MQL differently than we currently do?
  • How can we support asynchronous buying and get prospects to SQL or sales-qualified opportunity (SQO) status before involving sales?

This line of questioning is a much more productive than “Why did you send me so many junk leads this month?”

5. Running Successful ABM Plays

The final sales and marketing alignment challenge in this series is the challenge of running successful ABM plays with misaligned sales and marketing teams. At the end of the day, you just can’t do it!

The problem areas outlined above – poor handoffs, disparate systems, inconsistent data, and arm wrestling over MQLs – prevent an organization from running successful ABM plays, especially at scale.

Why is it so hard to knock your ABM goals out of the park when sales and marketing aren’t talking? It’s because ABM requires that you’re not only aligned on one MQL or SQL definition, but you have to define an entire buying committee, meaning even more handoffs, system, data, and goal alignment.

The Solution to ABM Alignment Issues

If you are a HubSpot user, you likely know that you have a plethora of HubSpot tools to use for your ABM plays:

  • Target Account property
  • ICP Tier property
  • Account Overview
  • Suggested Target Account AI tool
  • Prospects tool to see accounts who have visited your website
  • ABM and Target Account dashboards
  • Company scoring
  • Buying role properties
  • Workflow automations
  • Chatbot or live chat
  • Automated lead rotation
  • Ads conversion events

Here are some steps you can take to align your team for ABM:

  1. Verify that you have been collecting job titles and buying roles. If you have not, go back through your last quarter of closed deals and manually enter this information or update via workflows. For example, you can indicate that a certain job title is always a decision-maker.
  2. Create a dashboard to understand the buying roles involved in your recent deals and who usually shows up at the buying table first.
  3. Have a meeting between sales and marketing to review this information and agree upon the buying committee and who to prioritize.
  4. Follow the other solutions outlined above to ensure that your teams are aligned on goals, lifecycle stage definitions, and handoff protocol and that your data is clean and your systems are talking.
  5. Finally, use your Target Account and ABM tools to set up a campaign to support the alignment between sales and marketing.

Who says that sales and marketing can’t play well together? More often than not, you can rectify sales and marketing misalignment with a little learning and listening, followed by consistent action and cross-functional collaboration.

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About the author

Stacy Jackson is a founding partner at The B2B Mix, a marketing firm located in Dunedin, Florida. In addition to her work at Jackson Marketing, Stacy is a co-host of The B2B Mix Show podcast. You can follow her on Twitter at @stacy_jax and connect with her on LinkedIn.