Is Your Small Business Due for an Alignment?

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alignmentHave you ever driven a vehicle when the tires weren’t properly aligned? If you have you probably know what it’s like for your car to want to make a left hand turn on its own or been slightly embarrassed as your vehicle wobbled down the highway during your morning commute.

When things (including tires) are in alignment it means that parts work together because they’re properly ordered or arranged. Today small business owners are hearing a lot about how “sales and marketing alignment” must be in place in order to be profitable.

In the old days (say any time before the mid to late 90’s) the mantra relating to the relationship between sales and marketing went like this:

Sales isn’t marketing and marketing isn’t sales.

Period.

Which was a relatively true statement at the time. Why? Well, for one marketing messages were a one-way conversation. You placed an ad in the local newspaper, or ran a radio spot, or maybe even threw your local small business hat into the televised advertising ring – none of which could claim to be having a “conversation” with customers.

At the time it was solely the job of the sales team to have conversations with customers and they did this by “getting in front” of the customer, meaning these were in-person contacts either face-to-face or on the phone (which led to face-to-face.) Sales conversations of this era were designed to close sales, often to the extent of intentionally scripting conversations in ways meant to “manipulate” customers into buying.

But today we’ve (at least most of us, be we customer or small business owner) have assimilated online social media into our daily lives to the extent that some of us rarely even pick up a phone. Many have predicted that the printed newspaper will soon go the way of the dinosaurs. Marketing on radio and television (so far) are still holding their own, but there is no question that the marketing landscape has forever been digitally altered.

This fact has dramatically changed not only the way small businesses market to their customers, but also the content of the conversations members of their sales team have with today’s customers which, once again, can be attributed to digital disruption.

Today’s customer is definitely different. For one, access to digital information sources make today’s customer the most educated consumers since trade began and, second, social media has allowed customers the opportunity to instantaneously provide feedback to marketing messages. Feedback directed not only to the business the message originated from, but to literally millions of other customers as well.

It’s no secret that sales and marketing have had an (ahem) “difficult” relationship for as long as most anyone can remember. This isn’t because marketing people are any better at what they do than sales people or vice versa. The prime suspect as to why these two functions have historically had trouble getting along is because they were viewed as completely different functions.

But we can now thank technology for clearing up this gross misunderstanding.

Think of it this way: Female parents are called mothers and male parents are called fathers. Females and males are obviously different from each other – but it is equally obvious that they both function as parents to their children no matter their gender.

Marketing and sales are just as different as the male and female parents in our example – and they also follow our example as they also share a business function: To drive profit.

If parents want to be successful co-parents, they must be in alignment. This alignment is necessary in order for them to achieve common goals such as teaching their children to be honest and responsible adults. Similarly, if sales and marketing want to successfully fulfill the function of driving profit they must be in alignment with each other because, while they serve the same function, they do it in different ways.

Marketing engages in activities designed to attract potential customers (generate leads) whereas sales engage in activities that initiate and close the actual sale on those leads. The only logical conclusion is that marketing and sales must be in alignment with each other in order to be successful at driving profit. The more aligned they are, the more profit is generated.

Which begs the question as to what this alignment between marketing and sales looks like in the real world. After all, the alignment between marketing and sales doesn’t “just happen.” Just as tire installers follow procedures and develop skills that are systematically applied in order to align tires, sales and marketing need to create procedures, develop skills, and build systems to align themselves with each other. Here are the basic steps needed to align marketing and sales at your small business:

Create a Sales/Marketing Team. If you’re a super small business your team may consist of just two people, the one in charge of marketing and the one in charge of sales. But it doesn’t matter how small or large your company is – the first step toward aligning marketing and sales is putting the two together regularly and consistently.

Make sure you’ve got the right people on your team. It is common to encounter push back when making changes. However, push back comes in two basic forms. One form of push back is when people actively attempt to obstruct change for unproductive reasons such as “This is the way we’ve always done it” or an inability or unwillingness to change. The other type of push back originates with the intent to make a contribution to the change process. Make sure the people you keep on your team want to contribute rather than obstruct. Above all, members of your Marketing/Sales team must all agree that alignment is needed, be willing to compromise, and be comfortable working together to create an aligned, yet multi-functional team.

Include Your Customers. In order for marketing and sales to be aligned it is absolutely necessary for all involved to understand “who your customer is.” This means using various tactics (focus groups, surveys, polls, conversations on social media) to ascertain who your customer is in terms of what they want, what they need, what their problems are, what they value, and what their interests are. This is achieved by having your team build customer profiles that define the demographics (i.e. age, gender, income and education level) as well as psychographics (i.e. beliefs, values, outside interests) of your businesses’ “perfect customer.”

Make sure Marketing and Sales share and communicate out the same value proposition(s.) In other words, think of Marketing as the right hand of your business and Sales as the left – and we all know that things work better and problems are avoided when the right hand knows what the left is doing (and vice versa.)

Managing Leads. A lead may mean one thing to a marketer and another to sales. Marketing sends messages and engage in activities designed to “get the phone to ring” – but sales wants to know that the person on the other end is a lead worth working. It is a common sales complaint that marketing hands over “leads that aren’t leads.” While it may seem sales is splitting hairs the fact is that, unless sales professionals spend most of their time on workable leads, profitability drops. Here are some basic steps for aligning marketing and sales to effectively manage leads:

  • Marketers are experts at sending messages that resonate with their targets. Sales professionals have an intimate knowledge of characteristics and criteria leads must meet in order to “qualify” as a workable lead. Alignment is created when sales shares those characteristics and criteria with marketing and marketing then creates, deploys, and track sequential tactics and messages to customers and prospects that display those characteristics and meet that criteria.
  • Keep score. The best way to identify customers and prospects that are in the active process of making a buying decision is to create scoring criteria. For instance, a prospect who signs up to be notified when you put a new blog post up and then soon after signs up to receive your online newsletter is scored higher than a prospect that reads a post but doesn’t opt in. The higher a prospect’s score indicates a higher opportunity to close a sale. Again, when sales shares their expertise as to the different characteristics and behaviors that indicate a prospect is ready to start the buying process, marketing can then create campaigns, programs, and content in alignment with those characteristics and behaviors which can then be scored.
  • Sales and marketing need to share their knowledge as to what indicates “buyer readiness” in order for marketing to know how often to contact, as well as what content to deliver prospects, at various stages within the customer’s buying cycle. Marketing is responsible for tracking results of their marketing efforts and then sharing that data with sales. Both sales and marketing use that data to nurture identified leads.
  • Agree when to, as well as how to, hand off a lead to sales. Lead scoring as well as feedback from marketing as to results obtained from individual prospects are the data necessary for identifying exactly when a lead should be handed off to sales. This process must be systematic as timing is critical. It is equally important for sales and marketing to have a smooth transition where a lead that failed to close is returned to marketing for future nurturing. This process involves sales reporting to marketing exactly what track to return the lead to. For instance, if the lead didn’t close due to a long buying cycle that prospect would receive different messages than a lead who was currently unable to meet your company’s price point but sales has identified as a growing business.
  • Agree to goals. This is pretty simple, but absolutely necessary. For instance, if the goal is for sales to increase the number of deals closed by 10%, marketing must have a goal aligned to making that happen – such as a 25% increase in the number of posts published on their blog and posting a minimum of five comments on social media per day.
  • Agree on how to deal with complaints. It is up to both marketing and sales to place a high priority on protecting your small businesses brand. This includes creating a process for handling complaints. Sales can’t be telling a complaining customer that an issue will be solved one way while marketing communicates another solution to the customer.
Last modified: July 25, 2013
Annie Kile


This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.

Category: Small Business, Small Business Corner, small business owners, strategies, tips

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