How Agile Management Helps Sales & Marketing Align

As the teams we coach mature in their use of Agile practices, they begin to notice an improvement in how they communicate with adjacent departments and teams. For marketers, that is most often reflected in a sense of increased alignment with Sales, a typical internal stakeholder and a main source of external requests for marketers. Better communication and the ability to work towards common goals in a harmonious way is strengthened even further if the Sales department has also adopted Agile ways of working.

To delve deeper on this topic and explore how Agile management is helping Sales and Marketing do more, and better, together we decided to turn to a colleague who has been navigating the interdepartmental relationship between Sales & Marketing for a big chunk of his career.

In this exclusive interview for the AgileSherpas blog, Anthony Coppedge, currently the Agile Transformation Lead for Digital Sales at IBM, is sharing his experience from multiple organizations on the positive effects of an Agile mindset across Marketing and Sales.

How would you describe the typical relationship between Sales & Marketing within an organization? What works well? What doesn't?

The 'typical' relationship is always a reflection of the culture of Sales & Marketing in any organization. As such, it's easy to generalize the two groups into a continuum: combative to collaborative.

Combative relational differences surface when there's a silo mentality of 'us' vs. 'them' which is often seen as Sales AND Marketing; two distinctly different camps with different objectives.

What works well is when the focus is on Sales WITH Marketing, not Sales AND Marketing. The difference is not semantics, but operational. Instead of a siloed approach ('us' vs. 'them'), it's 'we' together. This happens when there is a shared view of the customer, a shared and aligned vision from leadership, and a shared and coordinated operation through Agile collaboration. What works well is a unified focus on continuously improving towards the same objectives, even when that includes different metrics.

Agile as a way of thinking - a mindset - breaks down the artificial territorial silos by uniting the different roles under a common, customer-centric alignment. I describe this as a sequential process for creating and maintaining alignment through Mission, Objectives, Goals, Strategies, and Actions (MOGSA) (see more below).

What are some of the alignment challenges you have observed between Sales & Marketing within the businesses you've coached? 

The alignment challenges are based on two key factors: culture and purpose, which are present in teams and organizations of all sizes. I've worked with a huge range of organizations from Enterprises to small businesses to everything in between, and it always comes back to culture and purpose.

Culture is not what a leader says it is; it is what each person experiences by and through the actions of others at every level of the organization. Agile is, at its core, a culture play because true business agility is a mindset, not a system. When someone changes their mind, the behaviors will follow. But without a change of mind, behavior modification will always revert back to the 'old way' when pressure is applied.

My friend and fellow agilist at IBM, Andrew Burrows, says it this way: "Agile prioritizes through friction." If you have a healthy culture, this friction happens with empathy, trust, respect, openness, and courage. If you have an unhealthy culture, friction will lead to stand-offs and a winner and a loser. No matter the culture you have, culture always wins, so change the culture to change everything else.


Process alignment is a mix of shared Objectives (Where are we going together?), Goals (How much and by when to get there together?), Strategies (What are ways we can align together?), and Actions (Who does what and how do we communicate, coordinate, and collaborate together?). The customer is on a continuous customer journey, and on that continuum are both Marketing and Sales.

With an agility mindset, the shift of processes is transformed from a linear hand-off (from Marketing to Sales) into a new way of working that is cyclical and coordinated without ever 'arriving'; the journey is the way to define the process.

How does a lack of alignment between these two adjacent departments hold the organization back? Does it hold Marketing & Sales back?

Without alignment, functional and cultural silos exist in both practices and systems. While I try to remain tool-agnostic in my leadership and coaching, the integration of key systems (tools) and processes is the only way to scale operationally. Without some level of automation, the wasted effort results in a lack of trust around the data and frustrates the marketers and sellers, which further erodes trust.

Our work should unite us, not divide us.

