Sales and marketing. The ultimate interest-creating, revenue-generating, relationship-building power couple. The Beyonce and Jay-Z of business. The two business functions have plenty of similarities and differences, and one simply can’t exist without the other.
Sales and marketing are in a constant collaboration to attract, inform, engage, and convert prospects in the hopes of them becoming a customer. On top of that, they both do plenty of work for retaining existing customer relationships, like boosting engagement and improving the customer experience.
What’s the difference between sales and marketing?
Sales and marketing are both business functions that focus on attracting new customers, increasing revenue, and building relationships. Sales refers to all activities that include selling your business’ solution, while marketing is the act of making people interested in it in the first place.
That common goal of enabling sales for organizational growth through revenue and customer relationship building is what makes that marriage between sales and marketing so functional. However, their day to day activities are going to apply more to their specific operation.
Sales vs. marketing
If you had two departments doing the same job, that would result in a lot of wasted time and energy. Sales and marketing both work to help organizations grow their customer base and increase revenue.
But to establish that collaborative relationship between sales and marketing, you must first understand the difference in the key functions of each department. These differences lie mostly in each team’s strategies, goals, and tools and resources.
Salespeople and marketers use different strategies and follow different processes to reach their goals and help the business achieve its goals.
For marketers, this will include creating and executing an effective marketing plan. Marketing plans typically follow these five steps:
Conduct a situation analysis: First things first, marketers need to understand the business’ current situations before trying to move forward by doing market research. A situation analysis will often include defining any strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the organization. Marketers will research the market, taking into account competitors and their approaches.
Define your buyer persona: Next, they’ll define their target audience, or buyer persona. Marketers will analyze their current customers and people who could benefit from the solution. Buyer personas are often defined by the person’s job title, company size, industry, and pain points.
Determine goals: Like any other department, the marketing team will then set goals to measure their performance. These goals should reflect the current goals of the company and reflect any changes in them.
Ideate tactics: With those goals in mind, marketers will then come up with tactics to achieve them. These tactics will be action items defined by marketing channels and target audiences.
Execute and evaluate: Lastly, marketers execute the plan and measure the results against current goals. This stage will include evaluating marketing approaches for that campaign and taking note of anything that provided results and identifying areas for improvement.
After marketing has worked their magic in attracting potential customers, it’s time for the sales team to step up and move them through their sales process. Or depending on your business’ approach to customer acquisition, sales might be reeling in the leads.
Whatever the case may be, here’s what a typical sales process looks like, assuming the lead converts into a customer:
Lead generation: The sales process starts with generating leads, or people that have shown interest in your business. Sales reps will use marketing materials to generate leads, such as email sequences, social media, or events.
Connecting and qualifying leads: Then, sales reps will connect with those leads to determine whether or not they fit your buyer persona. This will depend on their budget, authority to buy, need for the solution, and willingness to make a timely purchase. Overall, this stage is about determining how much value a lead can offer your business and prioritizing them accordingly.
Giving value demonstrations: If the lead is qualified and converted into a prospect, the sales rep will then schedule a value demonstration, where they will show the value their solution can offer the prospect’s business.
Handling objections: The customer will likely respond with questions, comments, and concerns. The sales rep will then handle those objections by emphasizing the risk of not investing in the solution.
Closing the deal: If the customer decides to buy, the sales rep will negotiate final prices, draw up and acquire a signed contract, and deliver the solution as promised.
Nurturing the relationship: After that, their job is far from over. From that point on, sales reps need to nurture the relationship with the customer by offering support and finding new solutions that can help their business even further.
You can see that those two strategies have the same goal of acquiring new customers, but the approach is quite different.
The overall goal of sales and marketing departments is to close deals. But at a certain point, the torch is passed on to another team and sales and marketing can consider their job done. While no department can be considered successful without effectively fueling the business, sales and marketing still have goals that apply to their specific function.
The best way to differentiate sales and marketing goals is by examining the key performance indicators, or KPIs, against which they measure their efficiency.
