It’s coming! Twin Cities Startup Week is right around the corner: October 9-16, 2019, with hundreds of events taking place across Minneapolis and St. Paul metro communities.
Authentic Brand is pleased to be back for our third year as an event host – and we’ve got another blockbuster lineup ready to talk Smarketing – aligning marketing and sales for healthy growth! Register here now!
We reached out to our TCSW panelists to get some insight about their experience with sales and marketing alignment and offer advice for those looking to strengthen their revenue team.
Welcome to this edition of Authentic Brand’s “Virtual Panel” series: Smart Smarketing. This Virtual Panel features a Q&A exchange with our impressive TCSW panelists who have experience in sales and marketing alignment, across a variety of business types and sizes.
Here’s a quick virtual introduction to our panel of experts (subsequently referred to by first name in the conversation that follows):
- Mickeli Bedore, Founder, Coffee & Closers + Sales, NetSuite
- Elli Rader, VP Client Services, GoKart Labs
- Amy Green, VP Marketing, Code42
- Chris Knutson, Co-Founder & CEO, TeamGenius
How does your current role give you a unique perspective into the dynamics between sales and marketing?
(ELLI) I get to spend a lot of time working directly with our clients, and understanding their business challenges, which enables me to better create a content plan that includes the kind of information our existing clients and prospects are really craving to run their businesses.
(AMY) In my current role, I work directly with sales leaders and salespeople on a daily basis. I’m responsible for creating demand for our products and services and a committed number of quality leads for sales.
(CHRIS) As a founder of a startup, you’ve got to do it all, especially in the beginning. It really changes your perspective. I came into TeamGenius with a marketing background and little understanding of or appreciation for sales. Yet from day one, I needed to sell. Once I started making cold calls myself and committed to a number, my respect for salespeople grew tremendously! Now having experienced both roles I’m better able to identify gaps or opportunities for alignment.
(MICKELI) I have spent my career as a professional sales person in the corporate tech space while starting up multiple ventures in parallel (Otium Outdoors, BeBG, Coffee&Closers, GreyDuck and Hemony). As a sales professional, I work with/depended on marketing to provide me the story/materials to help educate my prospects. As an entrepreneur, I have to build/lead our marketing efforts before I can sell the product/service we are launching. Therefore, I’ve lived both lives in a professional setting.
What do sellers want more than anything from marketing?
(MIKELI) Undiscovered needs of our prospects that we, the sales people (who are having needs analysis conversation daily in the market) are unaware of. It’s hard to procure since sales folks should be uncovering new needs daily while in the field/on the phone, however when it happens… look out. If verified by up to the day industry/market research and delivered via clear charts, bullet points, etc. that can be communicated crisply…there is no stopping the success of a motivated sales pro.
(ELLI) It depends on the seller! Hopefully they don’t just want a bunch of assets that will do the selling for them, that they drop off with the prospect. In our organization we believe very deeply in doing the work of understanding the business challenges our prospects face, and coming to them with a point of view of how we can help. In this approach, as a seller, I want our marketing to highlight our experience, and case studies where we drove great results for other clients.
(AMY) What sellers want from marketing:
- They want to know you “get it” – that you understand their challenges, you listen continually to them and customers and are on the same team and care as much as they do about generating quality leads. Ask questions. Some of my favorites are:
- Why do you win deals?
- Why do you lose deals?
- How do you sell against the competition?
- How have you seen the competition sell against us?
- What feature do prospects get the most excited about?
- What top 5 most frequently asked questions or objections do you get during the sales process?
- Help them tell a value story that will resonate with customers and prospects. A story that’s been “customer tested” and has had input from the sales team (not developed in a vacuum) and avoids “corporate speak”. Make it real!
- Product information, positioning and sales tools that are easily digestible and usable. Sales gets hit with so much information on a daily and weekly basis. Present information in a way that’s easy to understand – and gets them excited about the product or service. Never underestimate the value of “internal marketing”.
