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Aligning Marketing & Sales: Is It Even Possible?

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Everyone knows that if a company sells more volume faster, it's a good thing. So marketing and sales should be aligned, right?

If you've been in B2B SaaS very long, you've probably noticed that the opposite tends to be the case. 

Some combination of the following often happens:

  • Marketing and their "poor quality" or "low volume" of leads are the favorite punching bags of the VP of Sales during a down quarter. 
  • The marketing team blames sales when they miss their number because marketing can only bring people through the door, and after that, their hands are tied.
  • The CMO or VP of Sales (or both) is fired. 
  • The new leader(s) with big ideas come in. 

Management changes create a lot of chaos for the RevOps team as we scramble to reconfigure systems to fit new workflows, reallocate accounts according to a new go-to-market strategy, and watch them argue over why their account-based everything program never got off the ground (I may have been projecting a little with that last, overly-specific example).

Chances are very high your tenure will be longer than your sales leader's or your marketing leader's (or your CRO's). So why bother trying to align the teams?

The better we can understand what kind of pressures our leaders are under and how to help them defend and improve their programs, the less change everyone has to endure.

Why Do Marketing & Sales Fight?

Not all marketing and sales leaders throw each other under the bus. Successful leaders do everything to avoid sniping at one another and try to acknowledge how difficult their counterpart's position is. 

Finger-pointing is a symptom of a rookie leader or someone who won't be in leadership for long. But even the most empathetic, skilled leaders in marketing and sales butt heads. They have conflicting goals, and if those leaders don't balance the needs of both teams through give-and-take, it's damaging to everyone around them.

Salespeople have short-term goals that are repeated. Each month or quarter, they're under tremendous pressure to hit their number to make a reasonable income. If they don't hit their number, they don't realize their full earning potential and risk being fired.

Most tools in a marketer's toolbox are long-term plays that take at least three months to bear fruit. 

For example, digital advertising is a terrible way to attract people to request a demo. However, it's a great way to build awareness if you have a product that solves a prevalent problem in your target market. Many things have to go right, but in six months, a good ad campaign will result in a lift of leads elsewhere. People will recognize your brand and start engaging with it when they eventually realize they have the problem your company solves - and that may look like a webinar attendee, a demo request through chat, or them walking up to your booth at a tradeshow.

Marketers are focused on building pipeline.

Sales is focused on closing deals.

Marketers push for lead follow-up.

Sales doesn't want to be distracted from what can close this quarter – especially if it's a barely lukewarm prospect that may pay off in two to six months.

Marketers panic when pipeline build is low now.

Sales only panics when they've depleted the pipeline they've been mining for closed-won deals.

If salespeople are pushed to be honest, they often say, "Marketing doesn't help me close deals." And they're right. Sales enablement, sales engineering, their manager, and maybe the CMO can charm some companies into signing a deal, but marketing only gives them a chance at a conversation through leads.

Compounding this natural tension between teams is the well-known fact that CEOs feel obligated to fire poor-performing functional leaders after a series of poor quarters. Sometimes, it's the head of marketing who goes first, and sometimes, it's the VP of Sales – but eventually, marketing, sales, and customer success leaders are fired if goals are missed consistently. Because these functions need one another to do well (and their job descriptions have blurred in many cases), it's challenging to diagnose what and/or who is to blame.

This explains why the average tenures are as follows:

In comparison, the CEO averages around six years, and the CFO averages around four years.

When there's a lot of pressure to perform, and the consequences are known for underperforming, conflict is a natural side effect. 

How well senior leadership handles conflict has everything to do with how much RevOps can align the teams.

What RevOps Can Do When Leaders Collaborate

When marketing and sales leaders are committed to working well together, RevOps plays a vital role in keeping their thumbs on the pulse of the go-to-market team. They need to raise a red flag and coordinate with the appropriate team any time:

  • Lead volume falls
  • Lead to qualified opportunity conversion drops
  • Pipeline production dips
  • Opportunity velocity falls
  • Close rates fall
  • Churn rates climb

Looking across all channels and raising a flag early when pipeline production is down can give the marketing team a chance to increase lead volume to compensate for another channel. Close rates falling can indicate a market or product issue. Sales enablement can be called in to help diagnose why velocity rates are down, or specific teams are underperforming.

When leaders are committed to collaborating, they'll be hungry for insights to help them coach their teams or compensate for some other weakness. 

RevOps should communicate regularly across the go-to-market teams and actively propose projects that help uncover how to gain efficiencies. This can be done by establishing a regular (ideally weekly) data review with the functional leads. RevOps needs to point out new trends and suggest follow-up steps. 

Remember, be sure to communicate to the broader team whenever a project is completed that improves some aspect of the go-to-market motion.

What RevOps Can Do When There's an Imbalanced Power Dynamic

Sometimes, it's evident that one of the go-to-market leaders is at a disadvantage. Perhaps they aren't included in impromptu leadership planning meetings, or other leadership members go out of their way to exclude that person from certain functions.

More often, the rift is subtle. The leader on the outs may be planning vacations at odd times ("Why's the CMO gone during QBRs?"), or one team is openly hostile to the other even though the most senior leaders play nice.

Whatever the cause or symptoms, the absolute wrong move is for RevOps to align themselves with the most likely survivor should the quarter go south.

If one leader is savvier than the other and asks questions about the other department, run to that department and collaborate with them on the research. Don't call out that a leader is asking questions, necessarily. But do make it clear that someone is asking questions, and you want to make sure you're getting the whole picture. Sometimes, this will give the underdog some incentive to step up their game. More often than not, you'll walk away with more in-depth knowledge and look like a team player.

I will always recommend taking on projects that uncover inefficiencies and deep-diving into a potential issue, but it has to be done with tact. And possibly the support of the CFO to make it look like less of a witch hunt and more of a normal RevOps initiative.

It's important to remember that it's rarely one team's fault when goals are missed. It's often a complicated blend of product issues, selling methodology (or lack thereof), and messaging missing the mark with your target audience. Sometimes, the problem is also your product-market fit or market perception. These are complicated problems to solve and will take a coordinated, cross-functional effort to overcome.

Unfortunately, organizations that show signs of picking a side aren't ready to solve the real problem yet. They'll cycle through at least a couple of go-to-market leaders before accepting (hopefully) that a single human didn't cause the problem.

What RevOps Can Do When Leaders Are Openly At Odds

I was in some super dysfunctional organizations when I was in RevOps. I vividly remember a meeting when the VP of sales trolled the CMO on social media while we were sitting in a conference room because he wasn't paying attention to the (rather significant) problem at hand.

When the heads of marketing and sales openly do not respect one another, there isn't much RevOps can do to align the current teams. Unfortunately, the well has been poisoned if the head of sales (or marketing) openly snipes at the other department and encourages their team leads to do the same.

However, you're not the only one noticing bad behavior. The CEO will notice- - and if they don't, the CFO will. Someone will be fired sooner rather than later.

If neither team wants to participate in projects that can better align their departments, it's important to stay aligned with the company's objectives and key results. Work closely with Finance, your COO, or CRO to determine where your company has inefficiencies and get their buy-in to champion projects that will make a difference.

We still recommend running regular data reviews with whoever will attend, but you'll get more resistance from immature leaders. Focus on getting the right metrics in place and establishing benchmarks. When the next functional leader comes in, they'll be impressed that a framework is in place and understand what an asset RevOps has become.

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