Here are some KPIs that marketers will use to measure their performance:
Sales revenue: the amount of money attributed to your marketing campaigns
Customer acquisition cost: the amount of money it costs to acquire a new customer, which includes both marketing and sales spend
Cost per lead: your total marketing spend compared against the number of new leads generated
Customer lifetime value: the potential value that a customer can provide your business, which is often compared against customer acquisition c
Customer retention rate: the rate at which new customers are retained, indicating how well marketers are communicating the business’ value
Lead to customer ratio: the rate at which leads are being converted into customers, again revealing positive or poor communication of value to customers
Form conversion rate: the number of times forms, CTAs, and landing pages are being filled out compared to the number of page visitors, showing the effectiveness of the copy
Marketing ROI: the overall return on investment from marketing activities
Throughout their campaigns, marketers will measure these KPIs, along with other more specific marketing metrics to determine if their efforts were a success, failure, or work in progress. Marketing is an experiment heavy department, and it’s important to be consistent with the metrics you decide to focus on to be sure of a certain tactic’s effectiveness.
Sales, on the other hand, has some KPIs of their own, and some that coincide with those of marketing as well:
Total revenue: the amount of money generated from business activities, sometimes split up by product, territory, and customer to get a more detailed picture of the source
Gross profit margin: the amount of revenue left over after the cost of selling is taken into account, highlighting the business’ true profitability
Sales growth: the increase or decrease in revenue from two different time periods, tracking the effectiveness of your current sales strategy
Sales closing ratio: the rate at which leads are converting into customers, which can also be broken up to measure conversions between each stage of the sales funnel
Average sales cycle length: the number of days it takes, on average, to convert a lead into a customer, showing the efficiency of your sales reps
Average revenue per account: the average dollar amount per closed deal, which is often compared against customer acquisition cost to determine if the average customer can offer enough revenue to cover the cost of acquiring them
Customer acquisition cost: similar to marketing, sales needs to measure how much is spent when making efforts to close a deal
Customer lifetime value: sales reps also need to compare acquisition cost against the estimated value that a customer can provide the business
Customer retention rate: on the sales side of things, customer retention rate refers to how well sales reps are nurturing their customer relationships
Churn rate: the rate at which your business is losing customers, which is often compared against sales growth
Net promoter score: a scale that indicated how satisfied your customers are with your business and how likely they are to promote it on review sites like G2
Sales reps and managers will measure their performance against these metrics to find areas in the sales strategy that need to be revamped or optimized.
Tools and resources
Every B2B SaaS business is almost guaranteed to use some sort of digital collaboration software to streamline the process of working across multiple departments. However, there are some tools and resources that are more geared towards sales reps, and others that are more helpful for marketers.
Here are some tools that marketing teams will likely have in their arsenal:
Marketing automation: streamlines marketing tasks and workflows, measures outcomes of marketing campaigns, and acts as a central database for all marketing information
Email marketing: segments subscriber lists for better targeting, designs and sends custom emails, manages subscriptions, and tracks open and click through rates
Social media marketing: administers social media accounts, schedules posts, and monitors and analyzes performance
Content marketing: provides platforms to create, distribute, analyze, and optimize any content marketing materials
Marketing analytics: measures the performance of marketing efforts, allowing businesses to simplify and optimize their marketing strategy
As you can see, marketers rely heavily on software tools that automate the creation, execution and measuring of various forms of campaigns and materials.
And here are some software solutions that sales reps will use daily:
Customer relationship management: tracks and manages all customer interactions to keep data regarding their history with the business, preferences, and stage in the sales funnel up to date
Business intelligence: provides enhanced visibility into a company’s data so people within it can make more informed decisions and find positive ways to impact the company
Contract management: automates the creation, tracking, and executing of customer contracts to remain compliant and improve the relationship
Sales analytics: reports on sales data to offer valuable insights and forecast the future performance of the team, including picking out high or under performing reps, products, or processes
It’s important to note that while the software tools listed above are mostly used by the specified department, there will be circumstances that require access across teams. For example, your customer facing departments should all have access to your CRM to be as informed on customers as possible.
Sales and marketing alignment
While the difference between the sales and marketing functions within your business is necessary to point out, what’s even more important is the topic of alignment. Sales and marketing rely on each other, and if the two departments aren’t on the same page, neither can do their part to reach their primary goal: to attract prospects and convert them into customers.
Below are the steps you must take to ensure sales and marketing alignment, growth, and success.
