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Why Sales and Marketing Collaboration Is the Answer to a Unified Growth Team

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If you’ve heard the term “growth team” before, chances are you’ve engaged in some research or discussions around sales and marketing collaboration and its importance for business success.

Increasing a company’s growth trajectory rarely involves discovering a brand-new strategy or tactic. There’s no such thing as a “magic bullet”; it’s really about making better use of the resources you already have.

Before I came to Nutshell, I helped build and run a small digital agency focused on lead generation here in Michigan. Throughout my time at the agency, the biggest and most consistently missed opportunity I saw—no matter how large or small the company—was cooperation and collaboration between sales and marketing teams.

Over time, I noticed that we got our best results when we acted as a bridge between our clients’ sales and marketing departments, facilitating communication and collaboration between the two. 

Sales and marketing alignment is a hot topic and one that Marketo calls “potentially the largest opportunity for improving business performance today.” In a study of 500 companies, MathMarketing and Marketo found that those with aligned sales and marketing teams had:

  • a 67% higher probability that marketing-generated leads would close
  • 108% better lead acceptance
  • 209% greater contribution to revenue from marketing-generated leads

So when I got the chance to come to Nutshell to help shape its growth team—a combined sales and marketing operation—I jumped at the opportunity. It’s been an amazing experience, and I can confidently say that a growth team is hands down the best sales and marketing approach I’ve been a part of.

The growth team defined

The first step in understanding the philosophy of a growth team is to immediately stop thinking about sales and marketing teams as teams (plural).

It’s one team.

I realize this might feel a little radical to some, but I promise you it’s quite natural and far more intuitive than the standard siloed approach.

Understanding the concept of one team

So what is it exactly that makes sales and marketing one team? It’s simple: the shared goal of revenue growth! When it comes down to it, both marketers and salespeople are working toward—and are measured by—this primary metric. (And if you’re not measuring your marketing team’s effectiveness in terms of revenue growth, you should be.)

While sales and marketing may occupy different positions on the funnel (although who occupies precisely which portion seems to be shifting these days), they both have the same aim: to sell. Whatever the type of lead, it’s still a single journey—in the words of our very own Andy Fowler—“from first contact to thrilled customer.”

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How the customer journey affects the team

It’s also important to remember that your customer’s journey is not necessarily linear. What do I mean by that? I mean that this super-common funnel infographic represents the “ideal” path of a prospective customer, and sales teams tend to like it because it looks so neat and logical.

Conversion funnel infographic for sales and marketing collaboration article

But it’s ultimately the customers themselves who determine their own trajectories. And we all know that people can make decisions based on emotion more often than logic.

Customers who say they’re ready to buy may get cold feet and back away. And the reverse can happen as well: A customer captured by a top-of-the-funnel campaign might want to buy immediately. (This latter case is increasingly common in the current era of self-educating buyers.)

As a result, both your marketing and sales experts need to be able to pick up the ball at any point in the funnel. And the only way to do that well is for them to communicate and collaborate constantly.

The united growth team approach

Uniting under the single “growth team” banner is more than just a line on an org chart—it’s a state of mind. Sales and marketing teams have trouble talking to one another (and sometimes don’t talk at all!). growth teams, on the other hand, are unified—they’re focused; they’re adaptive.

I want to take a moment to point out that growth teams aren’t just for fancy SaaS companies. Initially, they were formed when marketers, sales leaders, and engineers began working together to drive growth via incentivized user behavior built into the product experience (e.g., Dropbox offering free storage space for referring friends).

As innovative companies demonstrated the success of this kind of collaboration, the term has expanded to encompass a philosophy more than an industry-specific organizational structure.

As I see it, growth teams are interdisciplinary groups of talented people aligned to achieve a single objective: revenue growth.

The benefits of sales and marketing team collaboration

There are plenty of reasons to combine team efforts and encourage sales and marketing collaboration. These are just a few of the more prominent associated benefits. 

Enhances the customer experience

Every interaction your customer has with your brand throughout the buyer’s journey plays a role in their overall perception of your brand. A positive customer experience across these touchpoints generally leads to a good brand perception.

Sales and marketing collaboration leads to more consistent brand messaging, which goes a long way to enhancing the customer’s experience. When customers enjoy the experience of interacting with your business, they often become loyal customers and sometimes brand advocates.

