6 Ways to Improve HRO Marketing and Sales Alignment in 2019

By Matt Raymond

Like diet and exercise for our personal well-being, sales and marketing alignment can have dramatic health benefits for your business. And like the “eat better, exercise more” refrain that gets repeated to us and reverberates in our heads (especially around this time of year), you may be sick of hearing about how your marketing and sales teams need to unite forces and collaborate better. You know it’s important. But it’s difficult to do consistently and over a long period of time. And the fact is, everyone struggles with it.

There are thousands of articles about improving marketing and sales alignment, but this one is different (and not just because I added “2019” in the title). Four experts in the HRO industry—Ray Dile, Adam Graham, and John G. Allen, and Jonathan Wall—discussed this topic at last year’s PrismHR LIVE conference, and I’ve collected six key takeaways from their session.

But first, what makes HRO marketing and sales alignment so challenging?

Ray Dile, Principal at Pathway Strategies, points to how the B2B buying process has changed. Buyers have become more sophisticated and are empowered to do more research prior to a sales engagement. This impacts the role of marketing and the purpose of the content it produces. In turn, sales is having deeper, more strategic conversations earlier in their engagement with buyers. And as markets become more competitive—certainly true in the HRO space—the use of data to understand and repeat success is critical.

1. Define marketing and sales responsibilities

In addition to contending with external forces, a lack of clarity within the organization around roles and responsibilities can hinder alignment. What is marketing’s role in the buying cycle and what are they accountable for? What is sales accountable for? What is a qualified lead and when does the handoff occur? These are simple questions with answers that are often difficult to agree upon.

“Two things that sales should hold marketing accountable for are continually providing great content to support sales throughout the funnel, and a focus on demand generation,” says Adam Graham, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Nextep.

John G. Allen, EVP of Sales at G&A Partners, adds that marketing can help start the process by helping identify the target list and deploy a drip campaign in which they send content to educate buyers. “Then you have an inside sales team making outbound calls to contacts who are a little bit warmer. It definitely improves the conversion ratio. And when the sales process actually starts, marketing has created content that supports sales along the way. After the sale, marketing is involved with customer service to ensure there’s a quality client experience. In my mind, there’s really no beginning or end—marketing and sales support each other throughout the customer lifecycle.”

Jonathan Wall, VP of Marketing at PrismHR, views marketing and sales as partners in achieving the organization’s revenue goals. “The feedback and activity data we get from sales is important in measuring what has been successful and helps us refine our marketing strategy. There needs to be an ongoing dialogue and partnership as we work toward a common goal.”

2. Identify your target market

It’s essential that marketing and sales are focused on the same audience of buyers. If you’re currently marketing and selling to everyone, it’s difficult to align on priorities and create efficiency in your processes. In the PrismHR eBook, How to Win More Deals with a Smarter HRO Sales Process, Dile discusses the importance of defining your target market and focusing on the deals you are most likely to win (based on data).

“The problem is, most organizations aren’t willing to exclude an SMB that is outside of their target market,” says Dile. “But that’s what you have to do to create velocity and differentiate. In the past you could hold your arms out as wide as possible, but that doesn’t work well today.”

Allen emphasized the importance of focusing on customer segments where you’ve had historical success. “The data may highlight a higher than normal close ratio in the healthcare space, for example. This could be an area to do a campaign that goes a mile deep rather than spreading your resources over several programs. Because we’re tracking the data, we can determine whether to keep investing in this area or go in a different direction.”

3. Send marketing out in the field

Graham says the best thing he did for his career was getting sales experience before going into marketing. The experience helped him better understand what mattered to buyers and be more empathetic. Now, he encourages members of the Nextep marketing organization to make calls and get out on the road to join meetings with buyers in person.

“I want my marketing leader in the field on a regular basis because she has to understand the sales process,” says Graham. “Without that firsthand experience there’s going to be a disconnect.”

4. Commit to CRM

“If it’s not in CRM, it didn’t happen.” Heard that one?

The key takeaway is that it’s less about the technology, and more about an organization-wide commitment to capturing and sharing customer information. It’s a commitment to accountability by sales and marketing, and a commitment by leadership to build a culture that values data-driven decision making and collaboration. A CRM is a critical component of an organization’s infrastructure for growth and the rewards can be huge.

“Investing in a CRM was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. The data is right there and it helps marketing see what’s working,” says Allen. “As long as sales is keeping things updated, the data tells you the story. If you’re a growth-minded HRO you really can’t focus in on which efforts generate the most bang for your buck without a CRM.”

Implementing a CRM successfully takes more than just software. It may require a significant behavioral change across your sales and marketing teams and relies on a continual effort to feed it clean and complete data.

“At first, you have to have a heavy hand when holding sales accountable for logging activity in CRM,” says Graham. “I tell our team, ‘I love you guys but my expectation is you do this or you don’t keep your job.’ Over time they’ll start to see the benefit in keeping the data updated because it helps them sell more.”

5. Map content to the buying process

Developing a content strategy and editorial plan can feel overwhelming even for the most well-resourced HRO marketing departments. At a time when we are personally and professionally barraged with content—constant content—thinking about our next datasheet/video/infographic/guide/whitepaper/webinar/tweet/post can give you pause (or at worst, paralysis).

Start by defining the steps in the buying process and the customer problems you can help solve. What does sales need to start selling more effectively tomorrow? Your next project could be as straightforward as a series of email templates that helps improve message consistency at each sales stage and makes outreach more efficient.

“Those who have managed sales organizations know not all salespeople are good at writing, they’re good at finding prospects,” says Allen. “So marketing helped create a series of email templates for a variety of scenarios. We have a system where a salesperson can pull different templates and drop them into certain sequences. For example, there’s one template for when it’s 90 days out from renewal.”

Wall adds that in addition to helping write the email templates, marketing can use analytics to report back on their effectiveness. “We can share engagement metrics with sales such as open and click-through rates to help us understand the effectiveness of each template. It’s an ongoing process of continual improvement that is informed by data.”

6. Measure!

Your marketing and sales organizations cannot succeed without data. A lack of data leads to planning based on assumptions and opinions that can erode the alignment between marketing and sales. Without data there is a lack of visibility into what’s working and where to concentrate. And without organization-wide priorities, individuals will focus on what they think is working for them.

“HROs need to take a systematic approach to marketing and sales. If it’s systematic, you can measure what occurred and figure out what what worked and try to replicate it,” says Dile. He points out that in many sales organizations there are individual salespeople finding success while other members of the team aren’t hitting their number. Without a consistent approach and the ability to repeat success across a team, organizations cannot reach their potential.

So what are the right Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure?

Graham and Allen each track conversions through opportunity stages, giving them ratios that are a good indicator of HRO marketing and sales effectiveness.

An example starting point:

  • MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) > SAL (Sales Accepted Lead)
  • SAL > Meeting
  • Meeting > Proposal
  • Proposal > Win

Nextep and G&A also track leads, accounts and opportunities by source to understand which channels and marketing initiatives they should continue investing in—or to inform a different approach.

“We’ve attended many events that were fun, but then you look at what it generated down the road and you have zero active leads and opportunities,” says Allen. “Next time someone asks to invest in that event you can tell them with confidence that it didn’t work. Then you have the opportunity to try something else and measure the impact.”

Download the PrismHR eBook, How to Win More Deals with a Smarter HRO Sales Process, to get practical tips on how to improve efficiency, use data more intelligently, and win more deals.

Register now for PrismHR LIVE (June 17-20, 2019, Boston), the largest HR tech conference in the PEO & ASO industry.