Why you need to unify sales & marketing operations (via MassTLC Marketing Leadership panel)

Yesterday’s MassTLC Next Wave of Marketing Leadership event turned into a great discussion on a range of issues growth marketers are facing – spurred by so many audience questions that we ended up going over time.


A particularly interesting topic was organization and team design around marketing operations – for which I advocated for businesses moving to a unified sales & marketing operations function.

We are doing this at Bedrock Data with great success – Ryan Plunkett serves this role and with this owns the view into our end-to-end funnel metrics, performance and forecasting.

There are different ways to get there based on size of business; these were some different possibilities discussed yesterday:

#1 - For startups / growth companies, start out with a single, unified operations role that serves the whole business. 

This has been our approach at Bedrock Data. In fact Ryan’s role extends across the whole customer lifecycle including customer success. For me as the chief marketer with many different areas to drive, it’s a great relief to have the operations piece supported with an integrated resource.

#2 - For larger companies, a centralized business operations role can serve both sales and marketing operations.

In my recent Marketo power user series, Jame Ervin of Optimizely spoke about operations centralization at Optimizely.  There are tremendous alignment and efficiencies advantages to this. I’ve found when the teams are separate, most of the time is spent going back and forth debating issues, whereas an aligned team should be much more nimble and effective.

#3 - For company sizes in between without a formal business operations function, this role can roll up to Finance

Several folks yesterday spoke about these roles being centralized in Finance. I loved what Jonathan Burg has to say about it – he said the role does in fact sit outside of marketing but it suits him just fine. Jonathan said they have a running joke that in his marketing all hands meetings, there are more people outside of marketing that attend than those on the marketing team.

Given the integrated nature of marketing across an organization, that is the way it should be. Kudos to Jonathan and Reward Gateway.

Great topic at a lively MassTLC event, and looking forward to more in 2017.

12 Little Things Marketers Can Do To Better Align with Sales

I get it – sales and marketing alignment is difficult. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult. I read this downright dreary depiction of sales and marketing alignment from Billy Cina and it got me thinking – there’s a lot more that marketers can do

And I can say that because I’m a marketer.

Like many things in life it’s the little things that can add up to making a huge difference. Gavin Rossdale said it’s the little things that kill, and on the flipside little things can also drive growth.

With that in mind these are 12 little (or maybe not so little) things marketers can do to better align with sales:

#1 - Talk to reps and share insights back with sales management

This is a great place to start for multiple reasons. Sales reps can give marketing good feedback on conversations they are having with customers, as well as insight on what’s working well and not working well related to specific types of leads or programs. 

In addition, speaking to reps put the marketer into a strong position to add value back to sales management. Aggregating rep feedback and then going back to sales management with “this is what we heard from your team, this is how we are incorporating it into our plans” helps ease some of the management load from sales management which they will appreciate and help build the relationship.


#2 - Be humble about leads/MQLs growth

Leads and MQLs are a means to an end, and it’s vital that marketers maintain that mindsight. Lead/MQL growth can be ‘celebrated’, sure, but it should be with the right perspective of keeping the end goal in mind. The end goal of pipeline growth (and the sales and marketing relationship) is best served with an attitude of “we’re happy there's lead growth, but we really want to see it translate to pipeline” as that serves to both keep the sales team focused on turning those leads into opportunities and avoids the misalignment that comes from marketing being seen as patting itself on the back for driving up “lower quality” leads. 


#3 - Align reporting to opportunities and pipeline

To this end, reporting KPIs should align to opportunities and pipeline. As marketing is looking at the effectiveness of marketing programs and investments, outcomes should be tied to not only leads but also opportunities and pipeline. Applying win rate assumptions makes it very easy to look at this from an ROI perspective and keeps Marketing, Sales and Finance all aligned around the metrics.  


#4 - Be the first to say leads need to increase

As a demand gen marketer, if my closed loop reporting indicates leads need to be higher, I always want to be the one who said “leads need to go up.” In fact, for a growth business leads usually need to be increasing. As a demand gen marketer I like to embrace that reality vs. push back on it.  


#5 - Keep your pulse on lead trends and root causes

To build confidence with sales around the path to growth, you want to show you have your pulse on the underlying levers and what you’re doing to drive leads/pipeline, that there is a growth strategy behind your actions. E.g.

  • XXX web page has been our top converter to pipeline, so we are building out more content across this theme
  • YYY content asset has been our top converter to pipeline, so we are putting more promotional $ behind it
  • We are seeing a strong mid-funnel conversion rate around webinars on ZZZ, so we are making that a more prominent focus of our lead nurturing campaign


#6 - Be completely open about challenges marketing is facing

Along similar lines, if there are challenges marketing is facing be very open about them. As long as you clear on what the issues are, what the ramifications are and how you are addressing them, it’s hard for sales to “beat you up” over those challenges. Or they may still beat you up but the issues are open acknowledged, and maybe even leads to cross functional discussions around if additional investment can help to accelerate improvements/growth.


