In my first post on Sales and Marketing Alignment, I shared a demand generation alignment checklist that I’ve created and continually refined over many years of marketing with a number of high-growth software companies.
For quick reference here’s my 10 step Sales and Marketing Alignment for Demand Generation.
1. Get marketing ready by understanding the buyer persona, the buying cycle, and the competitive landscape.
2. Create a Marketing Qualified LEAD (MQL) definition.
3. Understand the MQL to sales opportunity metrics.
4. Set MQL and Marketing-Generated Sales Opportunity goals and then communicate to the team.
5. Create a closed-loop system for tracking leads from creation to win/loss.
6. Create Sales SLAs (service level agreements) for leads to set expectations.
7. Create SLAs for sales opportunities.
8. Require quick, insightful feedback from sales on disqualified leads.
9. Communicate and listen to sales.
10. Help reps generate their own leads.

This second post dives into the first two items of the checklist.
1. Get marketing ready by understanding the buyer persona, the buying cycle, and the competitive landscape. And, make sure you understand the differences by region and distribution channel. Interviewing the sales team (sales reps, SEs, etc.) and sitting in on sales calls helps greatly. Also, interview partners and customers, including ones who have just bought. This process can take months and be quite formal, but you can get started quick ‘n dirty in days. The bottom line is this: marketing can’t play an effective alignment role unless they understand and help create structure to the buying process.

2. Create a Marketing Qualified LEAD (MQL) definition. Not all leads” are the same. Marketing creates leads in many different ways – think email campaigns, the web site, webinars, trade shows, etc. An MQL is a lead that marketing has qualified and is passing to sales as having a high probability of converting to a Sales Opportunity. But, defining a MQL may not be nearly as simple as it seems. It requires understanding the maturity stage for each of your products and then educating and getting agreement of the revenue team on the type of lead that best maps to that product stage. It also requires mapping leads to target geographic regions, company size, prospect job role, and the like.

You’ll need some patience here – both in understanding the MQL concept and getting agreement. The lead definition concepts are new to most people and they’ll need time and education to overcome historical biases. Note: check out Sirius Decisions research on Demand Types. They’ve been thought leaders in this area for years and have excellent reports on the subject. I’ve successfully used their research and their analysts to help educate and select the proper lead definitions for my company’s different products.

Historically, sales teams all want BANT (Budget – Authority – Need – Timeframe) leads. And what sales person wouldn’t? But, BANT leads work best in Replacement markets (think toner, paper, office furniture, and other commodity-like products), where buyers already have the product, have budget to buy more, and often buy on price or convenience. But, the Replacement market is a tough one and most companies don’t want their products in this category.

Fortunately, the majority of software products fall into the New Paradigm category where the product performs a function differently and hopefully better than previous solutions. But, because it’s a new approach, it’s not a good idea to wait until the buyer has BANT. Wait that long and it’s likely that competitors have guided them to that point and you’re just sales fodder. New Paradigm leads map better to prospects with Need and Interest. Sales reps may resist, but Sirius Decisions research shows that in this market you’ll get more leads if you focus on Need and Interest and that opportunities will close at a higher rate and for more money than waiting for BANT leads.

The third type of software product market is the New Concept. New Concept products address a problem that most buyers are not even aware of. Wait around for BANT or even Need and Interest in this market and your sales team will have lots of free time. For New Concept products, you want to find people in specific target markets with the ability to sponsor change.

If you’re unsure of what category a product falls under, take a quick survey of sales reps and other members of the revenue team to get clear about key questions in the buying process.

A note of caution: if you have multiple product line, they could very well fall into different market categories. It’s not easy training teams to qualify one product on BANT and another on Interest and Need for example, but it’s necessary.

As mentioned earlier, once you identify the right lead definition, you’ll need to education and convince the sales team. Marketing can carry the majority of the education load, but sales management will have to take ownership of the convincing. It will take group and individual discussions and then monitoring to assure compliance.

Future posts will address each of the other items as well as a Sales Enablement Alignment checklist.

About the authorJeff Whitney is a B2B software marketing executive with extensive experience  –  from early stage start ups through achieving marketing equity.   Jeff has a passion for building a world class marketing function, starting with the organization, demand generation programs, sales enablement tools and of course, aligning sales and marketing.