As I watched the coverage of the president's State of the Union Address this week, I was thinking about how our two political parties present a good analogy to the challenges that marketing and sales teams have in aligning. Democrats and Republicans have deeply-rooted differences . . . they have strong opinions . . . they stand their ground . . . they point fingers across the aisle and blame the other side for everything that's wrong with our country. And occasionally one of them switches to the other side if it advances their career. Sound familiar?
Forrester's CMO Group members have been working with the research team to dig into this age-old issue of misalignment. They told us that they have a hard time applying the traditional guidance and wanted us to find the real obstacles to alignment as well as gather examples of things people have done that have been effective in bringing the two teams closer together.
So we surveyed sales and marketing leaders and were not surprised at all to find that companies are still struggling with this chasm. But the biggest surprise we got is that the current efforts to align the two teams mostly center around having sales and marketing people attend each other's meetings. While this is good for increasing information flow between the teams, it is not enough to gain alignment. Sales and marketing teams need a common design point. They need to align their efforts around the customer's needs and the problem-solving process they go through to address those needs.
There are endless examples out there of how consumers block out marketing messages and put a lot of weight on the opinions and reviews expressed through social media as they make purchases. You would think that since B2B buyers are consumers too, the same behavior would carry over to their business purchases. But our research shows that this isn't the case.
While business buyers make heavy use of social media for business purposes, they still rely heavily on traditional sources of information when making business purchase decisions — sources such as peers and colleagues, consultants, analyst firms, and even vendor salespeople.
The good news for marketers is that business buyers are increasingly "going social" when they first realize that they have a problem and are looking to learn from and interact with experts in their problem space.
In our recent report, we advise B2B marketing leaders who are formulating their social media marketing strategies for 2011 to use social media to interact with their target audiences earlier in their problem-solving cycles and demonstrate expertise in the problems those audiences are looking to solve.
This requires a big shift for many marketers who are simply using social media to pump out the same old marketing messages. It requires you to build trust well before your prospects have entered into an active buying cycle and to show that your people are experts in the problem, not just your product.
As salesforce.com keeps adding more clouds to its SaaS development platform, some sales and marketing leaders are thinking that their annual user and developer conference doesn't have much to offer non-techies. But at Dreamforce 2010 last week in San Francisco, there were several big themes that marketers should be watching, whether or not you are a current salesforce customer. Here are a few that I made note of during the Analyst Summit:
Everything's a feed. Salesforce is making a big bet that the "feed" will become the new workplace for knowledge workers and is integrating Chatter (its group collaboration tool that it doesn't want you to think of as Facebook for the enterprise) into everything it does, including the sales and service apps (or clouds). A sales rep needs help on a deal? He starts a Chatter, and the whole company comes to his rescue. You need your expense report approved? Your manager sees it in her Chatter feed. Salesforce claims that there are 60,000 companies using Chatter that are seeing big productivity improvements, along with a 10%-15% decline in email. Perhaps the biggest news about Chatter is Chatter Free, a brilliant account penetration strategy that gets Chatter into the hands of the other 80% of employees in a client site who don't have salesforce seats. Salesforce thinks that the killer app for Chatter will be file sharing, just as the killer app for Facebook is photo sharing. And expect Chatter to be opened up beyond the user base of a single company to allow collaboration with prospects, customers, and partners. Start thinking now about how this will affect your customer experience, and let me know if you have plans to use it like this.
There’s no shortage of people saying that B2B sales and marketing teams need to operate as a well-oiled machine, and an endless supply of advice out there on how to achieve greater alignment between your teams. Most of it is theoretically sound and what you’ve heard many times before . . . things like “involve sales in marketing strategy discussions,” “align sales and marketing around the needs of the customer,” “build joint accountability and measurement,” and "send your marketing folks on sales calls." So why is it that every company I talk to is still struggling to get these teams to play nicely together?
I think there are deeper-seeded reasons for why this chasm is so hard to bridge. And it may not even be possible, or desirable, to have these groups operating like one integrated engine. I won't say any more about my hypothesis right now, because we're doing research aimed at uncovering the REAL obstacles to sales and marketing alignment and coming up with ways to break through these underlying obstacles so that the age-old best practices can start to have an impact.
If you're a sales or marketing leader, take the survey to give us your input, and get your counterpart on the other side of this equation to take it too.
The cold weather in New England is giving me the skiing itch . . . and making me think that if I get some new high-performance skis, I might finally get beyond the "advanced-intermediate" level I've been stuck at for 20 years. But the realist in me knows that the skis alone won't make me a better skier, I need to spend more time on the slopes working on my technique.
The same goes for how B2B marketers use automation. Investing in marketing automation doesn't automatically make your company better at marketing. In the research for my recent report on B2B marketing automation, I found that too many companies have invested in marketing automation platforms, only to use them as expensive email blasters. Despite the best intentions, B2B marketers fall into several traps along the way:
The process trap. They don't get buy-in and support from the sales organization, so they generate more leads without changes to how sales works those leads.
The content trap. They don't anticipate that effective, targeted lead nurturing greatly increases the content requirements.
The skills trap. They don't have people with the skill sets to define their customer buying cycles and information needs at each stage.