“No company in its right mind tries to sell to everyone” – Philip Kotler
For more from Jennifer Davis on sales and marketing, read "How to Market "Marketing": A Primer For Business People Who Market."
“No company in its right mind tries to sell to everyone” – Philip Kotler
For more from Jennifer Davis on sales and marketing, read "How to Market "Marketing": A Primer For Business People Who Market."
“Your focus needs more focus,” urged the martial arts master, played by Jackie Chan, in The Karate Kid remake. The same could truthfully be said about any of our businesses. Focus is difficult to achieve and maintain. It requires constant diligence and discipline.
We could all learn from the experience of Phononic, the developer of solid-state cooling solutions used in a variety of applications and industries. Founded in 2009 and headquartered in the Research Triangle Park area of Durham, NC, this private company has been named a CNBC Disruptor 50 (twice!) and was just recognized for account-based marketing innovation at the #FlipMyFunnelconference, where I first met them. As a company who is just beginning to take its technology out of the lab and into the market, focus is everything.
Markets in Focus
“As a venture-backed technology disruptor focus is key,” explains Kevin Granucci, vice president and general manager responsible for Phononic’s fiber optic business with a 21-year history in fiber optic transceivers. “Several years ago, we were chasing too many markets and the board of directors asked us to focus on the top few markets.” Spreading resources too thin and failing to gain a beachhead can spell disaster for a start-up and is a temptation of businesses of all sizes. “Fiber optic is one of those markets” that they choose to focus on. “This focus has led to a better return on investment and awareness where it counts most,” Granucci says. “Although the technology can be applied to many use cases and verticals, we use our material science and manufacturing processes to tailor the offering to the needs of the customers in [our focus] markets.” There are other advantages to focusing on fewer markets. Granucci noted that in the fiber optics space they “are trading on awareness and taking advantage of the fact that everyone knows everyone in the industry.”
Lessons learned: Overcome the temptation to play across too many markets, segments or regions. Focus on where you can improve your win rate and build strong awareness and a repeatable process of demand generation.
Customers in Focus
The fiber optic business is very concentrated. In fact, “the market is structured so that 10 to 15 major customers can swing the needle one way or the other,” explained Granucci.
Daniel Englebretson, who serves as Phononic’s director of integrated marketing, saw this as an opportunity. “This customer concentration makes it a great application for account-based marketing,” he concluded.
“When Kevin joined the company, out of the industry of our customers, I said ‘Gold Mine!’ He could answer all of our question about who, how and why,” Englebretson recalled. “We definitely got deep into the different roles that we should focus on.”
Granucci remembers those earliest conversations with “Daniel and the marketing team were focused around the question ‘tell me about your customer.’ How are they different across regions? Who buys the product? Who influences the sale? What are their priorities and requirements?” This was not a traditional conversation between marketing and sales. “I thought that they couldn’t possibly put all that insight and information to use,” he continues, “but what they have done with it to target and penetrate accounts has blown my mind.”
Specifically, Englebretson used this insight to drive the marketing campaign planning. “We broke the target accounts into three different categories. We broke out roles within those target account types,” he said. “Messaging and campaigning stem from the results of that research.” This supplements other inbound activities aimed to unearth new opportunities and position the brand.
Lessons learned: Get as close as you can to the market and customer. Phononic was able to tap the expertise of a 21-year industry veteran in the vertical market. You might have similar subject-matter experts in your organization or available to you in the ecosystem of your channel partners, consultants, specifiers or influencers. Use their insight to reach out to customers to learn more. Don’t forget your inbound marketing can be a source of insight as well.
Approach in Focus
“Being focused on our target accounts and informed by their needs requires discipline,” Englebretson summarized. “Account-based marketing is where demand gen is headed and as a marketing leader, you have to know what is possible.” The landscape is changing as targeted advertising, marketing automation and intention tools enable the change. “So much of the old tech stack was volume-based,” he continued. “It was all focused on generating as many leads as possible and delivering them to sales.” This could deliver impressive campaign metrics across multiple channels, but poor sales results in many cases.
“Our sales cycles are long,” Granucci commented. “It often takes between 18 months and two years from when you start a discussion and proceed through design, samples and qualification to go into production.” Key milestones in the buyer’s journey are labor or resource intensive like building awareness or providing samples of the material for performance testing. The long buyer’s journey leaves a lot of time for a poor quality lead to waste resources before it is disqualified.
“Having an account plan and being aligned on objectives to specific accounts allows us a rifle focus,” Englebretson added. “It is no longer a volume game.”
