3 Key Predictions for the Future of Sales and Marketing Alignment

Over the past few weeks, we’ve explored some of the stories of Anna and James, a marketing and sales “power couple” using Pardot and Salesforce Engage to work together and win together. But their relationship wasn’t always sunshine and daisies — before aligning themselves behind shared goals and technologies, there was more than one kerfuffle over who owned which portion of the sales funnel.

To better understand the solution that Anna and James landed on, let’s go back in time to explore the ways that the sales and marketing dynamic has changed over the past twenty years.

The Misalignment of the Past

If you think back to the sales funnel of fifteen or twenty years ago, marketing sat at the top and focused on creating awareness and interest, typically through email or events. As soon as a buyer became interested, that lead would be handed off to sales. If you picture the traditional sales funnel, this hand-off would typically occur fairly close to the top of the funnel, and sales would then move the buyer through the consideration, intent, evaluation, and decision phases. It was often a cookie-cutter approach in which sales controlled a majority of the sales funnel.

The Alignment of the Present

Now, customers have access to more information than ever, which is why you often hear that buyers are 65% of the way through their research process before they reach out to a sales rep. That number is expected to grow to 85% over the next four years. With increased access to social platforms and mobile devices, buyers can find out about products, services, and your company history without even picking up the phone. This moves the line where sales gets involved much further down the funnel, and leaves a massive gap in the middle of the funnel — between marketing and sales — where buyers are being neglected by companies.

Today, companies must be able to manage that gap in order to prevent highly-qualified leads from slipping out of the funnel. In fact, it’s this gap that has created such a need for marketing technologies like marketing automation. It’s also defined a new role for marketing, in which marketers get to own the top and middle of the funnel. Marketing’s sole responsibility is no longer generating top-of-funnel leads, but also nurturing those leads through the sales cycle until they’re ready to speak to a sales rep. Compare this to the marketing and sales relationship of the past, and you can see that it’s a bit of an inverse relationship, since sales is no longer owning the majority of the sales funnel.

The Collaboration of the Future

When we look at the future of marketing and sales alignment, we see what we like to call a “love story.” In fact, the future is no longer about alignment — it’s about collaboration. We discussed this at length in our Dreamforce keynote this year (if you weren’t able to catch the presentation or our sales and marketing soap opera, check out the recording here), but marketing and sales success will soon hinge on your two teams working together as one.

More than that, it’s about working toward a common goal with a shared vision. For many companies, that common goal is revenue, but Social Selling expert Jill Rowley offers a compelling alternative:

Marketing and sales alignment isn’t about meeting each other’s gaze; the goal should be to share a common focal point. To achieve true marketing and sales harmony, both departments need to turn their focus outside the company entirely — to the customer!

For sales and marketing to work together as one, we see three things having to happen first:

  1. The customer becomes the priority. From the perspective of your buyer, what they experience as marketing and what they experience as selling is all part of the same buying process. Your two teams must collaborate to create a seamless customer experience, which means working together with the buyer’s needs in mind.
  2. Sales and marketing must come up with a workflow that enables them to pass leads seamlessly back and forth throughout the selling process. Again, this will create a cohesive experience for the buyer and will prevent leads from falling through the cracks. We recommend adopting a lead qualification and nurturing strategy to get started.
  3. Content mapping is no longer an advanced strategy, it’s the strategy. Personalizing the customer experience is quickly becoming the holy grail of marketing. Content mapping, or mapping your content to each stage of the sales cycle, will become an essential tactic for delivering custom content consistently throughout the selling process. Keep in mind: according to Demand Metric, 61% of buyers are more likely to do business with companies that deliver custom content — and that number will likely only increase over time.

Each of these three items depends on consistent communication between your sales and marketing organizations. Check out the following resources to learn more about the questions that each team should be asking each other on a regular basis, as well as more tips for promoting collaboration between your two teams:

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