- Timely competitive intelligence. Marketing should be on the forefront of competitor moves and proactively equip sales to address questions and objections with their customers – and adjust the value story as needed.
- Help them drive urgency in the sales process. What deals, offers, positioning statements can marketing provide to help close deals
What do marketers want more than anything from sales?
(AMY) What marketers want from sales:
- Be objective and specific when giving feedback to Marketing. If one customer or prospect doesn’t like the marketing message, be clear about that versus “everyone hates it”.
- When we do integrated sales and marketing campaigns, complete the sales follow up that was agreed to from the beginning.
- Let us know what’s not working – but also what’s working. Help us get in the door to capture customer testimonials that can be leveraged across the company.
- Understand we value your ideas – we really do! However, we receive dozens of ideas each week and while many are good, we cannot execute them all and need to prioritize and implement the things that are in alignment with our overall strategy.
(ELLI) To understand what clients and prospects need and want to buy, and how to talk about that in a way that makes sense. Ideally, to understand what clients will need next – so they can get ahead of building a library of case studies that answer their questions.
Have you ever worked in a culture where sales and marketing collaboration was non-existent, or the relationship was tense, or even toxic? What did you learn through that experience and how does that inform your leadership today?
(ELLI) I have, but it was in an organization where I was on the delivery side, so I had little to do with either. On one hand, I didn’t have to deal with the toxicity, but I know that clients suffered as a result of the siloed nature of the organization and that always felt very wrong to me.
(AMY) Most of my career, I’ve been in marketing leadership and for the most part, the relationship has been healthy. I have stepped into new teams where there was a lot of finger pointing going on – in both directions. That behavior only takes energy and focus away from the work that needs to be done to grow the business.
I focus on leading by example: building and maintaining strong relationships with sales leaders and salespeople. Being open to giving and receiving constant feedback and committed to continual improvement. Not blaming anyone when things don’t go as planned. Leading with data to drive discussions and keep things objective.
(CHRIS) Yes. To help with alignment and empathy, these teams need opportunities to share ideas, give feedback, and review results regularly.
What strategies are you employing to ensure smart, collaborative smarketing (sales and marketing alignment and partnership) in your current organization?
(CHRIS) In many organizations sales and marketing teams only interact when there is a problem or they need something from each other, which leaves little opportunity for trust and relationship building, empathy, and buy-in. One thing we’ve been focused on is Growth as a function versus sales, marketing and customer success independently. We do weekly Growth meetings where we share highlights and ideas – everything from results of marketing campaigns, to major account updates and pipeline numbers, to the latest customer retention data
(ELLI) Well, it’s easy for me. I am accountable for both sales and marketing in our company — so I rarely have any alignment or collaboration issues.
(AMY) So much comes down to meaningful, constant communication. Here are a few strategies I rely on to foster strong alignment:
Gaining agreement on lead targets using data to drive assumptions. Weekly check-ins on the lead funnel with sales leaders for honest, two-way communication around what’s in the funnel, what’s going well and what’s not going well and how we will improve. Holding myself and my team accountable to commitments. I also participate in the weekly sales leadership meeting. While not every topic applies to me directly, it’s valuable to hear about their challenges, account strategy, forecast and more. And again, it sends a strong message that I’m on the same team.
Be present, seek sales feedback. I make a point to stop by and visit our sales team almost every day. Casual, 10 minute conversations can be so insightful just asking how things are doing and what they are hearing in the market. In many cases, I seek sales feedback on campaign creative and messaging. It doesn’t mean I always take it, but many times, I take parts of it – and I know it makes the message or targeting better. Plus, when it rolls out, buy-in will generally be so much stronger because they know they’ve had input.
Sales leaders first. Before rolling out a new product, campaign, training or new initiative, I will gain sales leader buy-in and input before going to the sales team. First, they are the best gauge to anticipate how their reps will respond. They will poke holes and ask questions I may not have thought about. This makes everything tighter and stronger before it’s released. And ultimately, better results from the initiative. Second, the sales leaders are then prepared to coach and drive results for their team versus “It’s Amy’s marketing thing”.