1. Build a single customer journey
The best place to start with sales and marketing alignment is with one of your greatest assets: the customer. Creating strategies and processes for sales and marketing before taking the customer into account isn’t going to cut it anymore.
In a sea of competitors, one of the best ways to stand out is to build everything around your customer’s journey. And when it comes to aligning sales and marketing, the challenge that presents itself is consistency. There shouldn’t be one customer experience for inbound leads from marketing and another for outbound leads generated from sales outreach. Sure, the catalyst was different, but the experience shouldn’t. Starting from the awareness stage of the buyer journey, keep the path consistent across your entire brand.
2. Establish a customer persona
Still focusing on the customer, to effectively advertise and sell your solution, sales and marketing need to establish a customer persona and stick to it. Without a clear picture of who you are trying to sell to, how can you expect to close the deal?
Marketers and sales reps might care more about different qualities of a persona, and that inconsistency can be harmful to the alignment. To be on the same page, the business needs to agree on a customer profile. This will take effort from both teams. Marketing knows who is attracted to or engaging with their materials, but sales knows who is actually converting and buying the solution.
Remember that as your business, industry, and solutions change, your customer persona will do the same. This audience should not be a static idea established after one sales and marketing alignment meeting. Instead, make it a constant conversation.
3. Measure the same KPIs
Earlier, different sales and marketing metrics were described to exemplify the difference between the two departments. But there was also some overlap. While each team will have their own definitions of what a successful day or project looks like, their common goal of growing the organization requires tracking some of the same KPIs.
To sync sales and marketing, find the common ground between what needs to happen for the alignment and relationship to be considered a success. Metrics they have in common are a good place to start, including revenue, customer lifetime value, customer acquisition cost, and even sales growth. With joint KPIs, sales and marketing can measure success of every stage of the sales funnel, allowing them to re-evaluate and optimize when needed.
4. Gather customer feedback
Arguably the best way to evaluate the impact of your sales and marketing alignment is through customer feedback. This won’t include your typical feedback collection methods like asking for a review. Instead, your sales and customer service reps (because they do most of the customer communication) will pick up on pain points and things that motivated the customer to buy your solution.
With these new powerful insights, you can revamp your marketing messages and sales approach to appeal to that customer feedback as effectively as possible. You might even end up making changes to your actual product. That might seem drastic, but if you are going to alter your solution for one group, it should be your customers.
5. Be consistent with messaging
If you were promised a certain product feature to find out that it wasn’t actually a real offering, you’d be confused and maybe a little angry, right?
That’s the exact reason you need to be consistent with marketing messages and sales value demonstrations. You don’t want your customers to be confused about what you are offering, because that might result in them second guessing their decision to buy – or worse – feel lied to.
This is an area where sales and marketing desperately need to be aligned. When both departments have the same messaging in mind, marketing can effectively portray the benefits of your solution, and once the prospect meets with a sales rep, they can drive it home by reinforcing that message.
6. Provide marketing assets for every sales stage
An important marketing function is to attract leads to pass along to sales. But their job most certainly does not end there. As reps are working with customers along their buyer journey, they’ll have questions, concerns, and comments. When handling these objections, reps will need content. That’s where marketing comes in.
An organization with aligned sales and marketing teams will result in two crucial benefits: the sales team can inform the marketers on the type of content customers are demanding, and marketers can show sales reps exactly how and when to use it. That communication will result in a much more effective and strategic content strategy for your business.
7. Team up on growth and customer retention
When people hear sales and marketing alignment, their first thought is likely surrounding attracting new leads and converting them into customers through collaboration. However, if done correctly, that positive effect on customer relationships can carry on to the last stage of the sales process: nourishment.
Plenty of effort needs to be made in new customers, but it’s important to remember that it’s a lot more expensive than retaining new ones. Once a new customer is acquired, focus on the relationship but altering your marketing messages to reflect their new stage in the sales pipeline. For example, you might suggest a new product, upgraded tools, or access to your customer support team.
To support, you must align
Sales and marketing alignment is necessary for a successful organization. Not only can it offer more value to your customers, but it can help you nourish your relationships with them, bringing the value right back to you.
Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Specialist at G2 in Chicago, where she is currently exploring topics related to sales and customer relationship management. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. (she/her/hers)
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