Collaborative Success: Strategies for Aligning Sales and Marketing

Demandbase image

November 30, 2023

11 mins read

sales and marketing alignment collaboration blog feature

Collaborative Success: Strategies for Aligning Sales and Marketing

Sales and marketing alignment is perhaps the #1 predictor of go-to-market success. However, these teams often function in different ways. Put simply, sales is from Mars and marketing is from Venus.

Think of it like this: sales teams focus on immediate goals — the next lead or sale — while marketing takes a wider view, planning and developing strategies for the future. Understanding these different approaches is key to getting both teams to work towards the same goal.

I recently had the opportunity to lead a panel discussion on the topic of sales and marketing alignment at the Modern Sales Pros RevEx Fest Sales Fever, titled “Disco Duets: Harmonizing Sales and Marketing.” The panel included Manoj Ramnani, CEO of SalesIntel, Ting Ting Luo, VP of Marketing at Orum, and Paul Ross, CMO at Affinity. We talked about how marketing, with its eye on long-term strategies, can work effectively with sales, which is more focused on immediate results.

Our conversation looked at how these teams, with their own languages, performance metrics, and training, can form a successful partnership to boost business growth. This post delves into the lessons from our panel discussion, shedding light on how these partnerships work best, and exploring key questions, including:

  • Where should sales development sit?
  • What is the role of the chief revenue officer?
  • Where should operations report?
  • Should we track marketing and sales sourced pipeline?

As you’ll see, despite LinkedIn soundbites from pundits (including me) that claim to know the answer, our discussion acknowledges that often there is no one “right approach” to these sales and marketing alignment questions; rather, it depends on the specific needs of each company, the experience of their leaders, the size of deals they handle, and other important factors.

The ongoing debate: Where should sales development sit?

A common question in the sales and marketing world is whether sales development reps (SDRs) should report to sales or marketing. The argument for aligning SDRs with marketing is that they both focus on creating opportunities. They also rely heavily on metrics and processes and play a crucial role in an account-based strategy. On the other hand, those in favor of placing SDRs under sales point to the natural career progression from SDR to account executive (AE), the specialized training required for SDRs, and the need for them to coordinate closely with AEs.

Data from a 2021 Bridge Group report shows a split: 68 percent of SDR teams report to sales, while a significant number, especially those focusing on inbound tactics, align with marketing. Perhaps most importantly, the top-performing SDR teams do well regardless of who they report to. So, the decision should be based on the specific needs and dynamics of your organization, the strengths of your leadership team, and the understanding that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer in the sales and marketing world.

Defining the role of the chief revenue officer

The chief revenue officer (CRO), a relatively recent addition to the C-suite, often sparks debate over its scope and focus. There are three main possibilities:

  • All-Encompassing Revenue Oversight: In this perspective, the CRO is responsible for all revenue-generating activities and oversees the entire revenue cycle, including marketing, sales, and customer success. This comprehensive approach ensures a unified strategy across all revenue-related departments, facilitating better alignment of goals and streamlined decision-making. The advantage here is the creation of a cohesive revenue strategy that leverages synergies across different departments, potentially leading to more efficient and effective revenue generation.
  • Focused Sales Leadership: Here, the CRO is an advanced head of sales, focused on leading and optimizing the sales team, developing sales strategies, and enhancing sales operations. The primary aim is to close deals and manage the salesforce effectively. The advantage of this narrower focus is it lets the sales leader focus on sales and not manage departments where they may not have experience or expertise.
  • Balanced Sales and Post-Sales: In this perspective, the CRO’s role extends beyond closing deals to include post-sale customer success and experiences, covering all activities that contribute to sustained revenue after the initial sale. Unlike the “all-encompassing” option, this approach doesn’t include marketing. The advantage of this view is that it puts the CRO in charge of the major factors that influence renewal and expansion revenue, including long-term satisfaction and loyalty, while maintaining marketing as a separate, yet aligned, revenue driver focused on brand and pipeline creation.

During our panel discussion, it was clear that defining the CRO’s role isn’t straightforward. While a CRO oversees all revenue aspects, there’s a clear distinction between responsibility for generating the pipeline (usually marketing’s realm) and converting that pipeline into actual revenue (the CRO’s main focus). Moreover, the role can vary significantly across organizations, with some including marketing under the CRO’s purview and others distinguishing clearly between pipeline creation and closing.

In essence, the CRO’s job is to drive the company’s revenue growth, but the specifics of this role are customized to each company’s strategic needs and structure and the experience of the specific leaders involved. 

Where should operations report?

In many companies, marketing operations has traditionally been part of the marketing department, and sales operations part of the sales department. But recently, there’s a growing trend to combine these into one revenue operations team. This team works to align different areas, especially in planning and metrics. By working together, they can create a clear strategy across all areas that generate revenue, breaking down barriers that might block communication or slow down growth.

The specific benefits of revenue operations include:

  • Aligning Goals: RevOps ensures that all departments work towards the same revenue goals, thereby improving communication and reducing silos.
  • Operational Efficiency: By integrating different departments, revops optimizes contributions across the organization, enhancing overall efficiency.
  • Accurate Forecasting: A unified framework with shared data leads to more accurate revenue forecasting, benefiting the entire organization.
  • Cost Reduction: Revops simplifies operations by identifying essential tools and strategies across departments, thereby saving costs and reducing confusion.

Despite the benefits, a fully integrated revenue operations function may not be for all companies. The two key, related considerations are: (1) how to ensure marketing continues to get the unique support it needs, and (2) where should the combined operations report?

