How to Really Align Sales and Marketing

Episode 285

April 30, 2024

On this episode of our show, we are chatting with Jennifer Sunshine. Jennifer brings her varied and impressive background to The Kula Ring to discuss the imperative need for sales and marketing alignment to produce results. We talk about how these teams see leads and opportunities and bring those visions together to create more effective marketing and greater sales velocity.

How to Really Align Sales and Marketing Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?

Carman Pirie: Well, and you?

Jeff White: I’m doing great.

Carman Pirie: Nice, this is like our first, like, post-rapture recording.

Jeff White: Yeah, the eclipse kind of, you know, took all the fun away yesterday.

Carman Pirie: It’s just kind of funny, you know, here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is we always try to, you know, incorporate into a few podcast episodes on occasion, a bit of a tourism message for Nova Scotia and for Halifax. But we really weren’t in the area of totality. So it was a bit uh, it was lacklustre. It was anti-climatic, one might say.

Jeff White: I think you said you were walking home from work yesterday and a bunch of kids were saying that that was it.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, they’re standing around because I live around the university. And so a bunch of the kids were out and about. Oh, kind of shocked that it was. That was it. So we didn’t do anything earth-shattering yesterday. But today.

Jeff White: We are.

Carman Pirie: Today’s better. Today’s better because of many factors. It is as cliche as ever to talk about marketing and sales alignment. Everybody went, oh, yes, no, the team should be aligned and on the same page. But okay, well, what does that mean? Do you have a playbook for doing it? Have you done it in the past? Have you worked in this space? Others have been saying that, you know, peanut butter and jelly, you should get together and make a sandwich. You know, is there more to it than that? And that’s why I’m excited for today’s guest, because really about a playbook for how you think about sales and marketing alignment, the things that you need to get right and why it’s important for manufacturers. And I think that’s a really cool topic.

Jeff White: It is. It’s a topic as old as time. I recall that one of our best-performing blog posts on in like 2013 was about sales and marketing alignment. So we’ve been talking about it for a long time. But there’s this guest who has actually done it. So yeah.

Carman Pirie: So let’s get to it. I’m excited.

Jeff White: Absolutely. So joining us today is Jennifer Sunshine. Jennifer is the founder of Sunshine Digital. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jennifer.

Jennifer Sunshine: Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here.

Carman Pirie: Jennifer, it’s awesome to have you on the show and tell our listeners a bit about you because you founded Sunshine Digital, but you’ve also worked client-side in the manufacturing space for a long time as well. So it was perhaps to introduce our listeners to you a bit more formally.

Jennifer Sunshine: Yeah. So I’ve been doing digital consulting and marketing consulting for the past five years. I’m working with SaaS start-ups industrials and large financial firms helping them drive revenue and growth for their businesses. Prior to that, I led digital marketing for AIG’s commercial division sourcing commercial insurance, which includes industrial commercial insurance. Prior to that, I led demand generation for the GE power business. So, you know, we all know where GE power sits and very industrial space.

Jeff White: Fantastic. Tell us a bit about your approach to sales and marketing alignment and kind of how you help your customers and your clients drive that.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I guess I mean, that and, you know, first things first. I mean, you really get the as everybody talks about it, but I’m assuming as you look at it, like what are the kind of problems and challenges that you see in terms of how we when people start to think about it?

Jennifer Sunshine: I think there’s a lot of challenges that I see in the space. And I think one of the biggest challenges is a misalignment of metrics and goals. So sales talks about pipeline a lot, forecasting sales velocity and marketing talks about MQL’s awareness and brands. And sometimes there’s a misunderstanding or a misalignment. It’s really a misalignment between the two teams and what they’re driving. So marketing will say, I want to drive more MQLs this is a common thing and I’m helping the sales pipeline sales don’t consider an MQL pipeline. They don’t consider it a pipeline until it’s past a certain stage. So often that stage is BANT they have you have to get through budget authority, need and timing before they’ll even consider it real in the pipeline. So that’s a big misconception.

Carman Pirie: So as you think about this misalignment on our metrics, is it really about saying, okay, well, you know, trying to get the respective organizations to understand and respect the metrics of the other, or is it about realigning around a different set of metrics that we can all agree on?

