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The term "Smarketing" emerged at the turn of this century to describe sales and marketing groups that are fully aligned and integrated. Even though this is needed more than ever in 2017, Smarketing remains a concept and not a reality for most businesses. It is common for sales and marketing groups to exist in a state of co-operative competition that readily descends into finger pointing and arguments about strategy, budget and resource allocation. When the contribution of each group is questioned and ideologies challenged, sparks fly to the detriment of the bottom line.

Many marketers have spent considerable time studying the art and science of their profession as part of a university degree, and concluded that a great marketing strategy trumps the importance of a salesperson's role in a customer's buying journey. This leads marketers to wonder why a bunch of glorified order takers, who have not been academically trained in their chosen profession, get paid much more than them, enjoy more perks and freedoms, and take the lion's share of the credit when revenue targets are achieved. The most frustrating thing for marketers is when the sales team attribute poor sales numbers to the quality of the leads generated by the marketing group

Unfortunately, the prevailing sentiment within many sales groups is that the marketing team is superfluous, spending too much money on events, advertising and brochures for little return. They are out of touch with what is really driving customers and their lack of front-line exposure leads them to get stuck in the weeds, championing initiatives that will have negligible effect on sales results. Their superiority complex is particularly galling because they are insulated from the pressure of having to hit measurable financial targets. Oh, and don't forget, the leads they generate are weak.

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While these perspectives are undoubtedly extreme, versions thereof bubble beneath the surface of most organizations that have grown sufficiently to have separate sales and marketing groups. The strategy of having two separate teams, led by autonomous executives with separate budgets and different performance targets, is inherently divisive. The concept that marketing owns the top of the sales funnel with sole responsibility for creating customer interest, while the sales team waits to be passed leads from marketing, taking sole responsibility for influencing the outcome of the sales process from that point on, represents a deeply flawed strategy.

It should be unacceptable to have a culture where salespeople feel empowered to suggest that underperformance is a consequence of poor marketing leads, and equally unacceptable for marketing to ring-fence the lead-generation process, focusing entirely on strategies that will generate inbound leads. Every business should have a highly-targeted outbound strategy that involves co-ordinated outreach from members of both the sales and marketing teams. That outreach should focus on mutually-agreed target accounts or industry segments, using a variety of tools including digital advertising, video, e-mail, phone and social media. This practice is widely referred to as account-based marketing or account-based sales development. The best sales and marketing professionals today are world-class educators: they understand the importance of sharing valuable content that drives action, and they aren't afraid to reach out to targeted prospects to share that content and challenge the status quo.

The starting point is to reach organizational alignment around the industry segments, accounts, and the profile of the stakeholders that should be targeted. Both teams must contribute data during this decision-making process and agree on an outcome. The most effective way to earn a prospective customer's attention is to immediately deliver valuable insights that challenge their perception of the status quo and help them see a way to save or make money.

Those insights, including compelling third-party data and relevant customer stories, should be amassed as part of a joint marketing and sales initiative. The messaging must be consistent across both teams, and both teams should work together so that those insights can be disseminated and reinforced at all stages of the customers' buying journey.

The notion that sales and marketing people have widely different skill sets should be debunked. As the barriers between sales and marketing groups crumble, and these teams join forces to work on targeted account-based strategies, it will become increasingly important for members of both teams to develop skills and take on activities that were traditionally considered the purview of the other. This should be reflected in training programs and opportunities for individuals to shadow their colleagues in different teams and even job rotation programs. As the lines between traditional sales and marketing teams become blurred, there must be a laser focus on collecting and sharing data across the entire sales and marketing organization, and holding all parties accountable for the activities and results that they must deliver.

Perhaps the ultimate sign that a business has put the concept of Smarketing into practice will be that the sales and marketing groups are jointly held accountable to a shared revenue target, while in many instances sharing budgets and incentives. This will be a leap too far for many businesses in 2017, but this should be the year where a concerted effort is made to align both groups behind a strategy where the value and contribution of each group is felt throughout the entire sales process.

Ben Firman is co-CEO of 80-20 Growth Corp., a sales and digital marketing consulting firm and sales training provider.

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