To Transform Digital Selling, Must Sales & Marketing Converge?

Despite historical differences, sales and marketing teams now see that more collaboration equals more revenue.

In our 2020 State of Digital Selling global research report, we found a consistent theme: the more in sync sales and marketing was, the better the outcome for sales, in terms of revenue, customer satisfaction and other metrics. That, and the tremendous growth of executives managing both functions—LinkedIn has identified the Chief Revenue Officer as the fastest-growing C-Suite role—has led to an emphasis on studying this convergence as part of my research on the digital transformation of sales. In this post, I’ll look at the impact of this convergence, which was discussed in my recent webinar with our research director, Omar Akhtar.

Convergence or Collaboration?

Convergence of sales and marketing today is embodied by the rise of new C-suite leaders, often with the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) title, who manage both sales and marketing—often with a new combined Revenue Operations team supporting both. What is the line between convergence and collaboration? It’s undoubtedly possible for these teams to align and collaborate so well that they could appear converged and achieve the same benefits. A question my research will answer this year is: what points of convergence or collaboration are required to digitally transform sales?

Clearly, the trend is in favor of convergence as shown by research indicating the CRO title is the fastest growing in the C-suite. What benefits are CEOs seeking with convergence?

An important benefit was a clear finding in my recent report which found the high performance of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Account-Based Selling (ABS). One factor we evaluated was the type of digital sales model employed, in terms of scale as measured by the size of the deal, lead time and level of collaboration employed. Our research found that high-touch, high-value, long lead-time sales that rely on a well-coordinated team and unique sales planning with marketing paid off well. Top performers (represented in the purple bars in the chart below) follow this model, and it was even the most frequent model among average performers as well (shown by the index in blue).

The benefits of collaboration are high. Consider the enormous investment marketing teams have made in technology, data, and skills development. Much of that investment can be leveraged by sales to digitize selling. By sharing the same data, enablement tools and customer experience platforms, costs can be reduced, and effectiveness increased, as near-real-time decisions can be used to nurture leads and provide the intelligence needed to up-sell, cross-sell and re-sell.

Barriers Are Deep-Rooted

Too many times, sellers and marketers don’t see eye-to-eye. In a recent conversation with a marketing leader, we discussed whether this is a left-brain/right-brain issue: marketers being more analytical and sales being more relationship and instinct-driven. Yes, these are broad generalizations, but they hold in my experience too. This impacts trust. Sales’ digital transformation will rely on new levels of trust among sales teams for the data and tools they use to navigate digital selling. This trust is lacking among the average digital seller, but high among top performers. For example, when we asked sellers if they trusted marketing’s data, 61% reported that they don’t—they want their own.

Perhaps the most fundamental challenge is misaligned priorities. In our recent 2020 State of Digital Marketing report, we found that marketing deprioritized sales-focused efforts, such as creating more sales qualified leads to buyers, supporting sales team productivity and growing e-commerce.

“An equal partnership in the form of an executive steering committee—or through CRO convergence—can address these barriers.”

Building trust is essential to sales’ transformation: if, as I believe, sales needs marketing’s help to digitally transform, we must tackle cultural mindsets and increase alignment focus. It may not be easy for sales leaders to accept marketing’s help given the risk of marketing dominating sales’ digital transformation, at the expense of what makes sales different from marketing. An equal partnership in the form of an executive steering committee—or through CRO convergence—can address these barriers.

What It Means & What You Can Do

The place to start is to look at the key touchpoints between sales and marketing that represent hand-offs, which tend to be problematic. The table below shows what I believe to be those key areas and the relative digital maturity of marketing and sales. As you can see, marketing and sales are complementary:

Planning. Much of planning integration is solved when sales and marketing collaborate through ABM/ABS. I’ve spoken with one large manufacturing business that plans GTM strategy holistically: team members from marketing, sales and service create a strategy through carefully structured workshops, spanning up to 5 days together working as a team. This not only ensures alignment, but time together can bridge cultural barriers.

Content. The content touchpoint includes selling assets, like playbooks, scripts and content that nurture leads to conversion. This area is most often led by marketing, but I continue to hear sales complain about the content they’re asked to share: it may not be easily personalized for the buyer, or the seller may not know how to position it for the prospect’s unique needs. Often training is the heart of the issue, but part of the root cause is a misalignment in strategy and insights. Sales need to be much more involved in content strategy and learn the tools necessary to use and measure content effectiveness.

Lead Management. Best next moves during lead nurturing are important in digital selling, because of the near real-time response that must be coordinated between sales and marketing. For example, after a lead downloads a white paper provided by marketing, what shared customer intelligence signals the best next step for sales? I’m also questioning whether lead management belongs in a digitally transformed sales organization that can do its own prospecting. As sales become increasingly comfortable with automation and data, the definition of a “marketing qualified lead” and “sales qualified lead” will surely evolve.

Data. My digital sales research has shown that top performers align performance metrics between sales and marketing, such as customer satisfaction, revenue goals, etc. In fact, there was a 34% spread in digital selling maturity between the index and top performers when KPIs, incentives and compensation were aligned between teams. But I also found that sales don’t necessarily trust marketing’s data—which brings us back to the cultural issues that must be addressed. The solution is also found in last year’s 2020 State of Digital Selling report: top performers collaborate with marketing on both a data architecture and technology stack roadmap to keep aligned—much more so than the index of average performers.

Technology. Technology touchpoints are dual: internally, represented by sales and marketing enablement (e.g., CRM, SFA, etc.), and externally, customer-facing digital experiences, such as websites, apps and social media. Marketing is leading CX work today, but as sales become more digital, they need to be part of a highly collaborative process with marketing and service teams to create a seamless customer experience that crosses their functions.

Ongoing Teamwork. Customer experience worries for the sales team don’t stop after the sale. Some of the most integrated sales and marketing teams work within a growing part of the economy: Software as a Service or SaaS. For example, a salesperson who has sold a SaaS HR system needs to understand whether their customer is utilizing the system to its full potential. If the customer is underutilizing the system, they may have bought the wrong product; if they’re overutilizing the system, there’s an upsell opportunity. Even if your product isn’t SaaS-oriented, it helps a lot to think of it that way by demanding marketing and service customer insights that may guide your sales strategy for an account.

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