How Automation Can Bridge the Sales-Marketing Chasm

CRM systems are on a steep evolutionary slope, but marketing automation is evolving even more rapidly, spurred by a rash of innovative thinking and the SaaS delivery model. With the technology offering so much potential, integrating a crackerjack CRM system and an effective marketing automation solution seems like a surefire way to boost sales numbers.

There’s one obstacle standing in the way of effective technology: people. In this case, it’s the animosity that’s evolved over the past 75 years between sales and marketing. In many organizations, the two sides of this equation are so misaligned in their thinking and in their actions that it may seem no investment in software would be great enough to produce results. That is, not unless you seize upon the opportunity to break down the barriers between the two sides and use the technology as a catalyst to create greater collaboration — or at the very least, a state of productive detente.

Qualified Lead Quicksand

The core of this misalignment comes from how the two sides of the business define a “qualified lead.” In many organizations, talking to a salesperson and talking to a marketing person reveals that they are working with two very different sets of expectations about the data that indicates a prospect is ready to buy.

If marketers have a view of what criteria indicate a qualified lead that’s too simplistic, then result will be leads passed to sales that are not ready to buy. Sales staff end up fuming, because they feel marketing is dumping not-yet-qualified leads on them and thus wasting their time.

The other, less-common issue emerges when marketers have a too-complex view of what makes a qualified lead. Fewer leads are then passed to sales, and frustration builds when sales feels that marketing is falling down on the job.

Note that in both instances, sales’ perception reigns supreme, and that marketing is then hung out to dry. It’s no coincidence that of all C-level executive titles, the CMO currently has the shortest average tenure (just 23 months).

Solving this problem is not necessarily a technology issue, but technology can provide the fulcrum upon which you leverage the power of both your sales and marketing teams. The introduction of marketing automation technology provides a chance to call a truce and hold a summit. Both sides need to stop and talk, and the first topic of discussion must be about the definition of a “qualified lead.”

Proper Care and Feeding

Every sales organization has a unique view of this. If sales could articulate how it recognizes a lead that’s ready to buy, and if it could pull information out of its SFA or CRM system to back up those assumptions, then you would not only have a clearer definition, but also a way to spot triggers that marketing should be on the lookout for.

Marketing could then design campaigns to elicit the trigger behavior unique to the business’ customers, refining the quality of leads while increading their quantity.

It’s not just a one-way street headed in sales’ direction, however. This is also a great opportunity for marketing to strike an agreement about sales’ role in lead nurturing.

Too often, leads that don’t pan out immediately are virtually discarded — ignored, or consigned to a byzantine process on the sales side that never gives them the care and feeding they need.

Marketing automation technology is ideal for keeping these leads’ attention and gauging their readiness to buy, so getting sales on board with managing leads’ movement through the cycle is critical to marketing’s mission.

Deeper Divide

Discussions about these issues should be facilitated in a deliberate manner and with a clear eye on the goals at hand, and they should not be held just once. This should be a periodic process — the nature of customers changes, and so should the criteria and data you use to understand their buying behaviors.

Follow-up sales and marketing meetings — including a reassessment of goals and criteria, as well as target customer behaviors and activities — should be conducted regularly.

This is a major cultural change for many organizations. After all, sales and marketing often hate dealing with each other. That needs to change through a collaborative process.

Without that process, you can still implement marketing automation, and you can do so in a robust way. However, the results will only be a scaling-up of the problems already plaguing you.

Marketing will generate the same sort of misaligned leads — but more of them. Or, it will crank out more overqualified leads but miss vast numbers of other opportunities.

Your organization will not only fail to maximize the potential the technology holds, but also deepen the sales-marketing divide.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.

1 Comment

  • I AM in agreement with the article in that marketing and sales are often misaligned and they need to drop their bias against the groups and come together. Starting with a meeting to define "What is a Lead" and then taking it further to define all of the stages of the buying cycle starting with Response all the way through to close is key. However this is not enough. Marketing and sales must work together to define the full Lead Management process including:

    – Data

    – Lead Planning

    – Lead Routing

    – Lead Qualification (Definitions and scoring)

    – Lead Nurturing

    – Metrics

    – Technology

    Bringing the two groups together to define all of these stages in a holistic and cohesive manner will eliminate gaps. The problem is not the alignment, that is a symptom of a greater problem which is lack of lead management process.

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