Results in better lead quality

A quality lead is one that has greater potential to convert from a prospect to a customer. When a sales team member spends time engaging with a quality lead, it’s time well spent. But when the lead is of poor quality, sales and marketing efforts geared toward the lead could end up being a waste of resources.

Bringing sales and marketing teams together results in a more cohesive team with a clearer, singular focus and understanding of what makes a quality lead. As a result, the lead quality improves and so do conversion rates.

Boosts sales and revenue

When sales and marketing teams work together in harmony, several positives arise that directly impact business revenue. And when your revenue increases, your business becomes more sustainable and has the potential to grow.

Improved team efficiency, consistent messaging, and better quality leads all contribute to an enriched customer experience that drives more sales. Your sales and marketing teams can become a potent growth engine when in sync.

Improves understanding of customers

One of the key components to business success is understanding your customers. When you know as much as you can about your customers, you can develop products and services that fulfill their needs.

Bringing your sales and marketing departments together encourages better information sharing so teams get to know their customers. This cohesive understanding helps these teams formulate better strategies that speak to their audience and address their pain points.

Finding common ground for sales and marketing collaboration

Here’s the best part of a growth team: Your sales and marketing experts can’t wait to work together—even if they don’t know it yet!  

Yes, they have different skills, and their day-to-day activities can be vastly different, but they both sell every day, and anyone who sells knows we all have a kinship. While your initial efforts to bring these two together as a single unit might be a bit rocky (the Harvard Business Review has gone so far as to dub the conflict between sales and marketing a “war”), the chemistry is there.

So, let’s talk about the strengths of a growth team’s sales and marketing contingents and how to leverage them.

Sales team strengths

Sales reps have a particular set of strengths and skills that help them succeed in closing deals. Your sales reps are:

  • Personalization experts: Good sales reps know how to read their prospects, gather information in real time, and adjust their pitch to match the situation.
  • Motivated to be transactional: They keep things simple and are hyper-focused on the customer and the sale.
  • An always-on link to your customers: They are the ones who talk to your customers during the buying process, so they know them and their needs exceptionally well.  
  • Great at identifying an ideal lead: They are keenly aware of who is most likely to buy your product or service, which is critical information when it comes to designing marketing materials.  

Marketer strengths

On the other hand, marketers bring their own skills to the table, complementing your sales team’s strengths. Generally, marketers are:

  • Content creators and campaign builders: Marketers are great at creating engaging content and providing value. A sales process is just a personalized campaign so marketers can be very helpful to salespeople in this area.
  • Creative ideators: They think outside of the box because the level of competition for a prospect’s attention doesn’t end with your direct competitors—it includes the entire digital landscape and all the distractions in a person’s life. Leverage your marketer’s mind to create ideas that cut through the noise!
  • Motivated to cast a wider net: Marketers are most successful when they can work with higher volumes of “things,” be those traffic or leads. If you’re trying to do something at scale, like a one-to-many demo, your marketers might have as much to add as your sales reps.
  • Experimental and iterative risk takers: Marketers create campaigns for a broad range of people, so they like to develop and test new strategies continually. With input from sales reps, marketers can create more effective strategies for generating high-quality leads.

Combined sales and marketing team strengths

What strengths do our sales and marketing teams have in common? For the most part, sales and marketing team members are both:

  • Strategists
  • Data analysts
  • Results driven

Emphasize these commonalities and the shared goal of revenue growth—to bring your team together. Once united, your growth team will have a wide-ranging skill set and a level of communication that will generate better campaigns and higher-quality leads. You can blend sales and marketing tactics to create a variety of strategies, such as:

  • Cold-call outreach with targeted social/content/email campaigns to warm the list
  • Chatbots designed to initiate and schedule sales conversations
  • Personal email outreach to leads generated by TOFU campaigns

Personalized email templates informed by salespeople and designed by marketers (and then refined over time through iteration)

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9 practical sales and marketing collaboration tips

Some businesses may find a sales and marketing team amalgamation tricker than others. Following the below tips will make for a smoother process and cultivate more synergy within your new growth team.

