Alignment between your sales and marketing teams is absolutely critical to long-term success. In the past, it was all too common within organizations for these two departments to work completely independently of one another. This would almost inevitably lead to friction, frustration, and bottlenecks in the overall sales process. Fortunately, modern technology has made it possible to easily link marketing activities to sales activities. As a result, you can create a seamless buyer's journey from start to finish.
With that in mind, let's briefly review the fundamentals of the integrated sales and marketing funnel. Then, we'll discuss some key principles of alignment for each funnel stage.
The Basics of the Integrated Sales and Marketing Funnel
The sales funnel is simply a way to organize leads in order of how close they are to making a purchase. It allows you to develop strategies and tactics for both of your departments that align with the needs of customers in each stage of the funnel. The ultimate goal is to move each prospect through the funnel and toward a purchase with your brand.
We can divide the funnel into three main stages:
Leads can enter the funnel at any stage. However, a typical buyer's journey starts at the top of the funnel, gradually progresses to the middle, and finally ends at the bottom. Let's break down each stage of the funnel. Specifically, let's examine how your marketing and sales teams can act in alignment as they work to "nudge" the prospect further along.
Top of the Funnel: Leads Who Want To Learn More
Leads who enter here may have initially made contact with your company via marketing outreach (newsletters, social media posts, trade shows, and so on). These are often referred to as marketing qualified leads (MQLs).
These leads aren't ready to buy. They may not have even known about your company or the solutions you offer until very recently. However, companies often send these leads directly to the sales team — which is a huge mistake! Your first lead generation priority at this stage of the funnel should be moving prospects to the next stage, not trying to sell them something they're probably not even interested in yet.
Who should own these leads?
Marketing, 100%. Your marketing team can develop content that tells your story and aligns with each type of lead entering the top of your funnel. Then, they can share the data they've collected with your sales team, so your reps will have an idea of what to expect when interacting with leads.
Middle of the funnel: leads who are considering your solution
At this stage, leads have already interacted with your content, and they're digging deeper into the benefits of your specific solution. These are now sales qualified leads (SQLs).
Of course, you'll find different levels of interest within this stage of the funnel. Some leads will be only slightly interested in your offerings (more curious than anything else), while others will be very interested. In addition, you can expect that leads in this stage will begin exploring all their options — including offerings from your competitors.
Who should own these leads?
At this point, your sales team should start reaching out and following up with prospects. After all, it's their job to engage with people who are considering your solutions. Since the typical lead in this stage has already expressed interest in your offering, sales reps should have a better foundation on which to engage them further via direct messaging (email, phone call, text).
At the same time, your marketing team's job is to create relevant resources that will help turn leads into solid SQLs — i.e., leads that are primed for conversations with your sales reps. For instance, marketing materials can start extending invitations for leads to interact with your sales team.
The point is, ownership at this stage should be split between sales and marketing, depending on the nature of each lead.
Bottom of the funnel: leads who want to buy your solution
This is where leads are strongly considering purchasing your solution. It's true that some leads at this stage are more ready to buy than others. However, all of them are definitely beyond the research and evaluation process — they want to take action. These leads are sometimes called "opportunities."
Keep in mind that many leads want to de-risk their decision. And they may be considering a purchase from one of your competitors at the same time they're evaluating your solution. For that reason, it's crucial that each sales rep understands common concerns and objections that these leads may have. They must proactively address such concerns to the extent possible.
Who should own these leads?
Your sales reps. Guiding leads toward a purchase is where most salespeople excel. At this point, you're way beyond providing marketing resources and making the case for your company via content. Skilled sales reps can either finalize a deal quickly or provide the lead with support in making the best decision.
If your sales team has an inventory of resources at their disposal, they'll likely perform much better. It's often helpful to keep a running list of FAQs handy, especially if your reps notice that certain questions often become roadblocks that prevent sales from going through. If misunderstandings arise, your team should be prepared to effectively address them. Moreover, documenting why each lead chose or did not choose to buy from your company can provide invaluable data for both your sales and marketing teams moving forward.
In summary, each stage of the sales and marketing funnel should be integrated, so that both teams are working unitedly towards common goals. Marketing generally has more influence over the upper half of the funnel, while sales handle the lower half. However, if you want the maximum impact from your lead generation efforts, both teams should be involved in every stage to some degree. At the end of the day, such intentional alignment is what will drive results and help improve your company's sales performance.
A healthy relationship between sales and marketing is vital to an organization’s success. Dive deep into this effective strategy in a new book called Sales & Marketing Alignment. If you'd like more insights on how you can improve your sales leadership, contact us. Or sign up for our newsletter for more valuable resources.