Marketing & Biz

How to Align Product, Marketing and Sales Goals

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In every tech company, there is, at some point, the challenge that not every department is getting what they want. Product guys want to innovate, marketing guys want visibility and competitive edge, and the sales guys want to follow the money.

Looking at stats collected from various sources like Salesforce, McKinsey, and others: 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures, and 97% of employees and executives believe lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project. Moreover, while about 75%  of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important”, only 18% of employees get communication evaluations at their performance reviews. And, to rest the case, according to McKinsey, knowledge workers spend an average of 14% of their workweek in communicating and collaborating internally.

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Towards the last quarter of each year, companies start planning for next year’s goals, budgets, roadmaps. Often the changes in the business strategy require refinement, sometimes re-organizing of structures, affecting PnL ownership, GTM management, decision-making process over product, marketing, and sales. During these times, an organization becomes more fragile, the weight sitting on the leaders of these new teams, and the alignment and collaboration amongst them.

We may all agree that the best way to nurture relationships is having a common purpose. As of today, we notice a few organizations excelling in collaboration and goals achievement. Generally, they follow a customer-centric strategy, that sets the best foundation between all roles: product guys aim for the best customer experience, marketing focus on the best value proposition and messaging, and salespeople strive to keep customers happy.

  • What are some organizations doing right and others not?
  • Why is a cross-company agenda so critical to grow a business?
  • How to align strategies, goals and plans moving forward?

Doing it right – deliver the strategy

Organizations like Amazon and Google invest their efforts to deeply understand their customers, these being the drivers to their growth and GTM strategy. This focus stimulates product, sales, and marketing teams to work together towards product launches, pricing, positioning, and customer journey design. Joint goals allow people to spend time communicating and collaborating, increasing innovation and better workflows.

But other organizations point out recurring mismatches between marketing and sales, and product and marketing. Sounds anecdotical, but the argument “the sales team complains about poor leads and (the) marketing team complains about low close rates” is known by many, often the result of conflicting strategies and unclear goals. Other arguments can focus on quality control and authority. For instance, production may want to go slower to make a higher-quality product, to cut down on customer returns and complaints, while marketing insists that production must always be at capacity. In these situations, executive management normally steps in to bring clarity, balance between quality and cost, and refocus the teams.

Aligned agendas – understanding dependencies

Harvard Business Review (HBR) describes the co-dependencies succinctly “product designers learned years ago that they’d save time and money if they consulted with their colleagues in manufacturing rather than just throwing new designs over the wall. The two functions realized it wasn’t enough to just coexist—not when they could work together to create value for the company and for customers. You’d think that marketing and sales teams, whose work is also deeply interconnected, would have discovered something similar. “

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I started my career as a market analyst, spent 15 years leading marketing organizations, with a few years in between, and lately again, working with a product hat. During conversations with peers in marketing and tech networks about best practices and repeated mistakes, we all agree with HBR that the marketing function takes different forms in different companies, at different product life-cycle stages all of which can deeply affect the relationship between marketing, sales and product.

While understanding that the marketing function must constantly reflect and promote the business needs, and can’t be static, the idea is to create settings for disciplined communication and define joint assignments between cockpit departments (sales and product), when a customer-centric strategy is not in place.

Upward and onwards – next steps

So we hear “a great end-to-end customer experience is becoming an expectation of today’s customers, and the only way to provide this is through tight alignment between Marketing and Product teams” — and Sales. The reality, however, is that people get busy with their daily to-do lists, responding to their managers’ department-specific agendas.

Research by Chung-Jen Chen published in IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management demonstrated that products developed by cross-functional teams perform better in the market than others. Additional Research by Abbie Griffin and John R. Hauser published in The Journal of Product Innovation Management showed that the critical factor in a product’s ultimate success or failure was the marketing team’s involvement with research and development during the new product development process.

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This is the time of the year for organizations to align on mutual outcomes and improve their modus operandi. An opportunity to discuss and formalize work processes, focus leaders on improving the day-to-day collaboration and communicating the bigger picture. In my experience, I have had the privilege to work for organizations that promote such culture. Indeed, aligned strategies lead to higher ROI and collaboration, ongoing feedback between teams increase market and customer understanding; both key for healthy relationships between product, marketing, and sales.

Wrapping it up

Having a customer-centric business is the new normal and putting the customer at the center of the business’s activities brings the collaborative approach implied by customer focus.

For a business to succeed and keep growing, today more than ever, it will rely on cross-functional teams, people’s alignment, and their understanding their contribution to company goals and strategy.

Football coaches got it right years ago. The secret sauce for a winning strategy and team: trust, program, practice, communication, and fun. So, let’s make sure to define our shared goals and plans, before bringing Messi and Ronaldo into the game.


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