Jennifer Sunshine: It’s about aligning to a different set of metrics. So we all need to agree to one set of metrics that provide success. Right. So what you’ll often see is marketers will get MQLs, but they’re not converting to the actual pipeline, so they’re not converting to stuff that sales considers good or considers in their forecast. And then the other thing that happens is they’re not considering the sales velocity, which is a big deal for sales. So how quickly they can sell it? And so if you’re misaligned on that, you’re never going to agree on what’s a good lead and what’s a bad lead, and you’re never going to actually get what the goal is, which is to grow the business, right? That’s always the goal of the business, is to grow the business profitably. So you first have to align that. What’s the business goal? And then you need to align on what you’re trying to achieve.

Jeff White: Do you think that because so often, you know, sales, we hear sales don’t want to hear anything until somebody actually had an opportunity stage, You know, Do you think that they’re that that’s an educational issue or are they actually right that they shouldn’t be engaged until something has gotten well past the, just downloaded a white paper phase?

Jennifer Sunshine: So the question becomes, what are your leads stages And when do the sales get involved? And that needs to be codefining between marketing sales. And if you have some kind of qualification team you need to define all those things, right? And the stages in between and there needs to be an SLA set up. So often I find that that has not been set up with a lot of my clients in a very systematic fashion and everything needs to be defined and well-structured or there could be a lot of back and forth. So for example, with a white paper sales often don’t want to see a white paper download except in certain situations. So you need to define that with them. And I don’t think it’s an educational thing because often the white papers or sometimes the white papers don’t turn into pipelines immediately. They do need more nurturing.

Carman Pirie: I’ve got like 400 different questions I want to ask here Jeff, I’m going all over the place. I guess I’ll start with your comment around. Sales velocity, and endeavouring to reach a level of common ground there. Have you worked with… So it’s one thing that was, you know, I guess part of that can be about the lead that’s coming into the pipeline, the opportunity that’s being created. If it’s at a certain stage, it’s BANT qualified, things of that sort. It’s probably moving at a certain velocity and that’s a velocity that the sales organization is used to and enjoys. Potentially, I don’t know. So, part of that is, okay, marketing, please provide me with somebody that’s at the right stage so that it meets their velocity or desired sales velocity targets. The other side of it, of course, is know sales is working a lot of opportunities and marketing can find some ways to help those things along or actually help move down the funnel. How have you found the balance there? Because in some ways the picture that you’re painting about the level of cooperativeness, at least at the outset between marketing and sales and overly rosy. So how are you? Guess so. Talk to me about that. Have you seen sales teams willing to let marketing accelerate their sales velocity before Marketing has proven that they can show through some good leads of the pipe? See my point?

Jennifer Sunshine: Yes, I think there’s I want to back up just one second. All leads are not created equally and sales velocity can be actually optimized. So when you start to get more advanced in your marketing activities, you should be considering the sales velocity because there’s a time value of the money that like if it’s a long sales cycle, the shorter the sales cycle, the more money the company makes and the more value. So you should be looking at how and what is converting to quicker closed deals and the value of those closed deals. You want to be balancing all of those things with your sales team to optimize what marketing campaigns are doing, and what marketing activities you’re doing to figure that out. Right? The last part of it is, is what you were saying about helping improve the sales velocity. I think if you’re aligned with sales and you start having active communications with them and you start to get on their forecasting calls, their quarterly forecasting calls, you can understand where their pipeline is, what’s going on in their pipeline, and you can have individual conversations with their with sales leadership to try to help them through those challenges that they have, which might be their sales velocity isn’t great in a certain region or a certain place for a certain target demographic, but if you’re not aligned with them, if you’re not having those conversations, if you’re not sitting and discussing these kinds of items with them, you never going to get into the room to help them improve.

Jeff White: Getting into the room with sales and ensuring that marketers understand the challenges, the, you know, the pace that they are looking for and what they need. You know, that’s going to also help a marketer to understand, you know, what, what do we have to create? You know, what, what needs to be put together in order to actually increase this velocity? What kinds of things have you seen and you know, what approaches have you taken with your clients around helping them get more aligned with sales in terms of content creation and campaign metrics and things like that?

