EXPERT ADVICE

Giving Sales and Marketing a Single View of the Customer

The pressure to increase top-line revenue growth is uniting sales and marketing executives to focus resources on aligning their two groups. In October, Aberdeen Group surveyed over 250 companies to identify the strategies, capabilities and enablers that Best in Class (BIC) companies are using to improve sales and marketing alignment.

BIC companies achieved year-over-year improvement in key metrics in the top 20 percent and employ the best currently available practices, compared to the middle 50 percent (industry average) and the bottom 30 percent (laggards). The research reveals that BIC companies have implemented organizational processes that support automation technology adoption and allow sales and marketing to collaborate and achieve customer-centricity.

Both the sales and marketing groups realize they must improve their alignment to increase top-line revenue growth. Indeed, management can’t just wish away the historical conflict and finger-pointing over unqualified and uncontacted leads. Lead management is at the forefront of both sales and marketing’s attention. Even though BIC companies are already achieving lead conversion rates that are more than three times higher than laggards, the majority of the BIC (80 percent) have identified integrating lead qualification and measurement efforts between sales and marketing as a top priority.

Customer Centricity in Sight

The customer is the core of BIC companies’ plans to alleviate the pressure of increasing top-line revenue. Eighty percent (80 percent) of the BIC grate lead qualification and measurement efforts between sales and marketing, compared to 55 percent of laggards. Further, 25 percent of the BIC are preparing to better meet customers’ product configuration or personalization needs.

Industry average and laggard companies lose focus by aiming to increase the effectiveness of marketing collateral. While sales and marketing can be misaligned regarding the perceived value of content and branding, keeping the customer squarely in front is allowing the BIC to significantly improve performance.

BIC companies are aligning sales and marketing by leveraging technology to provide real-time insight into lead management. Additionally, the BIC have established organizational processes to ensure that each group’s requirements and expectations are well-defined and understood. By focusing on the customer as their common ground and sharing information, BIC organizations are elevating their performance in key areas that ultimately drive top-line revenue.

BIC firms are developing processes around the customer’s needs. As customer knowledge and expectations rise, the BIC are adapting. The BIC are 1.9 times more likely than laggards to formalize processes for generating customized proposals, and 1.4 times more likely than laggards to set standards for knowledge sharing between sales and marketing. The two groups have copious amounts of data collected between them, and without a formal process to disseminate relevant information, valuable leads, collateral and market insight could be lost.

Holistic View of Customers

Organizationally, BIC enterprises are providing the structure necessary for increased alignment. Sixty percent of the BIC currently have cross-functional teams, with an additional 15 percent planning a change.

Over one-third of laggards have no plans to implement cross-functional teams. Working side by side facilitates knowledge transfer and increases operational efficiencies. The BIC are also adding operations roles to support sales and marketing. Currently 40 percent of the BIC have these resources in place, and 75 percent of them plan to increase their investment in dedicated personnel next year.

Neutral support staff can help keep processes on track and ensure both groups are meeting each others’ needs. Additionally, support staff can perform some of the administrative tasks to allow the sales force to spend more time selling. Industry average sales reps spend 1.5 times the hours of BIC sales reps on nonselling tasks.

A true customer-centric sales process results in a holistic view of the organization’s past, present and future customers. To achieve this, BIC organizations plan to invest in analytics at 1.4 times the rate of the industry average and 1.7 times the rate of laggards. Knowledge is the culmination of the process, organization and technology enablers, and frames the design and development of each.

Adding technology enablers to an existing foundation of formalized and streamlined operational processes allows companies to see a return on their investment quickly. Instead of users adapting to both a new process and a new technology simultaneously, they only need to incorporate a new tool to accomplish the same tasks.

BIC companies see higher adoption rates by their users, as the users can clearly see they will save time by using the new technology, whether it is generating a call sheet for their daily activity or preparing a presentation for a sales pitch. The BIC also attain dramatically higher bid-to-win ratios than laggards through the adoption of document automation technology: presentation, proposal, order/quote generation and product configuration tools.

Recommended Actions

Here are some recommended actions for companies striving to achieve BIC performance in sales and marketing alignment:

  • Implement and document a proposal generation process. The BIC rated meeting customers’ product configuration and personalization needs as their second most important strategic action. Developing a process for generating customized presentations, product configuration, proposals and quotes will allow sales to leverage marketing’s product and customer knowledge without monopolizing their time. Currently 70 percent of BIC companies are using a document or presentation automation solution.
  • Invest in integration between sales and marketing technology solutions. This is another area where the majority (80 percent) of the BIC plan to increase their investment in 2008. Again, follow-through is critical as only 35 percent of BIC companies currently have substantial sales and marketing technology integration. Without this integration, the two groups are missing valuable insight into customers and prospects. Marketing needs to see the status of a lead as it flows through the sales cycle, and sales needs to see campaign analytics on prospects they are contacting.
  • Develop a collaborative selling environment. Given the pressure of rising customer knowledge and expectations, it is necessary for sales and marketing to raise their level of knowledge of prospects, customers, products and markets even higher.

    Many BIC firms (65 percent) currently leverage the mindshare of employees, not only in sales and marketing, but across the firm. However, the majority of companies are passive in this endeavor, with employees cultivating informal relationships (87.5 percent). Developing a formal program for sales to access subject matter experts in all functional areas will ensure every sales rep has access to the best information, and best practices are shared.

Ultimately sales and marketing alignment is about collaboration: two groups working together in harmony to achieve a common goal. BIC organizations demonstrate how to combine imprecise knowledge-based values with concrete processes and technology adoption to achieve top results.


Gretchen Duhaime is a senior research analyst in the customer management technology practice at the Aberdeen Group. Her research focuses on sales effectiveness. She can be reached at [email protected].


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