During the last 20 years I have worked with a lot of sales and marketing teams. The best teams collaborate and work well together. However, it is far more common to see sales and marketing departments set up as two separate groups, with little to no communication or collaboration between the salespeople and marketing professionals.

Although the insular system is more common, marketing and sales should be viewed as a continuation of one another. Regardless of the industry, sales and marketing overlap at various points along the buying cycle and can provide each other with valuable feedback. Generating leads, managing prospects and closing deals are all part of the same process, but many companies build walls between these groups. That makes everyone’s job harder.

Aligning sales and marketing isn’t just a nice idea for a cooperative work environment. A study by the Aberdeen Group showed that organizations with proper marketing and sales alignment had 20 percent annual revenue growth in 2010.

So we know we need to align the two groups, but what does that look like? The marketing group can’t just generate leads: It needs to produce high-quality leads derived from ideal target prospects that, eventually, lead to higher sales. Sales groups need to focus on more than just the bottom of the sales funnel (leads close to buying) and closing leads. Sales should ideally provide feedback to the marketing group about what works in the field. Sounds easy, but how do they do it?

The first step to integrating marketing and sales is to find out what your sales teams actually do and how they do it. What is their sales process? What steps do salespeople take to move a prospect through the buying process? What types of information and content are they using to communicate value, overcome objections, position competitively, present solutions and come to an agreement? You want to know what an “ideal lead” looks like, and why these leads are so perfect for making a sale.

The next step is to ensure your marketing efforts match the expectations of the ideal prospect. Are prospects getting answers to the questions they ask during the buying process? We train our clients’ sales teams to track the questions prospects ask during sales conversations. These questions form the basis of a solid content strategy and SEO plan. If you can answer questions asked by ideal prospects, then your marketing team is positioning you as the expert and enabling you to develop more sales-ready leads. Content that is focused on ideal prospects is an effective qualifying tool. This qualifying effect brings your marketing and sales teams in strong alignment in terms of messaging.