3 ways to align marketing & sales during COVID-19

Even in the best of times, sales and marketing alignment is a challenge but during a pandemic it is even more critical to your success.

Even in the best of times, sales and marketing alignment is not easy. Forrester Research suggests only 8 percent of companies achieve strong alignment. But those that do, enjoy a competitive advantage. Marketo claims alignment makes companies 67 percent better at closing deals while generating 209 percent more revenue from marketing.

Unfortunately, we’re not experiencing the best of times. It’s easy for marketing and sales to retreat to their respective corners, operate in silos, and point fingers.

Remember when marketing and sales leaders could stand at the white board together and exchange ideas? Our calendars overflowed with sales kickoffs, club trips, QBRs, and other venues where we could collaborate, grab a beer or a burger, and build critical working relationships.

We knew who our top customers, partners, and targets were, who had budget, and what was important to them. And we had endless channels to reach them, with funds allocated and tactical marketing plans in place.

The Worst of Times

COVID-19 disrupted schedules, customer priorities, communications, and supply chains. It pushed revenue to the right or off the forecast entirely, along with our 2020 marketing plans.

Like in the Great Recession of 2009, many B2G sales organizations are likely experiencing corporate pressure to make up for commercial sales shortfalls while simultaneously cutting costs and heads.

Events, the bedrock of government marketing plans, disappeared with no return in sight. Digital channels are congested. Unlike B2B marketers, we can’t send bottles of wine and GrubHub meals to government customers in exchange for an hour of their time online.

Sales and Marketing Need Each Other

In a recent Market Connections poll on the impact of COVID-19, 45 percent of surveyed federal respondents said they’re using webinars more frequently to learn about new technologies or services. That is followed by 35 percent who are utilizing websites from research firms or contractors more heavily. The survey showed substantial increases in consumption of marketing-led content and social media channels.

By contrast, only 16 percent have increased their reliance on vendor sales reps. In fact, 1 in 3 are relying LESS frequently on communications with sales personnel.

Thus, sales and marketing alignment is more important to ensure marketers are creating and distributing relevant content through the right channels. Unfortunately, marketing is among the first areas to face operating expense cuts during times of economic distress. If sales teams struggle to achieve quota, more marketers will find their jobs at risk when their skills are most needed.

3 Areas of Focus for Improved Alignment

After participating in numerous discussions with sales and marketing practitioners recently, I’ve identified three core areas of focus to consider.

  • Communications and Expectations

In times of unprecedented change, it’s critical for marketing and sales leaders to properly set expectations and strive for open, transparent, and ongoing communications.

Marketers need to understand what’s happening in sales and how that will impact their go-to-market strategies. Discuss everything from territory realignments and changes in the channel ecosystem to delayed product launches, revised sales quotas, and adjustments to compensation plans. These and other shifts may result in new areas of focus or prioritization that can (and should) impact marketing tactics.

Likewise, marketers need to keep their sales counterparts updated on adjustments within the marketing landscape. Let them know which events have moved online and what new programs are being offered. Share real-time updates on customer behaviors and digital traffic patterns.

Plan regular “Start/Stop/Continue” discussions and consider hosting daily (or weekly) sales/marketing stand-up meetings to ensure you’re on the same page. This simple framework ensures continuous feedback loops and helps you calibrate investments as new information arises.

  • Sales Enablement

With ongoing disruption, increased pressure to perform, and access to fewer resources, sales teams need more enablement support from their marketing partners.

Right now, our customers want empathy, patience, and practical solutions, not aggressive sales pitches. Your field sellers and SDRs may need help adjusting their scripts and positioning to align both tone and content with customer expectations.

Likewise, many deals in the pipeline are likely at risk or delayed, and the typical buying journey may have changed. Sales needs content, tools, and messages to rescue these opportunities while identifying new ones that may be emerging as market conditions and budgets shift. The importance of proactive market intelligence and competitive intelligence can’t be overstated.

Marketing should squeeze maximum value from the digital tools, training, and data at its disposal. These range from CRM, virtual communications, and marketing automation platforms to content syndication, search, and social amplification tools.

These capabilities enable better segmentation, reach, and testing to bring new messaging to market faster and at scale. With events and travel falling off your project lists, use that time to train your staff to take full advantage of the tools in your digital marketing stack.

  • Opportunity Identification

Event cancellations have left a huge hole in most B2G lead generation plans, while OTAs and the CARES Act may have opened new opportunities. Now is the time to be innovative, expand your playbook, and try new things.

Think incrementally, test new approaches, and iterate as needed. Put pressure on your vendors to offer creative approaches that stretch beyond the webinar or virtual conference, as those are quickly passing the point of saturation. Competitive intelligence can yield knockout campaigns that may not have been possible a few months ago.

Utilize social listening to stay connected to the topics your customers and prospects are talking about. Mine your digital data to identify new purchase intent patterns as prospects change their media consumption and social sharing habits on your site and around the Web.

We’re in This Together

Alignment requires work, patience, and persistence. But like the face masks, social distancing measures, and infinite personal sacrifices we’re all making, it will help us get through these trying times.

Put time on the calendar now to brainstorm on how your organization can more effectively communicate, set realistic expectations, introduce new sales enablement initiatives, and find new opportunities together.