Bits o' Brian

Continuing the quest to align Marketing and Sales

Defining Marketing and Sales Alignment

I know this is an ongoing discussion in which some pretty smart people have contributed. In our quest to address this business pain, we seek a definition of just what we’re tackling. I want to continue to explore the position that this is not a problem to be solved, but rather it is a state of effectiveness and productivity in an organization’s end-to-end commercial engine.

Thinking of it this way, it allows us to approach the problem as one which requires ongoing analysis of root causes and subsequent improvement actions. The underlying causes will be different for different firms and will continue to shift and, thus, the challenge must be viewed as a continuous improvement exercise.

From this point-of-view, I recently proposed this definition of Marketing and Sales Alignment in a discussion on Focus: “A state of optimum commercial effectiveness amongst an organization’s people, processes, and systems.”

I’ve seen a lot of words written around what Marketing and Sales alignment is not (and we Marketers love our words). However, I think it’s important to describe what it is rather than what it is not. With the above definition, we can begin to see that, to achieve and maintain this optimum state, it is not an initiative-based effort but rather an ongoing, incremental series of actions that allow us to get there and stay there as the world around us evolves.

I would love to have your thoughts on this.

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If Marketing and Sales Aren’t Aligned, Ask “Why” Five Times

In my last post, I further explored the idea that Marketing and Sales alignment is not a problem to be solved in and of itself. Rather, it is an issue that puts pressure on commercial productivity and has a variety of causes. Those causes will be different for different businesses and will evolve over time.

Improving alignment between Marketing and Sales is a continuous process just as operational productivity has been treated for years. Here I introduce a standard Root Cause Analysis technique that I leaned back in my process engineering days. It is called “5 Whys” as it is a questions-asking process that explores cause and effect relationships until the lowest common denominator (or root cause) is found.

The process is simple, but requires some discipline. Start with the observed problem and ask a series of “why” questions to arrive at the root cause. Here’s an example:

Lead conversation rates in the industrial sector are very low…

    Why? “Because the abandonment rate is higher than in any other sector”
    Why” “Because only a fraction of leads move to the opportunity stage.”
    Why? “We are unable to get follow-up appointments to qualify them to move to the opportunity stage.”
    Why? “The most common feedback is that the prospects are comfortable with their current situation.”
    Why? “Because we are not getting their attention about the risks of the new regulations coming next year.”

You could certainly continue this line of questioning further, if needed, but five rounds has been generally found to get from symptoms to causes. In this case, the corrective action could be to “reposition the messaging used in the demand generation program to articulate possible risk of upcoming regulatory changes.”

This is a simple, yet effective Root Cause Analysis technique for Marketing. By applying this technique, you can focus limited resources on fixing root causes rather than treating symptoms with little effect.

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Marketing and Six Sigma…It Works

Lean Six Sigma principles are as applicable in the Marketing Factory as they are in the Widget Factory.  In fact, the concept of a factory is an excellent way for marketers in many companies to position their operation in a context that can be understood and appreciated by most around the boardroom table.

While marketers may recoil at the idea that they run a factory, the very idea is an imperative today.  Standardized work, standard tools, waste reduction, cycle time improvement and a set of metrics that connect those activities to business goals – that’s the stuff of lean manufacturing and lean marketing.  Most marketing organizations have standard work processes in place.  Procedures and work instructions help insure that.  However, many continue to struggle with wasteful and interruptive requests from clients, incomplete information and limited ability to leverage existing assets or past work products.

A standard Lean Six Sigma tool that can help a marketing organization move from job shop to efficient factory is the SIPOC.  An acronym for Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, and Customers, the SIPOC provides a framework for any process or operation.  Typically used in the Define phase of a Six Sigma improvement project, the SIPOC can help a marketing organization not only bound its own operation, but also provides an excellent framework to help clients understand how to most effectively work with the marketing organization.  Use the SIPOC chart to list:

  • Processes:  If you are using the SIPOC to frame your entire operation, then this section represents the collection of standard work processes you execute to generate the output of your department.  If you don’t have standard work established, then you should start here.  It is difficult to credibly require standard inputs into non-standard processes.  Think factory.
  • Outputs:  These are all the discrete results of your work processes – direct mail campaigns, literature, websites, tradeshows, leads, information, etc.  This is another opportunity to use the SIPOC to create more structure in your operation.  Just like a factory cannot efficiently produce unlimited custom variations of a basic product, a marketing department with limited resources can’t either.  It is important to determine and document those outputs that meet the needs of your business and standardize on those offerings.  Your business probably has a structured process for adding new products to its offerings to the market.  Treat new offerings from marketing with similar rigor.  Don’t offer a new variation on standard literature, for example, based on one request from one product line.
  • Customers:  For the sake of this exercise, it is most helpful to think in terms of internal customers – those who use the outputs of your operation to drive commercial results for the business.  Of course, your outputs must be relevant and useful to external customers to be effective.  In the context of internal customers, you can establish the full SIPOC framework to drive factory-like efficiencies.
  • Inputs:  Define here the inputs needed for marketing to do its work.  As in manufacturing, take this opportunity to establish specifications and quality parameters for the inputs you must receive.  Inputs such as demographic or firmographic data, value proposition, audience targeting parameters, product background, etc. are candidates for this list.
  • Suppliers: These may be internal and external suppliers.  These individuals or groups have information or tools the marketing organization needs to perform its work.  Market research, product management, sales, list vendors, and others are likely suppliers to marketing.  They supply the inputs into your process.

With the SIPOC framework established for your marketing operation, you have the ability to engage your entire organization.  Establish standard specifications and quality requirements for inputs from your suppliers (internal groups and external vendors), and communicate the scope of your output offerings to your internal clients.  With the parameters of your marketing factory established, measurement and continuous improvement become more straightforward.

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A bit about Brian…

Brian McGuire is a senior Marketing and Sales alignment leader (read bio here). He blogs from his experience, research and observations about the challenges B2B firms face as they connect their brand, their product innovations, and their capability to the needs and objectives of their customers. All views and opinions expressed are his alone.

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