Some companies attempt to implement revenue operations by simply rebranding sales operations as revops, and keeping the function reporting up through the sales organization. This can be a recipe for disaster if marketing operations is forced to roll up into that new group, since marketing’s needs will often end up being secondary in what is essentially a sales support function. That said, if marketing operations does not roll up to the new function, then it’s really just a sales ops team with a fancy name.

A much better option is for the revenue operations team to report to the chief operating officer (COO) or chief financial officer (CFO), where they can work more neutrally. This is important because the revenue operations team needs to coordinate processes across various departments, like business operations, HR, and finance, not just sales and marketing. This setup turns revenue operations into a central point that oversees the company’s overall operational efficiency.

Still, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some companies will still benefit from separate marketing and sales operations functions, others from a combined revenue operations team. The answer is heavily dependent on specific factors unique to each organization, including the size of the company, its stage of maturity, and the relative experience of its leaders. What remains clear is that the chosen structure must support the organization’s aim to foster alignment among teams and facilitate a shared vision for revenue generation.

Should we track marketing and sales sourced pipeline?

Traditionally, revenue teams would track the source of pipeline, giving credit to either sales or marketing for sourcing the deal.  However, I believe that the complexity of modern business transactions — with larger buying groups and the need for orchestrated marketing and sales efforts at every journey stage — renders this model less effective. The analogy is a shift from a relay race, where marketing would pass a lead like a baton to sales, to a soccer team in which marketing and sales work as a unified team.

In this model, you don’t give credit to any single touch, any more than you give the credit for a goal to any one kick from any specific player. Trying to assign credit breaks down the very teamwork that is required for success. Instead, we should focus on what really matters: Is there enough TOTAL pipeline to meet your company’s revenue goals, i.e. “team-sourced pipeline.”

This also solves the problem that so many touches happen outside of our ability to track them, like word of mouth or activities in “dark social” spaces. It also values the marketing that influences the likelihood of a prospect responding positively to sales outreach — including PR, brand advertising, analyst relations, etc. — but from which marketing wouldn’t get any “direct” credit.

That said, there are instances where separating the pipeline into marketing- and sales-sourced categories might be necessary:

  • Alignment Challenges: When marketing and sales teams lack strong alignment, the teams aren’t ready to work together like a well-oiled team.
  • Justifying Marketing Investments: As a CMO, it may be necessary to track marketing-sourced pipeline to defend and justify the marketing budget.
  • External Pressure: Sometimes, external factors such as investor or board member demands necessitate a distinct examination of marketing and sales contributions. (This is especially common in private equity-backed businesses.) 

Perhaps the right answer is a middle ground in which the teams focus on a single shared goal, but you also look at the performance of individual teams. This assessment, however, should not be about assigning credit or value but about identifying areas for improvement. It’s akin to a soccer coach reviewing game tapes. The objective is to improve performance, not assign credit.

Immediate Actions for Improved Alignment

Our discussion concluded with ways to enhance sales and marketing alignment immediately. Beyond the simple, yet oh-so-effective act of spending time together, alignment begins with implementing expectation mapping across various roles. This involves clearly defining and communicating the responsibilities and goals of each role in the sales and marketing teams. For companies using an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy, this includes defining “account entitlements” that document the resources and tactics dedicated to target accounts in each tier. In particular, entitlements serve as the contract between marketing and sales, defining exactly what each department will do to support the effort for each account in each style. 

Similarly, regular focused discussions about data play a crucial role in reinforcing this alignment. These discussions should not just be about sharing data but also about collaboratively interpreting it to understand market trends, customer feedback, and campaign effectiveness. Shared responsibility in goal setting, where both sales and marketing teams contribute to defining targets, further cements this alignment. This practice encourages a sense of ownership and a unified approach toward achieving common goals.

A key strategy in breaking down silos is the implementation of a joint go-to-market meeting. This meeting, held monthly or quarterly, should include leaders from product, finance, sales, and marketing. The inclusion of a neutral party, such as a COO or CFO, can provide an unbiased perspective and facilitate more effective decision-making. These meetings are essential for ensuring that all departments are aligned with the overall business strategy and are working towards common objectives.

Finally, account stand-up meetings, inspired by agile methodologies, are an effective tool in maintaining alignment. These meetings, typically 5-10 minutes every two or four weeks, are a space for a marketer, account executive, and SDR to share updates, discuss strategies for jointly pursuing accounts, and agree on forward actions. 

By implementing these strategies, organizations can significantly enhance the alignment between their sales and marketing teams, leading to more effective and efficient operations.

Embracing complexity and accountability: The takeaways

The art of aligning sales and marketing is an intricate dance of understanding and cooperation. As demonstrated through our engaging panel discussion, the persistent theme across all areas of sales and marketing alignment was “It depends.” There are multiple perspectives and approaches, each with its own merits and challenges, and the most effective path for a company often lies in customizing its strategy to its unique needs, market position, and team dynamics.

The debate over where sales development should sit, the evolving role of the chief revenue officer, the structure of operations, and whether to assign credit for pipeline, are critical discussions in this alignment journey. These decisions should be driven by a clear understanding of both the immediate and long-term objectives of the organization and the recognition that alignment is not a static goal but an ongoing process.

Ultimately, the success of aligni`ng sales and marketing hinges on an organization’s ability to foster a culture of collaboration, shared goals, and mutual respect. It requires leaders to adopt a holistic view, where the collective success of the company is paramount, and where individual departments are seen as integral parts of a larger, cohesive machine. By embracing this mindset, companies can unlock the full potential of their sales and marketing teams, driving growth and success in an increasingly competitive business landscape.

Demandbase image

Jon Miller

Former CMO, Demandbase

Related articles