3 Steps to Align Sales and Marketing in Professional Services

by | Culture, Growth Strategy

Align Sales and Marketing in Professional Services

Aligning Sales and Marketing in professional services–in any industry for that matter–is a perpetual challenge. 

If you spend time in either function, you know what I’m talking about.  Marketing blames Sales for not following up on the leads they share. Sales says the leads are worthless. Marketing gives Sales a brand story and complains that Sales either doesn’t share it or communicates it all wrong. Sales says it’s too complicated or not relevant to the Sales discussion. Marketing thinks Sales moves too fast. Sales thinks Marketing does not move fast enough. Marketing sees its role as brand protector. Sales sees its role as revenue generator. Marketing thinks long-term and Sales thinks short-term. The incriminations go on ad infinitum.

The fact of the matter is they’re both right. However, fostering a culture of finger-pointing and blame-shifting is not going to foster your firm’s success. 

I’ve lived this conflict firsthand, as a marketer and a CMO for many years. Before I was a CMO and even before I was a marketer, I worked for a Silicon Valley company selling ERP systems in the auto parts industry. So, I experienced it as a “sales guy” as well. I empathize with both sides. 

Here’s what I’ve come to realize.

The competition or “fighting” between sales and marketing is NOT a problem to be solved. As a matter of fact, it can’t be solved.  Instead, it is a tension to be managed. Like electrons and protons and symbiotic relationships from Clownfish and sea anemones to bees and flowers, Sales and Marketing must exist in a mutually beneficial and connected relationship. If the relationship gets out of balance the entire ecosystem (i.e. your firm) is affected.

As a firm leader, your goal is to recognize the tension and get the most out of it. By owning its reality, you can control it. I think the most powerful thing a firm leader can do is what firm leaders do best; set higher expectations. By that, I mean demand more from your Sales and Marketing teams. Demand that both deliver strategic impact for the firm.  Remember that nothing changes until something changes. Demand something better for your teams.

READ: 12 Steps to Transform Professional Services Marketing

Here are three things you can do to reset expectations and align Sales and Marketing so that they do not only stay in balance but also thrive.

3 Steps to Align Professional Services Sales and Marketing Functions

 1. Share the Same Core Goal

Once you’ve accepted the tension, the first step is to bring the two teams together with a shared goal. Not some ethereal goal, but a tangible strategic goal. Management guru Peter Drucker says, “The purpose of an organization is to get and keep a customer.” Well, that’s the goal. Get and keep a customer. Relentlessly work together to understand which are the right clients to get and determine what it takes to keep them for the maximum lifetime value. We can all participate in those objectives because that’s what leads to revenue for the entire organization.

So, what’s the right KPI? I find that the best measure of a collaborative well-managed tension between sales and marketing is a sales-qualified lead (SQL). Most marketers say it’s a marketing qualified lead (MQL). I like the sales qualified lead because it allows Sales to say, “Thank you, Marketing, you’re giving me leads that are of value.” 

The disconnect between what Sales wants a lead to look like and what marketing is confident it can deliver creates a huge point of tension. Both functions have valid concerns. A SQL is harder to deliver and there will be fewer of them delivered than MQLs. However, Sales and Marketing lay a critical foundation because they must begin working TOGETHER to understand and agree on exactly what the attributes of a SQL are. Most times, nobody is ever completely pleased with the attributes. Again, that’s why the tension exists. 

The goal is to reduce the gap between the definitions of an MQL and an SQL to a point they become almost synonymous because that will increase sales productivity, reduce sales cycles, and produce better clients. This leads us to the next step.

READ: Aligning Marketing’s Goals with Your Partner’s Goals

 2. Focus the Energy of Both Teams

With a shared goal in hand, the next step is to decide where you’re going to focus the energy of these two functions to accomplish the goal. In most professional services and B2B firms, marketing likes to wash their hands of all the sales complications and abscond to manage the “brand.” On the other hand, Sales wants Marketing to just give them leads and help them make proposals pretty. Top firms recognize that the real value and synergy between Sales and Marketing lies between those two extremes. 

When aligning Sales and Marketing to deliver more SQLs, the best place to focus energy is identifying opportunities to reduce buying friction along the buyer’s journey. If you identify why your Ideal Client isn’t buying and Sales and Marketing work together to eliminate those hurdles—be it in problem definition, solution validation, vendor selection, etc.—more opportunities arise, sales cycles speed up, and close rates increase. Many firms don’t think in those terms. But, if you really want the synergies between Sales and Marketing to deliver strategic impact, that’s where to focus your energy.

READ: 5 Steps to Get Buyer Journey Mapping Back on Track

 3. Play the Entire Game

To eliminate the tension between short-term and long-term thinking, your firm has to learn how to play the long game and the short game simultaneously. The salespeople are going to be focused on hitting quota for the year or quarter and want to close a deal quickly to get there. That is the nature of sales and you’re not going to change it. The level of urgency and, therefore, tension will be driven by your firm’s sales culture, process, and philosophy. Make sure everyone understands those drivers. On the other hand, Marketers are going to be thinking about the brand, the firm’s legacy, culture, and other stewardship attributes. The two areas need not be mutually exclusive because multiple short terms make up the long term. 

Firms must understand that when they make these short-term choices that there are long-term implications. Choices affect the culture, the brand, and financial wellbeing. There is no absolute purity of sales pursuits and closing revenue. This is about establishing a clear Sales philosophy and leadership’s being vigilant in managing “good revenue and bad revenue” that has a long-term impact on the firm. Leadership is the final keeper of both brand and revenue. You get paid to carry the weight of managing both. Get to it.

READ: Does Your Firm Have the Confidence to Be an Industry Leader?

Conclusion – Aligning Professional Service Sales and Marketing

The fighting between Sales and Marketing is never going to be eliminated and firms should not define the confrontation as a problem to be solved. The best Sales and Marketing leaders understand the competition is simply a tension to be managed. More importantly, they know what’s healthy tension and what’s dysfunctional tension. If your CMO or sales leader is spending their time allowing behavior that says, “It’s not our fault. They’re the problem.”, they need to change their attitude or find another job. 

My father gave me great career advice when I came out of college. He said, “Go get a Sales job and pound the pavement or nobody’s going to listen to you as a marketer.” He rightly believed that marketers need to understand what it feels like to waste time on bad leads, develop an opportunity, be rejected time and time again, and have the pressure of a quota. I would give the same advice to Salespeople. Understand how difficult it is to align an organization on a set of cultural/brand attributes, create and differentiate a solution, and drive a lead from nothing.

It’s been said that Sales is the most important role in an organization because nothing happens until something gets sold. But, you can’t sell something until Marketing puts the product in your hand. 

It’s a wonderful tension and the top firms manage it well.

Be prudent.

LISTEN TO RATTLE AND PEDAL: 3 Steps to Get Sales and Marketing On the Same Revenue-Generating Page


About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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