black arrow that points left

How to Achieve Better Sales and Marketing Alignment

It’s an age-old story: marketing generates leads, but sales says the quality of the leads isn’t good. Sales gets frustrated because they feel the marketing team isn’t sending them good leads—but marketing also gets frustrated because sales doesn’t follow up on their leads, so they can’t produce results.

In this scenario, who’s right and who’s wrong?

Looked at through a demand generation lens, I think the answer is neither—it’s the context of how leads are being defined and used that matters most. To that end, I’ve put together this article to share a few of my best tips for achieving sales and marketing alignment. But before we jump into them, the following are a few general definitions to get us all on the same page:

Defining Your MQLs 

Looking at the table above, you’d think that defining who is—and who isn’t—an MQL would be pretty straightforward. In fact, what I see in many of the companies I work with is a lack of clarity, which contributes to poor alignment and difficulty measuring performance. 

With that in mind, here are six tips to keep in mind when defining your MQL criteria:

  1. Understand who your target audience is in terms of both profile attributes and the buying cycle.
  2. Incorporate input from sales into the MQL definition process.
  3. Make sure you cover demographic and firmographic qualification factors.
  4. Incorporate behavioural qualification information.
  5. Ask whether your MQL definition allows marketing to deliver enough leads.
  6. Revisit and review your MQL every quarter, and don’t be afraid to make changes.

Really, the main thing to focus on when you're defining your MQL is to make sure that marketing is working with sales and that everyone has the same understanding of what an MQL is. Often, poor alignment results from a breakdown in communication, where marketing thinks an MQL is one thing, sales thinks it’s something different, and the CEO thinks it’s something else entirely. 

One clear signal these types of miscommunications are happening is seeing a poor drop-off rate throughout your funnel. If marketing is sending 1000 MQLs each month, but only one of those turns into an opportunity, there’s likely some degree of misalignment in your teams’ communications, lead handoff processes, or the way you’ve defined your MQLs. 

As a real-world example, imagine that marketing calls everyone who downloads a white paper an MQL. But really, that’s just someone who’s downloaded a bit of gated content. They haven’t demonstrated any other intent signals—for all you know, they could be a competitor of yours trying to access your marketing materials. If sales goes after each and every one of these leads, their success rate is going to be low, and it’s really only the definition of MQL that’s to blame.

The 8 Rules of ‘Smarketing’

Certainly, the example above is just one type of scenario that can result from disruption in the alignment of sales and marketing within your revenue engine. To help organisations achieve better alignment overall, I’ve put together eight of my own, proven rules for better integrating sales and marketing:

  1. Determine both the ICP and customer profile together, taking both sales and marketing perspectives into consideration.
  2. Agree on a set of KPIs to track, as well as how exactly they’ll be defined.
  3. Clarify the roles and functions on each team so that every salesperson and marketer understands their roles and responsibilities within the demand-gen engine.
  4. Create internal SLAs between sales and marketing (and hold each other accountable to them).
  5. Develop sales and marketing strategies together to produce a unified result.
  6. Ensure consistent customer messaging between sales and marketing (utilising technology to facilitate this process, where appropriate).
  7. Create a regular feedback loop that elevates both teams’ perspectives.
  8. Incentivise teams to work together (or, conversely, disincentivise siloed activities).

Though these rules may sound simple, they aren’t always easy to execute. If adopting them all at once isn’t reasonable for your organisation, pick a few to implement and add more as the sophistication of your ‘smarketing’ approach increases.

What about Product Qualified Leads (PQLs)?

Now, all of the fanfare around product-led growth (PLG) adds some complexity here. PLG involves trying to drive demand directly from your product—not through sales—using elements like self-service onboarding and free trials. 

However, that key distinction means that you can’t follow the traditional context of having a marketing-qualified lead become a sales-qualified lead and so on, because you don’t have those same cycles. Instead, in PLG, your funnel is to get users to your site and have the product qualify them as leads through some self-determined action. As a result, you need to have a separate product-qualified lead (PQL) bucket, as well as a different lifecycle user journey for how you then pull them down the funnel. 

Now, to be clear, PQLs are only relevant if you’re following a PLG business model. A lot of startups make the mistake of assuming that PLG is an easier way to scale, so they say they’re doing PLG—even when they’re not. 

For example, I was chatting with a company a few months ago that wanted to use PLG, but their product didn’t allow customers to sign up via self-serve. They had to actually be onboarded by someone, which effectively invalidates the benefits of the PLG approach. 

Ultimately, you have to understand what your product is and how it works when defining your MQLs, SQLs, and even PQLs. Without achieving this alignment—let alone the broad integration of your sales and marketing programs—you’ll always struggle to understand both your funnel and its performance in a way that allows you to positively influence your company’s growth.

If you’re still struggling to understand lead definitions or how to align sales and marketing teams, bringing in a qualified advisor may help. To learn more about how I support high-growth scale-ups like Appirio, Wipro, and Gett, book a discovery call with me.

Whenever you're ready, there are three ways I can help you:

(1) DUE DILIGENCE FOR INVESTORS & CEOs: A bespoke framework and capability model 'DEMAND KARMA' that delivers DD services to investors, VC firms and CEOs.

(2) ADVISORY: Retained advisory at funded scale-ups. A simple monthly fee. Helping CEOs build a scalable marketing machine. (Booked out until December)

(3) STRATEGY COACHING: Book time on my calendar to work through a standalone project or to get answers to your most pressing marketing strategy and execution questions.

If you're interested, let's jump on a call to see if you're a good fit.

Get My Weekly Digest:
A Newsletter for the Curious

Every Saturday at 11:30 GMT, I publish a weekly briefing that includes commentary on 7 articles I've found useful during the week, an actionable Q&A section with a key learning, and a recommendation for your tech stack — all consumable within 3 minutes.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.