Jennifer Sunshine: I think there are two things. One is I start by trying to encourage my clients to sit down with sales at the beginning of the year and focus on what they’re trying to achieve and what products they’re trying to sell. If it’s globally, what regions of the world are they trying to sell it to and have an honest conversation after that? On what budget marketing has and where they’re going to focus, right? So that sales and marketing are aligned at the very beginning of the strategy. You want to start with the personas which sales can locally help you define. Once you’ve defined those customers, those target audiences, that target customer, and the details of that persona with your local sales teams, which will be nuanced, you can better map the customer journey together based on the information they’ve given you. So for example, they can tell you how knowledgeable a customer is about your product. They can tell you some information about where these target audiences might be in their buying journey. Have they bought before they can help you refine who you’re targeting, They can help you understand technology differences. They can help you understand demographics that you might not know out of your database, and that can all inform what you’re going to create in the future. And if you have that level of alignment, there’s not as much tension.

Carman Pirie: It’s really to this idea of co-creating the customer journey maps with the sales organization. Oh, certainly not uncommon to do a lot of qualitative research and interviews, etc. with a sales organization and the creation of those assets. I don’t know that that reaches the level of co-creation that you’re speaking of, though. I feel like you’re you’re talking out of that. But even a more elevated level, again. So, you know, I’m saying that is a really interesting artifact, if you will, or tool this a co-created customer journey map of sales as a way of driving alignment. You also mentioned the service level agreement. The SLA between marketing and sales is kind of a tool for driving alignment. If you will. I’d like to reflect on that. How have you seen that work? I would be curious about distinctions between larger organizations and smaller organizations because I think at a certain size, some people tend to think of SLAs between marketing and sales as being something for the big boys, not for us kind of thing. So these are talking to us about.

Jennifer Sunshine: So, SLAs are important no matter what size organization you’re in. Even in my startup SaaS companies, I have them define SLAs and there is a reason for it if it gets full alignment on what everybody’s doing and when everybody’s doing it, how long things can sit. It also means that marketing has better metrics, but also sales has better metrics. So if you think about a typical SLA in a typical startup and even in big companies, I see this as well, someone will fill out a form and say, Contact me, which is the highest, most high intent you can get, right? Someone has now requested sales contact them. What I often see is that no one will contact them and then 24, 48 hours, 72 hours and every minute that doesn’t get contacted, your conversion rate goes down. Right. So having a proper SLA, if sales are going to follow up with that or whoever is going to follow up with that lead is really vital. And if you explain the importance of it to all parties, people start to understand why that’s so vital and they start to actually follow up quicker.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, I mean, it’s really sales are then a way of driving compliance in some ways. I mean, you can tell a sales organization all you want guys, we need to follow up with these leads within 24 hours. But you’re saying that having the SLA in place and measuring to it basically gives you a stronger, stronger stick to manage it.

Jennifer Sunshine: The other thing that’s really important with SLA is to get leadership buy-in, because if you have leadership buy-in, then the SLA is more effective. So one of my roles, I had sales leadership really bought in and when the SLA wasn’t followed up with an automatic email, went out saying, You haven’t followed your SLA and this was a sales leader and all of a sudden SLA started getting followed up right? So the SLA is we’re followed, right? So it’s important to get not only buying from the sales team but also sales leadership because they can help drive some of those SLAs to occur. And when you have definitions of what sales want, you have less argument on the SLA. So back to your white paper example, right? If sales don’t want a white paper, you can talk to leadership all you want. You’re going to have constant pushback. If sales say they want this person, the people who are contacting you through the website, for example, you’re going to have no pushback. They want it. So it’s not just SLA, but it’s also the definition of what they want and when and who’s going to handle what. That’s really vital because then sales are incentivized to sell, right? So the SLA will be less contentious.

