What Data Couldn’t Tell Me about the Importance of Alignment

7 minute read

Upland Admin

Alignment is the talk of the town these days. If you don’t believe me, just count the number of new ABM and sales-enablement vendors at the next conference you attend, hawking free portable chargers in exchange for a badge scan.

These emerging strategies—and frankly, modern marketing in general—simply won’t work without outstanding alignment between marketing and sales. After all, it’s the Age of the Customer, and we’re just livin’ in it.

As a result of consumers’ newfound power, the traditional concept of a “hand-off” between marketing and sales is rapidly fading. Now, our content needs to provide value throughout the entire funnel. And it’s more important than ever that everyone, from marketing to renewals, speaks the same language and tells the same story about our brands.

You probably already know that.

But the concept of alignment is such a mushy, overwhelming topic that what’s difficult isn’t understanding the value—it’s understanding how and where to begin—without just throwing money at a bunch of new software.

It was with the goal of finding a starting place for fellow marketers and sales folks to approach this issue that led me to undertake research into the state of marketing and sales alignment for a benchmark eBook. Truth be told, the study was as much for my own edification as it was my readers’.

I’ve written plenty about the actual results of that study, and the data are fascinating. But perhaps my biggest insight into the importance of alignment came—quite by accident—during the writing process itself.

The Data Isn’t Pretty

I assumed that the results of our surveys would confirm that sales and marketing alignment was a work in progress, but I wasn’t prepared for just how depressing the numbers actually were.

The data pouring in from marketers and salespeople alike painted a bleak picture of mutual distrust and ineffective content usage. The minority who were committed to alignment, on the other hand, were far more likely to hit or exceed their goals.

Top marketers and sales teams are aligned

The general findings were expected, if individually horrifying: Companies that prioritize aligning their teams perform better than those that do not, and those that allow their employees to continue working in silos are rapidly falling behind.

Accidental Alignment: A Sceptic Becomes a Believer

As we compiled our findings, the Kapost marketing team decided we needed a tactical asset to go along with our high-level data. (Now that people knew they needed to align, how should they start?) So, I set out to draft a step-by-step guide that would help marketers facilitate alignment between their teams and the sales organizations in their companies. We’d call it the Marketing and Sales Alignment Facilitation Guide, and it would be glorious.

Ironically, however, I attempted the first draft entirely on my own.

The result? Well, as my boss kindly put it, “This is a great start!”

Clearly, we weren’t there yet.

As I studied my draft and puzzled over how to make it something anyone would actually want to use, I realized something: If I really wanted to know how marketers successfully facilitated alignment, I’d need to ask the people who’d seen it happen. What I needed was to do some aligning of my own.

I called in the customer success team.

After sending some of our CSMs and implementation managers a link to my first draft and opening my notifications to find a flood of incredible feedback, I knew they were a resource I needed to take full advantage of. So, I got off my computer and got into a conference room, inviting a group to join me in person to talk through the asset from scratch: its format, content, and style.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I was nervous on the day of our meeting. I knew the CS team was great, but I had never collaborated with them before. Asking them for help felt like an admission of my own shortcomings—not to mention, a waste of my invitees’ incredibly limited time.

But, far from feeling like a last resort, our meeting made it clear that collaboration should have been my approach from the get-go.

Whiteboard marker in hand, I scribbled furiously as we talked through what it takes to create alignment—and what our CSMs and implementation managers had seen work, first-hand, for their customers.

Over the course of our 45 minutes, I’d completely rethought the guide. No longer was it a set of suggestions—now, it was an actionable checklist, chalk-full of sample questions, talking points, and email lists. Not only had it evolved into an asset that could actually be used, it now had full buy-in from a department who felt a sense of ownership over its very existence and was excited to put it to use.

I wasn’t surprised that our CS team had great insights—their work is nothing short of legendary at Kapost—but what did come unexpectedly was their enthusiasm for the task itself.

What I’d initially thought of as an imposition—taking their time to better my own project—was actually something for which they were grateful. Every time I thanked them for their time, they emphatically told me that they didn’t need thanks. Instead, they thanked me (what??) for bringing them in and treating them like the subject-matter experts they were.

“We have so much knowledge about how successful marketers behave,” one told me. “So, it’s super exciting to get a chance to share that!”

That was that moment when it really hit me: Alignment isn’t for the sake of the party making the ask. Done right, it makes life better for everyone.

Making Alignment a Habit

People are tribal; it’s just how we are. When we form groups, we seek to protect our own and end up attaching suspicion to those who aren’t in the inner circle. But beneath it all, we all have the same goal: We want our business to succeed, and we’re willing to do our part to see that it gets there. Sometimes, something as simple as sitting down in the same room can unearth the truth that our priorities aren’t so different after all.

Of course, good intentions won’t end office politics or make silos a thing of the past. We’ve all had bad experiences with colleagues who attempt to steamroll other departments in order to advance their own agendas or fail to see the big picture. But most of the time, when people are given the chance to be heard and contribute to a collaborative project, this isn’t the case.

Establishing your own reputation as a great collaborator will, in turn, make your colleagues more likely to collaborate themselves. You’ll quickly earn a position of trust that will encourage your coworkers to take down their own walls and see the bigger picture.

To this day, reaching out when I have an idea that might include, affect, or benefit another department can still be a little nervewracking. But every time, within minutes, the room is full of people laughing and saying, “Wow! I didn’t realize you thought about these issues too!”

It’s easy to think of alignment as something we need to do—something that will be difficult and involve jostling for the upper hand. But really, it’s about treating people like people, valuing different skillsets, and working together for the betterment of everyone involved—not to mention, your company’s bottom line.

Want the stats behind the study? Check out the 2018 Marketing and Sales Alignment Benchmark.

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