The Ultimate Guide to Sales and Marketing Alignment for Industrial Companies

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Leads in the Funnel are Only Part of the Sales Story

 

Does any of this sounds familiar - sales vs marketing comic

 

When you’re trying to grow a business and generate revenue, it’s all about leads, right? If you start with more leads, you should end up with more opportunities, more accurate sales forecasts, more closed deals, and more revenue.

 

But when you consider the time and money it takes to sift through dead ends, outdated contact info, and nurture people who only “might” have an interest at some unspecified point in the future, doesn’t it seem like there should be a better way? Maybe it’s time to look beyond filling the funnel.

 

After all, if you focus too closely on generating leads, you won’t be able to manage the rest of the process, such as:

  • Developing strategies for marketing and sales
  • Ensuring that new leads are high-quality and a good fit
  • Nurturing prospects through a long sales cycle
  • Tracking opportunities as they move through the pipeline (and keep them moving!)
  • Qualifying leads and maintaining a useful database of contacts, prospects, and opportunities
  • Gathering meaningful metrics for accurate forecasting

 

If it seems like your sales and marketing teams operate in isolation and speak different languages, and if tensions abound regarding lead generation and follow up, there could be a bigger issue blocking business and revenue growth. It’s a problem you can’t fix with more leads or a wider funnel. You need a new approach – sales and marketing alignment. It’s about intentional, strategic planning using the resources you already have to get better at what you already do. It’s a proven way to run stronger campaigns from the earliest stages of marketing to signing a customer and beyond.

 

Sales and Marketing Alignment Matters

The Power of Alignment You would never settle for “good enough” on your production line when manufacturing products or in the services you provide to clients, and you shouldn’t settle for it when growing your business either. A “good enough” approach might satisfy immediate goals like parts per-hour quota or target number of sales calls placed per week, but it won’t help you reach overarching goals like improved efficiency, more customers, or higher revenue. That’s because staying focused on the small goals ignores the larger picture of how departments interact and contribute to each other’s success. “Good enough” might get you to the end of the shift, but alignment carries you through the longer term.

 

Sales and marketing departments should be working toward the same overall goal of creating revenue. It’s troubling that instead, they often view each other with suspicion or even dismissiveness. To have the biggest impact on the bottom line, these two teams must understand each other’s traditional roles and how those roles are changing due to buying behavior, content marketing, and other factors.

 

Imagine if your company changed its product line or offered new prototyping services without giving the operations manager and production floor staff any details, expectations, or feedback. You’d struggle to achieve production goals because it’s hard to make solid progress when one team doesn’t know what the other is doing.

 

Alignment is especially important for manufacturers and industrial companies, which often deal with long sales cycles and buying committees. The longer the sales cycle, the more time there is for prospects to gather information online and possibly come to rely on your competitors if your web presence and product information is lacking. It also takes more effort to keep track of each “touch” in the nurturing process such as who opened an email, who downloaded an ebook, or who shared pain points over the phone.

 

The trend toward purchasing committees or teams (as opposed to a single decision maker) further complicates the situation. Now there are several personalities, priorities, and learning styles at play during the sales cycle. It’s no longer enough to develop rapport with one person, show them convincing collateral, and work to close the deal. Much of what prospects learn about your product and your competition is done collaboratively with marketing-generated blogs and social media posts, and a group of decision makers who will probably come up with a range of questions. Sales comes into the picture far later and has a powerful group dynamic to contend with.

 

There are many opportunities for disconnects between marketing and sales and they generally fall into these areas:

  • Content marketing, prospect education, and showing thought leadership
  • Data technology and marketing automation tools
  • Lead handling and management processes
  • Benchmarks, metrics, and accountability
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The Elements of Alignment

 

Sales and marketing goals and objectives

The highest-level goal for sales and marketing teams is the same: driving and increasing revenue. Everyone might be able to agree on that, but there are additional, more immediate goals that can be a breeding ground for misalignment in managing leads and daily operations.