#7 - Treat converting leads to opportunities (and the conversion rates) are a team game

The challenge with pipeline growth is that it’s a team game – sales and marketing need to work together to ensure the right leads are generated with the right follow up programs and turned into opportunities.  Don’t take an attitude that marketing’s job is to generate leads and that’s it, as that will not only lead to poor behavior but that will lead to misalignment.

Partner with sales to address the issue and build alignment around the criteria of quality leads (which can factor into lead scoring and prioritization), provide the right enablement tools and automation to sales for lead follow up, and work together to go after opportunity & pipeline objectives.


#8 - Leverage CRM data for insights around lead quality

Marketers will often talk about the need to get feedback on sales from leads. But I find many marketers don’t leverage the data that is available to them in their CRM systems such as lead disqualification reasons provided by reps. By digging into that data and netting out key insights, that will not only help to improve marketing effectiveness but it will reinforce to the sales team that the data they enter into CRM is valued.


#9 – Build demographic data into lead scoring

Sales cares about getting to the right people in their target profile – whether that means job titles/roles, industry, size of company, etc. So as marketing embrace this and build these criteria into your lead scoring models, so that these things that sales cares about factors into the leads they receive.


#10 - Execute on short-term programs to support sales

Marketers need to be strategic and drive the right long term KPIs that ensure business growth. But this can absolutely be balanced with attention on short-term programs to support sales objectives. This falls in the category of “a little bit can go along way”. I’d want to be all over building a short-term email program to the customer base to support sales objectives. If sales is going to do it anyway, I’d rather partner with them to build and execute it so that it can align with the overall program plans and you marketing get acknowledgment for supporting the short-term sales objectives.


#11 – Focus on the “real enemy”

Rather than beat each other up, sales and marketing can build alignment by staying focused on the *competition*. Look at what competitors are doing in both their marketing and sales programs, and build alignment around this common enemy. This helps keep you at the same side of the table and can lead to performance improvements in both marketing and sales effectiveness.  


#12 - Be there on the last day of the month/quarter

Sometimes it’s just about letting sales know that you care - by being there last day of the quarter/month and rooting them on to hit the monthly target. Plus that’s part of the fun.


I want to hear from both sales and marketing. How did I do with this list? Anything missing? Am I dreaming to think that sales and marketing really can get along (and work together to drive growth)? Or do you agree with Billy Cina's take that misalignment is inevitable and irrevocable?

Five Specific Actions Sales & Marketing Can Do Together To Drive Alignment & Business Performance

We all know sales & marketing alignment is extremely important. This Kapost article references an Aberdeen Group stat that “Companies with strong sales and marketing alignment achieve 20% annual growth rate, and companies with poor sales and marketing alignment have a 4% revenue decline.” (Now if I could just find that pesky Aberdeen stat... although this stat is referenced everywhere, I’m citing the Kapost article because I couldn’t find  a public version of the original stat from Aberdeen).

Knowing it’s important isn’t enough though, as actually attaining true sales & marketing alignment is challenging.

To that end, these are five specific actions that I’ve found sales and marketing can do together to drive alignment, and achieve the resulting business performance. I choose the word “sales and marketing” and “together” very precisely, as the key to this is that equal responsibility and commitment is taken from both groups within the company’s revenue team.

#1 - Be overly transparent with each other

Within pockets of sales and marketing teams, the “default” mentality towards the other group may be that of mistrust. The best way to address that proactively is to be overly transparent.

From the marketing side, share regular communications around strategies, program plans, program performance, program optimizations and what’s working and what’s not working.

From the sales side – same thing. Share insights around what’s working and what’s not working, identify areas to improve opportunity conversion rates and win rates, and also over communicate around how the business is trending towards meeting its monthly or quarterly revenue/bookings targets.

#2 - Diligently focus on opportunity creation targets as a KPI

I’ve seen sales and marketing relationships stumble when marketing drives attention to MQLs as their KPI. That can lead to friction if marketing “celebrates” MQL performance that isn’t translating downstream to opportunities or deals.

MQLs should be seen as a “means to the end”, and if both sides are laser focused on opportunities created it has several benefits:

  • Marketing drives towards MQLs, but also has a keen interest in working with sales to ensure MQL to Opportunity conversion rates improve
  • It opens up the perspective of Sales Management to focus both on what’s closing (what they would typically be monitoring each day/week/month), and also using Opps Created as a KPI for them to also monitor to ensure that a healthy pipeline is continually being built to feed the months ahead.

#3 – Regularly dialogue on how to improve opportunity conversion rates

With Opps Created as a KPI, marketing and sales management should openly dialogue about how to improve conversion rates from MQL to Opportunity.

When I say openly, it should be done acknowledging that there are always improvements needed, and it’s not a criticism of either group.  Specific areas to look at:

  • How are MQLs specifically being generated? (e.g. forms, webinar responses). Is prospect intent made clear? Are there any improvements to that process that can help how sales follows up?
  • What is the systematic lead handoff? Is it real time? Do the sales reps have clear visibility into the right data they need to best follow up?
  • What is the response time to follow up? This is where SLAs come in to ensure there are standards across all of the reps.
  • Is there a defined follow up approach – both number and frequency of touches, as well as guides for the conversation?

