On June 3rd we hosted a terrific webinar with Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst, Laura Ramos. We had an unbelievable registration of more than 2,000 professionals, evenly split between sales and marketing, across enterprise, mid-market, and small businesses, and representing several industries. The wide cross-section of registrants shows the pervasive nature of the sales-marketing alignment challenge and, as you can see from the results of the survey questions below, both sales and marketing see lots of room for improvement.

During the Q&A at the end of the webinar, we had so many questions from the audience we couldn’t get to them all. In this post, I wanted to cover both the top questions taken during the webinar as well as many that we didn’t have time to address. Most of the answers below are from me, but I’ve included Laura’s insights as well. And, you can read Laura’s post related to the webinar at this link.

Hopefully this shows you that, in the case of sales-marketing alignment, you’re not alone and it’s a challenge for nearly all companies. If you missed the webinar, or would like to pass it along to colleagues, you can find the replay and slides here.

Q. How do you start the alignment process? It seems so daunting!

Laura and I agreed: it is daunting. And, there are two aspects of the topic to explore: quantitative and qualitative.

On the quantitative side, marketing and sales need to agree on terminology and SLAs, what defines and qualifies a lead, lead scoring, the MQL hand-off process, pipeline metrics, and more.

On the qualitative side, the personal relationships cannot be underestimated. Sometimes they are more important than the metrics! Marketing and sales leaders need to walk around in each others’ shoes and respect the other’s perspective. For instance, marketing should attend forecast meetings and sales quarterly business reviews while sales should be involved in marketing’s high-level planning and strategy meetings. Sales should also understand how marketing engages with clients to educate and inform them early in the decision-making process. We explored these topics more in later questions, so read on.

Q. What are the best metrics to align on if you had to pick only 1 or 2?

I believe there is really only one that matters: pipeline generated by marketing. Within my marketing team we look at many metrics, such as campaign performance and measures higher in the funnel. But when it comes to aligning with sales, it’s all about pipeline generated by marketing.

Sales Marketing Alignment Laura Ramos Forrester InsideView Webinar

During the webinar, the attendees answered these survey questions, with both sales and marketing seeing lots of room for improvement in their working relationship.

Laura, on the other hand, felt strongly that metrics following the sale are extremely important, such as customer retention/renewal, cross sell, and upsell. She pointed out that enrichment is a core metric because buyers have more power in the purchase process and, in a services-led economy, keeping existing customers is paramount.

Q. What do you mean by “pipeline?” Marketers tend to measure conversion by specific action (form fill, event attendance, trial, etc.) whereas sales looks at conversion to revenue.

When I say pipeline, I mean money forecasted. At InsideView, pipeline equals the opportunity stage where a potential deal value is assigned to the lead. There are lead and sales stages prior to that (first the leads get scored, then become marketing qualified, then passed to sales), but when sales deems it an opportunity, it becomes pipeline. Pipeline is what we use at InsideView as our alignment metric.

In fact, following every major event or campaign (including this webinar), our marketing team builds a quick dashboard that tracks both sourced pipeline and influenced pipeline. We look at that dashboard together with the sales leaders during our weekly sales and marketing (we call it “smarketing”) meeting.

Q. Tracy, are you actually measured and compensated by pipeline at InsideView?

Absolutely. You should see my second quarter MBOs! They state $X million in both enterprise and small biz pipeline. We even added pipeline for a newly launched product to my MBOs last quarter. Most of my variable compensation is tied to these metrics.

We’re moving towards every marketing person having similar and very measurable objectives. For instance, what if product marketing was measured (and compensated) on increased deal win rates? Or pipeline for a newly launched product? It totally changes the perspective and focus of both the sales reps and the marketing team.

Historically marketing has measured (and been rewarded based on) activities, but we’re moving towards primarily measuring outcomes.

Q. In the Forrester client base, do marketing teams get measured by pipeline? Individual contributors, too? Not just CMOs?

Laura says yes, absolutely. It’s the minority today, but it’s moving quickly in this direction. She said marketing teams are not measured in this way historically, so resistance to this idea is common. But when you give teams the tools to measure marketing activity against demand generation and customer lifetime value, and they can see how marketing dollars spent turn into opportunity and pipeline, they’re more comfortable being measured.

Laura said she looks forward to the day when marketing gets invited to President’s Club based on pipeline generated! I do, too!

Q. Who has the ultimate responsibility for making sure alignment happens?

I strongly believe marketing should take the initiative to making sure alignment conversations happen. Generally speaking, sales will be focused on the current quarter, spending their energy on closing deals. Marketing should start the dialogue, initiate meetings, start the reporting, and generally get things moving. In a perfect world, the entire executive team would make alignment a priority. Reality is, CMOs have to take on this responsibility.

