31 Marketers Share Their Tips for Aligning with Sales
February 5, 2019 | Karo Sadowicz
Marketing and sales teams used to have separate responsibilities. Marketing teams were responsible for generating leads, and sales teams converted those leads into customers.
But these days, the lines between marketing and sales teams’ responsibilities have blurred. Prospects no longer come to sales with limited information. They conduct significant research before reaching out, consuming dozens of marketing assets along the way.
This shift has created demand for a new working model for marketing and sales—one that requires close alignment between the two teams. To create that alignment, marketers are using a number of marketing- and sales-enablement activities to generate leads, qualify them, and move sales-qualified leads down the pipeline:
Our latest survey results show that more than 50% of marketers agree that the following marketing activities “significantly help” in making sales teams more efficient:
- Generating more marketing-qualified and sales-qualified leads (77%)
- Creating more content to attract and educate prospects (74%)
- Lead generation via company website (72%)
- Creating content for use in the sales process (54%)
- Improving marketing’s CRM usage (53%)
Other popular activities listed as significantly helpful include automating email messages from marketing (50%), standardizing email templates used throughout the sales process (28%), lead scoring (22%), and implementing meeting-booking tools so prospects can schedule time with salespeople easily (22%).
Less popular activities include:
- Using surveys, quizzes, or other interactive content to qualify leads further: only 16% of marketers report that this has significantly helped.
- Setting service level agreements for lead volume and quality: only 12% of marketers report that this significantly helped.
- Implementing website chat: only 9% of marketers report that this significantly helped.
However, some of the less popular activities may just be the result of low usage. In fact, our survey results showed that more marketers plan to start using interactive content this year than any other technology or tactic for gathering information about leads:
While 97% of marketers plan to continue using lead forms and landing pages in 2019 to gather more information about leads, many marketers also plan to start using more advanced tactics:
- 23% plan to start using market research surveys.
- 17% plan to start using data appending.
- 16% plan to start using progressive polling.
- 11% plan to start using email nurturing campaigns to get existing leads to provide more information.
So what activities, techniques, and technologies should your team use to align sales and marketing—and boost sales’ efficiency—this year? We asked 31 marketers to share their best practices for sales enablement. Here’s what we learned.
Start by Aligning Marketing and Sales
Marketing can’t help sales become more efficient if the two teams work in silos. As SparkReaction’s Jesse Frye says: “From my experience, the best way to help your sales team become more efficient is to first understand their challenges. Once you understand the challenges in selling, you can equip sales teams with marketing tools to make their jobs easier.”
If your marketing and sales teams are working in vacuums, consider these suggestions for improving cross-department collaboration and encouraging ongoing communication.
Define Processes for Marketing and Sales Collaboration
Before you help your sales team become more efficient, you must understand what sales needs from marketing. That understanding comes from a close collaboration between the two teams.
According to Weidert Group’s Nicole Mertes: “It all starts with alignment. If marketing and sales are aligned, the collaboration between the two departments typically results in many ideas, including those for sales team efficiency.”
Mertes recommends that marketing teams work with sales to create a service-level agreement (SLA): “An SLA that outlines your shared goals and the commitments of each department to reach those goals is a great place to start.”
But collaborating with sales doesn’t always have to be so formal and defined. Just setting up regular meetings can encourage communication and alignment.
Carolinas IT’s Jennifer Noto meets with her sales team once a week: “I provide updates about our ongoing campaigns, share information about our upcoming events, and provide PDF files of our marketing emails so account managers can reach out to their clients and prospects directly with a personal note.”
Regular meetings also provide marketers with an opportunity to educate the sales team. “One way our marketing team helps sales reps generate more revenue is through education,” says Michael Maynes of CIENCE. “Many marketers focus on educating markets/prospects, but our marketing team designs education programs for the sales team.”
“In our space, there is an oversaturation of information—but maybe less education,” Maynes says. “Our marketing team filters the material critical for relevance and presents it every week in a one-hour program called Thought Leadership Tuesday.”
Align on Each Team’s Role at Different Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
Another strategy for aligning marketing and sales is to determine which team is responsible for working with prospects at different stages of the buying journey.
Revenue River’s Marc Herschberger recommends connecting your entire campaign strategy to the buyer’s journey:
“We’ve been able to simplify everything the marketing team does by basing our decisions on the needs and goals of the buyers at different stages of the decision-making process. By doing this, marketing and sales have content and processes that are better aligned, reducing the friction that prospects feel as they move from marketing assets to sales conversations.”
Elika Dizechi of Campaign Creators recommends taking this one step further: “Sit down with both parties to establish a set of processes and procedures for client onboarding and employee training. Because the sales and marketing teams have to work together as a dual entity for clients, it’s important that the handoff between each team is seamless.”
Once marketing and sales are aligned, you can start to develop strategies for generating more leads, qualifying them, and passing qualified leads to sales.
Generate More Leads with Inbound Marketing
The two strategies that our respondents reported as being the most successful for marketing and sales enablement were creating content to attract and educate prospects, and lead generation via their companies’ websites.
Nearly all respondents agree that these two tactics either help or significantly help with marketing and sales enablement.
Kris Hughes says his team used lead generation tactics on the ProjectManager.com website to double their free trial signups in 2018. Additionally, “The increased volume of leads allowed the sales team to better vet potential customers and start to prioritize the potential clients which deserve—and to some extent demand—a greater level of attention and more touch points to become full customers following a trial.”
Our respondents recommend the following techniques for generating more leads with inbound marketing.
Publish Educational Content and Optimize it for Search
Best Company’s Chad Zollinger says that publishing knowledge-focused content helps his team produce more qualified leads: “Because our content is knowledge-focused, our leads come away with more industry knowledge than normal, leading to higher retention for the companies they end up buying from.”
Beyond publishing knowledge-focused content, the content team at Best Company also focuses on employing the best practices of SEO to grow content visibility: “When the content team increases organic traffic by winning a featured snippet or ranking on the first page of Google for a branded term, our lead quality goes through the roof,” Zollinger says.
The marketing team at Fundera also uses educational, search-optimized content to attract inbound leads. According to Nicolas Straut: “By targeting and ranking for less-competitive, long-tail keywords, we’ve drawn high-intent customers to our site and converted them with both quizzes and CTAs within highly-informative content.”
Use A/B Testing to Optimize Your Landing Pages
Smallpdf’s Hung Nguyen asserts that running experiments by A/B testing your landing pages is the best way to drive conversions:
“However many hypotheses you can come up with, the only way to properly test them is to run A/B tests until you’ve reached statistical significance. Once you’ve found the most optimized version of your landing page, run it, and hand the data over to your sales team to nurture your leads.”
Solicit Content Ideas and Feedback from Sales
Casey Bowden of Design Extensions recommends working with sales during the content ideation process: “Our marketing team works hand-in-hand with our sales team, creating videos, infographics and effective content that helps sell to potential customers—especially on our website, which has been a big lead magnet.”
Ryan Bromsgrove of Flawless Inbound agrees: “We’ve undergone a deep sales and marketing alignment. Our marketing content is used by sales to assist with their outreach to prospects. Likewise, our marketing department remains in constant contact with sales in order to evaluate what’s working and glean ideas for further content. The result is more content that aligns with what our clients are trying to solve—and better conversations on the sales side.”
Creating content that answers prospects’ most pressing questions and alleviates their biggest concerns is key to inbound marketing. As Sneakerlost’s José Juan Morales says: “Today’s consumers don’t like to be chased. You have to attract them with arguments that interest them and reach out only when they are ready to take the next step.”
Nurture Leads with Automated Email Sequences
85% of our respondents use automated email sequences to nurture leads. How?
“We send personalized content to our leads via workflows and e-mails,” says Romy Fuchs of BEE Inbound AG. “We try to nurture leads by being as helpful as possible and not primarily offering our services. Our goal is for leads to reach out to our sales team—not vice versa.”
Adam Rowles of Inbound Marketing Agency recommends using blog content to create nurturing emails: “Creating blog articles that speak to objections and questions that come up during the sales process has helped us improve close rates. We create email templates (2-3 paragraphs that link to blog posts) for the sales team to send to prospects when needed.”
Rowles continues: “Then, we add these emails into our marketing automation platform, and when a prospect meets a particular stage in the sales process, these emails are sent automatically, periodically, to keep prospects engaged and keep our business at top of mind.”
Qualify and Score Leads Before Sending them to Sales
Having more leads is great, but not all leads should be sent to the sales team.
As Print4Hospitality’s Richard George says: “Qualifying leads makes salespeople more efficient. It allows them to focus on worthwhile leads and waste less time on unqualified leads.”
77% of our respondents reported that generating more marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) and sales-qualified leads (SQLs) significantly helped improve the efficiency of their sales teams.
But before you can generate more MQLs and SQLs, you first have to determine how to qualify leads. Here are some of the techniques our respondents use.
