Marketing and Sales Alignment Progress Through Specific Stages

Since I’ve been writing about marketing and sales alignment for the past year, I have examined various elements required for ongoing alignment success, created a framework and even teased the idea of creating a maturity model. An alignment maturity model doesn’t seem to be the best approach. Especially since marketing and sales alignment is not something to achieve, but an ongoing collaboration between the two functions. My colleague Amy Abatangle and I have collaborated on defining the following stages of alignment to provide some guidance for bringing the two teams together.

While each of the stages is shown as a discrete dot on the arrow below, this is more of a continuum where organizations progress.

Progression through stages of marketing and sales alignment

1. Siloed Functions

This is the traditional structure for marketing and sales teams. Marketing does its thing over here, such as using market insights and quantitative data to define personas, audience and messaging. Sales does its thing over there, such as outbound prospecting, building pipeline and closing deals. Somewhere in the middle sits demand generation where marketing activates the audience to drive interest from targeted leads or accounts. Once those leads are qualified and passed to sales, it is up to sales to determine whether to accept them and follow up.

Key indicators of this stage: There is no collaboration or alignment between teams. They have separate processes, results and metrics. Handoffs happen without communication.

Steps to move to the next stage: The marketing or sales leader (or CEO) makes the decision to initiate collaboration between teams.

2. Strategic Alignment

I don’t really want to the adopt clichéd analogy that marketing and sales alignment is like a marriage, but I will go as far as to say that both begin with communication. The first step in alignment is for both marketing and sales leaders to agree that collaboration is strategically important for the overall organization. This acknowledgment helps them begin to plan how things come together. Each of the definitional practices that were done alone, such as developing an audience and what to say to them is developed with both the marketing and sales point of view.

Key indicators of this stage: A mutually agree-upon lead qualification definition and a regular cadence of CMO / CSO meetings to discuss alignment

Steps to move to the next stage: Development of an alignment implementation plan

3. Operational Alignment

Organizations are operationally aligned when the two parts of the overall revenue processes are seamlessly joined in a single workflow. It is this stage that feels like alignment. Both teams have made decisions together — using both marketing’s and sales’ points of view — and put them into practice. There is no longer a handoff from marketing to sales. The revenue stages now guide the process, not the functions.

Key indicators of this stage: Common metrics on single dashboard and a regular revenue council meeting

Steps to move to the next stage: CEO or Board requests more than incremental improvement

4. Functional Alignment

This is the stage that seems the most straightforward, but in our conversations with clients, that may not be true. Both marketing and sales functions report to the same leader. That should be a clear signal that alignment is easily achieved. It is not so. Just today I heard from an organization with functional alignment, yet the marketing and sales functions were siloed. This means that an organization made changes on the org chart but did not build the supporting structure to support the change. This stage is not a discrete moment of a new leader. Functional alignment is achieved only if an organization has passed through the previous stages.

Key indicators of this stage: A chief revenue officer (CRO) or chief commercial officer (CCO)

Steps to move to the next stage: Have you heard about RevOps?

The post originally appeared on the Gartner Blog Network.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen