This is an extract from an interview organized by the ever-ingenious Maureen Blandford of Mindtime Group. Maureen cares deeply about B2B marketing, and spends much of her time working on ways to get Sales and Marketing departments more aligned. Maureen hosted the interview, and joining us in this interactive discussion was Megan Heuer from Sirius Decisions. The original interview is also available as a podcast from Maureen’s site. The following is a direct transcript edited only for clarity or brevity.
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Maureen Blandford – Donal, what’s important to you about supporting the sales organization and the sales cycle and what’s not? When you’re helping sales organizations, why do you care less about brands and leads and what’s more important to you ?
Donal Daly – I don’t downplay the value of brands and leads entirely. If I think about it from a sales organization’s point of view or sales person’s point of view, there are really only 4 things that can impact the revenue they achieve:
- The number of opportunities they work on,
- The average value of those deals,
- Their close rate
- And the sales cycle.
Now, there are very few examples that I have seen where branding and leads impact any other than the first of those – that’s the number of opportunities. The experience is that the level of focus that’s on brand and putting stuff in the top of the funnel is disproportionate to the impact that it has, and that there isn’t as much focus, or as much attention paid to: How do I increase size; how do I move a deal through the funnel; how do I actually increase my close rate or reduce my sales cycle? The area where I think that marketing could benefit from more experience in is figuring out what really happens, what is really needed to move a deal along.
MB – Megan, what do you think about that ? We get that Donal is not saying that brands and leads aren’t important, but that perhaps marketing needs to have some more awareness of what’s going on during a prospect’s buying cycle – whether it’s a new account or a growing, existing business – what are your thoughts about some efforts that marketing is trying to make? Are you with him there ?
Megan Heuer: Well, a wise client once said that the thing that marketing has to remember is that sales is always on a 30 day performance plan – and that’s where their focus is going to be. In fact I am in violent agreement with Donal in the fact that not enough attention gets paid to those things that marketing can contribute at later stages of the buying process – so if you think about the fact that marketing typically is focused very much at the top of the funnel where they are doing things (what we call) feed demand, which would be in the branding and awareness category, and also to create demand … but a lot of times they are not extending their focus and their efforts and their understanding and their knowledge to those stages that are after the lead gets qualified.
Now, if I am a marketer, this doesn’t help me because increasingly I am called to account for a number, just like sales is – I may not be the one closing the deal but I’ve got to pay attention to whether what I am sending to sales actually closes, and the only way that I have a hope of having some positive impact on that is if I am thinking about the process, the skills, the knowledge that those reps need to move those deals successfully to close, that I have sent them. So, I have a vested interest as a marketer, but I do agree that marketing has paid traditionally a disproportionate share of interest to the top of the funnel. They shouldn’t, and it doesn’t work
DD – And I think that that wise person who spoke to you about the 30 day view hasn’t got an annual quota.
Because, the better sales folks are looking out a couple of sales cycles and are looking at how to develop their accounts, how to create their own opportunities, put them into their own funnel. And it’s some of that perspective I think that was shared by that wise person that, I think, is damaging to the sales/marketing alignment thing – because it’s all ‘well, all this guy cares about is closing this deal now so that he can make his next connection’ and the truth is that the professional salesperson treats their job as their business and they continue building their clients and doing those things.
The question that I often hear of marketing is ‘what are you doing for me, to help me build my own funnel because the value of my network is something that I have to mind, and secondly, when I do, where is my ‘in context’ value proposition? Because my high value proposition clearly doesn’t cut it any more’. It will need to be delivered in context to move things along.
MB – Donal, very briefly, can you tell me what you hear from your clients – is this something they have tried to explain to their marketing organizations and what do they hear back ?
DD – I think marketing gets a tough rap too, so let me say that as well! I’d love to have a job where half of what I do is measurable – there is that easy comeback – I’m joking (sort of). The sales organizations that I have worked with have gone to marketing and have had some tremendous input from marketing around ‘here are some objections that you might get, and here is why’- ‘here is some of the competitive information that we have that’s applicable at this stage’ and I think that those are the most successful who say: ‘At this stage here is the piece of the value proposition and the piece of the solution that attached to the specific problem’ and that’s when the marketing and sales works really well.’
MH – I think what they need to do is give marketing a chance to come back to them with some ideas. One of the struggles we see with sales organizations is they don’t necessarily tell us the need behind the request – they just say ‘I need this action, I need this specific thing,I need this event, I need this brochure.’ Jumping to the solution isn’t necessarily a good thing because that might not be the right solution, just like a good consultative sales person is not going to take the client’s request and say that’s exactly what you need: here – sign the order.