Jeff White: Have you found that putting those kinds of metrics into an SLA and standards around reaching back out have helped convince sales teams that this is a good thing? You know, like that the actual performance and the velocity of deal flow is actively made better through the following of this. And therefore you get more compliance just because it’s a bit of a hamster wheel at that point.

Jennifer Sunshine: Yes. Yes. Also, the definition of what they want and what they don’t want or what they’re seeing is working and what they don’t, aren’t seeing is working is really vital as well. So it’s also an optimization on the marketing part. And then the SLA is in conjunction. So if you’re seeing that certain types of leads that were received certain ways aren’t converting, don’t start forcing SLAs, change your marketing plan because something’s going wrong. And if you’re having communications in a feedback loop with sales, then you’ll know what’s going wrong. You can fix it and optimize and then SLA will be followed. So it’s like a constant back and forth. It’s like a dance with sales.

Carman Pirie: I think that I don’t want to put words in your mouth too much. But I mean, you’re really stressing the importance of communication between the two groups. And it’s interesting that we’re still kind of considering them two groups when we talk about sales and marketing alignment, it is fundamentally even the term. I suggest that there are two groups that need to be aligned and in some ways closer together. But they are different. And then of course with more modern approaches to rev ops, etc., where we’re starting to see these organizations brought under one umbrella moving beyond maybe alignment to I would say maybe a maybe synchronization versus alignment would be maybe the next level past alignment. Is it communication that really drives that? Is that the key?

Jennifer Sunshine: Yes, that’s the key over communicating is the key. more meetings, like I hate to say it, but sometimes more meetings than less is better. When I run teams with when we’re running campaigns locally, we will be on the phone with sales once a week for 15 minutes, just catching up. How is it going? How do you feel? How are things looking? Does this feel right to you? Are we hitting the mark? Because not everything gets into your CRM, so getting that pulse also makes everybody feel more confident in the situation. Another thing that I like to do is if sales are selling right when we give presentations to senior leadership, something else I’ve done in the past is bring sales to the meetings. So that’s not just marketing speaking about the success or whatever we’ve gotten closed or whatever we’ve done to build the pipeline, but it’s sales sitting there with us talking about how we cohesively did it together. It’s their story as well. So bringing the pieces together and making sure you’re communicating with the teams constantly is really vital. You’re one team, you’re not separate teams and you’ve got to sound the same.

Jeff White: I want to key on something that you just mentioned because you talked a bit about the, you know, they may not it may not even be shown in the CRM. And I continue to be amazed by the level of organization that still isn’t necessarily on board or actively using marketing technology like a CRM. How much of what you’re doing in terms of bringing these teams together is reliant on the implementation of modern marketing technology?

Jennifer Sunshine: It’s very important. And I think CRM is really vital for marketing and sales. But I think that sometimes when sales are busy, they sometimes don’t like if they’re very busy with big deals, especially in like enterprise sales, sometimes, especially at the end of the quarter, things are lost in the CRM and that’s okay. You missed your SLA, you didn’t update Salesforce or HubSpot. It’s okay. And as long as the deal is flowing right, like at the end of the day, we only care that the deal closes if Salesforce or HubSpot are updated a day or two later. You know, so understanding getting that pulse is really vital. But yeah, you can’t do sales or marketing without you can’t scale beyond a very small company without some kind of CRM. And I would say that’s bigger than marketing, right? Like you need Salesforce or HubSpot or something like that for even a startup or a small company when you have more than a couple of deals in the pipeline.

Carman Pirie: Having seen companies in excess of 750 million in annual revenue operating off of a spreadsheet for the CRM. I’ve got to tell you, it can be done, but it’s scary to see.

Jennifer Sunshine: I think the problem with when the CRM is not actually implemented in a piece of technology is you have no continuity if someone gets sick or someone. And in today’s day and age that could happen. If there’s an earthquake or something happens. There’s no continuity for someone to pick up where the sale is left.

Carman Pirie: Oh, you know, we’re in violent agreement on this. There’s no question, Jennifer, that it ought to be in place. It’s just always a shock to me when it’s not.

