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Aiming to close a perpetual gap

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Sales-marketing alignment is one of those corporate considerations seemingly more honored in the breach than the observance.

Sales managers and reps complain about what they see as low-quality leads and off-base collateral materials delivered by marketing, while marketing moans about off-brand messaging and lousy feedback from the field. Sales begs for more complete, easily available customer relationship management information, while marketing urges sales to be more proactive in sharing best practices.

In short, in many cases sales and marketing suffer from a major disconnect, worsened by mutual distrust and even a lack of respect.

Integration is essential, said John Neeson, managing director and co-founder of SiriusDecisions, because sales alone "can on average effectively source only from 20% to 40% of the sales pipeline. And when you look at companies with $1 billion or more in revenue, that drops below 20%."

Last month, SiriusDecisions hosted a Return on Integration Summit in Las Vegas, highlighting best practices in marketing and sales integration. Neeson said companies following these are 63% better at converting marketing campaigns into sales leads.

It always comes back to tools

Any discussion of a sales and marketing disconnect always seems to come back to tools. John Aiello, CEO and co-founder of the Savo Group, said as much as 40% of a salesperson's job is consumed in putting together selling materials in preparation for meetings and presentations, a critical portion of time better spent selling.

"Sales enablement has got to be the most critical endeavor in the minds of marketing executives," said Aiello, whose company markets Sales Asset Manager, software that tracks and manages sales collateral and presentation materials.

Aiello sees a trend toward a new job description, which he calls the sales enablement architect, whose job it is to assemble correct selling tools from marketing, monitor their adoption and ensure mutual sales-marketing cooperation. These "architects" possess what Aiello called "half-marketing, half-sales brains."

Dow Jones & Co. is one company that's put this type of position into service. The company's alignment efforts have accelerated since Alan Scott, a former Gartner Research executive, was named chief marketing officer of Dow Jones' Enterprise Media Group in 2003. The group's Factiva division sells business news, information and business indexes to financial institutions, traders, governments and media.

Using a five-step pipeline model—gaining a customer's attention, interest, conviction, desire and the sale—Scott and his team divided these steps between marketing (focusing on the first two) and sales (hitting the last three). The new post was created as a conduit between the two functions.

The company measures its success by determining how much revenue comes from marketing-generated leads; other measurements determine which marketing efforts work best toward this end, for further refinement.

Another company that's created a special bridge between sales and marketing is Autodesk Inc.. Of the company's new sales execution group, Mike Colombo, Autodesk's senior director of worldwide sales execution, said, "It took a while to get it right, but our divisions see how critical this is once the right tools are in the sales pipeline."

Companies in highly competitive industries, where product differentiation is crucial, may benefit the most from tightly integrated sales and marketing efforts. A 2006 survey sponsored by the American Marketing Association found that product and services differentiation is the one goal considered most at risk from poor marketing and sales integration, with the ability to sell value over price also considered in danger.

Key indicators

Lack of tight sales and marketing integration can be masked, experts say, by already robust sales or lack of serious competition. But when the two functions drift, it shows up in higher costs associated with sales—in particular the addition of sales support staff—and delays in the sales cycle.

"The problem is revealed not in closing business once sales has qualified leads but rather in finding those leads, getting them interested and creating urgency," said Bob Schmonsees, a marketing consultant and author of "Escaping the Black Hole: Minimizing the Damage from the Marketing and Sales Disconnect."

Measuring success can be just as vague; pinning marketing dollars spent to sales dollars gained isn't easy, but Dow Jones for one follows up on every point of customer contact.

"In the first year, our measurable results from lead generation were in the seven figures, and our results have, at a minimum, doubled each subsequent year," Scott said. He added that Dow Jones wants to make sales and marketing "one continuous effort rather than separate ones."

As competition increases, the greatest urgency may simply be in not overlooking any source of advantage.

"The point is, if your company is more aligned and coordinated, and everyone is sharing knowledge and saying the same thing, it will do better," said Schmonsees. "Measuring alignment is like measuring a happy marriage. It's just so much common sense."

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