They are going to say, is that the right thing because if I give you the wrong thing, it won’t actually fix your problem. Marketing needs to do a better job of coaching sales to be able to articulate what their need actually is. For example, Donal is explaining kind of a complicated problem, where you’ve got marketing value propositions that are too high level to be appropriate and customized for later stages of the buying process. Marketing needs first of all to be able to anticipate that need, but also to say ‘Sales – here are some of the ways that we think you might be having challenges based on the opportunity that we see, the data we see, the background we have, the competitive intelligence we as marketers have put together – let’s together agree on that’ – so, I think it’s partly really working with sales to help them express their challenges and their needs and then marketing becoming a better consultant, a better provider to sales, to say ‘ok, based on the need you have described, here are some of the solutions that I can offer you that might be successful’ and when I find that clients really work well together, it’s when sales doesn’t just tell marketing what to do, and marketing doesn’t just assume sales doesn’t understand marketing, and just does whatever it wants …
Now, there’s got to be that mutual respect and understanding that each brings something different to the table and that they can solve problems in different ways and work together towards the same end.
MB – Megan, I think you bring up some good points, and even though I’m really hard on marketing organizations, I do see a genuine effort of marketers to try and understand better the needs of sales organizations. But they are kinda like new sales people in that their skills are kinda unpolished, they are not always sure how best to probe and dig, and they’ve got this decades long dna problem with sales organizations where sales is used to marketing shoving things down their throats.
Donal, do you see in what Meg has just articulated that if we continue to work on that as marketing organizations that we can make some headway with sales?
DD – Yes – I think that Meg has actually hit the nub of the problem here, which is when both parties come to it and say what business problems do we solve? Here is the business problem that the customer ultimately has – so how can I help the customer understand their problem better because remember the customer does not spend as much time focused on this as the sales person or the marketing person. So how can I collaborate? What can marketing and sales do to collaborate with my customer to figure out what is the business problem that they are trying to solve? And when marketing and sales come at it from that perspective, I think you get uncommon alignment and tremendous velocity.
MB – Absolutely – and Megan, you’re starting to see that with some of your clients, are you not?
MH -Definitely we are, and part of this too is when marketing and sales become aligned, one of the first ways that that alignment shows up is in process, and in the ability to do closed loop measurement, meaning marketing and sales work together to show what happens to leads as they go from cold to closed.
And, the better information and knowledge they have about all the stages in that process the better work they can do to identify where they have got opportunities for improvement and which of those is going to be best resolved by marketing and which is going to be best resolved by sales – oh, and by the way – also which are not getting enough data from the sales organization about what’s happening to leads, so that they can begin to diagnose where some of those problems are happening.
Some of our clients are going so far as to start to look at the step between when a lead gets qualified and goes in the pipeline and when it closes, there’s a lot of different stages involved, a lot of different steps to the buying process, that sales is working with … and they are going a long way to track and measure the movement within those phases between qualified and closed, to start to say where do deals fall out? which deal falls out? why did they fall out? And then marketing and sales are taking that data together to start to come up with some of those later stage steps. It requires a lot of discipline and a lot of mutual process monitoring on the parts of sales and marketing but what it yields is a much more effective and aligned way to get better at what both sides are doing.
MB – Donal, is there any type of coaching we can do with sales or marketing organizations about how we want to see them communicating better, without a SiriusDecisions backing them up?
DD – Gosh, I think that’s hard – I mean, one of the things I was just noting as Megan was talking about it is that everything that Meang is talking about is about the buying cycle and unfortunately that is too uncommon from marketing generally. That might be a broad sweeping statement but that is my observation. The guidance that The TAS Group would give to a sales organization is that is to say, please put yourselves on the other side of the table, look at it from the buyer’s perspective and consider what marketing materials you can provide me to help make it easier for them to buy. That’s the guidance that we would give.
MB – Sound good to you Megan ?
MH – It does, and I think the one neutral territory marketing and sales can always agree on is that it really should be about the buyer – no matter what we want to do, it’s really about what the buyer needs – and not so much about what we want to do.
So if people can at least find that neutral territory to start from, they’ll go a long way. But in the absence of maybe moving to that buyer’s track focus even if marketing can get a better understanding of the selling process that their reps are expected to use. Even by doing something a simple as send your marketing people through the first level of sales training or give them some understanding of what the steps are. They can’t help with a process they don’t know, and if it hasn’t occurred to them to reach out and get to know that process a little better, by all means that’s a great step to help them understand a day in the life.
