(This story was originally published by Entrepreneur.com and was edited for content and style.)
The internet forever changed how we buy and sell things—both in the B2C and B2B markets. The influx of options and available information created a customer base that was more informed than ever and granted them the power to take purchasing into their own hands. As our digital world has accelerated, these changes have become more pronounced and have effectively turned the traditional, linear buyer journey on its head.
Buyers now bounce back and forth between different sales funnel phases, transitioning from research to direct interaction and back again. But many businesses are still structured around the linear journey, even though their customers have long since deviated from that path. Companies must adjust their internal processes and departments to support this new buyer journey and boost demand generation efforts. They need to unify their teams and strategies across the board.
Unifying sales and marketing has long been a lofty goal in business, but now it’s a necessity. Both departments drive revenue for a company, but there is a long history of disjointed strategy and competition that needs to be overcome.
Here are three ways to get these teams to work together:
Get everyone on the same page
For decades, sales and marketing have been treated as different functions and different departments, despite ultimately having the same core objective: revenue generation. This separation has led each to develop its own internal views, lingo and culture—and the resulting divide drives a disjointed demand gen process that leaves leads and revenue on the table.
There are multiple tools companies can use to bridge this communication gap. Specifically, a lead scoring system is a great way to foster mutual understanding of where a lead is within the buyer’s journey. Members from both teams should share input, so the system is created collaboratively. Not only does this improve communication between departments, but it also provides greater insight into the buyer journey company-wide.
Shared visibility is also important to getting everyone on the same page. Traditionally, sales and marketing have maintained their data separately with their own information and insights—all for the same prospects. Businesses must eliminate these data silos and combine all data into a single location. This reduces duplicate data and creates holistic visibility across the entire customer journey versus a segmented view. This increased visibility allows teams to interact with leads more meaningfully and serves as the foundation for more thoughtful, data-based demand gen strategies.
Unite under the common goal of revenue
Department goals are critical for keeping teams on track, but they can drive division and cut into your bottom line when they become a team’s sole focus. Companies need to dismantle this single line of thinking and reinforce that marketing and sales operations both work to support the overarching company goal—revenue. Department goals should be seen as a function to achieve this rather than their own objectives.
One way companies can support a common revenue goal is to establish a growth team. Consisting of members from both marketing and sales backgrounds, the growth team applies their range of experience to focus solely on the buyer’s perspective.
The growth team looks at the entire buyer journey rather than department-specific pieces. Their focus is moving customers through the buyer journey to achieve revenue. Through this lens, they take on the perspective of the buyer and learn what their challenges are, what knowledge they need to make a purchase and what kind of interactions and experiences they are looking for from vendors. With this information, department goals can then be shaped to follow the needs of the buyer. For instance, if the growth team finds that content plays a prominent role in the research phase of a purchase decision, this information could then be used to inform marketing goals around content creation.
To ensure the growth team remains balanced and unbiased, it should answer to a growth officer. This leadership position is aligned with neither sales nor marketing and acts as an impartial opinion that ensures all decisions steer toward revenue.
Work together to keep prospects engaged
The traditional sales funnel model is too rigid, only allowing for buyers to move forward or not at all. While it may have been a selling staple for decades, it doesn’t fit with the behaviors of the modern, digital buyer and its continued use can waste company resources. Instead of forcing potential customers to follow their model, marketing and sales functions must work together to alter their processes to mimic buyer behavior.
Start by defining the phases of the buyer journey to locate where a customer is in the process. Once the phases are clearly defined, with input from both departments, the next step is creating services level agreements between departments. These help sales and marketing determine where the customer should go next and provide clear next steps. For example, companies can implement an SLA that recycles unresponsive or dead leads back to marketing to place them into a top-funnel, one-to-many nurturing sequence in their marketing automation tool, rather than allowing them to grow cold. This keeps the opportunity active in the pipeline while keeping the company top-of-mind with continued nurturing efforts.
Today’s consumers are more informed and empowered than ever. They are the ones who set the pace and the direction of their path to purchase. The traditional segmented approach to the buyer journey will no longer produce the results companies need. Moving forward, businesses must move beyond alignment and fully unify marketing and sales functions to approach the buyer journey as a whole.
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