How to unify sales and marketing teams for demand generation

sales and marketing(This story was originally published by Entrepreneur.com and was edited for content and style.)

The internet has forever changed the way we buy and sell things, in both the B2C and B2B markets. The influx of options and available information created a customer base that was more informed than ever and empowered them to take purchasing into their own hands. As our digital world has accelerated, these changes have become more apparent and have turned the traditional linear buyer journey upside down.

Buyers now jump back and forth between different stages of the sales funnel, moving from inquiry to direct interaction and back again. But many companies are still structured around the linear journey, even though their customers have long deviated from that path. Companies need to adapt their internal processes and departments to support this new buyer journey and drive demand generation efforts. They need to unify their teams and strategies across the board.

Uniting sales and marketing has long been a lofty goal in business, but now it’s a necessity. Both departments generate revenue for a company, but there is a long history of disjointed strategy and competition to overcome.

Here are three ways to get these teams to work together:

Get everyone on the same page

For decades, sales and marketing have been treated as different functions and different departments, despite ultimately sharing the same core goal: monetization. This separation has meant that each has developed its own internal views, jargon and culture – and the resulting divide drives a disjointed process of demand generation that leaves leads and revenue on the table.

There are multiple tools companies can use to bridge this communication gap. In particular, a lead scoring system is a great way to build mutual understanding of where a lead is within the buyer’s journey. Members of both teams must share their input, so that the system is created jointly. This not only improves communication between departments, but also provides more insight into the buyer journey across the company.

Shared visibility is also important to get everyone on the same page. Traditionally, sales and marketing have tracked their data separately with their own information and insights, all for the same prospects. Companies need to remove these data silos and combine all data in one location. This reduces duplicate data and creates holistic visibility across the entire customer journey rather than a segmented view. This increased visibility empowers teams to engage with leads in a more meaningful way and serves as the foundation for more thoughtful, data-driven demand-gen strategies.

Unite under the common goal of revenue

Departmental goals are critical to keeping teams on track, but they can be divisive and impact your bottom line when they become the sole focus of a team. Companies need to dismantle and reinforce this single mindset that marketing and sales activities both work in support of the overarching business goal: revenue. Departmental goals should be seen as a function of achieving this rather than their own objectives.

One way companies can support a common revenue goal is to create a growth team. The growth team, made up of members with both marketing and sales backgrounds, applies their vast experience to focus solely on the buyer’s perspective.

The growth team looks at the entire buyer journey rather than department-specific pieces. Their focus is to guide customers through the buyer journey to earn revenue. Through this lens, they take the buyer’s perspective and learn what their challenges are, what knowledge they need to make a purchase, and what kind of interactions and experiences they look for from suppliers. With this information, departmental goals can then be formed to track buyer needs. For example, if the growth team finds that content plays a prominent role in the research phase of a purchase decision, this information can then be used to inform marketing goals around content creation.

To ensure that the growth team remains balanced and unbiased, it must be accountable to a growth officer. This leadership position is not aligned with sales or marketing and acts as an unbiased opinion that ensures that all decisions are driven in the direction of revenue.

Collaborate to keep prospects engaged

The traditional sales funnel model is too rigid, allowing buyers to move forward alone or not at all. While it may have been a sales tool for decades, it doesn’t suit the behavior of the modern digital buyer and its continued use can waste company resources. Rather than forcing potential customers to follow their model, marketing and sales functions should work together to adapt their processes to mimic buyer behavior.

Start by defining the stages of the buyer journey to determine where a customer is in the process. Once the phases are clearly defined, with input from both departments, the next step is to create service level agreements between departments. These help sales and marketing determine where the customer needs to go and provide clear next steps. For example, companies can implement an SLA that recycles unresponsive or dead leads into marketing to put them in a top-funnel, one-to-many nurturing sequence in their marketing automation tool, rather than letting them go cold. This keeps the opportunity active in the pipeline and keeps the company top-of-mind with ongoing nurturing efforts.

Today’s consumer is more informed and empowered than ever. They are the ones who set the pace and direction of their buying journey. The traditional segmented approach to the buyer journey will no longer deliver the results businesses need. Going forward, companies need to move beyond alignment and fully unify marketing and sales functions to approach the buyer journey as a whole.

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