DD – or give them a Quota ! (all laugh)
MH – You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if because of the better data that marketing is able to generate about the activities that it is creating, the response that they are getting, the movement of leads from cold to closed, a lot of the marketing automation vendors out there are beating the revenue performance drum pretty hard and they are doing it so that marketing can ultimately become more accountable for the revenue number which sounds a lot like sales !
DD – Well, you see, one of the problems is that in some cases, marketing is saying to the sales people ‘this is how you should do your job’ – but they are saying ‘now, I’ve never done it, but I’m telling you it’ll work ‘ – and that’s a bit of a leap.
MB – those types of situations are very challenging.
I would say, from the middle (because when I’m at a corporation, I’m moving back and forth between the marketing and sales organizations) – I’m often doing one to one referrals – if I see a marketer who is open minded I encourage them to go out and see if there is a sales person who will let them ride with them, or be on a call (Donal uses the phrase ‘at the coalface’) – so that they can really see how these conversations are going, and likewise helping sales organizations understand. If you see a marketer who seems open and asking you questions, don’t make assumptions, help them out, even if the broader organization is still a little bit in the dark ages.
DD – I think that sales people are also the toughest folks to serve because sometimes you’ll give them good opportunities and they won’t say thanks – and you give them bad ones and they shout, and you give them good ones and they won’t follow them up. So – there are all of those things – it’s really hard to create a meaningful value proposition, it’s hard to create persuasive documents that can get inside the buyers mind unless you have spent a lot of time with them – I think that’s very hard.
That doesn’t take from the value of competi
ive information, and product information and all those kind of things – but the buyer’s perspective, which really as Megan said is really the only one what counts, is something that is a combination of data collection and market research, and also intuition based on interaction. At least that’s my perspective.
MB – Megan, since you are so good and open-minded as a marketer (which is how I talk to people about you) is there anything/any one message you would like regarding sales and marketing working together ?
MH – I’ll tell you the biggest question that I just don’t get: is why sales is afraid to accept the leads that marketing gives them and move them forward? I hear this all the time and it’s a stumper for me because I can’t see why there is a penalty for accepting a lead generated by marketing, and then if you qualify it and it goes to pipeline keeping that loop going and kinda continuing that closed loop data. I hear this all the time from marketers who know they are sending over a certain volume of leads, they are getting calls, and they are getting qualified, but the sales rep for whatever reason is entering them as if it is their own.
To me it says ‘ok, that is a great way to stop marketing from being funded appropriately because it looks like you generate all your own leads and that marketing gives you nothing when you do that’ but if there is clearly value being delivered by marketing why not give them credit too, they are not trying to say they closed the deal, they are trying to say ‘Hey, we brought something to the table, we are spending money as a company on resourcing marketing, and marketing actually did do something, so why not let them get the credit that is due?’
DD – I think it is absolutely fair – because I want to understand what is the source of the opportunities that are closing ? Whether that is from marketing, or it’s from the sales person’s network, or something else ? Getting that information from the sales organization is hard. And I would say that marketing shouldn’t feel special in that regard because I don’t think sales tell anyone else the information either. The question I would ask if I was a marketer is ‘So if I am giving this person an opportunity that they sell and close and make money, and they don’t tell me about it so I give them more’ – then there is something missing. So, I’m doing work for them that is making them money, so if they believe that and perceive that to be true then their natural reaction would be to befriend me and to give me support.
So clearly you have to question whether they believe it.
Or whether it’s true.
MH – that’s an interesting point – that if there is in fact a disconnect there, that sales does not believe that what is being delivered has value and the reason that there is this appearance of reentering the same leads just putting it from a different source, yeah, it says why bite the hand that feeds you ? It’s a good question.
DD – I also wouldn’t give the sales people too much credit for being organised enough to say I’m going to take the lead when I get it from marketing – there are systems and processes that are sometimes are not followed sometimes because they get in the way, or sometimes they are just not followed.
And that’s my point, that marketing shouldn’t feel particularly aggrieved.
I spent a lot of my life in product management and the very point that you made earlier Megan, someone coming back and saying ‘you know, I want the product to do this’ as opposed to ‘the problem the customer is trying to solve is this, what do you suggest?’
MB – Absolutely, and Donal ties in with the point: administratively sales tracking funnel issues – it is probably a dig against marketing but probably part of a greater administrative tracking problem that sales organizations have.
MB – Thank you both – I’m hoping this becomes evidentiary, so that VP’s of Sales and VP’s of Marketing are talking about all sides of a problem without any ego, with really just the revenue and the margins of the companies that we serve being the most important thing.
DD – Thank you – and I wish that every marketing person was as insightful as Megan : )
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So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the perspectives shared here? I would love to hear your thoughts.