5 Smart Steps You Need To Make To Align Marketing, Sales & R&D

The relationship between Marketing, Sales, and R&D. Asymmetry of knowledge or lack of communication?

In business discussions, the focus often centers around strengthening the relationship between marketing and sales. We will examine the entire chain of relationships within a SaaS company.

As companies evolve and mature, they typically organize their teams by function. However, that may lead to a tendency to become engrossed in the people’s respective duties and goals, leading to a breakdown in the crucial link between technology and product on one side and the customer and market insight on the other.

A noteworthy study, the ‘BCG Most Innovative Companies Report 2020 and 2021; BCG analysis,’ sheds light on this issue. You might think the data is outdated, but given how hot the topic continues to be, we wouldn’t jump to conclusions. The study reveals that nearly a third of participating companies identified suboptimal collaboration between their R&D and sales teams as the primary obstacle to achieving higher innovation output. These results are valid across various industries.

Our experience underscores the significance of open communication between Marketing, Sales, and R&D. This alignment is fundamental for:

  • A precise formulation of your brand message.
  • Effective positioning of your company, products, and services.
  • Establishing ‘product-market’ fit and ‘problem-solution’ fit.

You need (1) a technologically viable product innovation that (2) meets a market need. Experts in marketing or sales should consider how confident they are in their understanding of the product they’re selling. Conversely, for those in R&D, the question is, ‘How familiar are you with strategies to promote and sell the product you are developing?’

Before the sales and marketing teams unleash their storytelling skills, the R&D team should set the stage with their narrative. All three teams should be well-acquainted with the product’s story, its’ benefits, and use cases. Understanding each team’s perspectives is the starting point for aligning their understandings.

The R&D team can initiate by presenting the initial product concept and its developmental stages. Click the links to learn about the product maturity framework and development lifecycle. It is crucial to introduce the overarching mission of the product and its benefits. Then, teams can focus on specific use cases or functionalities for ideal customer profiles.

Sales and marketing experts can connect this newfound knowledge with the existing – addressing pains, needs, challenges, and the competitor landscape.

Here arises an opportunity to restore another missing link: feedback loops. When both sides actively listen and learn from one another, they can overcome blind spots. Once they understand the product-market fit, it’s time for the marketing and sales teams to turn to the R&D department for a reality check.

Of course, the process should be reciprocal. The R&D team can also benefit from market information available to the sales and marketing departments, revealing:

  • The need to upgrade or add new skills to meet emerging market trends.
  • Competitor strengths and weaknesses through customer sentiment.
  • Market preferences for pricing ranges and additional services.

The R&D, Sales, and Marketing teams should collaborate as co-creators of the brand and product storyline.

These indicate effective communication between teams:

  • Proposing a product development roadmap aligned with market needs.
  • Planning for expanding in-house skills based on market trends and competitor research.
  • A shared understanding of the company and product positioning.
  • Coordination of common KPIs.

This teamwork ensures the company’s story is well-received by everyone, forming a cohesive and powerful narrative.

Help Sales, Marketing, and RnD work together

Establish clear communication channels, roles, and responsibilities

Encourage open communication within all three teams. It should be second nature for employees to seek clarification, acquire additional knowledge, or take the time to explain complex situations to each other.

Everything said won’t and can’t be remembered. Documenting information is a practical solution. Teams should establish norms for storing and organizing knowledge. Consider the following questions:

  • How can data be lost?
  • Where could misinformation originate?
  • What risks are associated with duplicated data?
  • Who has permission to upload, edit, and (re)organize?
  • What is the organizational structure of stored information?
  • What might lead each team to hoard data and work independently?
  • How can access to necessary information from stakeholders be guaranteed?
  • How do we ensure everyone is responsible for the outcomes of information collection, storage, and management?

Build a one-team mentality

Foster mutual respect by acknowledging the roles of each party in the cross-company innovation process, where they act as contributors rather than sole drivers.

Establish initial alignment with shared long- and medium-term product development and go-to-market roadmaps. These roadmaps blend R&D’s technical expertise and research with insights into customer needs, the trajectory of competitive products, and market positioning gaps.

To bring R&D, marketing, and sales teams closer, initiate collaboration from the top of the hierarchy. Imagine unit heads collaborating to manage product development and the business pipeline. That entails common KPIs, shared roadmaps, and role models for the teams.

A more daring approach involves personnel rotation between Marketing, Sales, and R&D functions, exposing each team to the realities of other business areas and enhancing their skill sets.

From a marketing perspective, this involves:

  • Participation in sales meetings.
  • Developing negotiation skills.
  • Addressing sales pipeline bottlenecks.
  • Preparing offers and discussing contract terms.

From an R&D perspective, this involves:

  • Participating in sales launches.
  • Reflecting on customer feedback.
  • Involvement in product deployment.
  • Participation in customer training sessions.

From a Sales perspective, this involves:

  • Crafting targeted content.
  • Preparing product collaterals.
  • Acquiring technical competencies.
  • Quantifying and communicating product value.

