Lessons From The Aligned

In the quest to find companies that know how to keep sales and marketing aligned, I interviewed a handful for truly remarkable CEOs.  They aren’t gracing the cover of business publications, keynoting conferences or running for government office.  They are remarkable in their achievements and their perspectives are a breath of fresh air. From them I found a consistent pattern in how they kept alignment in place – a clear company strategy, open collaboration and a company-wide implemented (and honored) accountability process.

Interestingly, for them alignment wasn’t just about sales and marketing, it was about aligning all the corners of the business into one cohesive fabric.

The size of the company didn’t matter; what separated this group from the non-aligned companies was the background of the CEO.  They had careers in both marketing and sales, coming up through the ranks in large companies before taking leadership positions with smaller organizations.  They had learned the value of strategy the hard way along with the value of being very disciplined in their roles.   My conversations with them were déjà vue and reminiscent of my days as a strategy consultant.

A few lessons I learned from this handful of unique CEOs are:

  • Alignment is like marriage.   Any relationship needs to be constantly invested in and managed.  For it to work you should strive to ‘get back’ what you put into the relationship.  The CEOs had a goal that marketing and sales have a 50/50 relationship.  Give 50 percent into the relationship and get that much back; a persistent imbalance will ultimately lead to non-alignment.
  • Attack the process; not the people. Alignment is a process that rapidly acts on the measuring of what you manage.  Each CEO had a sound, complete and proven process for evergreening executable company strategy, clearly defining critical success factors, instituting measurable and time-bound objectives for every role, and acting on monthly metrics-driven dashboards.
  • The CMO is a different breed. These CEOs hire a different type of CMO; a keeper of the company’s Intellectual Property, trusted strategy advisor, and germinator of new ideas.  They hire that rare CMO who knows how to balance strategy with execution and understands all the variables of a running a business, and isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty; very dirty.
  • Measureable objectives must cascade. It’s all about purposeful execution to a plan that is realistic given the circumstances of the company and environment.  Each objective is clearly defined on a quarterly basis in measurable terms and cascaded fully down the organization.  All these MBOs not only add up to the top-level objectives BUT are publicly shared; as are the monthly results. Transparency drives not only alignment but accountability.
  • Communication is beginning of understanding. Marketing’s internal customer is sales and sales have an obligation to tell marketing what it needs, in specifics.  Open lines of communication around resources, priorities, results (good and bad) and desires help to build understanding of what is possible relative to the strategy. Only then can everyone reach a common consensus on what resources to dedicate to which action plans.

For these CEOs, strategy was not lip-service or a consulting project with a head-liner consultant.  It was a roadmap from ‘here to there’ that removes ambiguity but keeps the essence of agility and creativity. Getting everyone on the same page was hard, mostly because the art of strategy has been lost over the years and today’s organizations are commitment-phobic.  Once there, however, each organization gave a sigh of relief – the game, the rules, the prize and the road was clear. And they realized that they actually had more control than before – and the results proved that out.

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