Potential marketing goals include:

  • Publishing/posting new content on a schedule (e.g. frequency of blog or social posts, ebooks, free or gated downloads)
  • Target numbers for interaction with content (e.g. forms submitted, files downloaded, emails opened)
  • Target number of marketing qualified leads (MQL) in a certain time period
  • Goals for brand awareness and engagement, thought leadership, website traffic, and search rankings/SEO performance 
  • Target amount of market-driven revenue

In order to meet many of these goals, content and talking points must be relevant and compelling, which means the marketing team must know something about who their existing customers are, their pain points, and typical objections. The sales team can provide feedback about much of this, and probably more. 

Potential sales goals include:

  • Increased or diversified market share 
  • Target revenue within a time period (e.g. monthly, quarterly, annually), and monthly recurring revenue goals
  • Touches and sales qualified leads (SQL) per time period 
  • Goals for win rates, contract/sale values, time to close, and customer acquisition costs 

Many of these sales goals require a close knowledge of the market for your product or service, and a familiarity with the content you and your competitors distribute. After all, today’s buyers independently gather plenty of information online. Sales reps need to anticipate what they already know and add value to the conversation. Marketing can provide this information.

Getting aligned about goals and objectives doesn’t mean everyone has to work toward the same goals. It does mean teams should acknowledge each other’s goals and understand how they’re interconnected. In other words, sales and marketing need to see how each other’s goals are mutually valuable and how routine feedback and communication enables both teams to reach them. 

These things are critical to creating alignment around goals: 

  • Communication (e.g. meetings between departments, a set plan to ensure leads move through the funnel, shared tools to keep track of contacts and touches)
  • Measurable, objective goals (i.e. avoid relying on subjective or fuzzy analysis for decision making) 
  • Shared definitions (e.g. what counts as an MQL or SQL, what are the criteria, does it change based on the segment)
  • Detailed buyer personas (i.e. who you’re trying to connect with, what resonates with them, and how to handle objections effectively)

 

The more aligned teams are, the more they’ll seek out these connections between each other’s goals and objectives. The more connections you discover, the stronger alignment becomes.

 

Messaging, content, and B2B inbound marketing strategy

Misalignment may lurk in messaging and content. It’s visible when the marketing team is frustrated when sales reps don’t use their materials, or when the sales team prefers to write and distribute their own material, assuming that what marketing created is irrelevant. Sales and marketing can align to create a coordinated package of messaging and content useful to everyone, including prospects and customers.

 

It requires taking a step back to reach a consensus on the basics: the company’s core values, offers, product descriptions, features, and benefits. The goal is to leave readers with a consistent, clear, and accurate message.

 

Online Content Marketing is Critical in Industry

You might be skeptical that content and inbound marketing are really so important for industrial and manufacturing companies. After all, is there much to blog about sheet metal? Does YouTube care about laser welding? Would anyone retweet your message about automated vision inspection cameras? Believe it or not, yes! There are two reasons content and a corporate web presence are not just nice to have but vital:

 

  1. Most people research products and services online, including B2B prospects.
    Researchers found 60% of today’s B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of information, and 68% prefer to research on their own, online. As with B2C, the internet enables buyers to discover vast amounts of product information and find answers to traditional sales questions without assistance – it’s what your customers want.

  2. People love to share relevant content, and many purchasing decisions are made by teams instead of individual buyers.
    Several personalities, priorities, and learning styles are at play during the sales cycle. It’s no longer enough to develop rapport with one person, show them convincing collateral, and work to close the deal. Much product education and evaluation is done collaboratively, and content like blogs, whitepapers, videos, and infographics are easy for teams to share as they do product research. It’s an efficient way to reach the whole team with your corporate message.

 

If the above doesn’t convince you of content marketing’s value, consider this: your competitors are already doing it.

 

Getting B2B and Industrial Content Marketing Right

Content marketing is about helping prospects and customers understand your industry and the role of your product or service within it. More than just a sales pitch in disguise, content should give the audience information needed to make an informed decision. It’s also a way to showcase your expertise and what sets you apart in a memorable way.

