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5 Signs Your Product, Marketing, and Sales Teams Aren’t Aligned (and How to Fix It)

MIsalignment isn't always obvious, but it is painful. Learn how to identify if your teams are misaligned and steps you can take to fix it.

A recent study shared in Harvard Business Review found that while participants thought that “strategic agreement within their companies was 82%” the reality “was, on average, just 23% — two to three times lower than perceived alignment”. 

That’s a very harsh reality with huge impacts on business; past estimates put lost revenue at around $1 trillion in the U.S. alone, just accounting for misalignment between marketing and sales. These are the kinds of mistakes teams especially can’t afford to make in dicier economic times. 

What do we mean when we talk about misalignment? It could be that each team has its own goals they’re focused on and they all assume they’re working toward the same bigger goals, but often they’re not. Or they are working toward the same goals, but not from the same action plan or playbook, with a fully integrated strategy. Either scenario leads to wasted time and resources, not to mention mounting internal frustration. 

Need a ridiculous example? Think about it as all of the teams in your organization working together to win the big dance competition (your industry has one of those, right?). While they don’t necessarily all need to be doing the exact same steps, it’s definitely going to be a lot harder to win if one team is doing disco moves while another is trying to tango and a third is breakdancing. All of that creativity and chaos needs to be harnessed in a way that puts on a cohesive show. 

Here’s how to spot when your product, marketing, and sales teams aren’t aligned – and even more crucially, how to fix it. (Sadly, not through the art of dance.) 

Sign #1: Teams disagree on how to measure success and objectives 

As we touched on in the introduction, it can be easy to look like teams are aligned on goals; everyone is working toward getting more customers, right? But how is each team actually measuring that success? What does “getting more customers” mean to sales vs. marketing vs. product? 

If sales means they need more marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), but marketing thinks sales isn’t closing enough of the deals they already have in their pipeline, you can see where the problems start to arise. The product team might be thinking in entirely different terms too, like getting more brand-new customers from a specific product launch later this quarter, and not focusing on upselling current customers. 

The cause of this issue? Every team has their own goals. 

Obviously, each team will have its own smaller goals that are important to them and how they work, but these should always roll up to the larger company goals and any key goals for upcoming launches. 

The fix 

One approach is quarterly OKR planning where each team creates goals under the umbrella of larger company goals, with any team-specific goals existing for clear and purposeful reasons.  

Whether or not that’s a system your organization uses, it’s a good idea to have leadership across your organization checking in on progress against goals on a regular basis to be sure everyone stays on track and aligned. 

It’s a lot easier to shift course when a team is only a week or two into a specific plan vs. six months in. It’s also a lot easier if goals all exist in a specific location – a single source of truth – where each team can measure their own against them and all see each other’s progress plus any blockers they might be able to help with. 

Sign #2: Teams have inconsistent execution 

You’re killing it one quarter and struggling the next, for reasons that can’t be matched to general seasonality or market trends. Once you start to dig into the why, chances are you’ll find that while everyone is working toward the same goal (winning that big dance competition!) they each have a different plan to get there (all of those different types of dance, in conflict with one another). 

The cause of this issue? Teams are siloed. 

In this case, teams are working toward the same goal, but have different, conflicting plans to get there. There will always be some differences between how sales, marketing, and product teams each approach solving a different problem but the most important thing is that they should each be working on different pieces of the same plan in tandem, not on completely different plans. 

Silos are aggravated by teams using different tools that don’t communicate with one another. Having individual team plans walled off in this way makes it more likely they’ll evolve further from their origins, pulling the teams themselves further apart. 

The fix 

There is no magic wand or quick fix for building strong communication and collaboration skills across teams, but identifying key problem areas is a good first step. Have each team articulate what their plans are to reach organizational goals and see where the mismatches are. 

From there, figure out where teams are working well together and where they need support. Apart from having a single source of truth where teams can easily access information, consider implementing operationalized playbooks that have automation baked in. This way teams are consistently operating on the same processes and workflows with a shared understanding of them – that last part is crucial to success.  

Sign #3: Teams don’t know what everyone else is working on– or where to find the information they need 

Assuming you know what other teams are working on is not the best way to collaborate. Even if the information you’re operating on came from the most recent company All-Hands, priorities could have shifted since then due to changing resources or an unaccounted-for external factor (like a key team member suddenly being out of the office for an emergency). 

What does this look like across different teams? A few examples: 

  • Only the CMO has seen the product roadmap and hasn’t communicated it to the rest of the team; marketing is working in a vacuum or with an outdated roadmap  
  • Sales leadership never shared out marketing collateral; the sales team thinks marketing isn’t prioritizing or understanding what they need to talk to prospects and close deals
  • The product team doesn’t know what outdated collateral the sales team is using; sales doesn’t know where to find the newest stuff that has gone through product and marketing 

The cause of this issue? Teams are (still) siloed. 

Silos strike again! It’s easy for teams to go heads down on their work when they’re busy, not noticing how that can quickly become a silo. That gets compounded when tools don’t communicate with one another and check-in meetings are deprioritized or canceled, again because everyone is busy. 

The fix 

Communication across organizations is an iterative process, especially as teams grow. Ideally, you want to build repeatable, automated comms processes that don’t lose their humanity and camaraderie. 

Consider the entire structure of how teams communicate at your organization and how it can be improved. You might implement targeted notifications to reps when things ship from the product team, weekly cross-team status updates, and monthly rollups of recent and upcoming launches. You need to proactively get the information out to those across the organization who need it because they won’t seek it out – even if it does live in that easily accessible single source of truth. 