1. Avoid the blame game

Given the hostility that often exists between sales and marketing, it is absolutely critical that a growth team accepts the following:

1. A properly unified growth team will still occasionally generate garbage leads.

2. A properly unified growth team will still occasionally generate garbage campaign ideas.

In short, this means we all take out the trash! The truth is everyone has bad ideas at times. Acknowledging this from the outset helps prevent the blame game, something sales and marketing teams often engage in.

Agreeing to take out the trash collectively is similar to blameless post-mortems. By focusing on learning from mistakes rather than angrily finger-pointing, you create a culture that fosters problem-solving without squelching creativity.

2. Switch up team member roles

To further encourage camaraderie among team members and enhance their skill sets, I also highly recommend swapping and hybridizing roles. Get your marketing folks on actual sales calls and your sales reps working on marketing projects. 

This will give everyone a better understanding of—and appreciation for—what other team members do. I have a stronger marketing background, so one of the first things I did at Nutshell was make myself a BDR. It gave me excellent insight into what prospective customers were looking for and how we could improve our marketing materials to speed up the sales process.

3. Make teams work together

While it might seem silly, a growth team should sit together. At Nutshell, sharing the same office space means our content team and designers actually hear sales calls, and our reps get to jump in on creative discussions—like which GIF to use in the next Nutshell newsletter. (Yes, this requires significant discussion.)

4. Host regular meetings

I hate meetings as much as the next person, but regular team meetings are crucial for a successful growth team. The more everyone knows about what everyone else is doing, the higher the level of collaboration and the more freely the ideas will flow.  

5. Work toward a common goal

A growth team also needs to be sure they have both shared nomenclature and unified metrics. Everyone needs to agree on what constitutes a lead, a marketing-qualified lead, and a sales-qualified lead

(Side note: You may find yourself wondering why segment leads and roles are not included in a unified growth team. Why not go full hybrid? Think about your growth team as a group of special operators, like Green Berets or Navy Seals. They all work together to execute and accomplish their mission. Still, each team member has a different specialty—from your team leader to your explosives expert to your medic to your communications officer.)

When it comes to choosing unified metrics for your growth team, think about the user behaviors that sales and marketing efforts can influence. At Nutshell, we track everything, but our shared metrics include engaged trial users, live demo registrations, and the number of personal demos that we book, to name a few.

For these numbers to grow, both the sales and marketing team members need to be working together to drive them. No matter what metrics you choose, these numbers should always drive the BIG number: revenue.

6. Set role-specific goals

Sales-focused team members and marketing-focused team members should still have their own metrics, but these should be carefully chosen for their ability to drive the unified metrics. 

For sales reps, these numbers might be calls made, meetings scheduled, conversations had, or speed to contact. And on the marketing side, these metrics will likely include web traffic, traffic-to-lead conversion rate, email acquisition, and email engagement. 

These unique numbers should be regularly shared with the whole team, and all members should be involved in strategizing ways to drive them.

7. Incentivize all growth team members

If your company offers commissions or bonuses, be sure they are based on the unified metrics and that they apply to all members of your growth team (not just the sales reps!). This will help prevent the resentment that often runs high between sales and marketing professionals.

8. Assign short- and long-term projects

The differing timeframes of sales reps and marketers can also be a source of friction. To dispel this, involve all members of your growth team in both short-term and long-term projects. 

For example, you might purchase a contact list for cold calls and have your marketers design an email template to precede the call. On the long-term side, consider involving your sales-focused members in content creation and branding strategy.

9. Let everyone contribute to goal-setting

Take time to set your goals as a team together—and make sure they are obtainable! The faster everyone can get a collaborative win, the better. It’s far better to set and reach a modest goal and then set a new one than it is to set and never reach a lofty goal and feel like the whole enterprise is a failure.

At Nutshell, we like to share our successes with everyone. We have a Slack channel dedicated to our wins, and we use Nutshell’s Slack integration to share big wins for the whole company to enjoy automatically. 

I make a point to talk not only about the efforts our sales reps make to close deals but also about the marketing materials that engaged those leads. Everybody is contributing to every win, so we should celebrate together!

More from Mike Carroll: “I Cut Our Facebook Spend From $20,000 to Zero and Nothing Tragic Happened

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This post was adapted from Mike Carroll’s BOUNDLESS 2019 presentation with research and writing assistance from Bree Nordenson.

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