Marketing vs. Sales: How to Bridge the Gap in Your Buyer Journey

by Josh Ritchie

Marketing vs. sales: It’s an age-old rivalry. Although they each serve different purposes, they should work hand in hand. But we often see a huge schism between both camps, both in our clients’ companies and our own agency. This separation is often exacerbated by issues like organizational structure, competing resources, bad communication, or even just bad blood (hey, it happens). No matter the cause, we’ve seen the same issue in companies of all sizes, across all industries—and it hurts each one of them. 

To win your market, you need to create a seamless brand experience for your customers. But when sales and marketing teams aren’t on the same page (or have an antagonistic relationship), can they target the right people? Work toward the same goal? Tell a cohesive brand story? Or understand how their activities link together to enable success? No, and that division creates a problem for everyone: marketing, sales, and above all, your customers.  

But with good collaboration, marketing and sales can become true partners whose symbiotic efforts help each other succeed. This is why we’ve seen more companies merge their sales and marketing teams to open the lines of communication and build a better brand experience. We’ve done this in our agency, and it’s time for you to do it too. 

If you’ve been dealing with your own marketing vs. sales challenges, the good news is you can turn things around. And if you don’t know how to start, we’re here to help by sharing our best tips to align marketing and sales, create a strong buyer’s journey, and strengthen both departments to get the best results possible. 


What’s the Difference in Marketing vs. Sales? 

Let’s start with some housekeeping: What is the difference between these teams, and where do they link up?

You need both marketing and sales to create a consistent, cohesive, and seamless buyer’s journey that moves prospects from stage to stage (especially for B2B companies leveraging ABM strategies). But marketing and sales serve different functions along this journey, and they each have unique strengths. 

  • Marketing is uniquely skilled at attracting people and getting them interested in interacting with who you are, what you do, and what you have to say. They answer the question, “What can this brand do for me?”
  • Sales is uniquely skilled at understanding a lead’s needs and drawing from detailed knowledge of previous deals/sales to convert them. They answer the question, “Can I trust this brand with my money?”

However, although both teams have clear roles, they often struggle at the crucial handoff point between marketing and sales. 

Marketing vs. Sales in the Buyer’s Journey 

Let’s take it back to basics. Whether you’re a marketer or salesperson, what’s your shared goal? To make it as easy as possible for someone to purchase your product/service. 

Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, penned the following popular industry wisdom in the growth world:

People don’t like to be sold to, but they love to buy.

I’m sure that reads great in an industry self-help book for sales gigachads, but here at Column Five we deal with real customers. So let’s update that: 

People love feeling taken care of, and they’ll risk purchasing for it.

You need to make the path to purchase easy by taking care of your buyer at each step of the journey. This is where sales and marketing often miss the mark. When teams don’t have a clear understanding of how they work together, they can step on each other’s toes and overwhelm a prospect, or leave major gaps in the journey for the prospect to navigate alone. 

We see these problems all the time. 

  • Marketing might create the wrong type of content, which turns customers away before sales ever has a chance to get to them. 
  • Or marketing might create the right content but sales tells a completely different story, which confuses prospects and makes them back out prematurely. 

Even if both teams are doing their job well, you can’t neglect the gap between them. if you expect prospective buyers to make the leap to sales on their own, you’re expecting them to do your job for you. (Harsh, but we’ve faced these issues too.) 

45% of B2B marketers say aligning content efforts between sales and marketing is a top challenge.
Content Marketing Institute

This is why both teams need to understand—and respect—each other’s roles so they can create a buyer journey that makes that customer handoff as smooth as possible. 

How to Bridge the Gap in Your Buyer’s Journey

As a marketer, you are the interface between the buyer and sales. (Essentially, your job is to look both ways before crossing—look at what the customer needs and what sales has to offer, then move forward with marketing content that starts the right conversation.) This sales-enabled marketing approach benefits everybody up and down the line. But to do this effectively, you need to rebuild your buyer’s journey with sales—and work to strengthen it over time. Here’s how you can do that.

Tip: If you’re building your journey from scratch, use our free buyer’s journey template

1) Re-examine the key moments in your buyer’s journey. 

