football kickoff
PHOTO: Chris Moore

Sales and marketing. We often hear these two words lumped together, but the truth is that in many organizations, sales and marketing teams work separately. This has always seemed counterintuitive to me. Marketing is responsible for putting out messages and content that generates leads for sales, so shouldn’t the two departments be on the same page? 

As we head into 2021, organizations have the perfect opportunity to rethink their sales kickoff. While departments may not be able to gather in-person due to coronavirus restrictions, virtual meetings remove the restrictions that governed in-person events, such as budget concerns, travel time, office coverage, etc. I recently spoke with my former colleague Tom Wentworth on his Scaleup Marketing podcast. We touched on the topic of sales/marketing integration and one of the strategies I implemented at Acquia to ensure sales and marketing alignment: a joint yearly kickoff. 

Throughout my career, I’ve always had my marketing teams participate in the kickoff. If there is resistance, it means there isn’t alignment. In this article, I wanted to share some further thoughts on why an annual joint sales and marketing kickoff is so important — especially as we move into a world where companies need to rely more than ever on digital channels for communication with customers, investors and other stakeholders.

Sales and Marketing: Two Departments, One Team

We are all familiar with the traditional kickoff model. The sales team plans their event. The marketing department is asked to select a handful of people to send. The kickoff is usually very exciting, full of networking opportunities, team-building activities and company spirit. Of course, many marketers want to attend, making it difficult to pick just a few.

Companies often limit the number of marketing attendees for cost reasons — sending huge groups of people to in-person events is expensive. But sending a handful of people from the marketing department sends the wrong message to employees. You’re essentially telling the people you don’t send that they’re not as valuable or important as those who do attend. It’s also a missed cultural opportunity to ensure alignment between sales and marketing on product messaging, strategy, vision and more.

At Acquia, I insisted on a combined sales/marketing kickoff in 2017. This was, of course, a major investment, as it would be for any organization. In pre-COVID times, it involved sending all of our global marketers from every corner of the world to a multi-day event. To ensure we pursued a joint kickoff, I built the event into our strategy from the ground up, including it in our annual marketing budget. By doing so, everyone understood that the joint kickoff was an important priority for the entire organization. 

Related Article: How Martech Is Shifting the Sales and Marketing Relationship

Building an Exciting Agenda for Both Audiences

When combining sales and marketing, the kickoff agenda must evolve to encompass both audiences. 

For example, sessions could include customer stories; examples of how marketing content can be used for sales; new tools that marketing is deploying to help fill the funnel with strong leads; and time for open discussion on what sales needs from marketing to be more successful in their efforts. Our sales and marketers also enjoy hearing from our CEO about our growth from the previous year and investments we made, as well as new product updates and roadmaps from our CTO and product leads. We also found that both sellers and marketers want to know what the marketing plan highlights are for the year. What air cover will be provided? What about lead generation? 

Of course, there will always be important sales-only or marketing-only information. We resolved this at Acquia by having a marketing department day at the end of the kickoff, where we dove deep on marketing-specific topics. This involves reviewing our annual marketing plan as a team, holding discussions and brainstorms around industry topics, and team building exercises. 

As a side note, it’s also been an excellent place to grow and highlight talent. I try to make sure a significant portion of the agenda is dedicated to new junior talent. It’s not yet another day of executive talks. By giving newer employees the chance to present or speak, we help them grow and show that the team is truly united. Today’s newbies are tomorrow’s marketing superstars.

Related Article: Bridging the Marketing–Sales Gap With Content Marketing Strategies

Carrying a Sales + Marketing Mindset Beyond the Kickoff 

Of course, the kickoff is just a brief moment in time, and marketing is a year-round effort. Alignment on the first day of the year must carry through the next 12 months. Keep the momentum going by bringing your sales team into the development of content, not just at the kickoff but throughout the year. While the marketing team has access to crucial performance data, such as click throughs, conversions, and other engagement metrics, the sales team can add valuable perspective from the front lines.

For example, I work very closely with Acquia’s chief revenue officer (CRO) to develop our content marketing strategy and thought leadership plan, which of course generates important materials for the sales team. The CRO can provide valuable data, such as: what the Sales team is hearing from leads; where the sales funnel is faltering or booming; the types of content they want more of; whether we have the right talk track for our execs, etc. 

Related Article: How Flow Science Helped Us Align Marketing and Sales

Building Synergy in 2021 and Beyond

The last year in lockdown has sent shockwaves through the world, and many brands had to quickly pivot their marketing strategies. We all saw how important communications, customer relationships, and good corporate culture were to nimbly adapting to such a sudden and complete change. 

When they are on the same page, sales and marketing can accomplish terrific things. In 2021, companies have an opportunity to ensure sales and marketing are closely aligned, and the annual kickoff is a great moment to bring both departments together as a single team.