Alignment between sales and marketing teams is a long-sought-after goal, but a difficult one to achieve.

Among B2B companies in North America, only 46% say their sales and content marketing teams are extremely or very aligned, according to research from Content Marketing Institute and LinkedIn. Some of the key reasons cited for this poor alignment include:

  • Having different internal incentives.
  • Results being measured differently.
  • Not meeting often enough.
  • Having disparate teams across geographies.

These barriers are valid, though easily overcome through communication and each team understanding the others’ place in the lead generating, nurturing and converting processes.

The first step to overcoming these obstacles is starting a conversation. Among those firms that report the highest alignment between their sales and marketing departments, 46% say they meet weekly, and 27% say they meet daily.

How often do salespeople and marketers meet in companies that report low alignment? According to 31% of these professionals, “only when necessary.”

It’s not enough to meet “only when necessary” – marketers and salespeople must communicate regularly about current initiatives, emerging conflicts and much more.

Whether your content marketing team and sales department already communicate frequently, chances are, there’s still quite a bit you can learn from your sales representatives.

Here are 7 big questions to ask them to begin your collaborative relationship, learn more about the sales process and, ultimately, discover the types of content that will benefit your sales team.

Note: These questions were shared as a resource in our email course, Define Your Target Audience in 6 Days. For more details on how to use the information these questions can reveal, sign up for the course here.

1. What does the sales process look like?

Why ask this question: You might believe that you already know the basics of your company’s sales process. This is most likely a misguided belief; knowing the basics does not equate to knowing the specifics, and details matter.

You might know that a sales rep connects with a lead on LinkedIn or gives a prospect a phone call. But do you know how the conversation goes? Is that the very first touchpoint? How effective is that outreach mechanism?

Get to know the sales process as well as your sales team does. This will help you understand how marketing can help sales with these first interactions with your brand, and the types of content and campaigns that will complement the sales process.

Follow-up questions:

  • How does the conversation typically begin?
  • Who are the most common decision-makers you talk to?
  • Do you go through a presentation? (And what is it?)

2. What are the most common objections prospects have?

Why ask this question: Prospect objections aren’t just negative comments. They’re valuable pieces of information that give you clues as to what people expect from your industry/brand/products and the biggest concerns they have before spending money.

Every salesperson has to deal with objections. As a marketer, understanding a) what those objections are, and b) how sales reps successfully overcome them, can spark new content ideas that will ultimately become strong sales enablement assets.

Follow-up questions:

  • Why do you think those objections are so common?
  • How do you best overcome those objections?
  • What collateral would make it easier for you to overcome those objections?

3. In your opinion, what makes a lead sales-qualified?

Why ask this question: Your organization probably already has a lead qualification process, or criteria that classify people in your database as marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) or sales-qualified leads (SQLs).

The two are related but not the same. An SQL was probably first an MQL, and organizations typically use scoring systems to determine when leads make the transition.

If that’s the case at yours, that’s great. But do you know your sales reps’ opinions on the process?

A common complaint from misaligned sales and marketing teams is that marketing doesn’t produce good leads, and sales isn’t doing enough to work the leads that marketing sends their way. When this is the case, an important factor could be that the lead qualification process isn’t tuned into the actual buyer journeys of your customers.

Learning more about your sales team’s experience with SQLs will tell you whether your system needs to be adjusted and how marketing materials can nurture leads in a more productive way.

Follow-up questions:

  • Do the best leads come from a specific marketing offer, such as a webinar or eBook download?
  • In your opinion, which marketing materials/offers deliver the weakest leads?
  • How can you tell if a lead should have been nurtured further before speaking with you?

4. Are leads’ expectations in line with your outreach and what we’re offering?

Why ask this question: Behind the scenes of a marketing campaign is a lot of speculation – predicting how people will most likely respond to certain types of content or messages. While this speculation should be based on real data that you collect over time, there’s only so much you can do to estimate people’s reactions to your marketing activities.

Your sales representatives have first-hand knowledge of how people respond when they finally make the first contact with a lead or prospect. If the person has interacted with your brand, they’ve probably developed expectations about what they can expect from you and formed opinions about your messaging, materials and more.

Asking your sales team if leads’ and prospects’ expectations are in line with their outreach may tell you which parts of your marketing strategy aren’t quite where they need to be. If someone didn’t expect the sales rep’s phone call, for example, consider why that is.

Follow-up questions:

  • How do their expectations differ from our offerings?
  • How do you manage those expectations?
  • Are leads ever surprised that you’re following up with them? (e.g. did they unknowingly click a demo request checkbox on a form, or is marketing messaging unclear?)

5. What do leads say about our competitors?

Why ask this question: It’s always a good thing to know what your competitors are doing right. There’s always a chance that you’re losing business to your competitors, and you need to know why that is.

Armed with that information, you can better tailor your marketing messages to counter the objections prospects have about your brand, or demonstrate the unique value you bring to the table that your competitors don’t.

Follow-up questions:

  • What’s the competition doing better than us?
  • What’re we doing better than they are?
  • How do you think we can better compete?

6. What marketing materials are currently most helpful to the sales process?

Why ask this question: The materials your marketing team creates should support your sales team’s efforts. Finding out which materials are sales’ go-to resources might indicate that a certain topic or format works particularly well with your audience. It should also help guide your choices for creating the next piece of high-value marketing collateral.

Plus, it’s just nice to know which of your materials are genuinely helpful to and appreciated by your sales team!

Follow-up questions:

  • Why do you think those are the most helpful?
  • Do leads find genuine value in those materials?
  • What marketing materials do you wish you had, but don’t?

7. What do you think our marketing team should be doing but isn’t yet?

Why ask this question: Marketing is one-half strategy and one-half creativity. And, as creative professionals, we marketers should be looking for inspiration from a wide variety of sources.

Guess what: Your sales team’s perception of what your team is lacking in, and what others are doing right, are great sources of inspiration. Find out what your sales reps think is awesome. Find out what they think you could be doing better.

Take their feedback and grow with it.

Follow-up question:

  • What marketing efforts from other companies have you noticed that you think we should try to emulate?

Next stop: Collaboration station

Asking your sales reps these questions will give you tons of valuable insight into the sales side of your company – something you may know a fair amount about already, but which you can always stand to learn more about.

But asking these questions should be just the beginning of a strong sales-marketing relationship. Listen to their feedback, try their advice and continue working together to bring in new leads, convert more prospects and grow revenue for your company.

Molly Ploe is a Marketing Specialist at Brafton. When she's not writing, she spends her time reading, going on walks and drizzling honey onto ice cream.