 

The best content anticipates readers’ pain points and questions, especially those involved in collaborative purchasing decisions (such as engineers, project managers, purchasing agents, product developers, and even leadership). Sales and marketing can work together to determine target buyer personas (a detailed description of your ideal customer) and provide some tailored content for each. If performed while staying authentic and interesting, readers will come away with a better understanding of what you can do for them, and they’ll trust you too.

 

Content takes many forms so find what works best for your business. Web based marketing automation platforms, such as HubSpot, make it easy to track how prospects and visitors interact with content (e.g. opening emails, downloading ebooks, clicking links), which gives insight on what resonates and what needs tweaking to hit the mark, and even make it easier to be found in online searches. Examples include:

Content Marketing Tactics



Sales Content

Buying behavior and web searching have changed how prospects get their information, so sales reps’ use of content is changing too. The key is giving sales teams easy access to content that adds value to what potential customers already know (which is far more than they used to). Sales-oriented content is about convincing people to buy what you sell, that you’re a good fit for them specifically, and how you are better suited to meet their needs than competitors.

If sales is well-versed in your content marketing materials online and distributed through email, it’s easier to work with marketing to find and fill the gaps. A comprehensive sales content library must be up to date and in line with the larger company message. Examples include:

  • Demos (slides, videos)
  • Spec sheets, technical drawings
  • Case studies, testimonials, links to profiles in trade publications (if you’ve been lucky enough to be featured/quoted)
  • Email templates (it’s quick to type up an email on the fly, but a templated core message means no struggling to remember how you phrased something earlier, plus you can easily customize it to the recipient’s needs)

 

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Technology: CRM and Marketing Automation Tools

 

Technology (i.e. CRM and marketing automation web-based software) is another crucial element in sales and marketing alignment. The right software tools, optimized for your needs and processes, keeps leads and opportunities organized and moving through the sales pipeline.

 

You’re probably familiar with customer relationship management (CRM) technology, which allows reps to organize prospect, opportunity, and customer data as well as sort, search, and track activities like appointments, emails, and calls. Marketing automation tools, such as HubSpot, are another option, combining classic CRM capabilities with powerful tools for creating and editing web pages, tracking email opens and clicks on links, and creating automated workflows to send follow up messages, update records, or send notifications to team members as prospects enter and move through the pipeline.

 

CRM applications can help increase sales by up to 29%, and research by the Aberdeen group found that effective sales organizations are 81% more likely to be practicing consistent usage of a CRM or other system of record.

 

There are two major reasons to invest (time and money) in technology:

  1. B2B sales cycles are long.
    Unlike the retail setting where customers often arrive ready to buy, B2B and especially industrial and manufacturing sales cycles are often lengthy due to many factors: prototyping, product development, and testing; facility and equipment investment that may accompany a large purchase; complexity or newness of the technology; the time it takes to reach prospects and build rapport, educate, and answer questions; the custom nature of some industrial products; and working through multiple layers of decision makers.

    Having several opportunities at different stages at all times ensures a regular series of closings, and that new opportunities are in the works as previous ones wrap up.

    In a long sales cycles it’s easier to forget exactly where each prospect is in the buying journey. You risk repeating what they already know, jumping ahead, or losing them in the shuffle entirely.

  2. Over-reliance on “tribal” knowledge eventually fails.
    All sales reps amass company/institutional and client knowledge over time, and often carry it in their heads instead of writing it down. A CRM is a better way to document the formal procedures, rejection handling techniques, and other tips and tricks reps put to use. All the expertise becomes available to the entire team rather than vanishing with the person who left the company.

    Documentation preserves organizational memory. Without recording the details you’re bound to forget why and when decisions were made. Time spent relearning and reconstructing this information stalls the flow of business.

What’s more, without tracking the sales cycle and historical sales information, you risk not taking the right actions at the right time to qualify and advance leads. Gaps and holes in your marketing and sales data create problems ranging from inaccurate forecasts to missed opportunities to lost customers.