These are all areas that require consistent attention and improvement.

#4- Create an aligned approach to lead scoring

The SiriusDecisions Research from their 2015 Summit reinforces the need for approaches to engage buyers at the earlier phase of the buying process, when they are most open to support  and guidance from people (reps).  I’ve been outspoken in cautioning the perils of attempting lead scoring before you’re ready, and the key is that sales and marketing both need to be fully bought into lead scoring and design it collaboratively. Keep the initial lead scoring models simple. The types of questions to answer during a lead scoring creation exercise include:

  • What’s the profile of prospects that we want to talk to?
  • What content would a prospect consume that would lead us to think he’s most open to a conversation?
  • What content would a prospect consume that would lead us to think he’s in a buying process?
  • How do we want to consistently follow up with prospects for each of these scenarios?

#5 - Build joint programs

Finally, a great way to build alignment is to build programs together. There does not need to be one recipe as to how sales and marketing share responsibilities in executing programs.

In addition to traditional marketing executed programs, ways to build joint programs include marketing sourcing the data for a given target audience and sales leading the outreach (email, phone, social media) to the targeted list.  Another scenario could be marketing sourcing the data and designing integrated email & phone outreach that is executed by Sales or SDR/Teleprospecting resource. Monitoring the success of these joint programs, and improving them, helps to build the alignment.

What do you think? What are some specific ways you’ve seen sales and marketing teams effectively align?

3 Ways to Jumpstart Marketing and Sales Alignment (MassTLC inspired)

Last week I attended the inaugural MassTLC Demand Gen peer group headed by Christine Nolan of MassTLC and Jonathan Burg of Apperian – it was a vibrant discussion with 35 of the top revenue marketers in the Boston area.

It was striking that with a group of that experience, sales alignment (or lack thereof) was the most common area of frustration shared by many.

We were only able to cover some of the potential remedies in the discussion, so it inspired me to write and share this post – 3 Ways to Jumpstart Marketing and Sales Alignment.

What these three practices have in common is they should help build that alignment by putting marketing on the same side of the table as sales by aligning around common goals.

1.       Build a metrics-based MQL Plan

Also discussed in detail here, you, the demand generation marketer, should work backwards from the revenue forecast and use assumptions around conversion rates to show to both marketing and sales the number of MQLs required to meet the plan.

This accomplishes two things for you:

  • It demonstrates to sales that your demand generation / marketing plan is aligned to their sales plan
  • It solves another problem expressed by a number of the marketers in the room – which is how do you govern processes such as sales acceptance of marketing leads? By building those assumption into your plan, it gives you a leg to stand on when reviewing numbers with sales management… if the metrics such as sales acceptance rates dip below the plan, it should become clear to sales management that the issue should be addressed. It’s not you, marketing, telling sales there is an issue -- it’s a lack of alignment to the plan which should flag the issue.  

2.       Build marketing programs around the sales reps

This next one is a win-win -- make your marketing programs more effective AND build alignment with the sales team.

Here’s an example and here’s how it works:

  • Create “Rep Web Pages” which position each rep as an expert in their field. We demand gen need to remember that -- assuming our products are sold through sales reps -- then we not only need to market our products but also the reps whom prospects need to buy from – because nothing will be bought without a conversation with the rep.
  • The pages include content of value to prospects and provocative questions representing a discovery conversation the rep wants to have with the prospect -- these are both credibility builders for the rep.
  • The page also links to the their LinkedIn profile with similar messaging around the rep for social validation.
  • Email programs both for outbound prospecting and nurturing are emails from the rep (plain text emails with their photo at the bottom), anchored by these rep landing pages aimed to attract the attention of the prospect and move them through the buying process.

The Reps not only should feel good about seeing marketing putting them front and center, but the personalized approach to connect with prospects is a highly effective technique to break through today clutter of information overload. 

Other extensions of this including reps adding this page to all of their email signatures, accompanying emails with calls/voicemails directing prospects to their page and providing intelligence to the reps on who has visited their page to prioritize follow up efforts.

3.       Provide more direction for sales on how to best leverage marketing’s content

In his book “The New Rules of Sales Enablement”, Jeff Ernst of Forrester Research quoted an American Marketing Association stat that 90% of marketing deliverables are not used by sales.

A significant piece of this 90% comes from assets not being packaged and served up with clear direction to sales for how to use them. It’s a pain point for every sales organization and solving that pain point is a great way for marketing to achieve that “same side of the table” status.

I recommend providing both email templates and the related content assets, grouped in categories that are actionable for sales.  The first grouping would be buying stage, then by role, industry and/or topic.

  • Prospecting  – assets used to attract attention and establish need
  • Discovery – assets used to educate prospects during the discovery phase
  • Opportunity – majority of assets for sales use will be during the opportunity phase. An area which marketing can help sales is providing sales with content that reps can provide their primary buyer to share with their buying team – content which help cement the value for the solution for each member of the buying team. Another asset type which sales will appreciate are objection handlers… content that they can share with prospects to address common questions that could otherwise stall out their deals.

So what do you think? Please share other tips and tricks you've found for alignment between marketing and sales.