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Sales and marketing alignment: How to get client-facing teams on board with thought leadership strategy

Rob Mitchell

Tension between sales and marketing teams is nothing new. For years, commercial managers have complained that marketing are not providing them with enough leads or the right collateral, while marketing teams say that sales are ignoring all the great content they are producing, or not acting on the leads they provide. Sales and marketing alignment isn’t easy.

These tensions are unlikely to disappear entirely, but approaching thought leadership strategy the right way can reduce them.

The key is early engagement and dialogue, and a collaborative approach to planning your content. This does not mean adding layers of bureaucracy or accepting compromise. Instead, it is about alignment: agreeing common objectives and KPIs, and ensuring that your campaign meets the needs of both marketing and sales.

Sales and marketing alignment: how does this work in practice?

1. Engage the sales team early and seek their input

A common mistake is that sales teams are only brought into the conversation half-way through a campaign or, worse, handed thought leadership content once it is complete. This is sure to be a disaster, because the sales team feels no sense of ownership or buy-in to the campaign and is likely to ignore it. So engage sales teams at the very earliest stages of the campaign.

2. Understand the commercial team’s pain points and use thought leadership to resolve them

Every commercial team will have frustrations. Maybe they are finding it difficult to elevate their message and target senior C-suite buyers. Or they are struggling to shift perceptions and make prospects understand the new direction of the business. It is essential to listen to these concerns during the campaign-planning process to determine how thought leadership might address them.

If you have a clear view of the commercial team’s top targets, and the objections they are encountering, you can think more carefully about the framing and messaging of your campaigns.

3. Ensure that there is a clear line of sight between the thought leadership and a commercial conversation

Commercial teams need to see the link between thought leadership and what they are trying to sell. If that link is too tenuous, or the content seems too separate from the conversations they want to have, then they won’t use it.

This doesn’t mean that you should create sales-y content, but there has to be a clear link between the themes you are discussing and the products you sell. Think about your content as an enabler of commercial activity, igniting conversations that can lead in that direction rather than overtly being about the offering itself.

4. Think beyond the bottom of the funnel

Most discussions between sales and marketing focus on the funnel and see the sale as the ultimate destination. But the first sale is only the start of the customer relationship. Good thought leadership campaigns also consider existing clients and how content can strengthen relationships and build advocacy.

So always consider the needs of both business development and account management – and ensure you include their needs in the campaign planning.

5. Don’t focus obsessively on lead generation

Although it is essential to consider the needs of commercial teams as part of the campaign planning process, it is also important to think holistically. Focusing only on lead generation is unlikely to be successful, because a large proportion of your audience is not yet ready to have a conversation with you.

Campaigns need to lay the groundwork to get the audience to that point – some of your audience may not even have identified the problem, let alone considered you as a potential solution. Make sure your campaign serves them too – not just the small percentage who are ready to talk to you. Balance is key, so try not to focus too much on the needs of the commercial team (even though they are clearly important stakeholders).

6. Seek feedback and collect data – or anecdotes

The relationship between sales and marketing has to be two-way. Marketing provides materials and leads to sales, but sales teams need to feed back on what is working or not. Anecdotes from commercial conversations that have been triggered by thought leadership can be worth their weight in gold.

When marketers hear that their content has helped to unlock new conversations or got clients thinking about the business in a new way, it is a powerful validation. Equally, if content isn’t landing, then marketing teams need to know so they can adjust their approach in future.

Are you interested in how FT Longitude can help sales and marketing alignment for your organisation? Read more about our thought leadership strategy offering here.

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads FT Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with FT Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees FT Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding FT Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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