 

 

Optimize your tech tools for lead management and sales forecasting

The more committed marketing and sales are to software and technology tools, the more powerful those tools become. Both a CRM and marketing automation software keep track of prospect data in a central place. Most also generate reports and statistics based on everything from firmographics to email opens to the duration of phone calls. Metrics like these are a great way to keep track of how long processes take, how many prospects you’re engaging with, and even how much revenue you’re generating. And because marketing and sales activities can be tracked with the same tool, it’s easy to see the value both teams contribute. It’s a great way to reinforce alignment and transparency.

 

Both teams’ active use of CRM and marketing automation tools enables these key sales activities:

  • Automating lead handoff and nurture/follow up processes.
    Most CRMs let you mark records based on criteria you define (such as attempted contact, receiving a marketing email, a phone conversation, setting up a demo, etc.). All of the activity for each contact is available at a glance, and you can even search for groups of contacts based on activity to quickly identify who, when, and how to nurture.
  • Lead prioritizing and scoring.
    Your CRM can keep track of details used in lead scoring like prospects’ roles, engagement with your content (e.g. email opens, downloads), company size, and industry. Search and report functions also let you review what your best customers have in common so you can determine which characteristics carry the most weight.
  • Sales forecasting.
    Accurate forecasts require consistent measurement of sales activity and opportunity progress. Once marketing and sales have agreed on a set of sales stages and advancement criteria, your CRM can be customized to easily update each prospect’s record as they make progress. Features for logging calls and other activity give a clear picture of how engaged they are too. This objective data, based on shared definitions and criteria, means your forecasts are grounded in facts.

These tools also foster alignment between departments by letting each see what the other is doing with features like:

  • Canned and customizable reports and dashboards
  • Icons or graphics to track progress through the sales cycle/sales stages
  • Fields for categorizing contacts
  • Places to add rep notes
  • Buttons to send email to a prospect (or group) with templated messages
  • The ability to attach supplemental forms, documents, or recordings to records
  • Automatic call logging
  • Analytics features such as tracking email opens, social media clicks, downloads, forms completed, etc
  • Easy and reliable mobile access to record new data in real time

 

Analytics align sales and marketing and measure progress

Tools like CRM and marketing automation also have analytical power. KPIs, compiled with your CRM, are a traditional way to see if you’re on track to meet quotas and revenue goals. But did you know they can also show opportunities for sales and marketing to share insights and examine processes? KPI-based opportunities include:

KPI/metric

opportunities for better alignment

· Customer Acquisition Cost

· ROI

· Cost Per Lead

High costs might mean it’s taking too long to nurture leads and keep them moving through the funnel. What sales activities or content might keep them advancing through the sales cycle instead of stalling out?

·  MQL to SQL Rate

·  MQL Volume

Why is sales rejecting some of the leads vetted by marketing? What feedback can sales give marketing to improve lead quality? Which buyers or segments does sales want to speak with that marketing should look for? In what areas should marketing refine lists, do more market research, or study competitor offerings?

·  Sales Revenue

·  Revenue Per Lead

Which types of buyers, needs, or segments impact sales revenue most, and how can marketing reach more prospects like these? What tactics or content is most helpful for sales, and how can marketing apply them to other segments that need a boost?

· Time to Close

· Sales Cycle Length

If it seems longer than anticipated, why? Where is sales missing opportunities to follow up, or is the timeline for nurturing too spread out? Can both teams take active steps to stay top of mind (e.g. content, drip campaign)? Are leads falling between the cracks?

·  Activity Reports (appointments scheduled, calls logged, emails sent, etc.)

Look for signs of inconsistent sales and marketing activities. Should sales increase outreach frequency? Does marketing need to tweak the pitch and messaging to be more relevant?

· Lost Sales

· Lost Opportunities

Review sales notes to see what happened, and look for patterns in sales activity or missed opportunities. Are there areas marketing can address gaps in prospect knowledge with messaging or targeted content? Is it time to review processes/schedules to ensure follow up or nurturing activity?

· Web Traffic by Channel (blog, social media, email, etc.)

