So many words have been written on marketing and sales alignment yet most marketing and sales teams remain misaligned. According to IDC, B2B companies’ failure to align sales and marketing teams around the right processes and technologies costs them more than 10 percent of revenue per year. For a billion-dollar company, that’s $100 million left on the table. SiriusDecisions echoed this. It found that B2B companies with highly-aligned marketing and sales operations achieved 24 percent faster three-year revenue growth and 27 percent faster three-year profit growth.

Marketers Are from Mars, Sales Are from Venus

A recent HBR study identified two main friction points between marketing and sales:

“The economic friction is generated by the need to divide the total budget granted by senior management to support Sales and Marketing.”

Pricing, promotion cost and budget all stand in the way of marketing and sales alignment.

The second friction point is culture:

“The two groups’ performance is judged very differently. Salespeople make a living by closing sales, full stop. It’s easy to see who (and what) is successful — almost immediately. But the marketing budget is devoted to programs, not people, and it takes much longer to know whether a program has helped to create long-term competitive advantage for the organization.”

What if instead of looking at data, technology or compensation models, we look to behavioral science and organizational design to solve marketing and sales misalignment? At our company we’ve been experimenting with an emerging, flow-based, organizational design model to achieve peak performance and align marketing with sales. While we're using it to align marketing and sales, flow can apply to any area of the business where you'd like to create alignment.

Related Article: Marketers: Are You Leaving Your Sales Team in the Dark?

The Science of Flow

An athlete hits the “Runner’s High.” A jazz musician is “in the Pocket.” The writer is in “The Zone.” What do these have in common? They all share a state of peak performance known as flow.

Flow is often observed in people who have mastered their business, art, sport or hobby. They make whatever they're doing look easy, and they're totally engaged with it.

The Flow Model was first introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in his 2008 book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience." While flow is often discussed in terms of creative or athletic endeavors, it can also be applied to the workplace. Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Elon Musk are purposely practicing flow state to achieve peak performance.

In a 10-year study conducted by McKinsey, top marketing and sales executives reported being five times more productive in flow. How did they do this? The answer is, they create a flow state inducing work environment. That’s like having your whole marketing and sales team in the zone, focused only on the revenue target, each person working on their assigned tasks with the spirited knowledge that they are part of a unified team with a clear objective.

Related Article: Align Your Customer Experience Goals (or Commit to Wasted Effort)

Using Flow Science to Align Marketing and Sales

So how do we use flow to align our marketing and sales team? Flow states have triggers — pre-conditions that lead to more flow. Some are psychological, while others are environmental, social or organizational. Below are 10 flow triggers you can use to align your marketing and sales team:

Psychological Triggers

1. Set clear goals: Clear goal setting is important in experiencing flow. Learning to set effective goals can help your marketing and sales team achieve the focus you need. Goals add motivation and structure to what the marketing and sales teams are doing, whether you’re building a new demand generation program or creating a sales presentation, you are always working towards a team goal to experience Flow.

At our company we use Objective and Key Results (OKRs) as our goal setting framework. We then set a revenue target (Monthly Recurring Revenue in our case) to align the marketing and sales teams on a shared goal. Every action taken by the team is aligned to the quarterly revenue goal. By setting clear, attainable goals, our team knows where to focus their attention.

2. Match the challenge to skills: You may have heard about the concept of stress curve where there is a scale of low stress and low performance. At the other end, is the high stress and low performance but in the middle of the scale is the optimal level of stress correlating to peak performance at work.

Flow state typically exists near the midline between boredom and anxiety. We need a progressive balance between boredom and anxiety or tension and relaxation. If you can keep your team in that sweet spot, you can maximize the amount of flow in your work.


There must be a good balance between how the team perceives their skills and how they perceive the challenge of the task. If one of these weighs more heavily than the other, flow probably won't occur. For example, if you ask the creative content marketing folks to integrate data and build the marketing analytics dashboard which requires analytics skills, you are probably not getting the team in flow.