This joint approach heightens awareness of each other’s functions and their contribution to the company, preventing power struggles between teams. Balancing marketing and sales influence ensures that product engineers develop what customers need, avoiding unnecessary experimentation.

In summary, establish several collaboration pillars, including product roadmap reviews, strategic plan presentations, periodic target fulfillment reviews, and presentations of market trends.

Unite the teams around shared goals and KPIs

Are you familiar with the concepts of hard and soft incentives?

Make business unit leaders great role models. Bring them closer and stimulate collaboration between them. Tangible incentives tied to specific targets may support these efforts, extending them to other team members.

Alternatively, emphasize soft incentives to foster cross-functional alignment. This can be achieved by:

  1. Allocating a percentage of one team’s overall corporate budget to another team.
  2. Delegating decision-making authority regarding priorities.

Let them create a shared product vision and roadmap

Each of the three teams has annual plans and goals.

For R&D, the product vision serves as the overarching direction, with the product roadmap as the plan and timeline for product development.

Salespeople set quarterly and annual pipeline projections, aiming for specific pipeline velocity and closed revenue targets.

Meanwhile, the Marketing department sets goals for sourced pipeline, qualified accounts, ensuring product-market fit, and achieving ROI on strategic initiatives.

To ensure alignment of expectations and actions, consistently communicate these plans. We have found that the product roadmap best embodies the company’s strategic vision. However, the challenge lies in communicating and navigating changes without negatively impacting existing product sales. Long-term roadmaps may undergo modifications during execution, and if sales and marketing have already communicated upcoming updates, it can sever the company’s reputation and pipeline volume.

The objective is to maintain sales traction for existing products while presenting future innovations as the next generations of current products. To stay focused, consider:

  • Highlighting key features and their benefits.
  • Clearly outlining the product’s goals and how they align with company objectives.
  • Providing a timeline for the rollout of new features with specific targets tied to them.

Establish cross-functional teams

To form a cross-functional team, the customer should be in focus. Encourage team members to observe and engage with current and potential customers to generate valuable marketing insights. The crucial factor in this process is the relationship between the client and the brand, built over time by salespersons and led by their personalities.

We’ve come across an intriguing thesis:

The ability to cultivate professional and commercial relationships is crucial for sales professionals. Externally, they must construct relationships to create a favorable business scenario, understanding the end customer’s needs and values that bring corporate advantage. Internally, transmitting these value perceptions to the R&D team is essential.

Relationship-building thrives in an environment where professionals have identified and kept in mind strengths and weaknesses, fostering personal development and corporate goals. In my opinion, self-awareness regarding professional attributes is key to an innovation-friendly environment and overall business success.

Begin by creating profiles for your marketing and sales teams, documenting information about their skills, specialized knowledge areas, personalities, motivations, and performance. The objective is to equip them to adapt to diverse market segments, use cases, objections, and competitors.

Next, involve your marketing and sales teams in product feedback and testing. These teams are closest to your customers and can provide valuable insights and suggestions to your R&D team. 

Two prerequisites:

  1. Including representatives from both teams in product demos and beta testing.
  2. Train salespeople to provide feedback with context, the desired solution, and underlying needs. 

This involvement enhances product quality and fit, boosting your sales team’s confidence and engagement.

Ensure effective feedback by training your marketing and sales teams on product features and benefits. They should see product features as the specific attributes and functionalities, while product benefits – outcomes and advantages delivered to customers. Discuss periodic assessments that will validate their competence. Additionally, training and cross-team workshops on articulating product knowledge during client demos and discussions.

Strategies To Overcome Common B2B SaaS Marketing Pitfalls

Unraveling the Complexity: Is it Inherent or Self-Inflicted?

These are the questions that have lingered within our team at the culmination of more than one campaign. There were times when the team was in turmoil right from the start of the campaign:

  • What comes next?
  • What were our intended outcomes?
  • When did these crucial discussions take place?

Navigating the intersection of industry standards (Technology; Software-as-a-Service) and B2B transactions often presents challenges. In this article, we won’t attempt an exhaustive exploration of all the intricacies. Instead, we’ll spotlight key elements that commonly contribute to the problem and share solutions based on our experiences.

Overcomplicated Marketing Plans and Strategies

Let’s delve into marketing strategy and plans—their roles encompass:

  • Setting goals for a specific period.
  • Describing and justifying tool and tactic choices.
  • Specifying marketing channels.
  • Defining the interrelationships between these elements.

Complicating matters severs the connections between the plan, strategy, tactics, and tools, transforming marketing activities into isolated events. They are no longer part of a process. Failures and successes are processes. They do not happen because of events that we treat as isolated points in time.

Things get too complicated when you:

  • Go into too much detail. Some things are worked out at work.
  • Plan too many activities. Get a realistic idea of how much time each task costs you.
  • Don’t have a theme. The plan and strategy tell a story. You need a basic storyline.

Start with aligning goals, plans, and strategies with your target market.

What do you want to achieve?

How do you plan to do it?

And how did you match the two things with your target audience?

Work backward from revenue to synchronize marketing tactics with your growth objectives.

Consider the lifecycle of a marketing process and activity

Storytime!

