Pipeline Marketing Blog

5 Signs the Gap Between Sales and Marketing is Closing

By Michael Steinberg
Apr 25, 2017

The celebrated co-founder of HP, David Packard, once said: “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” Many marketers will jump immediately from their seats and label this as an utter blasphemy. Nonetheless, the truth is that Packard is right (up to a certain extent). Marketing is way too important to be left ONLY to the marketing department. This is where things get interesting.

So, who else should handle the marketing activities of a company? How about marketing’s other half, sales. Should marketing then also get involved into sales activities? Of course! Sales and marketing are two of the main pillars of every business. They are the salt and pepper of the perfect business recipe: too much of one and too little of the other will result in disaster. The key lies in finding the perfect combination. For some years now a trend has been taking place: a narrowing gap between marketing and sales activities.

The introduction of the internet and the digitalization of many businesses and their processes have also acted as a force of attraction between sales and marketing. This has taken place in almost all businesses, from large corporations, to seed-stage start-ups. Communication, data collection, customer overview, marketing campaigns, customer follow-up and many other processes have been modernized thanks to digital technologies. This has not only made the collaboration between marketing and sales teams easier and more effective, it has also partly erased that imaginary line of chalk dividing both activities. Can we speak of a merger between both activities? No, at least not yet. However, discarding it would be an error. I know, you probably are skeptical and want some proof. Well, here are 5 signs the gap between sales and marketing is closing.

Online Marketing: Much more Than Just Marketing

It would be naïve to think that online marketing is only in the hand of marketers nowadays. Or, to think that online marketing channels are there just to market products or services. Think about email marketing. Isn’t this also a channel that is often used by the sales team to hunt for leads? What about social media channels like LinkedIn, a channel that many marketers use to acquire high-quality leads. Shouldn’t sales be doing this? This is the beauty of online marketing, it has so many possibilities that it allows marketing and sales teams to venture out of their everyday territory in order to accelerate the customer acquisition process.  

One of the best examples of how online marketing bridges the gap between sales and marketing is that of content marketing. Content marketing is so important, that it is estimated that by 2017, 51% of businesses will have a specific executive in charge of an overall content marketing strategy. This strategy relies on creating valuable content that not only creates brand awareness, but also attracts prospects and hopefully educates them toward a purchase decision. Therefore, it is common for sales reps to share valuable, curated content via online marketing channels to address high-quality leads. Although the content shared by marketing and sales teams usually differs in many aspects, there are many content hybrids out there that apply for both.

Let’s take a look at the concept developed by The Digital Marketer, which divides content marketing according to the stages of the sales funnel (starting at top of the funnel, until its bottom). At the top of the funnel, a business first wants to create awareness, that’s why attractive, viral content such as blog posts or images are shared. On the other hand, the bottom of the funnel is characterized by the sales ready prospects, which are addressed by the sales team with more elaborate material such as free product trials or even webinars.

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However, for us the most interesting segment of the funnel is the middle. Why? Because here is where the merger between marketing and sales happens. The middle of the funnel is where prospects are educated and oriented toward an evaluation of the business, as a doorstep to a potential conversion. A great example of content employed here is that of white papers. These pieces of content are long, elaborate articles, videos or infographics, describing solutions to an issue and how it can be addressed (usually with the products or services offered by the business). White papers are a powerful content marketing tool used by marketing and sales to attract high-quality leads and thus involve a significant collaboration between both teams, so that the lead generation campaign remains aligned.

According to the LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community,  lead generation is considered the top priority of content marketing (60%). As in the case of white papers, online marketing strategies help generate those valuable leads and the tight collaboration between both teams ensures the quality of those leads, which brings us to the next point.

The Narrowing Gap Between MQLs and SQLs

Naturally, a newsletter subscription will not have the same weight as a specific pricing inquiry. Moreover, an intern asking for trial versions will not have the same value in terms of leads, as a CEO with general inquiries. Qualifying leads as marketing or sales-ready has been a complicated business process for many years. An ideal MQL-to-SQL conversion rate of 100% is achieved when all leads provided by the marketing team are converted into sales qualified leads. This is rarely the case. Studies have shown that up to 70% of sales leads are completely ignored or not properly leveraged and that only a quarter of the leads sent by marketing are actually sales ready.

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Clever businesses have noticed these issues and have decided to cut the problem by its roots in order to get close to that desired 100% MQL to SQL Conversion Rate. A close collaboration between sales and marketing in the lead generation process is a priority in the present, especially in fast-paced startups and SMBs. A marketing team that clearly understands which prospects the sales team is expecting, will produce much more high-quality leads, than a team that works independently and just goes out there fishing for lead quantity instead of quality. Therefore, businesses are integrating the lead generation process from both sides to enable a more effective prospect screening.

