When I began my career in B2B sales, two things quickly became apparent: Selling was largely about relationships, and marketing was mostly useless to me. In fact, marketing actually made my job more difficult. Sure, they made some nice flyers and brochures, but the messages always seemed off; frankly, I also resented their seemingly easy and unaccountable lifestyle. I especially resented the fact that they dared to take any credit at all for my success as a salesperson.

I worked at a large, $1B+ organization and was known for being an above-average sales rep — and a very vocal and harsh critic of marketing. After being forced into a few team-building exercises and some sensitivity training, my employer finally decided to put me in marketing. I think it was viewed as a slightly better option than firing me due to all the complaints from marketing people. Apparently, I was hurting the marketing team’s feelings.

So, I joined marketing on a mission to fix it. I was sure I’d be the most hated person in the department, but instead I found a group of hard-working people anxious to teach me about what they did, and why they did it. I’ve been in B2B marketing ever since — over 18 years at several companies. The funny thing was that within six months of joining marketing at that first company, I started to become critical of sales! They seemed obtuse and lazy. Sales refused to take advantage of our hard work, focused only on short-term results (and their own compensation), and never gave a thought to long-term strategies.

So, in those first several years of my working life I experienced firsthand how different sales and marketing really are. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then in the B2B world sales must be from the Sun and marketing from Pluto, as far apart from each other as possible. So sad, and frustrating, given the boundless potential benefits of the two functions finding ways to help each other succeed.

I’ve spent the remainder of my career trying to figure out how to help marketing and sales work well together. I’ve led several marketing teams and tried many approaches, from compensating marketing people based on contribution to sales performance to insisting that everyone in marketing spend a defined percentage of their time (depending on role) doing ride-alongs with salespeople. While some of these things were valuable, creating deeper understanding and respect, I saw little overall impact on how well they actually worked together.

Since that time I’ve learned that alignment is ultimately about marketing finding ways to make sales more efficient, and sales doing the right things (e.g. properly recording information/activity in sales force automation) to enable marketers to gain visibility into the impact of their work in order to drive improvement.

Especially when it comes to effective demand creation, a primary obstacle to success for many companies is sales and marketing alignment. Now, when I say alignment, I don’t mean that the two functions have to truly like each other. While mutual understanding, trust and respect are nice goals, they don’t suddenly happen overnight; the only way to get there is to first focus on process alignment.

Service-level agreements (SLAs) implemented at key lead handoff points in the demand waterfall are crucial in B2B sales and marketing lead management and alignment. When executed properly, they ensure common understanding and agreement on key terms, lead qualification thresholds, roles and responsibilities, and timeframes, as well as clearer insight into factors that contribute to success or failure. Putting all this in writing in an SLA as part of the planning process will eliminate ambiguity and finger-pointing once programs have started. Keep in mind that the first version of any SLA will not be perfect; it will need to be adjusted as programs progress. Most important is making clear decisions, coming to agreement and documenting the SLA as a starting point for continuous improvement.