Everyone is busy, after all. 

Sign #4: Teams are "speaking different languages" about objectives, product messaging, using the wrong assets, etc

While this sign is similar to the first and third, it’s distinct in that it’s a little more subtle. Teams might agree on what their objectives are and might be collaborating on work, but they’re fundamentally speaking different languages about that work. 

Some differences are to be expected in how teams communicate internally; marketing and sales each have their own jargon, for example. Ultimately, however, teams need to be able to talk to each other about how to reach common goals, not talk at each other about their own pieces of the puzzle. 

You need to be sure you’re both working toward the same goals in the same way with the same deep understanding of how to get there. 

The cause of this issue? Teams aren’t working from the same source material. 

In order to speak the same language, teams need to not only be comfortable with the basics of each other’s work, but team leads need to be proactively communicating with one another from a single source of truth. 

Has marketing finalized messaging based on working with the product team? Be sure sales has that information pushed to them immediately and they’re trained on it if necessary. 

The fix 

This is another issue where having a single source of truth goes a long way toward solving the problem; build the system that makes the most sense for your team and resources. That could include a roadmap each team checks their progress against weekly, with daily cross-team standups in Slack so everyone knows what everyone else’s priorities are. That also makes it easier to adjust priorities if a blocker or something else comes up. 

The same is true for being able to find the latest collateral that’s been approved across teams; there should be one place where it all lives, accessible by every team. Having to play a game of telephone with new documents while everyone makes their own edits is a nightmare scenario for brand consistency. 

Also, be sure you’re pushing out information from this single source of truth to teams proactively instead of reactively. It’s not enough for them to theoretically be able to find it. They need to know it’s there in the first place as well as when it gets replaced or updated, and anything else that leads to enablement.

Sign #5: Teams fail to capture opportunities due to poor feedback loops

Here’s an example of how this might play out: a feature gets built that a customer is theoretically asking for, but the deal doesn't close. Or the product team builds something, but the feature doesn't sell because they built something customers didn't actually want. 

Going back to previous signs, if teams have been siloed for too long they might have trouble depending on one another and trusting the subject matter expertise of each team. This creates difficult feedback loops that get compounded with any other existing communication issues. 

The cause of this issue? No one across teams will listen to anyone else’s expertise 

This comes down to both communication and process problems between teams. If you’re relying on people to find information each team has created – even in a reliable single source of truth – you’ve already failed. 

If you design a way to communicate across teams proactively, but not in a way that’s sustainable as teams grow and scale, that’s also setting yourself up for failure. 

The fix 

What you need to do is communicate proactively with a process that’s repeatable and ideally automated. Updated messaging, approved assets – all of this should be pushed out regularly before anyone is even asking for it. Strike the balance with automated notifications that keep team members up-to-date without flooding their inboxes or other notifications. Be sure the systems you put in place can grow with the team without requiring a ton of manual work for the system designers. 

What does this look like in action? Let’s look at an example. 

Launches are a great example to use because they show what’s at stake when teams are misaligned.  

Misalignment and launches 

Launch success means a lot of great things for an organization: upselling and cross-selling opportunities, market expansion opportunities, and an increased chance of customer retention. 

Failure, on the other hand, means missed revenue opportunities, wasted resources, a huge cost to the organization without the resulting payoff, and potential customer churn. 

Misalignment between teams means failure to launch is much more likely. While there’s a lot to consider when redesigning your launch process, here are a few questions to get you started: 

  • How does each team think about launches now? 
  • How does each team measure the success of launches now? 
  • How can you put processes in place so they all think about– and measure them– in the same way going forward? 

One approach is using the Ignition framework for launches: 

  • Goal: Why are we launching this/what do we hope to achieve?
  • Audience: Who is the ideal audience to target to achieve our goal?
  • Positioning/Messaging: What do they need to believe, to take action?
  • Distribution Channels: Where will our message best reach them?
  • Model/Plan: How will we do it? (GTM motion, rollout, tasks, etc.)

In order to hit revenue targets related to launches, you need to fix the processes that aren’t working. The ultimate goal is to turn launches into revenue drivers by building a process that’s repeatable, transparent, and creates tight alignment. 

Here’s how. 

The launch fix 

Alignment comes from improved processes and communication across teams. First, you have to fix your team construction. Are teams working as closely together as they should be? (Hint: if you’re seeing any of the signs of misalignment we’ve covered, chances are they aren’t.) 

Second, you have to reframe your mindset from a project mindset to a product mindset. If you think of launches as ad-hoc projects, the to-do list becomes the focus, rather than the outcomes. Instead, think about the launch process as a product your team is responsible for with other internal audiences as the customers. 

Third, you need to build a great process for your launches. The goal should be to transform any current broken processes into a repeatable cycle where everything is a system. Everything inside the system needs to be connected to each other either via people or technology, and information needs to flow seamlessly between all of the necessary stages (research to building, go-to-market planning, execution, and post-launch measurement).

A final note? Leadership has to actually lead on this – proactively communicating across teams, keeping everyone on track and aligned. Taking the time to celebrate success, diagnose problems, and do a thorough breakdown of the entire process in order to make things even smoother for the next launch. 

Did you see the sign(s)? 

If we opened up your eyes, we’d love to help you realign your teams, too. 

Just give us a (twist and) shout.