Jennifer Sunshine: On that point, like it’s Salesforce or HubSpot and there isn’t a CRM marketing is really flying blind. So marketing should be encouraging the sales team and maybe helping set up the CRM so that they can get marketing can help drive the pipeline without CRM I don’t think you can do too much because you have no line of sight.

Carman Pirie: We’re getting way past when you actually said this comment, but it’s just that to me it’s a neat little nugget and something that I think people could implement almost tomorrow and drive an interesting additional level of sales and marketing alignment. And that’s the notion of bringing sales into the room during those more marketing-based presentations. It’s interesting for me to imagine the impact of that. I can imagine a marketing team that’s presenting a new campaign maybe to leadership or something of that sort. And if you’re going to be presenting that with sales in the room, that means you’re going to actually incorporate sales into the thinking of that campaign beforehand, because they’re certainly not going to ask them to come into the room and just rubber stamp it because, you know, you would never be sure that they’re going to do that. Right. So just even that one, that one thought that every time marketing is making a presentation, every time the marketing is actually talking about our impact, we’re always going to do that with the salesperson in the room so they can validate and add texture to what they’re seeing on the ground. That sounds to me like a really interesting recipe for progress.

Jennifer Sunshine: It is. It’s a lot. It helps a lot. And it also means that when you start to show successes, right, when you drive bottom line or sales, improved sales velocity, you’re not telling the story as much. Sales starts telling the story more and so it becomes more impactful for the whole business. It’s a really important portion of marketing and sales alignment because otherwise there can be contention because sales feel like you’re taking credit for their sale and you don’t want credit. We don’t need credit for the sale. So it brings everyone together.

Carman Pirie: Yeah. And the credibility of that, it adds to I just remember speaking when I kind of shared part of our background. You mentioned GE Power. I used to work in the utility space as well, and not for a company of the size of GE, however. And nevertheless, one of the heads of the utility always used to say, like, what does it have to do with keeping the lights on anyway, any time something was being talked about, that was the bar, you know, what does it have to do with keeping the lights on, which frankly, it can be hard for marketing sometimes to find the connection between what they’re doing and what it is, and keeping the lights on, particularly in a highly regulated utility. Kind of. That’s where I see sales. Like there’s the same thing. It’s like, what does it have to do with the bottom line anyway? What does that have to do with it? With sales in the room, connecting those dots becomes a lot easier, I think, for people who may otherwise be skeptical.

Jennifer Sunshine: Exactly. So went back to improving the sales velocity conversation. If you’re doing improving the sales velocity, but it’s not as measurable, maybe you started it on a couple of deals that you helped with improving the sales velocity and sales are in the room saying your campaign helped, no one’s going to argue with it.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think it’s I think it’s brilliant.

Jennifer Sunshine: One thing to note, it doesn’t start with just bringing them in. Like you really need to be bringing them along the whole journey that’s one thing I do want to note.

Carman Pirie: Yeah, And of course you wouldn’t have the courage to bring them in if you didn’t bring them along on that journey. That’s what I like about it. There’s a certain kind of. We’re kind of setting our listeners up. All right? If you if you go make the decision to bring them into the room. And I kind of can automatically imagine what the other decisions are going to make along the way. It’s a really cool piece of advice, Jennifer.

Jennifer Sunshine: Thank you.

Carman Pirie: I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise and experience with our listeners. I feel like we could occupy another hour of your time, but then I thank you for sharing it with us today.

Jeff White: Thanks, Jennifer.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at  that’s K-U-L-A partners dot com slash the kula ring.

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Jennifer Sunshine Headshot


Jennifer Sunshine

VP of Marketing & Founder

Jenny is a results-driven executive who delivers profitable growth and modernizes Marketing and Commercial capabilities through digital innovation. Jenny has been consulting for the last 5+ years and has transformed industrial, SaaS, Fintech, financial, and insurance firms to be digital and data-driven. She has a proven track record of driving profitable growth including driving $1B in pipeline YoY.

Jenny has led global teams including the Digital Marketing team for AIG’s Commercial Business and the Demand Generation team for GE’s Power Business. Jenny holds an MBA from Notre Dame and a Liberal Arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University.
To reach Jennifer Sunshine with any questions, please email her at

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

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Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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