The real indicators that the sales and marketing engine needs a tune-up

marketing sales

Jason VandeBoom, founder and CEO, ActiveCampaign

For businesses with both a sales team and a marketing team, chances are leadership is hard at work figuring out how to align them more effectively. 

When there’s lost ground to be made up after the disruption of the pandemic, it makes sense to remove as much friction from the buyer journey as possible. Mixed messages and dropped opportunities because of gaps between sales and marketing are something any business can do without. The problem is that most companies tend to focus their alignment efforts on just one part of that journey — and it’s not the section where they have most to gain.

Sales and marketing alignment is about more than closing deals

Typically, sales and marketing teams focus on customer acquisition. It is the journey that buyers take prior to becoming a customer on which most of their alignment efforts are focused — i.e., have they agreed on how to qualify leads, when and how do they pass an opportunity from one department to another and does one team know what messages the other is putting out? 

It’s also acquisition-focused metrics that businesses look at when judging whether the sales and marketing engine is running as it should. Companies judge the state of their customer journey based on how many marketing qualified leads (MQLs) convert to sales opportunities. They look at the close rate for marketing-sourced leads versus sales leads. They look at how much new revenue marketing has influenced.

However, these aren’t the only indicators of how effectively aligned the business has become or how satisfying its customer journeys actually are. To assess whether the sales and marketing engine is getting the business to where it needs to be, it’s crucial to look closely at what happens after deals close. This is where the clearest signals about the buyer experience lie – and it’s from where a large proportion of future growth will come.

Identifying the sections of the journey that customers remember 

A good place to start is looking at the number of new customers seeking support — whether that’s by phoning in, using social media or other digital channels or just visiting the business’s troubleshooting pages. That’s an early indicator of whether they’re finding it easy to get the value the company has promised them.

Just as important is understanding the experience from this point onwards — as it provides sound indicators as to what it can feel like to be that business’s customer. How many visits or calls does it take to resolve a problem? How many have to be escalated? How long do people have to wait to speak to someone who can help them?

If the goal is a connected, seamless customer journey, then it’s important to look at the content of these conversations as well. How often do customers have to explain what they’ve been promised — either in a sales conversation or through a marketing campaign?

The neuroscientist Daniel Kahneman makes the point that human beings don’t remember experiences in full. Their memory and perception of experiences are hugely and disproportionately influenced by what happens at the end of them. If marketing and sales want to understand what the customer journey actually feels like to a customer, they need to pay close attention to the customer experiences that occur right after the deal closes.

Businesses care about recurring revenue — but they pay far less attention to aligning around the experiences that will influence that recurring revenue, and they pay far less attention to the indicators that show whether it’s under threat. They track customer loyalty, but the point at which customers start to churn is, by definition, too late to do much about it — especially if the last time they really focused on delivering a consistent experience was before the customer even signed up.

Unlocking the power of always-on advocacy

More and more businesses care about customer advocacy — as well they should. Loyal customers who spread the word are the ideal foundation for robust, sustainable growth. 

The problem with the way that most businesses try to generate customer advocacy is that it’s almost entirely disconnected from the way they manage the customer journey. The marketing strategy calls for advocates, and the sales team then gets recruited to help go out and look for them. They try to generate momentum for advocacy from a standing start — and it’s a big ask. They first have to identify the customers with the best story to tell and then try to persuade them to tell it. Customer advocacy often feels haphazard and fragmented as a result. It doesn’t reach its full potential.

Now imagine if a business applied the same focus to aligning around the customer experience after a sale as beforehand. By this approach, it wouldn’t just connect sales and marketing but customer service and customer advocacy teams as well. The teams would pick up on signals when customers needed help, upsell to those growing their business and exploring new areas — and then keep marketing to those who could be making greater use of their solutions. Advocacy would become an always-on process, reaching out to those having good experiences in real time and at critical moments. The approach also generates continuous insight to help improve the earlier stages of the buyer journey too.

In ActiveCampaign’s experience, connecting touchpoints through a shared source of data can play a big role in these steps. It’s not just about tools and data, though. It’s also about an organizational mindset — deciding that what happens to customers after they buy is as important to them and to the business as what happens beforehand. Almost any business wants their customers to spend far longer as customers than they did as potential customers — and achieving that goal takes planning the customer journey in just that way.

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