However, until and unless there is clarity around the shared purpose of both focusing on adding value to the customer during their entire journey (including repeat sales, upsells, new campaigns, etc.) combined with a shared organizational mission, conflicting interests will be manifested through differing motivations (compensation plans, anyone?) and even different outcomes.

From your perspective, what are the key benefits of having Sales & Marketing working harmoniously in alignment with organizational strategy and each other?

Both Sales and Marketing should want to see the same successful outcome: a satisfied client who is so delighted that they're willing to be a promoter of who you are and what you do.

What often happens in organizations of all sizes is a focus on outputs instead of outcomes. Because of this, the outputs of Marketing might be limited to things like conversion rates or campaign performance metrics. However, these are only outputs of doing activity; they're not outcomes.

Sales will often look at activity metrics, too, such as call logs, emails sent, and social touches as a proxy for outcomes but usually end up being busy though not particularly effective.

Remember that customer journey continuum mentioned above? An agility mindset promotes alignment for Sales with Marketing, which creates a continuous loop of serving and adding value to the customer.  This focus keeps the customer at the center of the never-ending process of continual improvement. Without a shared mindset and coordinated way of working (via business agility), Marketing will always hand off to Sales and forget about the Client in favor of finding new Prospects. With agility, it's not either/or, but both/and.

Why is Agile management a good tool for achieving alignment between Sales and Marketing as departments?

Marketing and Sales are only 'departments' inside the company; the client makes no such distinction because they simply interact with the brand. Why would we create an artificial barrier if the client doesn't need it? I submit that in a digital world, the functional differences between Marketing and Sales are no longer sufficient to declare the need for two different organizations within the larger organization -- even in an Enterprise-sized business -- because an aligned culture of agility fosters communication, coordination, and collaboration without the hassle of crossing organizational boundaries, budgets, or bureaucracies.

Agile management is almost an oxymoron, not because Agile doesn't need managers; it simply doesn't need the traditional sense of management telling everyone what to do. Self-directed individuals and teams benefit from servant leaders providing clarity, managers as impediment-removers, and processes and systems which are changed and updated directly from marketer and seller feedback.

In comparison to Marketing, where Agile is becoming a more popular methodology, has there been a move towards Agile ways of working within Sales?

Even in 2020, it's early days for Agile Sales because of both the challenges of changing long-standing cultures and the shift in compensation models to reflect the modern realities of Sales...especially Digital Sales.

However, I would say that doing Agile isn't nearly the same as being Agile, so it would be unhelpful to think of Agile Marketing or Agile Sales as a methodology.

When a method is put in place, it automatically comes with rules and rigidity, which will lead to whatever is implemented as partially or wholly being anti-Agile. Instead, being Agile implies that the mindset results in consistently better outcomes over time through small, iterative steps, and that can operationally look like a number of Agile frameworks. In my experience, a hybrid approach to Agile frameworks promotes an open-handed implementation of new ways of working instead of a close-fisted methodology of one flavor of Agile practices.

To be Agile is, by definition, to be nimble. I submit that organizational flexibility and adaptability are now table stakes to keep up with not only the amount of change but to be capable of moving at the speed of change.

From a management viewpoint, Agile Marketing with Agile Sales is not top-down nor is it bottom-up; rather, it is an infusion. My friend Evan Leybourn, who is himself a former IBMer and the founder of the Business Agility Institute, introduced me to the concept of infusion and I believe that without complete buy-in from both Management and Sellers, the realization of Agile Sales is likely improbable. It's all-in. As Michelle Peluso, Marketing SVP and CMO at IBM says, "Agile to the core" is the mindset required to face the new realities of business.


Which Agile practices have you identified as particularly helpful to align Sales and Marketing strategically?

I may be scolded by some for not answering this question with Agile Practices ('just tell us what to do, Anthony' is a refrain I hear often -- but doing so would be anti-Agile).

Instead, I will answer the question with Principles. What's helpful is the most basic of agreements: a unified clarity of purpose, an insatiable curiosity to iterate and improve, and a focus on self-directed action. If those three principles -- or others if it helps your organization -- are truly agreed upon, then you'll discover the Practices that make sense in your unique context.