Many of our clients don’t have their buyer’s journey documented—or, if they do, it’s incomplete. Even when they have a full journey, it’s usually built to attract attention to the brand (marketing’s focus), but it doesn’t skillfully shift the conversation to the buyer’s needs (sales’ focus). 

Your first step, then, is to build a complete buyer’s journey that effortlessly connects your first-contact marketing message with the first-contact sales message. (If you don’t know what that sales message is, ask them.) Start by identifying and strengthening those key moments where you’re moving a prospect down path to the sales team. Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes as you transition gracefully from “Look at me!” (marketing) to the “How can we take care of you?” (sales) stage. Pay special attention to:

  • Triggers: What common events lead to someone realizing they have a problem that needs solving? For example, a computer networking company might be able to predict that a business will need networking solutions when a company moves offices.
  • Hand-raises: What actions from the prospect signal increased interest in your product or service? Examples might be website visits or downloads of certain content—your CRM data should guide decisions here.
  • Missed Opportunities: What are key opportunities to make your prospect feel special? Where do people tend to fall off in the journey? For example, after someone downloads an asset, you may be missing a clear next step or automatic follow-up for your prospect.  
  • Aha moments: A bit more theoretical than the other key moments, aha moments are key realizations the prospect makes. These might be moments where the prospect understands answers to common misconceptions or realizes your product solves their problem.
  • Hand-off moments: Where are the hand-off moments? How can you effortlessly transition to the sales conversation?

This is an ever-evolving task, but looking at your full buyer’s journey through this lens is the only way to identify better messaging opportunities, fill messaging gaps, focus on quality leads, and address crucial moments. 

Tip: Include relevant stakeholders in this review process—that should include everyone who participates in the journey at various stages. 

2) Refine your messaging at each stage. 

One of the biggest ways to improve your buyer journey, particularly around those key handoff points, is to create a cohesive brand messaging framework that ensures you’re telling a consistent story at every stage. Just as you have identified the weak points in your journey, now you need to identify the weak points in your messaging to close those gaps. 

Interestingly, the sales team is best equipped to identify these. This is simply because sales calls are market interviews! Nowhere in your marketing social channels will someone feel invested or inclined enough to break down everything you’re not doing. But reps will hear about a range of customer pain points, questions, and experiences. They are the direct line to find out what your buyer’s brand perception is—and how you can adjust your messaging to shape it.

Incorporating these insights into your brand messaging and materials will help address those questions and pain points much earlier, which makes it easier for sales to close the deal when leads finally get to them. 

As you refine that messaging, these are the key questions to ask.  

  • What do people need to hear at each stage to move them to the next?
  • What are common talking points in sales calls that could be addressed earlier in the marketing process? Examples are often service features that people keep asking about because they weren’t prioritized in earlier messaging.
  • What is the throughline of your messaging?
  • What are the best channels for connection at each stage, and what messages should they reinforce? 
  • What are the best talking points/angles to engage prospects? 
  • What is the best voice/tone/approach to use?

Tip: Use our brand messaging framework to identify key story pillars and weave them throughout the buyer’s journey. 

Having regular conversations about these pain points will help you continue to improve.

For example, at our agency, we run a questionnaire through our sales channel every quarter to find out what pain points, feedback, or themes they’re encountering. Sales recently flagged that they often get the question, “What makes you the best agency?” from clients. 

In our marketing copy, we often talk about how we’re the best, which is actually pushing people to start comparing us to our competitors. But what makes us the best? And how do we incorporate more of that messaging into our content mix? 

  • First, we’ve turned to the sales folks who’ve been answering this question to find out what talking points we should use. 
  • Second, we’re working to infuse that messaging into the early stages of our buyer’s journey, while also creating sales enablement content that reinforces those points clearly and confidently.

This is a perfect example of how a simple conversation with sales can drastically improve marketing efforts. 

3) Strengthen the handoff in your journey. 

Anticipating your prospects’ needs is most important at the marketing-to-sales handoff. As previously mentioned, the goal is to connect marketing’s first-contact messaging with sales’ first-contact messaging. 

