Unsubscribe. Skip. Unfollow. Delete. Despite the fact that it’s easier than ever to ignore marketing messages, there’s never been a better time to be a marketer — with one caveat. To fully claim a seat at the leadership table requires alignment in four critical areas.
The first area to address is with strategic alignment. The circle S view of business alignment is that every organization needs to have four core pieces in place to be successful:
- A documented business strategy
- A solid financial foundation
- The right people in the right seats, as Jim Collins noted in Good to Great
- A marketing and sales strategy that is aligned with the business strategy
It may seem like a no-brainer, but understanding the business strategy should be the starting point for any marketing plan. Armed with this information, the marketing team can establish a strategic plan designed to move the needle in the areas that matter most to the firm’s success.
As the strategic marketing plan is developed, metrics should also be established to measure progress against the goals. And when communicating results to the c-suite, marketers need to translate the results into meaningful measurements. For example, customer retention is tied to increased profitability, because it costs less to maintain a relationship than to acquire a new one. Customer satisfaction is another metric that marketing frequently tracks. This can be tied to cost reduction for the same reason – you don’t have to replace a lost customer by acquiring a new one. Increases in market share can translate to a lower cost of sales as less effort needs to be put forth to build awareness.
The second area to seek alignment is with the sales team. A survey conducted by DemandGen of 1,000 U.S. sales and marketing professionals, shows that there is still a divide between these two teams. This isn’t to say they don’t have a good relationship—the majority of people in each group had a positive view of the other. So why aren’t they aligned?
One of the main reasons cited was a lack of communication. In fact, when asked what they need from marketing, sales people ranked more and better leads as the two most important things, followed by competitive intelligence and brand awareness. On the other hand, when marketers were asked what they needed from sales, they listed better lead follow up, consistently using systems like CRM, feedback on campaigns and actually using the messaging and tools that marketing provides them. Less than half of the survey respondents met at least quarterly with their counterpart to discuss leads, to score them and to systematically hand them off.
Additionally, sales and marketing are typically measured by different metrics. In addition to meeting their quota, sales is measured by things like new accounts, number deals closed, retention and upselling. On the other hand, marketing is traditionally measured according to lead quantity, lead quality and brand awareness metrics. An aligned marketer will reach across the divide and meet regularly with sales counterparts to understand their goals and metrics. Through collaboration the two groups can develop a plan that helps both achieve their goals.
Obviously, marketers need to be aligned with their customers. The goal of any marketing activity is to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time in the right channel. Accomplishing this requires understanding their needs, motivations, behaviors and expectations.
One way to get inside the customer’s mind is by developing buyer personas. These are composite pictures that represent the ideal customer for the business. Creating a buyer persona requires research, surveys and interviews to determine demographic and background information like gender, age, family situation, education level, and job and income level. Psychographic information such as goals, key drivers, challenges and pain points, role in the decision-making process, common objections they may have, and their content and media habits helps to round out the profile. While personas are fictional characters, when they are crafted with care and insight, they can seem like real people as they help guide decisions. Once personas are created, they need to be disseminated throughout the organization so there is a shared understanding of the target audience.
A second factor in achieving customer alignment is understanding the buyer’s journey. As the analyst firm IDC states, “the buyer’s journey is nothing more than a series of questions that must be answered.” Each persona will have unique questions and communication preferences at each stage. Providing relevant information at the appropriate time and in the preferred format can help to pull the prospect through the buyer journey and turn them into not only customers, but raving fans.
A brand consists of many things— the way it looks, feels and sounds. A brand should have clear, consistent and compelling messaging that is uniquely its own. However, for just about any industry, a review of company websites shows that there is a sea of sameness when it comes to how they speak about themselves. Additionally, there is often a very inward-looking approach focused on the company rather than the customer.
Aligned messaging sits at the intersection of what is true and unique about a company and what is of interest and importance to its target audience. Armed with their understanding of the ideal customer, marketers need put a critical eye on their messaging. Does it accurately convey the company’s differentiators? Does it communicate a real benefit to the customer? Does it sound different from the competition? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it’s probably time for a realignment.
If any of these four areas— strategy, sales, customers or messaging—is out of alignment, it’s kind of like getting stuck with the shopping cart that has a wonky wheel. It’s still possible to move forward, but there’s a lot of frustration and wasted effort involved.
Thanks to technology, marketers today are in a better position than ever to know the customer and serve as their advocate within the company. Seizing this opportunity and driving toward greater alignment with internal and external audiences can lead to improved results for everyone.