3. Psychological safety and risk taking: Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard first introduced the construct of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”

In marketing and sales more risk can mean committing to more aggressive revenue target or quota attainment goals. Engage in rapid experimentation. High consequences will drive flow and your team will get further, faster.

Learning Opportunities

4. Short feedback and reward cycle: To achieve the flow your team must have clear and immediate feedback, so they can make changes and improve their performance. This can be feedback from other people, or the awareness that they are making progress with the task. At our company we are using agile marketing for weekly feedback loops on how the team is doing against its revenue goal.

Flow must also be tuned at the individual level, and most good marketing and sales managers naturally tune the challenge-reward cycle for each employee. Consider where you can apply rewards like quarterly-driven enterprise sales cycles, hitting a quota or admission to president clubs to promote an experience of flow.

Related Article: Step Up Your Agile Marketing Game

Environmental Triggers

5. Redesign the team space: By bringing your marketing and sales team together to the same space, you can facilitate flow. A great example of a flow-induced work environment is Pixar. The late Steve Jobs intended an atrium in the middle of its office, placing the meeting rooms, cafeteria and bathrooms around it. As a result, people from different departments and disciplines started running into each other and having conversations. Jobs re-designed the office space to trigger flow. 

6. Minimize meeting time: What was your reaction the last time you got pulled into a long meeting? Probably not very positive, right? That’s because most meetings are a time suck. They take away valuable time, allow consensus thinking to creep in and move us further away from flow. At our company we’ve been mastering the science of meetings to trigger flow. We minimize meetings for true team collaboration or 1:1 personal feedback. When we finally take a meeting, it’s usually a stand up meeting and doesn’t last more than 25 minutes.

7. Eliminate Distractions: Email, notifications, phone calls, texts, open plan offices / unscheduled interruptions by colleagues are all enemies of team flow. If you have to work in an open space like us, make sure you have focus rooms for individuals and small teams to get in the zone. Another big distraction for us is Slack. Some teams are brave enough to take a week off Slack, for us we have Slack off days.

Related Article: Stop Wasting Time: In Pursuit of the Perfect Meeting

Biological Triggers

8. Introduce flexible hours (Circadian Rhythm): Our developers are night owls, they do their best productive work late at night, while our marketing and sales folks are morning people and typically start their day around 7am MST to catch up with our east coast customers. To accomadate for the team’s circadian rhythm, we schedule our standups, All Hands and other mandatory team meetings mid-day. The results? A much more productive and flow-reach work environment.  

9. Get your team outdoors: Since we are headquartered in Boulder, Colo., our motto is "work hard, play hard." We have hiking meetings, bike and even tube to work day, and recently introduced a Powder Day policy (inspired by the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard's book "Let My People Go Surfing"), where a team member can simply take a day off to go skiing, or snowboarding, or whatever, whenever they need to get in flow. No matter where your team is headquartered, look for opportunities to go out and play.

calibermind team photo

Team CaliberMind on a Powder Day!

Organizational Triggers

10. Decentralize command: This leadership concept is taken straight from my past experience in the special forces. Decentralizing command means the mission and its limits have been formally defined by senior officers who have an overview of the mission, but the details of execution are left to the people on the field who are in contact with its reality. In the business world, this organizational structure is known as Holacracy or Fluid Leadership. It replaces today's top-down, command-and-control paradigm with a new way of achieving control by distributing power and is being used to the advantage of companies like Zappos, Medium and more. 

While you might still have to work within the constraints of your org structure, empower your marketing and sales teams to take decisions even if the consequences are high (and where it is safe to fail).

Go With the Flow

Flow science is already being applied in business. Facebook and Google for example are focused on individual triggers, while companies like Toyota and Patagonia have already made flow a fundamental part of their organizational design. Flow-based organizational design is an emerging trend in its infancy. Designing organizations for flow is not even being thought of by most, and yet it is a foundational element for aligning teams, engaging employees and achieving peak performance at work. 

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