It kind of reminds me of where marketing automation was 10 years ago. It went from a cool new technology to something companies couldn’t do demand generation without. I think ABM is heading the same way. My KPI bowlers from the past few years have been similar, but there is a shift coming. As I think about my metrics for next year, they will be quite different. More about account penetration and account engagement. To do this, you need a different or significantly modified tech stack.”
Lessons learned: Armed with a customer profile in a concentrated market with long and complex sales cycles, you can utilize a different approach, namely account-based marketing. Start by changing your campaign objectives from volume measurements to account-related goals around engagement and penetration of your targeted customers and watch your behaviors align.
Campaigns in Focus
To approach the market, Englebretson used established process he had used before. “We create a campaign brief which outlines what we want to say, to whom, our budget, etc,” he described. “Key information is there like value propositions and personas. This leads to a buyer journey map, and, ultimately, a campaign map for each campaign.” This structure gets the ‘cognitive overhead’ out of the way and allows us to pivot quickly as the campaign unfolds.”
This cognitive overhead can manifest friction between what product marketing wants and what the creative teams want to deliver. “Sometimes the creatives feel like they can’t be creative and product leaders feel we are creating content that doesn’t resonate,” he observes. This is where the campaign planning process and the work done to define the ideal customer profiles and journeys can establish a common vocabulary for cooperation. “We can then pull up the journey map in every conversation and see how the creative fits,” he said. “We add to and we pull from. It can feel a little anti-creative to provide structure, but creative without purpose achieves nothing, and the framework allows us not to waste time and money while putting just enough constraint on creative.”
Once the front-end process has created campaigns fitting the journey, they make sure to align sales and marketing on the back end. “We do a funnel review with Kevin regularly, to make sure the marketing campaigns are yielding and to find out what is valuable and what they want to see more or less of,” Englebretson explained. “Structure and a few regular reviews go a long way to facilitate collaboration and alignment.”
Lessons learned: Make sure you structure the work and root the conversations around campaign development in the buyer’s journey maps that you have defined. Funnel and pipeline reviews with sales are a key feedback loop to make sure the campaigns are performing.
Focus in Focus
One of the other advantages of focus is that you can learn more quickly than your competition what really matters to your customers and pivot more quickly. “It has been an iterative process,” Englebretson noted. “Our goals have remained focused, but we have broadened and narrowed our approach based on what we have learned.”
Sometimes learning can lead to adaptations in the customer focus. “For instance, coming out of the trade show, we realized that we were not targeting all of the right buyer and influencer titles, so we went back and adjusted the campaigns,” he explained. “We expanded the target account list by 2x as we shifted job titles in our campaigns by adding some and weeding out others.”
Other times the learning can influence the messaging. As a case in point, Phononic found that its messaging around its power consumption advantages were being overshadowed by another feature, non-hermetic packaging. “At the trade show and in our A/B testing of ads, we heard the feedback about the importance of that feature, and we ended up shifting our ads,” Englebretson explained. “We bid on new keywords, topics, audiences, and had a presence in that part of the market before our competition, which was a competitive advantage.” This focus allowed to bring down its acquisition costs dramatically. “In the first month of running the new ads, the cost per click was $0.69 versus the previous, which was over $7.00,” he shared. “Bidding on topics that no one else was talking about, and really nailing our audience, gained us new customers at a lower cost.”
This responsive focus is being recognized by the industry. Granucci noted that the company's "empathy and responsiveness are really resonating with customers. No one else has been listening like we have and adjusting so quickly.” Englebretson added that “when you know the products and offering, that is where you get focus and you continually improve to crush the campaign objective. New information can yield new tactics, but the objectives stay the same." With agility, the objectives can be achieved.
Lessons learned: Focus doesn’t mean being rigid or inflexible. Quite the opposite. A focus on the customer and empathy for their needs, combined with good judgment and agility, can put you closer to achieving your goals.
This article was originally published on Forbes.
Jennifer will speak at the upcoming Association of National Advertisers, Business Marketing Association Mini-Conference on Sales and Marketing Alignment in Atlanta, GA on October 4th.
Aligning Sales and Marketing requires a team effort across your organization. It goes beyond a few discussions between Sales and Marketing leaders:
In our October 4th Sales and Marketing Alignment mini-conference, you will hear from four professionals who, when it comes to alignment, “live it”. Each speaker has chosen People, Process or Technology to share their thoughts on how these areas are addressed and help them, and help you, drive alignment in your own organization.
DATE AND TIME
Thu, October 4, 2018
8:30 AM – 1:00 PM EDT
1582 Terrell Mill Road Southeast
Marietta, GA 30067
Forbes contributor and high-tech marketing executive Jennifer Davis sits down with Parkmobile CMO Jeff Perkins and UserIQ CMO Nicole Wojno to talk marketing ROI.
