5 Steps for Getting Sales and Marketing Alignment through Content

by Rich McElaney


With the meteoric rise in content production over the last five years, companies committed to digital marketing are increasingly challenged to keep their sales and marketing teams in alignment as they pursue their revenue goals.

Depending on which research report you’ve read, the statistics quoted show that anywhere from 50 – 70% of the buyer’s journey has transpired before a prospect engages with the sales team. Just spend a few minutes thinking about how much more informed your prospective customers are these days and you can’t help conclude that just as your marketing efforts have to mesh with your sales efforts, your marketing team has to be in alignment with your sales team to fully realize everything that digital marketing offers.

The sad fact is that while many companies talk about “breaking down silos”, “removing barriers” and “creating alignment”, precious few are getting it right. It’s not uncommon to find sales teams that are rocking it with their CRM systems tracking hot deals through the close –completely independent of the marketing teams that are generating solid traffic and qualified lead increases through their marketing automation platforms. There’s a sizable gap in the middle where that all-important transition in moving qualified leads from marketing to sales occurs.

If this sounds very familiar to you and your company struggles with successfully coordinating the efforts of marketing and sales to yield better results, please read on.

  1. Start with a review of your sales pipeline structure and terminology.  Part of the setup in both CRM and marketing automation systems requires you to define the both the stages in your sales process and the categorization of prospects as they move through the process. You may find that your definitions are too broad and you need to change or refine your sales process definition and your prospect categorizations to reflect the way things are really working now. A great example of this is in the area of qualified leads – that categorization used to work just fine until the advent of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs).  The introduction of these two categories meant that sales and marketing teams could get more specific in assigning a value to a lead – which is a critical factor in the next step.
  1. Audit your content inventory to review that you have mapped the right content to the appropriate stage in the sales process. Instinctively, we know that offering pricing content to an unqualified lead is a mismatch – that content is being offered too early in the sales process for it to have its intended effect. An audit tells you two things – that the right content is being used at the appropriate sales stage and that you have enough content to cover all your stages. Again, as things change and prospects begin to engage with your content at deeper stages in the sales process, you may need to change up your content offerings to reflect this.
  1. Review the rules of ownership of the prospect based on where they are in the sales process. This is the gap area I mentioned earlier and it’s typically where the handoff from marketing to sales occurs. Most marketing automation systems have lead scoring capabilities that support the understanding of the rules of ownership. For example, if a prospect has X number of page views and Y number of content downloads, she has a score of C. Marketing owns the prospect at score levels of A and B; sales takes over ownership at C.If the prospect stalls at this point, it’s critical that there is a process and/or agreement in place that effectively deals with that stall. Even though the handling of a stall can be automated, there are so many variations at this point that it’s crucial that sales and marketing are communicating so the next steps taken are most effective.
  2. Marketing should periodically review the changing needs for content with the sales team and have them actively participate in the content creation effort.  This is closely related to #2 above and often times the second part of this can be a big challenge.  It’s the age-old challenge: does management want sales selling or participating in content creation? The answer will depend on two things: how much organizational buy-in is there for internally generated content and how visible is the impact content is having on generating new sales for the organization. (For more on getting buy-in, read this post.) We’ve found that getting buy-in – throughout the organization – is essential to the success of any inbound marketing initiative. (Read more about content marketing workshops from The Sales Lion here.)
  1. Marketing (and management) should ensure that the sales team is using “Assignment Selling”. In short, assignment selling occurs when a salesperson gives a prospect the assignment of consuming a very specific piece of content prior to the next step in the sales process. (You can read more about assignment selling and its impact here.)Assignment selling achieves three very important things – based on the prospect’s completion of their assignment: i. It qualifies that the prospect is viable. ii. That prospect moves further into the sales process. iii. It enriches the communication between sales and marketing because it takes active coordination to implement and the results are fairly immediate.

Marketing is playing an expanding role in the sales process through the creation, deployment and measurement of educational content’s impact in generating revenue. Sales can and should be playing a big role in content creation and its deployment. When alignment between the two is achieved and maintained, the results are big.

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