What is one piece of advice that you would offer to a founder / owner who is scaling a growing business and beginning to hire sales and marketing talent?
(AMY) It’s so important there is a genuine synergy between the sales and marketing leaders. Pull them into the interview process if one needs to be hired – get their buy-in.
Then, be really clear about each sales and marketing role you create and hire. Both sales and marketing roles can vary widely and mean different things to different people. In marketing, do you need someone or a team to generate leads for your business? Do you need someone to build a brand? Do you need a product marketer who is great at market research, persona development and positioning? What about marketing operations? Or do you want someone or a small team to do it all? Most marketers have depth in 1 or 2 areas – not all. That means that you need to prioritize what’s most important based on where your business is at and what you need to reach your objectives. It’s important you are clear on this before you start the recruiting process so you can hone in on the right talent. Also, determine if you need to hire employees to fill the need or can you find an agency to fill the need?
For sales, do you need someone with experience in handling current customers or prospecting for new business or both? Again, really important to determine what you need before you start hiring.
(ELLI) Listen to your customers every single day. Work to understand not they are asking for, but what they need from you, and find ways to talk about how you can solve their problems. Never stop listening to them.
(CHRIS) Emphasize growth mindset. Hard skills and experience are important, but quickly growing companies change rapidly and are rife with ambiguity. They need employees who take absolute ownership of their work and care deeply about learning and getting better.
Some things to look for while recruiting and interviewing: Have they started a business of their own? Created a job for themselves in a larger organization? Identified a new opportunity for their company and taken ownership of figuring it out? Any of these are clues that the candidate is the type of person who will take responsibility for the work and relentlessly get better. The habit and attitude of constant improvement will make up for enormous gaps in experience or specific skills.
- Be your sales department for a period of time so that you can directly hear what your prospects keep saying no to. Then become your marketing department. after a handful of wins/painful losses so that you can script marketing assets that answer those common objections before they come up.
- Hire marketers (to enhance what you’ve discovered) who could sell if one day they had to, and sales people who can market/or build a strong personal brand. It is hard any other way for different sides to see the tasked outcome the same way.
- Mix the two specialties together. Reps and marketers in one room/cube section/etc. so that each can hear/experience what the other is learning. It will expedite revenue growth like you wouldn’t believe while building respect/comradery as two sides become one team.
What would you say to a sales or marketing leader in an established business that hopes to be a smarketing champion? What are some small but meaningful steps that they could take to effect positive change and more alignment between revenue teams?
(ELLI) Enroll your organization in a strategy first, not your tactics. Work hard to understand what leaders at all levels of the organization need from sales and marketing, and what their pain points are. Be empathetic and collaborative, but also have a strong vision and point of view.
(MICKELI) Blend the two as quickly as you can, make them a part of your weekly forecast calls, QBR’s (Quarterly Business Reviews), etc. so that both feels the pain when a pipeline is light as well as share in the excitement/spoils when a deal closes/quota is exceeded.
(CHRIS) Find ways to help marketing and sales walk in each other’s shoes. We sent our sales development team to Digital Summit to get some exposure to marketing, for instance. You could also do some role playing. Have your marketing people give product demos to sales reps who will relish the opportunity to pose as challenging prospects. Not only will this create empathy and learning between the teams, but should generate some shared laughs, further strengthening those relationships.
(AMY) As a leader, you set the tone – and words matter! Role model the type of productive behavior you want to see in your teams. Don’t blame, be data-driven and objective, communicate frequently and proactively. And finally, celebrate wins – even the small ones. Nothing brings a team together faster than gaining traction and progress toward a common goal.
Did these questions get you excited to learn more? Are you ready to align your sales and marketing teams? Register for our TCSW panel to hear more from these experts.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these other Authentic Brand Virtual Panel topics:
- A business guide to marketing leadership models - July 11, 2021
- Demand Generation 101: Build a foundation for a strong program - July 9, 2021
- What should growing businesses include in their entrepreneurial marketing plan? - July 6, 2021