Sales and Marketing alignment is a critical aspect of any successful go-to-market strategy, serving as the foundation for organizational growth. However, the key to achieving alignment starts at the top, with a very tight relationship between the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). We have looked at how to optimize Sales and Marketing alignment generally in a previous post What I’ve Learned about Sales and Marketing Alignment. In this blog post, we dive deeper into the importance of the CRO-CMO relationship and provide practical steps to foster a strong partnership that creates better Sales and Marketing alignment that can accelerate growth.
Sales and Marketing Alignment
No one disputes Sales and Marketing alignment is critical for success but much of the attention is often at a lower level. Agreement on the ICP, definitions of MQLs and SQLs, the role of SDRs, which campaigns will target which markets or geographies, sales enablement functions to drive sales conversion, etc. All of it is critical for success. But this neglects how critical alignment is at the top, between the CRO and CMO. And not just alignment but a genuine two-person team that will together drive all GTM activity, because sales and marketing alignment starts at the top.
I like to tell people that sales and marketing teams are no different than a good football team that knows how to execute on both offense and defense. In each play, there is a plan. Everyone knows the play and agrees to execute it. Everyone has a role in the play and if they do their job well, the play will be a success and the team will move the ball down the field. No one freelances their own idea of what they think should be done. Everyone knows their role and executes it.
The key thing is sales and marketing are not two teams. They are one team. Ideally with identical high-level goals. They may play different roles in achieving that goal, much like different players on a football team, but the high-level goals are the same. And the CRO and CMO need to foster that mentality.
When CMOs talk to sales leaders about goals, pipeline and bookings get their attention. They are not talking about MQLs or # of leads or conversion rates or even campaigns. Because none of those matter if they don’t result in pipeline that the sales team can work to generate more bookings. Every sales leader understands this and when CMOs speak their language and talk to their goals, they become their trusted partner in the mission.
CRO and CMO Need to be in Total Synch
This CRO-CMO relationship is critical to sales and marketing alignment and these two leaders need to be in lock-step on pretty much everything regarding GTM. As CMO, I tell my sales leaders that this is not just a partnership, because you can have lots of partners. Some good, some bad. Also, partnerships are not always a union of equals. Often one partner can hold sway over and dominate the other partner so it is not a relationship of equals.
I tell my CRO that our relationship is like a marriage. It's not a zero-sum game. Either we both win, or we both lose. And like most successful marriages, it is based on trust, communication, and a shared vision of where we are going and how we will get there. If there is mistrust or lack of confidence between sales and marketing leaders, alignment with the teams is doomed. The CRO should be the CMO’s closest executive relationship in the company.
It is also important for the CMO to establish very strong personal relationships with all regional sales executives and sales managers across all geographies. These sales leaders will be your eyes and ears to tell you what is really happening and will help you identify both problems and opportunities much sooner.
How do you build a strong CRO-CMO relationship? Start with these steps:
Build a Strong Personal Relationship
As the CRO and CMO, you’ll be fighting a lot of battles both inside and outside the company, and you need to make sure you are not battling each other too. The best way to prevent this is to build a strong personal connection with each other that goes beyond the typical executive partnership. You need to be tight with each other, understand each other at a very deep level, and work to make each other succeed in a way you typically don’t do with other executives. This might seem uncomfortable at first, like a forced marriage but it will pay off huge dividends. Together the CRO and CMO can do amazing things. Working independently or even at odds with each other will be a lose-lose outcome.
CMO Attends Sales Management Meetings
As the CMO, get yourself invited to every sales management meeting. Forecast calls, senior team meetings, and sales offsites. You want to be there to understand the issues the sales team is facing on a daily basis and be ready to deploy marketing resources where they can make a difference. Getting invited to these meetings can be difficult initially because it is unusual, and sometimes the topics are sensitive like determining company forecasts, organization changes, team skills assessments, etc. When discussing such topics, often sales teams just want to spend time with their sales leaders. This is the key point: you need to make yourself part of that team. You are not a marketing guy going to a sales meeting. You are a GTM leader with a lot of resources that can help sales to succeed.
Your attitude in these meetings, especially early on is, “I am here to help, what can I do?” and you need to proactively show that to gain trust. If a sales region is struggling to meet goals, offer to help them out with additional pipeline spend or maybe some sales training. If a competitor is beating us consistently, offer to put together a team to figure out competitive strategies. Offer help, make an impact on the sales team and you’ll keep getting invited back.
The CRO and CMO should meet every week for at least 30 minutes and often much longer to check in and make sure they are doing everything they can to achieve their goals. This often evolves into people and organization discussions on how best to organize sales and marketing. No agenda and empire-building here, it is all about how you team up to get achieve the goals. And the conversion is two-way. Tell each other where you think each needs to do better or how you can help each other as well. In a private conversation, this is appreciated.
Sales Executives-CMO 1-1’s
The CMO should meet with all senior sales executives every few weeks and hear how marketing is supporting them and what more needs to be done. You would be surprised how unique this is and how much it is appreciated by sales leaders to have their marketing leader proactively ask them what they need to succeed. Most have said they have never experienced this in their careers. Again stop acting like marketing and start acting like part of the sales team.
As mentioned above, tie the highest-level marketing goals directly to sales goals. And they are generally pipeline and bookings targets. Marketing bonuses should be tied to these key metrics, and maybe a few other metrics as well, but these are the big two. By adopting the same goals, you are saying we really are one team with a shared vision of what success looks like. Hitting the bookings target is marketing’s job too and making that clear to sales and the company will win you serious gratitude within sales.
The CMO should work with sales managers and reps to regularly go on customer sales calls. They will hear about customer needs first-hand from them, and hear how the sales team presents the value prop and responds to customer objections. I come away from every single sale call with learnings and ideas for how we can improve our close rates. Again there can be some trepidation on the sales team’s part as to why you are there and what you are doing. Once you build trust, they’ll start asking you to attend more sales meetings and it shows commitment to have a C-level executive with them meeting with the customer.
Since the relationship between sales and marketing is more of a marriage than just a partnership, I tell the CRO and all Sales Leaders that if they come across a problem in marketing, I want to hear about it first directly from them, rather than through a 3rd party. This helps to build connections and trust. More often than not, the problem they have seen is not really a problem at all, but rather a misunderstanding or mis-expectation. But if it is a real problem with marketing, I want them to know I am the person to fix it directly.
Given that the CMO and the CRO are in a marriage of sorts, they need to come to the defense of each other when they are being attacked by Finance or Product or the Board, just as would if your spouse was being attacked. This kind of support will go a long way toward building a bond. You are saying we are in this together, and your problems are my problems. And don’t be surprised when the CRO returns the favor when marketing comes under attack. Which never happens, right?
While strategic planning, tactical execution, and team collaboration are crucial, true Sales and Marketing alignment begins with a strong CRO-CMO relationship. By focusing on the strategic partnership between these key executives and implementing the practical steps outlined above, businesses can establish a solid foundation for achieving alignment at all levels of the organization. With a united leadership driving the go-to-market strategy, and one team executing it, businesses can run faster, more efficiently, and accelerate growth.
Al Campa is Founder and CEO of Rocket Scale, which advises companies on how to accelerate revenue with powerful go-to-market strategies. He can be reached via www.rocketscale.net.