Different techniques have been developed in recent years to narrow this lead qualification gap and maintain a high-quality pipeline. One of the most popular is that of lead scoring systems, which usually classify leads based on diverse attributes: from demographics and job position, to behavior and actual purchase interest or intent. Such techniques help both marketing and sales teams work closer together and keep a clear overview of the flow of leads along the pipeline. The smoother and faster this movement is, the more successful the conversion rate.

Sales Acceleration

This is a term you probably have heard many times, for it is a trend that came here to stay. Sales acceleration refers to increasing the speed of the entire sales process. From outbound and inbound marketing, over lead qualification, until the final purchase. This is normally achieved through a perfected lead acquisition process, which permits marketing and sales teams to bring leads to maturity with a lower time and resource investment.

In the past, it was a common thought to try to achieve shorter sales cycles by introducing role segmentation. Divide and conquer. This soon proved to be a fatal mistake given that, although marketers and sales reps fulfill diversified functions, their target is always the same one: the buyer. Businesses have understood that creating a lot of noise along the buyer’s journey will confuse sales and marketing teams and drive customers away. Sales and marketing misalignment costs businesses tons of money each year. On the other hand, aligning sales and marketing has been proven to increase annual deal size, business growth and MQL to SQL conversion rates.

Thus, it clearly has become a priority for marketing and sales teams to follow prospects jointly along the buyer’s journey. It sounds easier said than done, but many tools have come along to harmonize the collaboration.

A Growing Market for CRM and Sales-Marketing Collaboration and Acceleration Tools

Customer relationship management and sales-marketing collaboration tools have seen a huge increase in users in the last years. Many solutions such as HubSpot, Salesforce, Beamium and Showpad have emerged for marketing and sales teams to collaborate on inbound marketing and sales processes for efficient lead generation and conversion. Such technologies are digital proof that companies are looking for solutions that allow them to narrow the gap between their sales and marketing teams. According to Gartner, this year the revenue forecast for CRM solutions is expected to reach $37 Billion, which demonstrates the importance they are acquiring in the market.

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Most of these tools are cloud-based and thus simplify drastically the communication and collaboration between marketing and sales teams, regardless of location. Some cover many areas like customer service, marketing automation, collaboration and knowledge management, while others focus in specific channels such as inbound marketing campaigns. Moreover, a key element of such technologies is that they usually collect large amounts of data that allow sales and marketing teams to work together in precise lead qualification processes as well as accurate forecasting measures. A study by Salesforce shows that CRM tools increase the sales productivity of a business by at least 34%. No wonder sales enablement tools are becoming a trend.     

Business Developers and The New CMOs

Finally, let’s jump from software and business processes, to an actual position at the company: the business developer. Although commonly related to sales, a business developer is much more than that. This position began to gain notoriety with the rise of start-ups. Do a quick LinkedIn search for business development and you will come across hundreds of individuals working at startups and small, internet based companies. If you take a look at their roles at their businesses or previous experience, you will notice in most cases two main areas of expertise: sales and marketing.

Business developers are mainly the result of the need at startups for individuals with a highly-diversified skillset. A good business developer knows his or her way around most online marketing strategies and also nurtures leads and closes deals. In other words, he or she develops the business. This hybrid profile between sales and marketing is probably one of the clearest tangible signs that the gap between both activities is narrowing significantly.
On the other hand, large businesses and corporations might not have a business developer that handles both ends at the same time (yet), but if we take a deeper look into the development of CMOs in the last years, we might come across something quite interesting. CMOs are now evolving from a brand custodian to a more general manager.

Today, their activities are way beyond generating brand awareness, for they also extend to the depths of revenue generation, customer satisfaction or operations management. That is right, a successful CMO nowadays also plays a key role in the sales process. Why? Well, the CMO usually possesses large amounts of data regarding the customers and is arguably the one individual in the company that better knows the customers, their behaviors, needs and thoughts. In a poll of business executives it was found that at least 53% of the respondents thought the CMO could become the future CEO of the company, demonstrating the high degree of trust and responsibility that CMOs are winning.

The trends that point toward a closing gap between sales and marketing are clear, the facts and the numbers too. Is this the future of business in the next decade? Only time can tell… However, you know what they say, the faster you run, the harder you are to catch. Those businesses that can leverage this ongoing trend and its advantages, will certainly have the high ground in the battles for the market to come.

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