Why a single Growth team is the ultimate answer to sales and marketing alignment

Increasing a company’s growth trajectory is rarely about discovering some 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. We worked across the B2B and B2C spaces for all kinds of companies, from local startups like Quizzle and Amplifinity, to larger enterprises like Quicken Loans, Cisco, and Compuware.

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.

There were some companies I worked with whose marketing teams actually refused to generate leads for their sales teams, lest they be held responsible for their quality. On the flip side, I also encountered sales teams that had stopped working any marketing-generated leads because they thought they were so worthless.

While most of the companies I worked with weren’t this extreme, they almost always had some tension and lack of alignment between teams. This made things quite challenging for us as an agency since we were frequently tasked with projects that required the participation of both sales and marketing.

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. As a person coming from a marketing background, I also discovered that I really enjoyed working with sales teams, and I found it very helpful to be measured by their metrics.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in my observations. 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.

Skip to the “tl;dr” version

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 actually far more intuitive than the standard silo-ed approach.

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.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that your customer’s journey is not necessarily a linear one. 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.

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. A customer who says 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 the self-educating buyer.)

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 be in constant communication and collaboration.

Uniting under the single banner of “Growth Team” is more than just a line on an org chart; it’s a state of mind. Sales and marketing are two teams that 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. Originally, 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.

Finding Common Ground for Sales and Marketing Alignment

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 as well, 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 the sales and marketing contingents of a Growth team and how to leverage them.

Sales reps and leaders 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 extremely 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.

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, for example, 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 continually come up with and test new strategies. With input from sales reps, marketers can create strategies that are more effective at generating high-quality leads.

Both salespeople and marketers are:

  • Strategists
  • Data analysts
  • Results driven

Emphasize these commonalities—as well as 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:

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Taking Out the Trash, And Other Practical Tips on Sales and Marketing Alignment

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 collectively take out the trash 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.

In order to further encourage camaraderie among team members—as well as enhance their skill sets—I also highly recommend swapping and hybridizing roles. Get your marketing folks on actual sales calls and get your sales reps working on actual 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.

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.)

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.  

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 even segment leads and roles at all 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, but each member of the team 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 can be influenced by sales and marketing efforts. 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.

In order 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.

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 are likely to 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.

If your company offers commissions and/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.

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.

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 automatically share big wins for the whole company to enjoy. 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

The “tl;dr” version:

  • In order to unite your sales and marketing teams, you have to get them working towards a single shared goal: revenue growth.
  • Your sales funnel is rarely a linear, top-to-bottom journey. Communication and collaboration between sales and marketing make your team better equipped to provide your prospects with what they need, when they need it.
  • Sellers and marketers naturally have different strengths. Emphasize what they have in common: an affinity for strategy and data analysis, and a focus on results.
  • Even a properly unified Growth team will occasionally produce garbage leads and garbage campaign ideas. Candid (but blame-free) post-mortems are essential to learning from your mistakes.
  • Having your sales and marketing specialists occasionally swap roles gives everyone a better understanding of and appreciation for what other team members do (and gives them new skills to boot).
  • Your Growth team should sit in the same room together and meet regularly to discuss tactics. The more everyone knows about what everyone else is doing, the better they’ll be able to collaborate.
  • Sales-focused team members and marketing-focused team members should still have their own metrics, but these numbers should all drive a set of unified metrics that lead to revenue growth.
  • Set team goals that lead to achievable collaborative wins, and share your successes with the whole company.

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

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