For marketers, one of life’s greatest mysteries is measuring and reporting the ROI of its efforts. With the growing demand on marketing to show its strategic value and compete with other departments for more budget, now is the time to start to untangle the unwieldy knot of campaigns, lead sources and spend.
Jeff and Nicole will share their secrets to mastering marketing ROI.
Join us on Thursday, September 20th from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. at Launch 84 Peachtree St NW, Atlanta, GA 30303
Thursday, September 20
7:30 a.m.- 9:00 a.m.
84 Peachtree St NW
Atlanta, GA, 30303
TAG members Free
As a marketer, we are asked to make smart investments without all the information. The ever-increasing pace of industry, competitive pressures and rising investor and customer expectations are having their effect. To remain at the top of our game, we must demonstrate a bias for action and the ability to quickly pivot and learn. We are often asked to be change agents, which implies some conflict with internal and external stakeholders, or even our own bosses. We want to make smart decisions. We want to make a difference. We want to be confident and gain the confidence of others. How do we accomplish that? I believe the answer is in being fearless.
The word “fearless,” is often used to synonymously with fear-free. “He ran fearlessly into the burning building to save the child,” the newspaper will report of the local hero. “She has a fearless brush stroke,” they will tell of an artist’s boldness. “He fearlessly changed the business model from traditional transactions to a pay-as-you-go service business,” magazines will report. “Her fearless investments in the new market segment put her ahead of her competition,” followers will admire. "We fearlessly moved our business to the cloud, leading our industry in digital transformation," the annual report will boast. But any of these people will tell you that they have doubts. They were not guaranteed success. There is not a sub-species with superhuman abilities not to feel anxiety (although, in fairness, sometimes when I see the professional snowboarders flipping through the half-pipe or surfers attacking a crashing wave, I might be convinced otherwise). But for the rest of us mere mortals, it isn't about being fear-free, but rather they are overcoming their fears.
What does it mean to be fearless in your business and how can fearlessness be cultivated?
1. It is a mindset change
The answer might be hidden in the word itself. The term “less” is a relative word. It implies that it is less when compared to something else. I am sure you can sting your eyes with “tearless” shampoo, but it is meant to imply a relative safety to other products on the market. We use words like seamless, matchless, baseless, careless, effortless, heartless, motionless, priceless, and thankless as if they are absolutes, but they are really descriptions of relation. You can be seemingly tireless, but still get tired. So, being fearless is to fear less than you did before when faced with uncertainty. That is a choice that you make each day. In marketing, we may shift investment from traditional advertising channels or events to new digital initiatives or approaches. We may change our go-to-market structures, introduce new solutions, target new markets, go after new types of customers. All of these can be seen as fearless moves in hindsight, but if we live in the moment and in the data fearing less, we can improve our chances of success, even when we face internal opposition or hesitancy, without taking on unnecessary risk.
2. It requires practice
Extreme sports athletes seem fearless, but they train for years, risking life and limb, to build up the skills and stamina to wow us in prime time. They overcame their fear one run at a time and practice managing their mind along with their bodies. Entrepreneurs are known for their fearlessness, but that was also trained with small bets and experimentation throughout their lives.
In my experience, confidence is not the opposite of fear: it is action. Fear can be paralyzing, especially when combined with a vivid imagination, but the fearless face it down, give it a name, and move forward. Not recklessly, but with calculated intention, identifying and mitigating risks. To be fearless is just to strive to fear less than you did the day before and you do that with action. Before long, you are accomplishing things never before possible and bringing others along with you on the journey.
3. It builds confidence
I recently heard Beau Lotto, the neuroscientist whose TED talk has generated over 5 million views, say that “courage is more important than confidence.” The best leaders are right a lot of the time and are worth betting on, but more importantly, they have a bias for action. You only have confidence after someone had courage and proved it could be done. Hopefully, of course, that someone is you and you can reap the early mover advantages. Others see the success and what is possible and may live a bit more fearlessly as well.
4. It changes your priorities
You can be 100% correct about things that happened in the past (like last week's lottery numbers), but since we live our lives looking forward, we do not have that luxury. Quite the opposite. In today’s changing landscape, the tactics and strategies that worked in the past might as well be guaranteed not to work in the future. Be skeptical of anyone whose marketing plan, marketing metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are not changing over time. That is something to be truly afraid of. To fear less means to learn more and that is bound to change what you are measuring and where you are aiming your attention and resources.
