How startups can align inside sales & inbound marketing

by Steli Efti
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For some founders, aligning sales and marketing is an uphill battle

The challenge is often fraught with politics and pointing fingers. In the ideal world, your inside sales team and inbound marketing team should operate like a well-oiled machine. Communication between the two sides should be consistent, and the objectives that each group is striving to achieve should be obvious and in sync. Unfortunately, in most organizations that’s simply not the case.

In fact, according to Rinnovation, 65 percent of sales reps say they can't find content to send to prospects, representing the most common complaint cited by sales teams.

That’s insanity!

How does it get this bad?

Well, it gets to this point when the company allows it to happen. If you’re a startup founder or senior executive and your marketing and sales departments aren’t on the same page, it’s on you to readjust and get the team back on track. As much as people like to say marketing is from Mars and sales is from Saturn, the reality is this: They’re both key parts of your universe.

And if they’re not unified in working toward the same goals, then you’re probably leaving money on the table every single month. In this blog post, we’re going to arm you with the insights and strategies you need to ensure that your inside sales team and inbound marketing team are aligned.

Want to build a high-performing sales organization? Check out our Ultimate Sales Resource Bundle (free download).

Start by aligning sales & marketing definitions

In both sales and marketing, there are plenty of acronyms to be thrown around. (If you’re not a fan of acronyms, then you’re going to really hate the world of marketing and sales.) While it’s easy to poke fun at all the acronyms, there’s no question that the definitions of some industry buzzwords differ depending on whom you’re speaking with. As an organization, it’s important that your teams are aligned on definitions and understand what they’re trying to do when it comes to the sales funnel.

At the foundation of inbound marketing and inside sales is the acquisition of leads. The challenge is that the sales team and the marketing team often disagree on what exactly is considered a lead. As such, it’s important to ensure that both marketing and sales know how the company defines a lead and what a quality lead looks like. Both teams need to know how leads are inserted into marketing automation programs, when they transfer into a CRM, who is responsible for that process and what differentiates a marketing-qualified lead (MQL) from a sales-qualified lead (SQL).

An MQL is a prospect that the marketing team has acquired through their content marketing efforts, someone they feel confident is a potential buyer. In most cases, the MQL has indicated that they are in the market for a product like yours by their actions or by explicitly stating it when they filled out a form. On the flipside, an SQL is an MQL who’s been handed over to the inside sales team and has given further indication that they’re almost ready to buy. It could be an agreement to jump on a phone call. It could be listening to a sales call. It could be actively visiting a product page on your website.

Regardless of what your definitions look like, the most important factor is that your inside sales team and inbound marketing team both know and understand the definitions. Once you’ve aligned these, it becomes 10 times easier to ensure that your teams are aiming for the same target.

Establish goals that marketing & sales both influence

In the article “How the Rift between Sales and Marketing Undermines Reps,” Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson write:

In a recent Corporate Executive Board survey, sales executives’ top term for their marketing colleagues included “paper pushers,” “academic,” and perhaps worst of all, “irrelevant.” On the other hand, marketing executives called out their sales counterparts as “simple minded,” “cowboys,” and flat out “incompetent.” Strikingly, across several hundred sales and marketing responses, a full 87% were negative.

Gulp.

This disconnect is deeply rooted in one thing: goal misalignment.

As I've said at the 2016 Growth Conference: Sales and marketing need to get their shit together!

Brands need to ensure that their inbound marketing team and inside sales team view one another as team members and understand the role that both sides play in each other's success. Once definitions are set, the sales and marketing teams need to get aligned when it comes to organizational goals. Setting sales goals and marketing goals that align is so key.

Unfortunately, many marketers have spent years being told by their managers that the metrics that matter most are things like page views, impressions, click-thru rate, time spent on site and traffic. Yet, as any startup founder will tell you, unless you’re in the media space, those things usually don’t pay the bills—which is why marketers need to care about revenue just as much as sales does.

In simple terms, if marketing is given a sales target that’s the same as the sales team’s, they’re more likely to ensure that the content they create drives high quality leads. This sense of responsibility will keep the inbound team from investing in fluff pieces to raise traffic numbers and instead increase day-to-day discussions with sales to better understand what kind of content is going to help nurture leads, acquire leads and close prospects.

Build a strategy that both sides embrace

Once the goal is established within your startup, the best inbound marketing and sales teams should start planning as a unit rather than in silos. The folks at Marketo put together this great example of what happens to a buying funnel when sales and marketing are both in the room:

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As you can see in the chart, the marketing team is no longer solely focused on getting the company on a prospect's radar. Instead, they’re also tasked with helping sales by creating content that assists in moving the lead from the evaluation stage to the purchase stage.

This type of integration forces marketing to get to know their audience better and forces sales to rely on marketing more so than in the past. This reliance on marketing will be better for both teams while also making the customer journey a more seamless process.  

Leverage technology that offers transparency

Once the definitions, goals and strategy are in place for aligning marketing and sales, it’s time to ensure that the leaders of both departments know what’s happening in the company. There are plenty of solutions that can help you create dashboards for showing you what’s happening on the inbound side of things. The majority of the marketing automation software available today lets you see and manage your leads directly from the dashboard. Typically, the dashboard shows you insights like how engaged a lead is with email marketing efforts, which pages they visit on the site and what resources they’ve downloaded in the form of ebooks, infographics and reports.

But more important than dashboards is that your sales people and your marketers ARE COMMUNICATING. It doesn't matter what tools they use, and how they communicate—what matters is that they do so frequently, know what's happening, and are working towards the same goals.

For inside sales teams, it’s all about embracing an inside sales software that lets you see what’s happening on your team. Services like Close.io offer sales leaders deep transparency by tracking everything from call records and notes to SMS efforts and follow-ups. All these data points allow sales leaders to ensure that their teams are being productive with their time and effective with their communications efforts.

Wrapping things up

You might be thinking, Who has time for all this?

Well, I’ll tell you this: Ensuring that your inside sales team and inbound marketing team are aligned will save you more money in the long run than what it will cost you to leave things as they are. Sure, it might take some time, but think of the resources you’ll save from going down the drain and the leads you’ll be better equipped to close.

And more important, making this effort now will have a lasting impact on your corporate culture and bottom line.

Interested in learning more about how technology can help sales and marketing get on the same page? Check out our Startup Sales Bundle and leverage the 9 email templates, 3 checklists, 7 sales books and more to ensure that your sales team is moving in the right direction with the right leads. Get your bundle today:

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