By Christopher Kenton
Step 2: Collaborative Meetings
Once marketing is actively supporting the sales process, there should be enough common ground for a meeting aimed at generating value for both the sales and the marketing teams. It's at this point where productive discussions and debates can take place about sourcing leads, qualifying prospects, and tracking sales.
Among companies that have made it to this level of integration, teams report that this is where sales and marketing begin to see eye-to-eyewhere, among other things, sales begins to appreciate the value of tracking leads, and marketing begins to appreciate the complexities of the sales process.
It's important to note that if collaborative meetings are launched before seeding a collaborative process -- or if you simply label them "marketing" meetings -- you're likely to face cynicism and an uphill battle to overcome it. Let the marketing team show they're willing to serve a sales support role before devoting a lot of meeting time to talk about collaboration. But once the channels of communication open up, collaborative meetings will become an essential part of a cross-functional framework, leading to more strategic collaboration down the road.
Step 3: Active Intelligence
When you've laid the foundation of a cross-functional team -- when marketing is providing active sales support, and both teams collaborate to drive the customer lifecycle through the sales process -- it's time to start extracting some of the latent value in your sales team.
Because the sales team is constantly in front of prospective customers, its members can be valuable sources of market intelligence. They can provide real-time feedback on responses to outbound marketing initiatives, they can monitor competitive forces, and they can keep tabs on buzz in the marketplace.
It's important to note that this type of intelligence is only as valuable as your discipline in gathering it. You shouldn't take anecdotal market feedback from sales at face value if you don't have other sources to back it up. One or two high-performing sales reps may be powerful enough to skew intelligence to support their own agenda and shackle marketing to a static sales process. At minimum you should formalize data gathering from sales by specifying the information you need collected, and by applying some basic research techniques to make sure the data is collected consistently. Start by inserting one or two simple market-research questions into every sales call, and track them over time to filter out the noise of opinion.
Step 4: Keep the Investment Alive
There's no final step for marketing and sales integration, it's an ongoing effort just like any relationship. But getting the foundation laid is not difficult -- all it takes is a willingness to invest in an attitude of service in order to build the kind of common ground that underlies true collaboration.
When marketing and sales are working as a team, each understands the value the other brings to the table, and each is able to contribute to identifying, tracking and closing the best customers possible. That's the only point at which marketing will be respected enough to drive more strategic marketing initiatives that focus on maximizing customer lifetime value and improving marketing's return on investment. At that point, an attitude of service can be cashed in for a true leadership role.
Playing a leadership role requires maintaining a solid plan for keeping sales and marketing working on the same front. You need to keep the attitude of service alive, as well as maintain the willingness to collaborate on key initiatives and the discipline to extract intelligence whenever you can. At the end of the day, you need the same kind of balance required of a good coach: you need to serve your players enough to maximize their talents and generate wins, but you also need the vision to convert those wins into a larger strategy for dominating the competitive field.
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