Everyone in B2B is talking about aligning sales, marketing and customer service to better serve buyers.
As a life long student of the digital business strategy who wrote a best seller on B2B marketing, I can confidently say that while it’s been around for a while, alignment has become one of the hottest B2B topics.
If you don’t know about it, don’t worry. I’ll explain everything.
And you’re on board with alignment already, I’m going to point a critical blind spot you may not have considered, so you get it done right.
But first, here’s why now is the time to align.
“We’re still in the offensive phase. If you get it, you’re going to be one of leaders in the B2B space. But in a few short years, it’ll get to a point where you’re going to be playing catch up and that’s not a place anybody wants to be,” says Jeff Davis, author of the new book Creating Togetherness and organizer of The Sales + Marketing Alignment Summit, a new event for sales and marketing leaders focused on driving growth through alignment.
I’m going to explain what alignment in this post. But first, let me tell you why I think alignment is so important.
I’ve been marketing and selling B2B products and services online for two decades.
I’ve sold software, online training, professional development workshops, conferences, consulting services, industrial equipment, medical equipment, education technology, sports lighting and special effects.
I even sold laser tag arenas to amusement operators with location based VR expert Bob Cooney. That was fun!
Used to be a well written email with compelling product information, a reason for why you should buy and a strong call to action sent out to the right list was enough to cut through the clutter and generate a stack of qualified leads.
Not so much anymore.
“…email is becoming more and more saturated, and we are seeing reply rates at all time lows. The amount of personalization needed now to cut through the noise is becoming an issue for SDR and sales executives who were brought up with the mantra of ‘more’ as a metric versus ‘more and better’ are having to learn that nuance,” says Jake Dunlap, CEO of Skaled Consulting in Sales Engagement, the new book by Outreach.io CEO Manny Medina.
If you’re a PR person reading this (I used be in PR and have a lot friends in that industry), you’re probably nodding your head because you personalize pitches to journalists for a living.
In media relations, spraying canned email pitches to list of reporters and praying someone bites has been a worst practice for as long as emails been around.
B2B sales has hit the same wall.
Given the increasing demands on B2B sellers to exceed buyer expectations with highly relevant, personalized pitches, sales has become more time consuming.
There’s all kinds of great technology out there that you can and should take advantage of to accelerate the sales process, but at the end of the day, personalization — even if you’re just tweaking email templates — is still a manual process and it takes time.
To develop solid email outreach templates and a prospecting sequence that works, marketing needs input from frontline employees and data to see what buyer’s want.
That requires alignment.
On-boarding new customers seamlessly, sales need to prepare the customer success team to make good on promises made during the sales process.
That requires alignment too.
All that means everyone needs to be on the same page, with the same mission. To outperform, sales, marketing and whoever ensures new customers achieve their desired outcome after they buy (often called customer success), need to play as one team.
They can’t be playing in separate silos.
“Ultimately, workforce misalignment = lack of a customer-centric business model = low chances of long-term client satisfaction,” shares Dassault Systemes Senior Digital Manager Aurelien Gohier in Create Togetherness.
B2C Tech Drives B2B Buyer Expectations
If Amazon knows what I want to buy, and Netflix know what I want to watch, you should know what my business needs.
B2B buyers expect sellers to know their business before you start talking.
Before you even pick up the phone, they expect you to have checked them out in advance and not waste their time asking a bunch of a basic questions they’ve already carefully answered in their website.
Now they have to be reaserchers too!
But we need our B2B sales reps closing business. If they’re messing around building lists of prospects and doing their own research, they’re not selling.
And we need sales reps out there selling.
So everyone’s talking about alignment as way of banding together to rise to the occassion.
He need to shuffle the org chart and reassess how sales, marketing and customer success collaborate, so they’re all on the same team.
Alignment & Individuality
Now that you know that integrating sales, marketing and customer success to exceed buyer expectations, let’s talk about getting it done.
“It’s often straightforward to identify a strategy needed to achieve a goal, but what trips up companies is figuring out how to execute the strategy once identified,” writes Cal Newport in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
How do you bring people together in a way that sparks new ideas without spoiling their ability to contribute their individuality, potential and expertise?
The invention of the transistor at Bell Labs was a result of solid state physicists, quantum theorists and scientists serendipitously learning from each other in a common work space.
But they also broke off into their own, private offices to test and verify their collective ideas.
Consider a hub and spoke analogy, where people are exposed to big ideas in hubs, but develop those ideas independently in spokes.
How do you bring sales and marketing together, while preserving their independence.
“Breakthroughs occur when you reach maximum cognitive intensity,” writes Newport. You do that alone.
Newport’s thesis is that to “…leave the distracted masses and join the focused few is a transformative experience.”
Deep work is rewarding and invigorating. We’re a species that thrives on a challenge and get depressed if we spend too much time on mundane activities like scrolling through our social media newsfeed.
The more productive we are in the workplace, the better we feel about ourselves.
Knowledge workers want to prove they are productive and earning their keep, but the pressure to reply to emails quickly and always be available to collaborate robs them of the ability to sustain their attention.
Those who can find a way to screen out distractions and focus all their brainpower on solving problems do a much better job delivering whatever it is they do.
Why would sales professional or marketers be any different?
As mentioned earlier, email marketing becomes more saturated everyday and the degree of personalization required to get a prospect’s attention has become more challenging.
Outperforming means concentrating longer and focusing harder, despite all the distractions.
“[Great creative minds] think like artists and work like accountant,” wrote David Brooks in his New York Times column.
Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Jeffrey Coons, Haruki Murkami, Ai Wei Wei and Mark Bradford have all produced massive collections of work. They’re art generation machines.
You can’t pull that off if you have check your email every 5 minutes.
With “personalized information arriving on an unprecedented intermittent scale” via social media and email, achieving a state of sustained, focused attention without unplugging has become impossible.
Yes, we have to collaborate.
But we also have to unplug to innovate.
It’s tough to cut through the clutter, generate qualified leads and execute account-based sales programs with care and thoughtfulness if you’re always interrupted, whether it’s answering a quick question on Slack, or taking a break to check your Snapchat.
The time it takes to refocus zaps your productivity.
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile,” wrote Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
It takes time to get there. Once you’re there, stay there as long as you can. Ignore the never ending stream of notifications.
“Part of what fueled social media’s rapid ascent is its ability to short circuit this connection between the hard work of producing real value and the positive reward of having people pay attention to you,” writes Newport.
Don’t mistake attention for revenue, which is the real goal, don’t replace concentration with collaboration and don’t confuse the big idea of what you should do with how you get it done.
“Instead of looking at things vertically and saying you’re a marketer, you’re in sales, you’re in customer success and you’re in product, we look at it more horizontally,” said Gabe Larsen, VP of Marketing at InsideSales.com on the Alignment Podcast. “It’s called the growth model.”
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Let’s align horizontally, push each other toward deeper levels of depth and assimilate into one revenue engine. But Let’s also preserve the degree of independence we need to flex our msucles and so we can reach maximum cognitive intensity.