Art of winning: How aligning sales and marketing redefines the customer experience


The business-to-business (B2B) buying process is broken: buyers are inundated with automated emails and relentless phone calls from sellers who seem to know nothing about them. The irony is we have the data and technology at our fingertips to enable the sales and marketing alignment that would fix this issue.

At LinkedIn, sales and marketing alignment is an important topic for us and our customers. We believe it’s a crucial foundation for sales and marketing to reach their full potential.

Our global research found that 60 per cent of respondents believe that misalignment between sales and marketing can damage financial performance. On the plus side, there’s broad agreement that sales and marketing alignment can boost pipeline, improve customer experience and increase customer retention. The question isn’t whether businesses should strive for sales and marketing alignment, but how to achieve it.

The problem has resulted in a massive waste of economic growth and opportunity in the B2B sector


You’re wasting money alienating buyers

Picture this annoying scenario. You receive an enticing offer to try a new software application for free; software that might be useful seems low risk and affordable, and is well targeted to your needs. You try to take advantage of the offer, but get connected to a sales rep who knows nothing about it. After some discussion, the rep manages to produce a workaround and extend a trial discount.

You decline and hang up, but are bombarded with emails and phone calls. Finally fed up, you tell the company to remove you from its list. Apparently your message wasn’t passed along because you receive several more calls, becoming more frustrated with each interaction. Your experience is so absurd that you tell your friends, many of whom could have probably used this company’s application.

At this point, you’ve soured on the buying experience and on the brand as a result. You feel suckered, manipulated and treated like a profile instead of an individual.

But how would the vendor rate its performance? If you were to ask the marketing team, they’d call these interactions a success. You responded to their free trial offer and marketing got credit for a marketing qualified lead (MQL). Sales would view the interactions as neutral; they made contact with a prospect and decided you weren’t ready to buy, so they threw you back into the nurture bucket. But you will probably never do business with this company. And neither will the many friends who heard your story.

Unfortunately, between the poorly targeted email messages, the disconnect between sales and marketing, and the reps’ failure to understand your buying process, this company made itself totally irrelevant to a prime prospect. This same problem is haunting your buyers and giving them a bad impression of your brand before you’ve even had a chance to get to know one other.

And it’s not a unique example. A lack of sales and marketing alignment is derailing far too many buying experiences. Globally, companies struggle to deliver a cohesive buying experience, wasting trillions of pounds due to a lack of co-ordination.


Alignment is within reach

You question why B2B buyers can’t enjoy delightful, predictable and personalised experiences like those you enjoy with your favourite consumer brands. You’re right to wonder. And the problem has resulted in a massive waste of economic growth and opportunity in the B2B sector.

This is an issue we’ve chosen to take on at LinkedIn because it flies in the face of our mission to make the world’s professionals more productive and successful. It impedes our vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce; the solution to the problem is within reach and LinkedIn can help.

We’ve seen companies smartly put in place a solid foundation of process and technology that empowers their sales and marketing teams essentially to act as a single, powerful engine to deliver that experience. But what about those companies that are yet to bring these departments together?

The solution: partner with LinkedIn

Imagine the buying experience you’re delivering is so good that your customers can’t imagine it any other way. Using LinkedIn, B2B companies can begin executing on this vision right now.

You can use LinkedIn to:

  • Target the same sweet spot. Our 560-plus million member profiles bring sales and marketing together around one shared dataset that is more detailed, accurate and up to date than anything else available.
  • Understand the buyer. LinkedIn uniquely gives sales and marketing teams a shared understanding of the buyer, enabling them to reach the right professionals together and deliver personalised, co-ordinated experiences.
  • Engage through the buyer journey. Our platform empowers marketing and sales at all stages of the buying journey, from awareness through to closing the deal, and then helps deepen engagement and expand relationships with customers.

A prospect that has been nurtured by the marketing team is more receptive to that same company’s sales reps. In fact, LinkedIn members exposed to a company’s marketing on the platform are 25 per cent more likely to respond to a Sales Navigator InMail from that company’s salespeople.