Create a Lead-Qualification Matrix
Kiwi Creative’s Kaity Huff recommends developing a lead-qualification matrix: “To make sure that marketing is generating leads that the sales team can turn into customers, both teams need to have a shared understanding of exactly what a qualified lead is. Luckily, that comes down to answering just two main questions.”
The first question to ask, according to Huff, is “What makes someone a good fit for your offering? Create an ideal customer profile that lists the key traits a person or organization must possess to be a good fit.”
The second question to ask, according to Huff, is “Which actions demonstrate that someone is sales-ready? Identify the actions a lead takes to demonstrate that they’re ready to buy.”
“Once you know the qualifications for fit and sales readiness,” Huff says, “you can create a six-category lead qualification matrix that will define exactly which leads should be passed on to sales—and which ones should continue to be nurtured by marketing.”
Define Lead Qualification Categories and Criteria
AJ Alonzo’s team at demandDrive uses “Good,” “Better,” and “Best” categories to score leads: “We operate on a ‘Good, Better, Best’ model with our accounts: accounts that could use our service (‘Good’), accounts we know could use our service (‘Better’), and accounts we’d love to convince to use our service (‘Best’).”
“We always had these distinctions,” Alonzo says, “but by better aligning marketing and sales, we’re able to easily identify which bucket an account belongs in.”
Use Technology to Score Leads Automatically
Several respondents reported using marketing automation and CRM tools to score leads automatically.
Kristin Dennewill of Denamico uses HubSpot to score leads for agency clients: “We start by having a conversation with sales and marketing teams to identify what, exactly, is a sales-qualified lead. We discuss what triggers indicate a lead has moved from an MQL to an SQL. Maybe they’ve looked at the pricing page or requested a demo.”
Lead scoring also helps Dennewill’s team disqualify specific leads: “A prospect can also take actions which decrease their score—for example, not opening a lead nurturing email.”
The right tool also helps you identify qualified leads through behavior monitoring. According to Brian Pappalardo of Pappalardo Digital: “By using a marketing platform that captures behavioral data on your leads, you don’t have to wait for a form submission to indicate that your prospect is nearing the decision-making point.”
“For instance,” Pappalardo says, “if a lead clicks a ‘Speak to a Representative’ link in your marketing email but doesn’t submit the contact form on the landing page, that’s still a pretty strong signal that you’re dealing with a warm prospect. And if you haven’t reached out in a while, it might be time for your sales team to get that prospect on the phone.”
Passing Qualified Leads Over to Sales
Our respondents also offered a number of suggestions for handing qualified leads over to the sales team:
- “Provide automated alerts to salespeople when their prospects take some kind of action with marketing assets. For example, when an active prospect visits our company website or opens a marketing email, the assigned salesperson gets an immediate text alert that contains details about the visit.” (Jake Fisher, Bridges Strategies)
- “We’ve implemented IP tracking that tells sales reps which companies visit our website. In that way, we can still start conversations with potential customers even if they have not converted on an offer. IP tracking expands the number of warm leads that sales reps can work with on a daily basis.” (Thorstein Nordby, Nettly)
- “Our marketing team has created a landing page for our sales person so prospects can book an appointment directly on her calendar.” (Kristin Dennewill, Denamico)
- “Our marketing team has connected all of our different lead sources to Zapier, allowing us to automatically assign leads—based on their area codes—to the correct rep, enter the lead information into our CRM system, and add the lead to specific drip campaigns.” (Joe Sloan, Advice Media)
It also helps to pass along information on how prospects have interacted with marketing assets when sending leads to sales.
According to Brianne Rush of Kuno Creative: “The typical B2B buyer is likely to make it through 60% of the decision-making process before speaking to a salesperson. In this time, prospects can take any number of actions: become a blog subscriber, download an ebook, or sign up for marketing emails about a specific product.”
Rush continues: “With the right tools to monitor these moves, sales teams will be armed with relevant information to guide the other 40% of the buyer’s journey.”
Create Content to be Used During the Sales Process
53% of our respondents reported that creating content for use in the sales process is highly effective for sales enablement.
As Jesse Frye of SparkReaction says: “Every salesperson works differently, but as long as you develop content that aligns with the overall sales process—and educate the sales team on when and how to use the content—it usually makes their jobs easier. If they have to spend hours searching for marketing tools and materials, it hurts their ability to close deals.”
Here are a few ways our respondents enable sales teams with sales-specific content:
Make Sure You Are Creating the Right Content
Creating content for sales only works if sales and marketing are aligned. Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers asserts that sales and marketing must work hand-in-hand to create content.