I can't tell you how to be successful; I can only help you identify what it will take to learn how to be effective.

Does the Agile implementation look similar in Sales as it does in Marketing? What are the differences?

Yes. It is similar because the Principles and Values are the same -- identical -- for both.

The differences in execution have more to do with operationalizing the systems, tools, and processes to reflect a unified way of working towards the same Mission and shared Objectives, even when the execution of those will inherently be different.

Agile is Agile is Agile.

Agile is a belief, not a methodology, so we focus on what we have in common (the customer, our Principles, our Values, our Culture, etc.) and find ways to distill the transformation into clarity, adoption, innovation, and continuous iterative improvement. 

Could you share any successful examples of Agile management uniting Sales & Marketing in high(er) performance within organizations you've worked with or observed?

When there has been a wholesale commitment to aligning with an Agile mindset, the results have been astonishing in two ways.

First, identifying what's not working is the early set of 'wins' because when you find yourself in a hole, the first order of business is to stop digging. This creates an immediate gain because at least one of the biggest sources of waste has been identified and rectified early on. This often leads to some surprisingly significant gains by simply 'buying back' lost time and resources, which also is a nice boost to morale!

The second benefit is that a new kind of feedback loop is introduced and acted upon regularly. Once again I quote my friend and fellow agilist Andrew Burrows, as he says it so eloquently: Strategy cascades down and learning flows back up. When this happens, those strategies are changed based on feedback from the very people doing the work. This cycle repeats continuously so that strategy and execution are continuously improved. That's the infusion Evan talks about.

Agile in Action

After only six months of being Agile, a small team of marketers and sellers I led in 2016 applied business agility and had some huge learnings that led to some amazing performances:

  • They doubled the number of emails sent per month while increasing the click-through rate by 62% at the same time, which lead to...
  • Shifting the focus to creating more (and more granular) landing pages which saw a 342% increase in landing page views with a 565% growth in form completions, which lead to...
  • 5x increase in qualified leads and over 2x increase in the Sales pipeline.

A SaaS organization implemented Agile and rapidly went from trying to adopt a single framework (Scrum) to a hybrid approach within two quarters:

  • This provided line-of-sight to the disconnect between content marketing needs from both Sales and Customer Services and Marketing content creators, which led to...
  • Using ROI metrics to calculate and hire additional staff and increase the Marketing output more than 6x (with only 3 new hires), which led to...
  • Both Sales and Customer Service leveraging unified tools and more quality content to more specifically and accurately meet the pain points of prospects and clients with targeted, timely resources.

Though those are some great examples of some relatively fast improvements, the larger the organization, the greater the technical debt (legacy systems) and the greater the cultural debt (a culture built on what used to work). Agility at scale is difficult because of the sheer enormity and momentum of established ways of working. In these scenarios, a more patient view is required to identify and assess what is possible to change, what is probable to influence, and what is of concern that must be reimagined in order to not fight legacy headwinds.

Agile will result in faster change, but speed is a by-product and not the point. Doing the wrong thing even faster is not a success. Agile is an all-in pull to admit that what got you here won't get you there in the digital future rather than a siloed roll-out push to force change.


Any helpful resources you can share on this topic?


About Anthony Coppedge

I'm based out of Fort Worth, Texas where I work remotely when not traveling for IBM, where I lead the Agile Transformation for Digital Sales. Most of my brain power is spent coaching marketers and consulting sales and marketing teams on implementing an Agile mindset, which means I teach leaders, managers, and teams how to manage the tension between planned and unplanned work so that they can deliver value faster. I fuel my heart by mentoring young leaders and writing for a variety of audiences. I value empathetic leadership, have an odd penchant for Oxford commas, and I think Chips Deluxe cookies taste so good the tiny Keebler Elves should be taken seriously.


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