Fixing the B2B sales-marketing divide to hit pipeline and revenue targets

It’s time to integrate (not align) sales-marketing efforts to educate, inspire and generate relationships and revenue in a unified effort.

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It’s a rare thing to achieve AND maintain B2B sales and marketing “alignment”, despite the tremendous effort and investment. It’s getting harder as executive and customer expectations increase and the buying-selling dynamic becomes more complex. Marketers are often caught in between trying to figure out the elusive alignment to hit expected business targets.

To succeed, there are three fundamental commitments to make to deliver:

  1. Understand BOTH buyer/buying dynamics and your internal realities, while acknowledging, with rare exception, what we’ve created won’t scale in the emerging landscape we compete in.  
  2. Commit to empowering Sales to do what Sales does well and unleash Marketing to be stand out Marketers. 
  3. Integrate (not align) sales-marketing efforts to educate, inspire and generate relationships and revenue in a unified effort.

Let’s dissect the external dynamics and the internal barriers, and then provide shifts we can make to adapt our strategy and approach to deliver a more integrated approach to winning the minds, hearts and wallets of our customers and markets. 

First, our reality. 

How customers buy and how businesses sell is more complex 

Business models and customer requirements are changing fast, driven by digital and tech disruption. Both buyers and sellers are struggling to keep up and playing a game of cat and mouse as buyers stay stealth. Sellers have less access to buying teams who research anonymously online and through peer networks, and often struggle to accurately forecast the business and deliver predictable pipeline. While buying teams have access to more information, they often lack confidence to make decisions because of the rapid pace of new solutions and the high cost of making bad decisions. 

Our reaction to try to solve the pipeline problem has created a sales and marketing arms race

To contribute, Marketing has joined the cause by building increasingly complex demand engines to generate loads of “leads”. The leads are sent to sales only to be rejected as “junk” or “invalid”. To try and improve quality, Marketing reacts by replacing traditional sales tasks such as account research, cold calling, follow up, discovery meetings and qualification. Sales’ counter-reaction? Build a separate sales tech stack and unique set of data and processes to find and engage buyers, essentially duplicating Marketing’s effort. Before you know it, these teams are in direct competition creating an arms race. This all-out effort creates a larger divide between the two departments trying to meet the company revenue goals.

C-level executives are perpetuating the problem with attribution on every dollar

While the shifting buyer-seller dynamic is playing out and marketing and sales are doing their best, Boards and executives have not eased up on any expectations to deliver growth and revenue. Nor should they. Company executives expect “sourced” deals from Marketing, new customers from Sales, and growth from customer success teams. Everybody has the same goal – revenue. This should be easy, right?

Ironically, the urgency for all parties to solve the challenge is generating lots of activity, burning tons of resources, and the “everybody sells” pressure is making it harder for sales and marketing to work together effectively. Worse, it’s pushing away prospects who are the victim of the onslaught. 

Layering on, the expectation for B2B marketing teams to PROVE their contribution to revenue can quickly turn into an obsession to get “credit” for versus to understand what’s working, what’s not and using data to improve results. I want to emphasize that measurement and analytics is essential. However, trying to use attribution for source credit is a tactic that furthers hinders impact and perpetuates the sales-marketing divide. Today’s purchase process is a journey of multiple engagements over time and across multiple players at an account around a given purchase, making it very difficult for one group or one investment to deliver the customer or deal.

Shifts we can make to empower sales and marketing to hit company targets

Many B2B revenue teams have recognized the widening gap and are responding. While there’s no silver bullet, here are strategies and tactics in play today that show promise:

  • Sales need to focus on being stand-out sellers, Marketing needs to commit to being breakthrough marketers. This acknowledgement is a critical step to reduce complexity and get more out of your resources and talent. Then, we can focus on integrating the efforts – roles, process, data, tech and all – around the customer journey for higher impact.
  • Company culture and compensation must start at the top. The company culture and the compensation plan must reward and support collaboration and accountability or there’s little shot that sales + marketing integration can be maintained nor your company to win its market.
  • Common language and definitions of success. Shared goals and metrics must be established together, and compensation plans must deliver higher, collective rewards for company targets and clear objectives for deliverables to meet them. 
  • Integrated systems, dashboards & metrics. Using data to measure requires ONE data architecture and model to provide a “single point of truth.” This “data cube” approach allows every team to work off the same data and each team to get a unique view of the analytics they need to continuously improve and meet targets. Without clean, intelligent data and modern data structure, it’s very hard to achieve the integrated view that drives sales, marketing and customer collaboration and results.  
  • Re-imagine the Revenue Organization. More companies are establishing a group at the center of sales and marketing that drives operational, analytics and intelligence to keep the effort aligned and functioning at high levels. Dubbed “Revenue Operations,” this approach can take the form of a fully integrated team or a hybrid of sales, marketing and finance with dotted lines to functional leaders. 

The gap between Sales and Marketing is growing because of changing business dynamics and external and internal pressures. Step one is to commit to sales and marketing each doing what they do well, and then using culture, compensation, organization and data to integrate the effort around the customer journey.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Scott Vaughan
Scott Vaughan is a B2B CMO and go-to-market leader. After several CMO and business leadership roles, Scott is now an active advisor and consultant working with CMO, CXOs, Founders, and investors on business, marketing, product, and GTM strategies. He thrives in the B2B SaaS, tech, marketing, and revenue world. His passion is fueled by working in-market to create new levels of business and customer value for B2B organizations. His approach is influenced and driven by his diverse experience as a marketing leader, revenue driver, executive, market evangelist, speaker, and writer on all things marketing, technology, and business. He is drawn to disruptive solutions and to dynamic companies that need to transform.

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