There comes a time in the life of every movement when its ideas and principles it represents catch fire, a point of critical mass. For sales and marketing alignment, that time has come. This year, the rewards for those who align their sales and marketing programs and departments will be as dramatic as the failures of those who refuse. Marketing and sales departments are the butts of jokes because of their misalignment. Depending on who is speaking, the jokes might have a sour and condescending tone, or include one or two lame suggestions about overcoming the issues that divide the departments. “How can two such close groups with similar goals,” many commentators and authors lament, “be so far apart in their thinking and support of one another?” Until now, there has been little relief, except for the spark that occurs when a leader emerges with a mandate that the two groups cooperate. This spark lasts as long as the leader lasts; then the battle begins anew. Some have accused us in sales and marketing of being slow learners. I can't disagree. I suppose it's because the constant competition for funding and recognition pushes sales and marketing into separate camps. But there's now hope. The long-awaited attitude change in favor of alignment is coming, due largely to three worldwide alterations: The latest recession has demanded that sales and marketing departments no longer have the discretion (or funds) to pursue their own agendas; new technology tools are reaching a point of integration so sales and marketing have no choice but to work together; and ROI requirements for a measurable return on marketing's investment demand it. In the past two years, the creation of webinars, seminars, books and articles on the topic of marketing ROI has reached a fever pitch. Most are hosted or motivated by the purveyors of marketing automation. If CRM has been the drumbeat of business, marketing automation is the full orchestra. With marketing automation reaching a crescendo, marketing no longer has an excuse to refrain from taking its rightful place as an equal co-creator of wealth. With marketing automation, where before there was timidity, there is now bravado. But marketing as a discipline has to change to make this happen. While in the past marketing created brand preference (difficult to prove and hard to justify), there is now the attitude—and evidence to show—that marketing creates wealth by serving the needs of both sales and the customer. Marketing automation technology is dropping in price and becoming easier to use, making it more accessible to smaller companies. Virtually everyone who needs it can now afford it. Marketing and sales leaders now have common cause. Of course it helps when CEOs and presidents, taking leadership roles foisted on them by economic circumstances, are forced to say, “Marketing must create demand and prove that the dollars spent result in sales. Sales must use our CRM systems and support marketing's effort to prove ROI in exchange for the 2% to 20% we give them. We have no other option.” Of course, the goal of alignment can only be accomplished if marketing and sales managers realize that their self-interest is being served by cooperating and using the CRM and marketing automation tools at their disposal. Ultimately, it is the management of the inquiries and leads that guides spending on marketing programs to create sales at a greater rate than competitors' programs. Sales lead management is the mantra; marketing automation is the tool. As I have said too many times to marketers, salespeople and members of the Sales Lead Management Association: Marketing managers must spend money on things that work and let their competitors spend money on everything else. This mandate can be broken down into three directives: 1) Complete the sales lead management program by having the proper tools, both CRM and marketing automation. 2) Realize that finding the answer to the question “What's in it for me?” is the job of both marketing and sales managers. Cooperate or leave. 3) C-level managers must invest in technology (CRM and marketing automation) and training to allow their companies to outpace their competitors by outselling and outmarketing them. This year will be recognized as a period of stark transition and growth for marketing, as surely as 2001-02 was with CRM technology for sales. Acceptance of sales lead management will reach its tipping point through the enlightenment of C-level managers and the desperate cooperation of both sales and marketing. A tool with tremendous capability, called marketing automation, is bringing the two together.