The COVID crisis has shown us that everything is connected to everything: how we run our businesses, how we engage with prospects and clients, how we respond to changes, how we live our lives.

And functioning amid that level of connection requires alignment.

Each measure we take to counteract the pandemic, for example, should be well aligned with every other measure—to make sure that they all fit and support each other.

If we look at the responses worldwide to the COVID crisis, we can recognize that in various countries the measures taken are not well aligned or not commensurate with the challenges at hand. The goals seem to vary from not overwhelming national health systems to merely tracking infection numbers and various reactions in between.

What does that have to do with Sales and Marketing alignment?

Misalignment, Paired With Moving Targets, Happens in Business Every Day

Measuring things we can measure rather than things we should measure is a challenge every sales enablement leader is aware of.

Actions taken in Marketing are not always consistent with actions taken in Sales. Sometimes those respective sets of actions are even counterproductive: They block each other and don't create any value other than keeping everyone busy.

Low sales productivity, a lack of lead generation effectiveness, and win rates below the average Las Vegas gambler's are symptoms we've gotten used to. But pre-pandemic, those symptoms were covered up by a good economy that allowed organizations to make their top-line numbers even without tackling major problems. Even if companies achieved or grew their top-level numbers, however, how those numbers were achieved did not improve.

One of the root causes of productivity and performance issues is the lack of alignment regarding vision, strategy, and goals. It results in ineffective marketing automation, inconsistent messaging along the buyer journey, broken sales processes, and poor process integration between Sales and Marketing.

Whether your enablement initiative sits in Sales, Marketing, or somewhere in the middle, a strategic sales enablement function—effectively aligned to your business goals and challenges, and empowered by state-of-the-art technology—is the foundation to solving your alignment challenges along the buyer journey.

Alignment's Two Dimensions: Horizontal and Vertical

Horizontal Alignment

Horizontal alignment refers to the adjustment of teams, functions, and processes so they align on a cross-functional level—a prerequisite for effective collaboration. It's the form of alignment I'd expect enablement leaders to be focused on, because it sounds like a no brainer. "Nothing new, I do it all the time." I hear you.

So, why do so many enablement leaders have trouble getting it right? Because they try to solve the issue on an operational level only.

Horizontal alignment requires vertical alignment to be effective. In other words, horizontal alignment only fails if there is no shared vision of success that all teams can agree on along the entire buyer journey.

Vertical Alignment

Vertical alignment is about adjusting enablement to align with the buyer journey, the business strategy, and executive stakeholders and sponsors.

This form of alignment is often underestimated, and it's much harder to achieve as it requires different skills and takes a lot of time.

But vertical alignment, from Marketing to Sales to Service, is crucial if you want your enablement initiative to move your performance needle on the buyer journey.

Three Critical Alignments for Enablement Success

Let's look at the three most critical success factors through the lens of alignment.

1. Effective enablement requires buyer journey alignment

Buyer journey alignment refers to how well your internal selling processes, from Marketing to Sales to Customer Success, are coordinated and connected with the buyer journey (vertical alignment) and each other (horizontal alignment).

It is vital that the buyer journeys for the most relevant selling and buying scenarios be mapped out with customers—and assisted by Customer Experience, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success.

Such levels of alignment require that enablement sponsors and senior executive stakeholders make it a top priority and lead accordingly via the sales enablement advisory board or steering committee.

That leads us directly to the second critical success factor.

2. Alignment to business strategy and other strategic initiatives is the secret to sales enablement success

Aligning to the business and the sales strategy (vertical alignment) is work that needs to be done during the enablement charter or business plan creation phase.

Aligning to other strategic initiatives is equally important. One way to do it is to put sales enablement under the umbrella of an already employed strategic initiative (vertical alignment).

But that method is beneficial only if the umbrella initiative is a leading, companywide initiative—global digital transformation, for example. I don't recommend it if the umbrella is only the CRM initiative. In that case, it's important to get horizontally aligned with the CRM program.

3. Effective sales enablement requires senior executive and stakeholder alignment

This type of vertical alignment is crucial; it means executives deeply understand their role, their goals, and the problems they are trying to solve.

Aligning to their senior executives' expectations and delivering on them is not the biggest challenge enablement leaders face; it's getting access to those executives. And that requires specific skills—professional selling skills, to be precise.

As an enablement leader, focus on clear and relevant business messaging (rather than on programs you want to run), and the difference your strategy makes for your executives' goals. It's the way to get on executives' calendars, have meaningful conversations, and align to their expectations.

More Resources on Sales and Marketing Alignment

Three Steps to Better Marketing and Sales Alignment

Marketing and Sales Alignment Pays Off in Recession

Five Ways to Improve Product Marketing and Sales Enablement Collaboration to Drive Revenue

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image of Tamara Schenk

Tamara Schenk is a strategic adviser at sales enablement and marketing platform provider Showpad. She is a sales enablement thought leader, author, and speaker.

LinkedIn: Tamara Schenk

Twitter: @tamaraschenk