Leaders of the Pack: Sales Expert Mike Bosworth on Why Sales and Marketing Alignment is All About Creating a Universal Lead Definition

Josh Z by

sales vs. marketing

Truly successful sales and marketing alignment is about one thing: creating a universal lead definition.

In his 30-plus years as a sales executive, consultant, and entrepreneur, Mike Bosworth has seen just about every argument imaginable between contentious salespeople and the marketing teams designed to help them. Typically, those arguments have involved name-calling and blame shifting, some not-so-friendly four-letter words, and, under extreme circumstances, minor fisticuffs.

In many ways, sales and marketing’s historically rancorous relationship reminds Bosworth of political finger pointing. After all, both sides are often quick to blame the other for any perceived shortcomings, and many sales and marketing teams would rather hold their ground than concede and collaborate. While in-house skirmishes may not have sunk a company 20 years ago, Bosworth points out they can absolutely undermine a company’s potential in today’s fast-paced B2B technology environment.

Bosworth, a former Xerox sales executive and the founder of sales consultancies Solution Selling and CustomerCentric Systems, recently sat down with OpenView to discuss strategies for integrating sales and marketing into a cooperative, cross-functional team, and why fostering that alignment starts with creating a shared lead definition.

What do you think is the primary cause of division between sales and marketing organizations?

It’s simple, really. It’s all about the definition of a “lead.” In other words, is a marketing team delivering the kinds of leads that its sales team really wants, and is that sales team following up on those leads? The common marketing complaint is that it creates all of these “hot” leads and watches them disappear into a black hole. Sales’ rebuttal is that the reason it doesn’t follow up on marketing generated leads is because most of them are barely a step above picking names out of the phone book. As you can imagine, that division can spawn quite a bit of disdain and disrespect.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it’s not an issue of which organization is right or wrong, it is a matter of definition. It’s a matter of what should be done to fix it. The easiest way to mend the fence is to sit both teams in a room and not let them leave until they’ve worked together to develop a mutually agreed upon definition of a qualified lead. That way, everyone is on the same page and there’s no excuse for developing — or complaining about — low quality leads.

The rivalry between sales and marketing seems kind of odd since, ultimately, don’t both teams share the same goal?

Absolutely. Sales and marketing both want to facilitate the buying process and close more deals. It’s unequivocally a shared goal. The two organizations obviously do different things to achieve that goal, but they can both agree on that, once they both agree on what the definition of a lead is.

In order to reach that goal, however, they will need to agree on the process that’s going to facilitate it. Whatever your product or service is, there are certain customer profiles that are more likely to buy from you than others. The key to creating sales and marketing alignment is to have both sales and marketing organizations work together to determine those profiles and execute initiatives that will target them with specific stories that initiate more meaningful conversations.

So, what should companies be doing to proactively integrate their sales and marketing teams, and encourage a truly collaborative environment?

Ultimately, if salespeople want better leads, then they can’t sit on their hands and hope marketing eventually delivers them. That means salespeople need to be asking themselves one key question: What can I do to help the marketing department deliver them?

Salespeople should go through all of their best prospects’ files from the last few years and boil that data down to three key pieces of information:

  • First, what are the highest quantities of prospects’ job titles that have bought from you?
  • Second, what was the problem or pain point that made them a quality prospect?
  • Third, how did that specific job title use your company’s product or service to address that problem?

From there, it’s up to sales and marketing teams to work together to create what I call a “targeted conversation list,” which is a document that clearly identifies the profiles of buyers that salespeople consider quality leads. From there, marketing can do its homework, execute initiatives that draw in the right types of prospects, and hand over leads that salespeople can confidently call with meaningful or compelling stories, that both sales and marketing collaborate on to produce. Both sales and marketing provide key elements of compelling product usage stories stories,

Ultimately, that’s what fuels true sales and marketing alignment. If marketing possesses a clear understanding of what sales wants, then it can deliver on those parameters. If that happens, then everyone is going to be happy. And if everyone is happy, then not only will your entire organization run much more efficiently, but the results will be very easy to measure – more sales.


Mike_BosworthBefore founding Solution Selling and CustomerCentric Systems in 1983 and 2001, respectively, Mike Bosworth was one of Xerox Computer Services’ sales leaders and trainers. Bosworth has written three books, including, What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story, which was released in December 2011 and is available through Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble. He can be reached at [email protected]