When sales and marketing are aligned everyone gains. Marketing are assured that they are broadcasting to the right targets. Sales teams get to pitch to an informed and receptive audience. And the customers only interact with knowledgeable and up-to-date staff. Corporate “forgetfulness” is eradicated. It’s a more human way of doing business and, as the data proves, massively more productive.

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Q&A: Are salespeople just not as good as they used to be?

Liam Halpin, head of sales solutions at LinkedIn, explains what’s gone wrong

Give us the blunt truth. Are salespeople getting worse at their jobs?

No, it’s not that salespeople are getting worse, it’s that in too many cases their managers expect them to do what they did in the past and deliver the same results.

The rules of sales have changed. Back in 1991 when I began my career, salespeople were the primary source of information for customers. It was their job to know all about the product. Buyers had no other way of learning about what was on offer. Today that is no longer the case. The internet offers a proliferation of information. A recent Forrester report said 60 per cent of buyers prefer to self-source, up from 50 per cent the year before. The traditional sales role of providing information is obsolete, yet that’s what salespeople are trained to do.

Second, the personal nature of sales has changed. Years ago the salesperson would hunt down the person responsible for buying – the decision-maker. And you’d stay in touch with that contact for years, building a relationship as they were promoted from IT sales manger to chief information officer. Today one in five decision-makers changes roles each year. It’s chaos. It’s so much harder to build that relationship when there’s no job stability. Salespeople that don’t adapt to the new rules will struggle.

How can companies improve?

The first goal is to align sales and marketing. Most people assume these are the same function. The words even come together as a package, “Sales & Marketing”. But it’s rarely true. The marketing message is going to one set of people and sales are talking to another set.

It’s vital to get the two departments working together. We’ve found if you are marketing to the same people your salespeople are selling to, that client is five times more likely to reshare your marketing message with their peers.

If people keep moving jobs, how can sales and marketing know who to target?

It’s not easy. Worse, decision-making is now a done by a team. Gartner CEB tracked the number of people involved making a buying decision and found it’s 6.8 on average. The membership of that team is changing frequently, so it consumes serious time and energy finding out who to target. A CFO Insights report found vice presidents of sales spend 40 per cent of their time on average on non-sales activities, such as basic client research.

There is a solution. Introduce automation. A tool like LinkedIn Sales Navigator gives you a customised feed telling you of employee changes at your clients and what their company news is. Now, when salespeople turn on their laptop or smartphone each morning, they are notified of job changes and told what their clients are talking about. It automates research, empowering salespeople to reach the right audience with the right insights and focus on building relationships.

Surely there’s still a place for the personal touch in sales?

It’s essential. People will always respond to a warm, personal, human approach. For example, we all know that generic email marketing is failing. No one opens these messages. But add personalisation and the response rate soars.

LinkedIn offers a tool to help you personalise messages on a large scale. Our messenger service, called InMail, offers prompts as you write, suggesting things you and your contact have in common. Maybe you have a shared interest or went to the same university. It’s a way to build a human connection. And it works. Sending a generic email has a response rate of 1 per cent. Using LinkedIn InMail raises the response to 15 per cent. And use InMail to personalise the message and it’s 30 per cent.

So it’s not about salespeople being bad, merely poorly equipped?

Yes. Times have changed. At the start of my career I used to go into a prospective client and ask questions like, “What’s your role here?” and “Where does your company operate?”

Today I would destroy my credibility talking like that. I ought to know the answers. Salespeople should be provided with technology to guarantee they have information they need and to personalise their interactions.

To explore this concept, a global IT company adopted LinkedIn Sales Navigator for only part of their sales team over a two-year period. The rest were excluded, for comparison. The team using Sales Navigator had nine times the engagement with four times the decision-makers compared with the control group. Now the company offers Sales Navigator to all salespeople.

SAP repeated the experiment, with similar results. Sending out your sales team to work as they did 20 years ago is sending them out to fail. But align sales and marketing, automate research and personalise your messages with technology, and you can make a real connection with the people who matter.