Imagine you’ve meticulously organized a virtual conference in the first quarter of the year. For several months, you’ve put in the work to bring in representatives from companies identified as potential partners and customers. You’ve secured outstanding speakers and crafted an impressive program.

And now?

Failure to consider the lifecycle of a marketing activity might impede achieving set goals or introduce inconsistency in the year’s plan and strategy.

Consider how even after the “formal” execution of the campaign, you can capitalize on it. Think:

  • How will you continue distributing marketing collateral?
  • How can the campaign’s contribution be leveraged to achieve goals in the upcoming period?
  • How do you align current campaign messages with the next ones planned?

The last question ties back to the overarching theme of your marketing strategy. It’s crucial to keep the big picture in mind and see how individual elements of the strategy fit together.

Treat Your Audience Like A Turkey Focaccia Sandwich

Picture yourself savoring a Turkey Focaccia Club sandwich.

You cut the focaccia in half, spread it with a delectable mayonnaise mixture (mayonnaise, whole-berry cranberry sauce, chopped pecans, Dijon mustard, and honey), and layer lettuce, turkey, cheese, tomato, and bacon between the halves.

Mouth-watering?

Now, imagine eating the same sandwich, but with ingredients on separate plates. You must navigate with a spoonful of the mayo mixture, turkey ham, and cheese on separate plates, slicing tomatoes on a cutting board.

How would this impact your experience of biting into the whole sandwich? The mingling textures and intertwining flavors – lost.

This analogy holds for profiling your target audience.

Imagine segregating demographics, professional characteristics, and behavioral data separately. It’s impossible to capture the multidimensionality of the ideal customer profile (ICP).

Personal characteristics (age, gender, country) hint at the beliefs of a person with such a profile. Professional characteristics guide us to the main problems and needs of the persona. Behavioral data validates hypotheses about the ideal customer profile.

Understanding your target audience isn’t enough; delve into the specifics of your target industries.

Reason #1 – the same reason you eat your sandwich assembled.

Reason #2 – a validated ideal customer profile reveals nuances in preferences, problems, and goals when viewed through the lens of a specific industry.

While market research and interviews with people fitting your ICP are beneficial, they can be expensive and involve many team members. A better approach is to start with available data. Refer to existing customers and companies in negotiations. They will reveal to you your strengths that won them over and why they chose you over competitors.

Pay attention to qualified accounts that haven’t converted. They may have asked for a custom quote, participated in a live demo, or turned down the deal, offering insights into market demands and lost opportunities. Lost deals highlight weaknesses in the sales process or indicate which type of customer is not for you. Of course, the influence of other factors is also evident from them – price, payment method, and preferred providers.

Rely on your customer support, project management, and RnD team. They are the ones who first look at the Requests for Proposal (RFP) and evaluate how your product meets the customer’s demands. They know the workflows of companies from various industries and have (at least a general) idea of the bottlenecks they are experiencing and the business processes they want to optimize.

Lastly, participate in public and private auctions, presenting opportunities to reach a target audience actively seeking specific software solutions. Use auctions to showcase your SaaS solutions, observe market demands, and gain insights into competitors, refining your product positioning and uncovering distinctive features.

Auctions offer an opportunity to analyze the competition as well. You can gain insight into the solutions of other companies in your industry, thereby improving your product positioning and discovering your distinctive features.

Sales and Marketing Funnel Optimization

Engineer your Sales and Marketing to ensure that every lead that gets inside is directed to one of the pre-specified final destinations. Remember, though, each person embarks on a unique journey.

A common pitfall is assuming everyone is headed in the same direction. Given that not all leads will convert into buyers, it’s crucial to consider alternative conversion goals.

Failing to prioritize leads results in investing time and money in deals with no return. Some will convert, some early on, and some may never make a purchase.

The starting point for effective funnel optimization lies in traffic acquisition analysis and buyer persona profiling. These serve as the foundation for traffic segmentation. Creating cohorts enables the tailoring of content that guides leads from a general interest to a specific journey. This, in turn, allows you to address varying levels of engagement, fostering more consistent interaction and stronger connections with your leads.

Such an adapted experience provides the opportunity to gradually guide leads toward more significant actions, aligning with their specific engagement level.

Implementing a lead scoring model establishes criteria for prioritizing leads, and determining which ones warrant your time and attention. Continue nurturing leads based on these scoring criteria, offering tailored content and engagement opportunities aligned with their respective scores.

Navigating The B2B Marketing Landscape With Clarity & Vision

At the end of the material, we dare to say that things are as complicated as you make them. A small part of the most mentioned terms in B2B marketing for the past year are Account-Based Marketing, Demand Gen, Marketing-Source Pipeline, alignment, and AI automation.

You will always know where “North” is if you maintain a clear vision of your business core and market offering. This becomes possible when you take the time, especially at the beginning of each year, to review the evolution of your corporate brand. This encompasses your value system, beliefs, long-term goals, the overarching North Star goal driving your endeavors, and, crucially, your mission. These elements serve as the compass that ignites inspiration for you and your team, especially during challenging times that might feel like a battlefield.