Marketing and Sales Alignment – It’s not Ironman, Start Drafting!

Ironman, triathlonWatching the TV replay of the 2013 Ironman World Championships this weekend got me thinking about marketing and sales alignment.   Don’t worry, that wasn’t my first thought, or even my second one.   First, I realized that I have so much more training to do if I am ever to take on the 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and marathon run of an Ironman distance triathlon.  Then, I appreciated the efforts of the pro competitors’ race, and  those of amateur, “normal” athletes like Chef Gordon Ramsay, former Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward, and others less famous.   But THEN, I thought about marketing and sales alignment.

What does Marketing and Sales Alignment have to do with Ironman?

If you’ve seen a triathlon, you know that drafting is not allowed on the bike leg.  Competitive cycling events, like the Tour de France, allow riders to conserve energy by bunching up in a tightly packed pace line in the slip stream of the front riders.  Triathlon does not.   In order to ensure that all of the effort is individual, triathlon bike rules specify an imaginary 7 meter line behind a rider.  Faster riders have 20 seconds to cross this line and overtake a slower rider, who must then drop back beyond 7 meters.   This “no drafting” rule ensures that riders do not work together.

When it comes to marketing and sales alignment, it sometimes seems like there must be an unwritten, no drafting rule that prevents them from effectively working together.   How else to explain the wall between the two teams, the finger-pointing, and the negative attitudes?  Much has been written about how to bridge the gap between marketing and sales silos.   Having a crisply defined marketing and sales service level agreement (SLA) certainly helps.   And marketing automation software and CRM systems can add efficiency and throughput to the demand generation pipeline.

Walk a Mile in their Shoes – Five Suggestions for Marketing

In my experience, though, the best approach for marketers to understand what sales needs is to get out into the field and walk a mile in their shoes.    Once you do so, it won’t be so easy to refer to sales people as cavemen.    Here are five things every marketer should do to better understand their sales colleagues.

  1. Make some cold calls.  Spend half a day calling the names on your lead list.  Leave an effective voice mail.  Get someone on the phone, uncover their pain points, summarize your commercial insight, and ask for a meeting.   Discover for yourself the real qualifying questions and objections, so you can build a better battle card.
  2. Give your pitch.   Deliver your Challenger Sale commercial teaching presentation, or whatever approach your team uses.  Identify where your slides don’t flow, your animation bogs down, or your slide notes need improvement.   Modify your deck based on what you learn first-hand.
  3. Get Social.  Check the Twitter and LinkedIn profiles of your sales colleagues and see if they can be improved.   Conduct a 40 minute webcast on how best to leverage social media tools.  The small investment on your part will yield big results in both amplification of your product line, and in sales’ ability to sell socially.
  4. Be Proactive.  Reach out to your sales colleagues proactively.  Don’t wait in your cube for them to call you.   You’re the domain expert, so act like one.  Call them up and let them know you can help them, even if it’s just on the phone.   They’ll welcome the help.  It’s one less presentation for them to give, and if you do well, you’ll build trust and a reputation as a useful resource.
  5. Keep moving forward.  Just like at Ironman, you have to keep moving.  The surest way to fail is to stand still.  There are always updates to make in product capabilities, competitive analysis, market trends.

What’s your experience?  Are your marketing and sales teams working together, or are they observing a “no drafting” rule?  Have you walked a mile in your colleagues’ shoes?

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