“It’s important to have the sales team explain to the marketing team precisely what content they’re looking for and what the content will be used for. Once the marketing department has created the content, the sales team will review it and propose a few changes. Then, the marketing team will make the changes and re-submit it to the sales team for approval.”
Use Technology to Deliver Content to Sales
Make it easier for sales to find the content you’ve created for them by adopting tools that make the content discovery process easier.
Stan Robinson, Jr. of Vengreso uses a content distribution platform to queue up relevant content
Anne Shenton of Ascend Inbound Marketing recommends the Documents feature in HubSpot Sales: “Once documents are uploaded into the tool, sales reps can quickly access them and insert them as a link in an email, from within HubSpot, or from their email client with the HubSpot extension.”
“Another benefit of using this feature,” Shenton says, “is that reps are notified when a prospect opens the document. And if the prospect forwards the document to someone else, they have to input their email to view it, which also notifies the rep. Reps can see how many times and how long the document was viewed for. They can then use this insight to tailor their follow-ups.”
Eric Pratt of Revenue River recommended Pandadoc for the same capability of “tracking exactly what prospects care about. With PandaDoc, you can see exactly what parts of the document prospects are reading, among other things.”
Build Interactive Content
Nearly half of all marketers plan to use quizzes, surveys, and other forms of interactive content in 2019 to gather more information about their leads.
According to Mike Stiriti, the marketing team at TSL Marketing is already using interactive content to provide sales teams with more information about leads:
“Our marketing team has increased our qualified lead rates and discovery calls exponentially through targeted digital advertising. They have executed survey campaigns through LinkedIn sponsored updates that lead to valuable business intelligence and follow-up conversations.”
for the sales team to share on social. “It also shows us when readers have engaged with the content so we can respond to them,” he says.
Marketing agency, Overgo Studio, is doubling down on interactive content as well. Kranz is implementing SnapApp’s Interactive pdfs, “SnapApp offers a content creation platform that lets marketers ask questions as prospects read pdfs. This allows us to capture more information about our leads using the eBooks we have already created and easily gather intelligence that can help us qualify or disqualify leads before they reach sales.”
Create Content Templates
If you have types of content your sales team uses over and over again, consider formalizing the template and adopting tools that make it easy to personalize the content.
For example, Jen Lombardi at Kiwi Creative uses Quilr to streamline proposal writing: “Our marketing team designed reusable blocks of content that we can quickly add/edit without having to worry about formatting issues. The final document is a slick looking landing page that alerts you when it’s been viewed.”
Build Standard and Reusable Emails
Marketing teams can also help sales by creating email campaigns designed for sales-qualified leads. Alex Robinson of Team Building Hero did this recently, saving each of his company’s sales reps an estimated 19 hours a month:
“In 2018, one of the major contributions of marketing to sales was building a customized email follow-up that sales reps can trigger just by moving the lead along the customer path in the CRM.”
“In the past,” Robinson says, “our sales associates were manually following up with leads, which I’d estimate at 20+ hours of work per month. With our automated follow-up, sales reps are only spending around an hour per month on the task, which has given them more time for calls with qualified leads and building long-term relationships with clients.”
Steve James of Stream Creative agrees: “Creating sales email templates in our CRM for different lead scenarios has been a huge timesaver for our team. It’s helped our response time as well as keeping our messaging consistent across our teams.”
Use Sales Playbooks
“One of the best things you can do to improve sales and marketing alignment is to build out sales playbooks.” said Doug Davidoff of Imagine Business Development. https://www.imaginellc.com/ “With digital marketing, it easy for marketers to see which of their work resonates with prospects. They simply have to log into their analytics or marketing automation tools to see the numbers. However, we have never had data about which questions and soundbites are the most effective on a sales call… until now.”
Davidoff shared how his team has been building sales playbooks using Costello https://andcostello.com/ to enable marketers and sales people to collaborate on what to ask, what to say and how to say it. “Using the platform, they get instant feedback about what parts of the sales conversation maximize close rates. Because Costello collects information from the prospects in a structured way, it can also help marketers determine which content to use with each prospect, making marketing automation more personalized too.”
Kickstarting Your Sales Enablement Efforts in 2019
If your sales and marketing teams aren’t yet aligned, make an effort to kickstart the collaboration this year. The simplest starting point: schedule a meeting with sales to discuss shared goals.
In the meeting, ask what they need from marketing. Maybe it’s content they can use during the sales cycle. Maybe they need more upfront information about leads that you can gather through interactive content or by adopting a tool that passes your marketing data to their CRM.
Once you find out what they need, deliver it. Show them how marketing can make their jobs easier, and it will be easier to convince them to start collaborating more closely with your team.