The Customer Journey as the Path to Creating B2B Sales and Marketing Alignment
I still remember my orientation from one of my first B2B sales jobs. I was brought to my hulking, World War II-era, desk that had nothing on it besides a telephone and a few office supplies. After my 30-minute orientation, my new boss wished me luck and I thought, “I’ll need it!” as I considered how to get started. I was essentially now head of marketing and sales for a B2B sales organization and my marketing tech stack consisted of a telephone.
The industry has greatly advanced since then, but for many organizations, sales and marketing practices are not evolving and keeping pace. Having spent time in both sales and marketing seats, I’ve seen that many organizations have historically treated the two departments like separate entities who are often at odds with each other. Marketing’s job was to generate leads and pass them to sales who then convert a small percentage of those leads into customers.
The issue with this approach is that it has created a disjointed experience that is no longer effective for the company or their prospective clients. Aligned organizations achieve an average of 32 percent annual revenue growth, while less aligned companies reported an average 7 percent decline in revenue (Forrester Research). Creating alignment can be the key factor if you want to improve the marketing and sales performance for your organization.
What gets in the way of alignment?
Relationships used to be the focal point of B2B sales. A buyer could only access information through the seller and the process was largely 1:1. Today, the buyer self-educates and engages with digital content before conversing with sales. This has changed the way buyers and sellers interact. According to Forrester, 68 percent of B2B buyers have expressed a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” preference.
As sellers are becoming involved with buyers later in the purchase funnel, marketing teams are now responsible for creating a digital relationship with prospects through content marketing. Their work helps prospects progress through the purchase funnel to the point where they are more receptive to engaging with a sales consultant.
But without alignment, this can become a bumpy journey for a prospect and cause confusion between departments. I recently conducted a LinkedIn survey asking, “What do you think gets in the way of creating marketing and sales alignment?” The post had over 7,500 engagements. The topic clearly touched a nerve.
What gets in the way of sales & marketing alignment? Leadership, structure & history, silos, lack of collaboration, and incentives & goals.
As I reviewed all the comments, some clear trends emerged. Here are the top things that survey responders cited as getting in the way of sales and marketing alignment:
- Leadership: Everything starts are the top and if leadership doesn’t foster an aligned sales and marketing effort, it’s not likely to happen.
- Structure and history:The way the organization is structured, and their historical approach to sales and marketing, can present a big barrier.
- Silos/Collaboration/Understanding: One of the most common responses was that sales and marketing operate in complete silos. Even though they are largely symbiotic, they don’t communicate, collaborate or even understand what the other group really does.
- Incentives and goals: Everyone will naturally optimize for their own interests. In many organizations, the interests and incentives of the sales team and the marketing team are not in alignment.
There’s a lot to unpack here and many solutions to cover. For some organizations, it takes a major shift in thinking to get everyone on board, so it’s something that you might not be able to just dive into. But it’s ok to start slow. Here are some tips for starting the alignment process.
The first step in creating alignment
First, admit you have a problem. Sales and marketing alignment need to be on your issues list for the executive team to solve. Every organization is going to have different core issues that are getting in the way, but I recommend companies begin with breaking down the silos by starting a dialog between the groups.
When we do this, we often find that marketers are not taking advantage of how much the sellers know about the customer. It’s one thing to market to a persona. It’s another to talk to your salespeople who intimately know and understand your customers and their challenges.
Conversely, we find that sellers often do not trust marketing to drive those important brand awareness conversations. A strong marketing department can help sellers be more efficient and focus on high-value activities. Sellers need to trust the content and marketing automation to nurture the prospects that are not ready for a sales conversation.
Once you’ve opened communication, it’s time for both take a hard look at your content strategy. Here’s why:
- Only 12 percent of buyers want to meet with a salesperson to begin their customer journey.
- 71 percent of buyers begin their buyers’ journey with an unbranded search.
According to Google, if your content isn’t helping you attract target market buyers, you’re missing out on the majority of your potential audience. Today an organization’s content has become the core currency of the modern marketer and sales professional.
Understanding the customer journey is the way
Because buyers are firmly in charge of the sales process today, both sales and marketing have a vested interest in making the content strategy work. Content should be the core way businesses attract prospects, show relevance, and build relationships that convert to sales and encourage customer advocacy.
The best place to start is by mapping your customer journey in coordination with your sales and marketing teams to understand how content can nurture your prospective clients. It seems simple, but you might be surprised if you discover that sales and marketing have very different perspectives on what your ideal customer profile(s) and their customer journey looks like.
It’s also important to get in your buyer’s head during this process. Your prospective buyers do not start their journey with the objective of buying your product or service, they’re looking for a solution to a problem. Talk to your buyers to understand what their journey and considerations look like.
“You might be surprised if you discover that sales and marketing have very different perspectives on what your ideal customer profile(s) and their customer journey looks like.”
As we went through this process internally, with the help of our partner InStereo, we discovered the most typical path that buyer takes when hiring our content marketing agency is the following:
- Get Referrals
- Builds list of options
- Get introductions
- Research Agencies
- Vet list of options
- Narrow the list
- Determine initial fit
- Initial Calls
- Narrow top partners
- Validate problem/solutions
- Requests more info/Proposal
- Involve their team
- Get input from broader team
- Get buy in from the decision maker
- Assess best fit/option
- Confirm alignment to needs
- Confidence in plan
- Ensure best value
- Confirm best fit
- Get references
- Get final contract
- Procure/Sign Off
- Execute contract
- Remove any roadblocks
- Organize Kick Off
- On-boarding activities are scheduled
- Team is engaged
- Partner is ready to go
We reviewed our customer’s journey from our client’s perspective and our sales and marketing teams worked together on how we would address each stage of the journey through advertising, content, marketing automation and personal selling. Rinse and repeat for each distinct client persona.
Through this exercise, we have a plan and a process, and our marketing and sales team are collaborating more on how they can support each other at each stage of the customer journey.
Engaging sales and marketing to work together to refine our customer journey, helped us create alignment and develop a much better customer experience that will evolve and improve over time based on results.
Working collaboratively on the customer journey certainly doesn’t address all the core issues that get in the way of creating sales and marketing alignment. However, the process of jointly working on your customer journey is a great place to start creating alignment that can have an immediate and lasting impact on your organization.
Today the worlds of sales and marketing are colliding. The modern sales professional is looking more like a marketer than ever before. Their job is much more about cadences, marketing automation and managing to metrics. At the same time modern marketers are being held to metrics and generating sales more than ever before. The two groups need each other to achieve their objectives. The time has never been better to prioritize sales and marketing alignment in your organization.