To do this effectively, you need to learn about the sales team’s processes, internal roles, and selling angles. This helps you figure out how to effectively link your marketing and sales materials together. With sales’ participation, it is much easier to stay on the same page and create the right marketing materials to move people along the path to purchase. (These conversations also help you avoid the kind of internal toe-stepping that causes resentment on both sides.) 

This is what the journey looks like for our agency.

  • Stage 1: Awareness (Marketing)
  • Stage 2: Consideration (Marketing)
  • Stage 3: MQL->SQL Analysis (Marketing & Sales)
  • Stage 4: Purchase (Sales)
  • Stage 5: Repurchase (Marketing & Sales)

Note: Oftentimes, a prospective will ping between the marketers, sales reps, and other higher-ups, who each have their own objective and communication style. Identify who should assume communication at what point to streamline conversations and create a more consistent experience. 

4) Create content to support sales enablement. 

Having crafted a comprehensive buyer’s journey, you now know your key messaging moments, gaps, and opportunities to reinforce your brand story. There’s no way to dictate the timeline of when or if someone becomes a customer, but if you design your buyer’s journey well and thoughtfully, with both teams’ input, you will be more likely to collaborate effectively—and massively more successful.

Now we know that sales insights can help marketing, but marketing can also help create sales enablement content to support those later-stage conversations (especially those high-value creative assets). To create that sales enablement content:

  • Audit existing content.  Conduct a content audit to assess your existing content and spot opportunities to add or improve content. Pay special attention to popular/high-value content that works for both marketing and sales. 
  • Audit competitor content. Look at what gaps they’ve filled, what best practices you could also adopt, or what creative ways they are bridging sales/marketing in their messaging.
  • Create more sales collateral. This can include a variety of content:
    • Case studies
    • Pitch Decks
    • Proposal Templates
    • Demos/Tutorials
    • One-Sheeters

For more tips to build out this type of content, find out how to create content that empowers your sales team.

5) Leverage automations.

Marketing to sales automation is another big area where teams can use their journey model to collaborate more effectively. The data between sales and marketing CRMs should be integrated and continually improved to support both functions.

The biggest inefficiency we see is in lead tracking. It’s also where motives to rigorously filter and measure duke it out with others’ attempts to keep the pipeline as open as possible. That’s a tough nut to crack, but working with sales to define when an MQL becomes an SQL is the solution. Consider:

  • Are sales and marketing using the same technologies for lead tracking? If not, do they communicate?
  • Does marketing continue to provide touchpoints to move leads down the path to purchase? It’s crucial to set up a CRM to alert the sales team when an MQL becomes an SQL, and—conversely—when a sales rep manually adds an SQL. Do you really want failed clients to go back into your MOFU content activations and continue to be solicited? Get the L’s out of your marketing pipeline.

The more you can take advantage of automation, the more insights you can gather and the more you can optimize your journey to work smarter, not harder. (FYI, we took an agile approach to this process that you can also replicate.)

How to Stay Aligned Going Forward

Like any relationship, the key to good collaboration is communication. The more you interact with each other, the more likely the teams are to understand each other’s perspectives and work toward common end goals. So get your marketers in the sales channel and show up for issues and problems they’re overcoming. Over time, everyone will get a sense of when and where to involve other team members in decision-making and action meetings.

Some simple ways to get your team more aligned: 

  • Have regular conversations. Set up a regular check-in meeting to catch up, share what you’ve been working on, share and review reports, ask questions, etc. We’ve got a monthly on the books with our sales team.
  • Invite sales into content brainstorms. It doesn’t have to be super formal, as salespeople aren’t accustomed to brainstorming the same way marketers are. A quick virtual coffee chat or a brainstorm doc can also be an effective, disarming way to solicit input and feedback. 
  • Share interesting or relevant information. In our #Slack channels, we are constantly sharing interesting inspiration, articles, podcasts, or insights we’ve had from customer conversations. These small touchpoints can help spur conversations and ideas for the good of sales’ and marketing’s collective goals.

Most importantly, celebrate your wins together. Every department has a hand in every sale, so that success is something to be shared. While there are always opportunities to improve, taking the time to acknowledge each other’s hard work is a great way to stay connected, aligned, and motivated to succeed—together.

Happy lead hunting!

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