Laura had another great point: often marketing will end up pursuing sales and trying to convince them that marketing interaction is important in their accounts, and then nobody’s happy. So sometimes, marketing should pick a segment or geography in which to start the alignment process and then broaden out after success is met (and hiccups are addressed).

It’s in marketing’s best interest to do this. Marketing wants sales to see how important it is to follow customer engagement all the way from first touch to renewal to upsell to working with that customer to become an advocate. This virtuous cycle continues when those advocates help marketing spread the word in the marketplace.

Q. We have a sales executive who is really old-school. He hardly updates, if ever, the CRM we use and fails to follow up on smaller deals. He has many accounts and is influential within our company so it is hard to convince him to change. How can I develop my relationship with him?

There has to be a way to connect with him as well as other people in sales that are influential. I’ll bet a one-on-one conversation would be effective with this sales leader. If he’s focusing on specific accounts, show him how marketing has influenced those companies. Spend time trying to understand his day-to-day challenges. Build relationships with individuals on his team. Use all those classic emotional intelligence skills us marketers are typically so good at!

I don’t mean to trivialize this challenge; it’s a big one and all too common. Go for the small victories to start. And, if that doesn’t work, remember that sales reps are motivated by closing more and bigger deals. If you can show him how you’re going to help him make more money, I bet he’ll come around quickly.

Laura says she agrees.  Sometimes showing success in peer organizations or accounts—where marketing helps to uncover opportunities or continues to broaden the customer experience conversation—can make all the difference between resistance and acceptance.

Q. Can you comment on the issue of promotional cannibalization and how to better align marketing and sales when discounts come into play?

I think this is more of a problem in B2C companies, where you may have a brand manager for a camera, say, and upon introduction they push special offers that might surprise sales.

In our company, we work on promotions together. We have a weekly meeting (called “smarketing”) and we’ll propose promotion ideas to sales, work out pricing and packaging, and then present to our CFO to approve. Only then will the SKU get created and we’ll start marketing.

Laura pointed out that marketers need to watch trying to offer discounts on price as this impacts sales commissions. Not a great way to keep that relationship strong! Instead, think about special promotions that add something extra in the deal, rather than a price discount.

Q. Should B2B marketing have a vast difference in messaging vs. B2C?  I’ve heard these days that it is more H2H (human to human).  Thoughts?

Laura said this really appealed to her interest in storytelling and thought leadership. People still make decisions in B2B based on emotional factors often more than rational ones. The Fortune Knowledge Group (part of Fortune Magazine) talked to more than 700 business executives, and more than 62% said that softer factors (trust, company culture, reputation) were very important in decision making (get the report PDF here). They also said that these “softer” factors should be considered equal to, if not more so, than the quantitative factors. It is very important for B2B marketers to understand their customers and be able to appeal to their emotional side.

I love what Laura said, and have a practical suggestion on how to actually coach marketing people on how to message “human to human.” Ask yourself, “Would a human actually say this out loud?” And then we will read the marketing copy out loud to each other. You can immediately hear if the language sounds like jargon, or sounds too formal, or is just plain bad.

At Forrester, Laura said that analysts are taught to read research drafts out loud if they are ever stuck on a point. It really helps simplify the language.

Alignment Pain in Action

Here are two classic questions that came in from the webinar audience at the exact same time!

From a marketer: How do you get sales people to understand leads are potential customers and they need to start paying attention to them?

From a sales person: Sales always wants more leads. The problem isn’t resentment, it’s that marketing provides bad leads and justifies itself by quantity not quality (example: worthless trade-show leads).

This is the *classic* alignment issue!

Laura commented that marketing and sales don’t always understand the same terms, and that just understanding each other’s vocabulary is really important to avoiding this misalignment. They have discussions around, “Why should we do this campaign in the first place?” Use Forrester best practice research to show what really works!

Laura is absolutely right! Marketers do try and justify their existence on quantity. I myself did that by getting excited about this webinar’s 2,000-plus registrations. But I will measure the success based on opportunities created out of those 2,000 registrations during the next 45 to 90 days. That’s what really matters to the business.

Q. How did you get so many webinar registrants?

First, the topic of sales-marketing alignment appears to be quite popular. Forrester has a lot of credibility and Laura Ramos is very well known as a B2B marketing specialist. So, we had a trending topic plus a recognized brand plus a popular speaker. Those three factors together contributed a lot, I’m sure.

Most registration came from our own direct promotion. We have an engaged prospect and customer audience. We did all the classic testing and experimentation on message and subject line. We also experimented with different social promotion tactics that added to success. In fact, we added quite a few registrants after the live event started based on live tweets.

We also tried driving registration with digital promotions targeting sales and marketing people via different web properties. While we think this helped with awareness, we had very low registration through these channels. Direct was what worked for us, so we won’t spend money on this kind of promotion again.