How Agile Encourages Sales and Marketing Collaboration

8 minute read

Upland Admin

Alien vs. Predator

BetaMax vs. VHS

Microsoft vs. Apple

Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles

Sales vs. Marketing

Anyone who has been caught in the cross-hairs of a sales vs. marketing skirmish won’t contest its place on a list of the greatest rivalries of all time.

In one corner we have sales, a group whose livelihood depends on the commissions they’ll earn by selling to individual customers in the immediate future. In the other corner we find marketing, a salaried team focused on reaching a broad market and achieving long-term brand success.

Is it any wonder that the two regularly come to blows?

The conflict may be familiar, but it’s also costly.

Aberdeen Research reports that companies that are best-in-class at aligning marketing and sales enjoy an average of 20% growth in annual revenue. Laggard organizations, in the meantime, experience a 4% decline in annual revenue.

When sales and marketing bury the proverbial hatchet, they enjoy shorter sales cycle, better overall ROI, easier marketing attribution, and happier customers.

Like most of the problems that modern marketing encounters, a commitment to Agile processes and principles can help solve the sales/marketing alignment conundrum. Here I’ll walk you through some general benefits that an Agile mindset offers, as well as more specific tactical tools Agile teams can use to increase sales and marketing cooperation.

Causes of Sales and Marketing Conflict

Writing in The Harvard Business Review, Philip Kotler, Neil Rackham, and Suj Krishnaswamy argue that the basis of the sales and marketing battle lies with their differing perspectives:

[S]ales departments tend to believe that marketers are out of touch with what’s really going on with customers. Marketing believes the sales force is myopic—too focused on individual customer experiences, insufficiently aware of the larger market, and blind to the future. In short, each group often undervalues the other’s contributions.

When it comes to day-to-day execution, the salespeople tend to think that marketing is simply doing the wrong work.

Brand awareness, content marketing, social media engagement—these long-term marketing initiatives are unlikely to create immediate sales, but they’re nonetheless key to a successful marketing strategy.

Similarly, both teams squabble over the quality and quantity of leads that come in.

From a sales perspective, marketing isn’t bringing in enough leads, or the ones coming in are so far from a purchase that they’re practically useless for a salesperson. Marketing has to balance its short-term lead quotas with strategic objectives that are harder to track, meaning marketers often feel pulled in opposing directions with no guidance on prioritization.

When you consider the different ways each group is judged, it’s easy to understand where this animosity originates. “Salespeople make a living by closing sales, full stop. It’s easy to see who (and what) is successful—almost immediately,” Kotler, Rackham, and Krishnaswamy say. “But the marketing budget is devoted to programs, not people, and it takes much longer to know whether a program has helped to create a long-term competitive advantage for the organization.”

These are big problems, but Agile marketing offers equally big solutions that can help begin to bridge the huge gap between sales and marketing.

Create Alignment Through Agile Marketing

Regardless of whether you choose to use Scrum, Kanban, or a hybrid methodology, adopting an Agile approach to your marketing will improve your sales and marketing alignment.

Every single Agile methodology allows marketers to:

  • Increase visibility: The visible board of current work and the constantly updated backlog of future work eliminate the age-old question “What is marketing doing over there anyway?”
  • Prioritize effectively: Better communication and constant recalibration mean marketing can confidently state they are doing the right work at the right time.
  • Collaborate more often: When more people understand what marketing is doing, it opens up opportunities for better collaboration. This applies between teams, like sales and marketing, as well as within the marketing department itself.

Embrace Agile Marketing Values

Per the Agile marketing manifesto, Agile marketers value customer-focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy. If we take this commitment to heart, marketers can start to turn the marketing vs. sales conflict into a customer-centered conversation.

Likewise, Agile marketers value validated learning over opinions and conventions. That means that we should commit to collecting, reviewing, and analyzing data and then acting on it.

This goes for marketing’s preferred projects as well as those we do for sales. When we start discussions with objective data, we have a better chance of side-stepping the opinion-based drama that can derail productive conversation.

Those are some of the high-level benefits that Agile marketing offers; now let’s take a look at the specific steps we need to take to get there.

Commit Your Agile Marketing Team to Sales Support

To counteract the feeling that sales doesn’t have a voice in what marketing works on, you can agree to devote a certain percentage of your team’s bandwidth to projects that are important to sales.

On a Scrum team, for example, you should know your team’s Sprint velocity (the amount of work the team can complete in a Sprint), which is typically expressed in points. If you pull in 30 points of work every two weeks, you might offer sales 5-10 points.

This allows them to select small yet impactful projects for the marketing team to work on. It should also reduce mid-Sprint interruptions by salespeople demanding immediate attention to a project.

Kanban teams can get similar results by creating explicit policies around the sales-related work that comes into their workflow. They could commit to releasing this work in under ten business days, expediting it compared to marketing work that isn’t deadline-driven, etc.

Regardless of the methodology you use, be sure to show sales how their work is progressing through clear signals on your board.

Visualize sales-related work with its own horizontal swimlane, a unique sticky note color, etc.

Invite Sales to Agile Marketing Meetings

Agile marketing teams hold regular meetings to plan, report on, and review their work, and these are perfect times to improve inter-team communication by inviting salespeople.

All Agile marketing teams should have a daily standup meeting every morning. This 15-minute update and planning pow-wow can satisfy any questions that the sales team might have about the status of their projects, along with any hurdles the marketing team is facing.

You probably don’t want every single salesperson attending your Agile marketing standup; a single rotating representative should suffice.

Likewise, if you’re using Scrum, you can invite anyone from sales who’s interested to attend your Sprint Review, one of the final ceremonies of a Sprint where the team demonstrates completed work.

By sharing the new marketing collateral you’ve created with sales you can extend its lifespan, expand its use, and generally make it more effective.

Finally, bring sales into your Agile marketing planning process whenever possible. For Scrum teams this means inviting a sales stakeholder to Sprint Planning, and Kanban teams will include one in their Queue Replenishment sessions.

When sales sees the full extent of the work that an Agile marketing team has committed to, they may be more understanding about where their pet projects fall on the priority list.

Give Sales a Voice in the Agile Marketing Backlog

At the heart of every good Agile marketing team is a beautiful backlog.

This prioritized list of work drives everything that the team tackles, which means that the power to add something to the backlog is an integral part of influencing the work that an Agile marketing team does.

If you don’t think it will be abused, you can offer this power to your sales team.

To keep the process in check, document all sales contributions. This might be a dedicated email address that automatically creates a card in your electronic tool, an online form that collects critical data, or access directly to your tool of choice.

Whatever you choose, be explicit about when, why, and under what circumstances new work should go into the backlog. If things get out of hand and you find your backlog growing too rapidly, adjust the process until both parties are satisfied.

Sales: Part of Cross-Functional Agile Marketing

Agile marketers value cross-functionality, having the skills needed to work on a wide variety of projects, very highly. Varied skills mean that an Agile marketing team can complete a higher percentage of its work independently, swarm its members onto projects that are falling behind, and generally be more efficient.

And in an organization that demands alignment between sales and marketing, cross-functional marketers should have sales skills too.

Marketing team members can sit in on sales calls to hear questions and concerns from real prospects, make themselves available regularly to assist with sales calls, and otherwise get familiar with what it takes to make sales in their organization.

Being cross-functional means being able to jump in wherever your time and skills can help the team. This might mean helping sales as well as marketing.

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