Marketing & Sales Need to Be Friends - Here’s How

Two business people, in a highrise office, with city view, seated together at a table, with business paraphernalia and coffee, laughing

Marketing and sales professionals often have an adversarial relationship - which can significantly reduce business performance and degrade customer experiences. But what are the causes of this rift between the teams, and how can businesses achieve harmony?

In this article, we’ll help you develop a strategy for sales and marketing alignment. We’ll examine everything from lead acquisition strategy, inter-departmental SLAs, data management, and more. We’ll see how business leaders can help sales and marketing professionals understand each other, and build collegial relationships which deliver for customers.

How did it get like this?

If you’ve never worked in sales, you might not appreciate what a tough job it is. For even the most natural salespeople, the role requires extreme resilience (you get rejected a lot), a ruthless approach to personal time management, and hard graft - in the form of researching, conducting calls or meetings, written communication, and of course, record keeping. Not to mention that a significant portion of this work ultimately comes to nothing (in the short term at least). What's more, unlike in many other departments, success is often tied directly to remuneration, so it can be a high-pressure environment, where failure can have financial impact.

Unfortunately, salespeople can be caricatured by their non-sales colleagues, portrayed as brash, reluctant to deal with other disciplines, and too quick to discard leads generated by their colleagues in marketing - supposedly unwilling to put in the time required to close them.

Similarly, when seen from the outside, it’s easy for salespeople to misunderstand the role of marketers - particularly those focused on demand generation and direct response. Despite the “colouring in department” tropes, marketing has long-since been a data discipline. A contemporary marketer is typically tasked with creating content and campaigns to engage a variety of different personas, across an increasingly large number of channels, before carefully analysing response and constantly adjusting.

Marketers spend large amounts of time identifying and acquiring data sources, managing infrastructure, and managing projects. They can be eager to pass data to colleagues, as they are often targeted on the number of leads they generate. Sales people can find this frustrating, as the two disciplines’ definition of a “lead” can differ enormously - for reasons we’ll discuss later.

So with these conflicting pictures in mind, it’s easy to see how sales and marketing teams can develop an adversarial relationship. Even in small businesses, where staff can be multidisciplinary, sales and marketing objectives can seem at odds with each other.

A strategy for success

Aligning sales and marketing starts with each understanding the other. Business leaders should seek to facilitate this using any means at their disposal - and we’ll look at some of the ways this can be achieved  here. First though, it’s important to realise that this alignment starts with leadership. 

Bearing in mind the primary business objective is to generate revenue, sales and marketing leaders can develop objectives which serve each other, cascade these to team members, and foster a positive, collaborative environment. Many organisations have found this to be so effective, they’ve unified the sales and revenue marketing leadership role, as demonstrated by the prevalence of the Chief Revenue Officer. Even within micro-organisations, thinking about the two functions holistically, ensuring that one is not neglected in favour of the other, and ensuring that marketing and sales projects support each other symbiotically can power growth.

At a more granular level, consider some specific tools and tactics:

1. Building Connections

It’s important that marketing and sales people know what each other really do on a day-to-day basis. Sounds obvious perhaps, but misconceptions caused by stereotypes, and from dealing with colleagues at arm's-length can be tough to overcome. 

A programme of periodic shadowing can really help teams understand each other's methods and workflows, see customers from a different perspective, and build relationships. 

Regular multidisciplinary team meetings are also a must, to agree and monitor KPIs, share knowledge and ideas, and ensure resources are invested effectively.

2. Definitions, targets, incentives

Sales and marketing teams have different definitions when it comes to leads - and that’s hardly surprising considering marketing’s one-to-many model,  versus the one-to-one model of sales. For example, if a marketer can persuade 20 people out of 20,000 to fill in a form asking for more information, they’d consider those people to be leads. On the other hand, if a sales person already has a busy schedule, they might question whether following up with 20 people, who might not be in-market, is a productive use of their time. 

A common system for dealing with this issue sees organisations implementing a dual lead structure of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL), and Sales Qualified Leads (SQL). In this model, our aforementioned form-fillers would be classed as MQLs, and would not rise to the level of SQL until they’d met some pre-agreed conditions - such as requesting a call-back.

Sales and marketing teams should develop a service level agreement between them which ensures sales people are happy with the quality vs volume of leads they’re receiving, and marketing people can be sure that a minimum number of contact attempts are made, and leads are never discarded out of hand. Marketing leaders can target their teams on a number of MQLs, then further incentivise on nurturing leads up to SQL. In smaller organisations, this is an advantageous way of working, because it allows staff (often owners or directors) to direct resources toward the customers and deals most likely to close, and to mentally disambiguate sales and marketing tasks.

Aligning the objectives and incentivisation structure for marketing and sales helps ensure a collaborative approach.

3. Persona Development & Data Acquisition

Firstly, if sales and marketing teams work in silos and fail to communicate, two different target customer profiles can emerge. To avoid this, the task of developing personas should be a shared responsibility.

Secondly, good quality buyer personas must be underpinned by research - everything from existing data analysis, to surveys, and interviews - rather than gut feeling. That said, salespeople are uniquely placed to contribute, as they’re at the customer coalface on a daily basis. They have intricate knowledge of customers’ objections and pain points, so their experience can be invaluable in this respect.

Personas can be hugely beneficial when developing content, campaigns, and sales strategies - and they’re particularly useful for data acquisition planning. If both departments agree on the target customer profiles, marketers can research data vendors in more detail, avoid waste, and invest marketing budget with confidence. This improved precision will naturally yield more relevant leads for sales followup and nurture.

4. Content Partnerships

With a clear and unified understanding of the customers you’re trying to reach (underpinned by your personas), the job of planning and creating content becomes significantly easier. Whilst the project management and production aspect of content creation is certainly a marketing-led operation, sales teams can play a significant part as content creators - after all, sales people spend much of their time anticipating and handling customer objections, staying abreast of industry news and trends, writing highly relevant bespoke communications, and more. 

In SME’s, where sales and marketing roles can blur, staff can mine sales messages, and use their own experience and expertise when working on marketing projects. In larger organisations, dedicated sales people should be thought of as a high-value resource for marketers - They are ideally placed to help marketers tune their messaging for different segments, write articles, product guides, or even participate in audio and video content.

But the relationship should be reciprocal. Just like their marketing colleagues, with the right tools, sales people can streamline their workflows and professionalise their outputs, so marketers should think about how they can contribute. Tangible examples might include developing nurture campaigns to warm up cold prospects or creating automated lapsed customer programmes. 

5. The Right Tools for the Job - Integration

As we’ve already discussed, sales and marketing usually work from different datasets, and definitely have different processes and technology needs. This reality can lead to a CRM platform used by sales and a marketing automation platform used by marketing - completely siloed. 

Records can exist on both, giving neither department the visibility they need. This leads to cadence issues, outdated records, compliance problems, and all-round poor customer experiences. Slow and unreliable manual data transfers have significant costs in a world where customers expect organisations to know them and react quickly. To overcome this, investment in revenue operations is easily justified.

Happily, unifying the two has never been easier - many modern CRM and marketing automation vendors offer out-of-the-box integration, and even where this isn’t the case, low-code, even open source middleware can dramatically reduce complexity and cost.

For small businesses, systems integration reduces duplication and time-to-market, whilst for larger enterprises, it enables both teams to make maximum use of valuable data, passing it seamlessly between each other, and enjoying the transparency they need to monitor and report.

In summary, business leaders should make sales and marketing alignment a top priority, because it’s a success multiplier - When sales and marketing teams work together, the results are greater than the sum of their parts.

It’s time to banish the outdated tropes, and usher in a new era of collaboration, where both departments focus on winning business, and delivering for customers - together.


If you’re looking to supercharge your sales and marketing teams’ effectiveness, get in touch with the experts at Corpdata today. To hear how our high-quality B2B prospect data can help your sales professionals minimise manual research and your marketers increase campaign effectiveness, visit or call +44 (0)1626 777 400.

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