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The Beautiful Alignment


This year has turned out to be one where I have been able to really enjoy the beautiful game. Catching the Premier League in the UK, watching Euro Cup matches, holding tickets for the MLS Revolution, and now getting two weeks of Olympic action - at one time, not that long ago, my best bet was limited to U12 girls and U10 boys matches on Saturdays.

Within the business world we can learn a lot from soccer / football / futbol – especially when it comes to watching the delicate balance of offense and defense. On the soccer pitch we have players who are designated as offense and defense, but each plays a critical role in both parts of the game – even the keeper. I think it would be useful to bring this key synchrony between both halves of the team to the same alignment needed by the sales and marketing functions.

I have been helping a new client with identifying the business requirements for a potential new SFA system. Interestingly, none of the members of the sales management team felt there was much need for any marketing involvement, input or collaboration in the requirements gathering. After all, sales does sales stuff and marketing does marketing stuff and best to keep them separate.

When I asked specifically about pipeline management I got puzzled looks. Sales and marketing have very clear and separate roles. Marketing has no reason to be connected to SFA. Sales folks manage the opportunities and marketing folks do marketing things, what ever that may be.

This does not happen when Chelsea and Man U get together. When the team in blue is on the move to score, all eleven players are on offense, starting with the goal kick. All eleven players in black are prepared to defend. The defensive backs don’t take a break as the sweeper takes the ball forward. They are ready for a one touch pass to a charging striker. Sales and marketing need to play together precisely as they do in futbol.

There has been a lot written about the need for aligning the sales and marketing functions more effectively. But, it seems we have a long way yet to go. There are also a lot of places where we could focus the efforts of alignment, but I think the opportunity pipeline is ground zero. Or, sticking with the football metaphor, it is the goal box and net – the place to score.

There is some mythology in the way of successful alignment between sales and marketing and the big three myths causing the most trouble are:
- Marketing does not participate in the management of opportunities
- Sales does not participate in the management of leads
- Marketing needs a separate prospect data base from the sales customer data base.

Leads and opportunities are simply the two ends of a single pipeline and both functions need to contribute at each end to make the whole thing work well – just like offense and defense. Marketing must be connected to the opporunities, especially to get feedback as leads progress from stage to stage. This feedback is essential to improving future leads sent to the field in order to generate better opportunities. Marketing can also play a pivotal role in supporting the sales function by providing content at critical opportunity stages to keep the deal moving.

Likewise, sales must participate correctly within the lead management portion of the pipeline. Providing prospect contact details or profile details and updating the criteria for defining a successful lead are essential. Every business that I work with where the sales function complains about lead quality performs these activities poorly or not at all.

Attempting to align these two business development functions when they are using separate and dissimilar data bases makes the whole thing a whole lot worse. Success usually requires that everybody come together with a single source of prospect and customer data, or at the least an integrated set of sources.

If we can bust these myths and bring together sales and marketing, at least along the pipeline, we are going to produce more W’s.

Comparing business activities to sporting activities is nothing new. And I hope that you non-sports fans out there are not offended by the analogy. I truly believe that using analogies and metaphors are a great way of illustrating the path to success. If soccer does not work for you stay tune next week when we examine the similarities between brain surgery and customer service.


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