· Traffic to Lead Radio

Excessive wrong numbers or bounced emails mean it’s time to clean and validate data. Audience interaction statistics show what they value enough to complete a form, and where you might consider providing ungated content. Look for signs sales is waiting too long to contact them after a download. Unopened batches of email could be an opportunity for a/b testing subject lines (with input from sales).

 

Because they’re based on the raw data in your CRM, metrics point objectively to places for sales and marketing to consult. Both teams should review metrics routinely to visualize the funnel from start to finish as well as ways to optimize it.

 

Set yourself up for success with analytics

It’s not enough to buy a CRM or marketing automation package – you’ll also need to decide what features and functions you need and customize it. Ongoing success involves:

  • Consistent definitions throughout a campaign/project and between departments
  • Thorough training on using the software and how to input uniform data detailed enough detail to be useful
  • Accountability to processes and procedures that keep the CRM up to date
  • Regular data maintenance including removing duplicate records, spelling checks, making naming conventions for files and reports, agreeing on segment names and usage, and validating contact information

 

 

Good Chemistry: Combining the Elements of Alignment

 

Alignment looks different in every company because no two organizations sell the same product or service to the same types of buyers. Here’s an example to help you form a picture of how the many elements and component pieces of marketing and sales come together.

Consider a small metal fasteners company based in the Midwest. They specialize in grades 5 and 8 steel fasteners and supply automotive OEMs and aftermarket manufacturers. They also provide grade 2 steel fasteners to a variety of other manufacturing markets. While both in-house marketing and sales departments have teams of five or fewer, they had these initial complaints:

  • MQL and SQL volume is down
  • Sales does not have enough leads that convert and close to meet revenue goals and maintain historical KPI metrics
  • Marketing often can’t get around rejections when prospects indicate they have a supplier already. They feel unprepared to speak in detail about differences between various fasteners, grades, and applications. The result is few strong leads to pass along to sales

Company leadership, concerned about reduced sales revenue and the price of marketing, held a brainstorming session with both teams. This critical first step toward alignment (even though it felt more like a complaint session!) revealed:

  • Questions the marketing team poses to prospects are too broad. This is especially the case with their non-automotive segments, which use fasteners for many different applications and industries (sometimes called “verticals”).
  • Leads are falling through the cracks and are not called back for weeks or months. The current practice of marketing emailing new lead info to individual sales reps is not working because no one is following a consistent format. The emails don’t contain contact information or notes about conversations and questions, and sometimes names are spelled incorrectly.
  • Sales is noticing prospects already have a great deal of knowledge and they struggle to add to it. Prospects are also telling them about some key competitors who have specs and videos online that just make it easier to learn about the company.
  • Both teams feel the other is not doing their job well and is withholding information. The result is a poor and uncomfortable working relationship.

They came up with these specific actions to get sales and marketing collaborating:

  • Sales shared several rejection-handling talking points and  held an in-house lunch and learn session with the marketing team to go over product specs and uses, especially regarding their non-automotive industry segments.
  • Marketing developed a series of short videos to show fasteners in action. With sales’ input, they identified top clients to interview for case studies and testimonials to post online and distribute to their email list.
  • One team member was selected to tackle their CRM problems including setting up automatic notifications when a prospect moves from marketing to sales so follow up is automatic.
  • One member of each department met to develop uniform rules for data entry in the CRM as well as expectations for using it regularly.
  • All sales reps were trained on how to access and update the CRM remotely on mobile devices.
  • Marketing developed a CRM report to look specifically at lost deals to find patterns and problem areas to address going forward.
  • Both teams agreed to (and scheduled) quarterly joint meetings to hold each other accountable and continue to refine their new processes.

Do any of the issues raised in this example remind you of your own organization? Maybe you’re starting to see how the problem extends beyond leads to most aspects of sales and marketing. Alignment takes time and willingness to dig into the problems to find root causes. It’s not a one-time fix: both must participate and have support from management in this iterative process. Let’s talk about your goals, inbound strategy, and technology tools today.

 

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