It’s the age-old battle within any organization-sales versus marketing. Why is that? It seems both groups should be working hand-in-hand to create a seamless process for driving leads and meeting (or exceeding) the company’s revenue objectives.

After all, both are working toward the same ultimate goal: sales. Hmm well, maybe that isn’t always quite the case. As has been long noted, sales and marketing departments are not driven by the same goals and, therefore, are not in sync with each other.

The reality is that most often, marketing is motivated not by sales but by the number of leads (or “clicks”) it generates. Conversely, sales is driven solely by the numbers: how many sales close and how much revenue is generated. Thus, a gap exists a large one, at that between marketing and sales and between leads and revenue.

This gap is where the real difficulty lies. It has grown and will continue to grow as selling and buying has changed. The Internet has made it especially difficult for companies to accurately identify what is a true lead versus a simple inquiry. For instance, buyers are using the Internet very early on to conduct research on future, potential purchases. They visit Websites and download datasheets and whitepapers, but the vast majority of them are too early in the process to have interest in talking to a salesperson. Approaching them too soon can be annoying to the buyer and a waste of valuable sales time. Bottom line: In the Internet age, a simple click on an e-mail or website rarely translates to an instant, sales-ready lead.

If companies don’t adapt to this new selling model, they will continue to suffer. Let’s suppose this gap is closed and that leads being generated by marketing are a major determinant for driving the success of sales. Let’s further suppose leads passed to sales are true “sales-ready” leads and not simply suspects doing research. This sounds impressive-almost magical-but is it realistic?

With the correct leadership, a change in mindset by sales and marketing, and with the right supporting processes and automation, it is possible. Not only can sales and marketing be aligned, but in doing so you will be able to drive more business with less cost and effort.

1. Align sales and marketing goals. No question, marketing and sales must start sharing common goals. But this is hard to do when marketing can’t influence the sale and is more focused on clicks and lead volume than on actual lead quality. In turn, sales can’t rely on marketing for leads and is forced to spend its time cold-calling. The idea then is to find common understanding in the middle. Going forward, marketing should be measured not on the number of leads it generates, but on the number of sales-ready leads that enter the pipeline. The key to this metric, then, is the definition of a sales-ready lead.

2. Define a sales-ready lead. The essential element in this step is having marketing and sales mutually decide what truly comprises a sales-ready lead. Is this someone who downloaded three items from your Website and has the right title? Is it someone who downloaded something from the Website, is in the right industry and then was further qualified by telemarketing? Or, maybe it’s someone who attended a Webinar? Whatever the definition, it is something that must be agreed upon by both sales and marketing. And crucially, it has to be a definition that can be accomplished through the marketing organization alone (this could include telemarketing and inside sales for some organizations).

3. Revise the marketing to sales process. If marketing now has to provide a sales-ready lead, then the process by default must also change. You should no longer have cold leads from trade shows and websites feed directly into the CRM system for sales to call. Instead, leads must be tracked, all interactions should be followed, they should be scored based on their behavior and demographics, and they must be nurtured along the continuum until the criteria for sales-ready leads are met. A process must be implemented to facilitate these items. As you will see below, automation can help marketing organizations gain great leverage to do this.

4. Revise marketing’s role. It’s no secret marketing departments are not increasing resources-especially now. It is therefore critical for marketers to be given the appropriate tools to facilitate and leverage the limited resources they have. Marketing’s role should now include not just outbound lead generation, but also lead tracking and nurturing. One might say lead generation really is not just the initial creation of interest, but the full slate of nurturing activities that grow the lead into a genuine prospect. Marketing’s role must expand to take responsibility for moving sales-ready leads to sales, instead of simply handing over cold inquiries.

5. Make sure sales sells. It’s also no secret sales spends only a portion of its day selling, and that costs money-lots of money. If marketing produces sales-ready leads versus cold inquiries, then sales in turn should spend more time selling-and less time generating its own leads, and calling and qualifying cold inquiries. This should drive more sales in less time, a win for everyone.

6. Understand less is more. Both sales and marketing organizations must come to a full understanding that it’s not the volume of leads that matters, but their quality. So when you tell sales it will now get 50 leads per month instead of 100, it must be understood those 50 leads will be far superior to the leads previously received. These leads will have entered the buy cycle; they will have interacted with your company in some meaningful way. Sales will save time, regain faith in the leads passed to them by marketing, and should sell more.

7. Leverage automation. As mentioned previously, technology can help marketing departments get better leads to sales. Marketing automation systems in particular provide the mechanism to efficiently capture, track and score leads. The outcome of the process is to drive better-quality leads to sales. Additionally, marketing automation systems also help marketers to automate the process of nurturing leads over time. Consistent nurturing will continue to drive more quality leads over the life of a typical lead generation campaign.

With automation, marketers can take on their new role of providing sales-ready leads without expanding staff or resources. Start small-with one campaign, and utilizing the automation through that one campaign-then refine and expand to other campaigns.

8. Measure. Of course, aligning sales and marketing sounds like a great concept; but unless you measure the “payoff,” it won’t matter. Measuring sales and marketing alignment takes into account a series of metrics that are way too numerous to cover in this short article. But it’s important to note the success of alignment will be felt within both sales and marketing. Yes, the number of closed sales and the amount of revenue are most important and will be greatly impacted. But other metrics, such as ROI for lead generation campaigns and the reduced cost of sales resources, will also become apparent.

With the current economic climate, it is now more important than ever to align sales and marketing activities and objectives. And while this might sound like a tremendously large concept, it can truly be implemented step by step. Most of all, management must decide that the alignment will pay off, and changing the goals and metrics by which both organizations are measured is a key element to moving forward. In the end, the successful alignment of sales and marketing organizations will be a competitive advantage.