5. It changes the way you work on a daily basis
Sometimes as leaders we see fearlessness demonstrated in bold business strategies or big M&A investments, but not all fearlessness happens in the boardroom at scale. It is seen in the conversations we have that are awkward or difficult. The coaching conversations with a struggling employee. The negotiations with stakeholders for input or support. The fierce disagreements that result in a strong commitment to the decisions, whether they aligned with your ideal or not. This is where the strength of our backbones are tested. Where our fearlessness and our commitment to strategy is demonstrated. This is where we build our confidence, reveal our new priorities and practice our new mindset.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
Today it seems that every company is either in the midst of crisis, coming out of a crisis, or about to have one. It isn’t a matter of if. It is a matter of when and how you will respond. And crisis can put the tenuous alignment of your sales and marketing organizations to the test.
“Reputation and crisis have the potential today to define an organization, to send its community of advocates spinning, to disrupt financially its stock, its profitability, its leadership hold on the market,” says Dean Trevelino, whose professional experience spans GolinHarris, Ogilvy, and now Trevelino/Keller, a public relations, social media and brand communications firm located in Atlanta. And no company is immune. “Every month, a national brand showcases the potential impact,” he continued.
Here are 7 skills that you can build today, ahead of a crisis, to help you weather and prosper in the storm.
1. Plan Ahead
“One of the most valuable things an organization can do before a crisis strikes is to have a designated crisis team in place,” offers Anne Marie Malecha, senior vice president and partner at Dezenhall Resources, a leading high-stakes public affairs and crisis management firm in Washington DC. “The team should have a cross-functional representation of your business. It can’t be 15 people, because the group needs to make decisions and make them quickly,” she advises. “But it can’t be so small that it fails to consider your business as a whole.”
Of course, this crisis team supplements the existing practices regarding public spokesperson responsibilities. “It is critical that the culture and policies of the organization regarding who speaks to the public are in place long before there is a crisis. The ground rules need to be set early on,” Trevelino concludes.
Long before a crisis strikes, it is important to consider the goodwill you are creating in the communities you serve because often “giving back” becomes “paying it forward” in the times of trouble. Trevelino recounts a famous example from McDonald's:
"McDonald’s is a brand that invested in its communities early on. In 1992 during the Los Angeles riots, 53 people were dead, 2,500 injured, $2 billion in damage, including more than 1,200 buildings. McDonald’s restaurants were located in the heart of the destruction and not one McDonald’s was damaged. It was the one brand that people felt was an important brand in the community."
2. Recognize It When It Happens
“Crises take many forms without warning or incident. From a wayward executive to natural disasters, from criminal tragedies to nationwide product recalls,” he continues. “Sometimes they start as an incident with the potential to become an impacting crisis. Other times, they originate as a full-fledged crisis and our intent is to prevent it from becoming a disaster.”
In Dezenhall's practice, Malecha has seen the range. “Crises are often caused, or fueled, by motivated adversaries,” she asserts. “Those are companies, groups, or individuals with a position that is counter to yours. If you are a large oil company, you can bet that you will find environmental activists among your motivated adversaries. If your company is in an industry targeted by regulators, you may find motivated adversaries on Capitol Hill or in state legislatures.”
Sometimes they are expected and sometimes unexpected. “Any company finds motivated adversaries among their competitors,” she continues. Competitors in the market today with which you are familiar, or disrupters entering the industry. “If you are a grocery store chain or a business focusing on home delivery of groceries, and Amazon enters your space, that is a marketplace crisis.”
And do not forget that sometimes crisis can begin positively. “Mergers and acquisitions can be a crisis,” Malecha observes. “Depending on what side of the transaction they find themselves on and if the deal is struck between publicly traded companies, where the SEC has rules around filings and who is allowed to say what to whom and when” the communications can start to feel responsive.
3. Communicate, Early and Often
Malecha suggests that in the first few hours after a crisis, “you have to communicate. We advise clients not to overpromise in these early stages. To be empathetic to all the stakeholders, of course. But you have to communicate something."
"You can’t allow a vacuum to be created,” she continued. In today’s rapid-fire media landscape, “conventional and alternative news outlets will fill the vacuum with whatever they believe to be true or worse what fits their preconceived narrative,” she explained. And that can lead to a communications clean-up effort. “Often an initial crisis is followed by a crisis of misinformation that is flooded into the vacuum,” she said. “Sometimes the perception of a possible wrongdoing becomes the crisis,” adds Trevelino. “It becomes a reality that has to be addressed. The communications or lack thereof, around the crisis, becomes a crisis unto itself.”
“You should communicate progress, early and often,” Malecha urges. “One of the ultimate goals of crisis management is to make your crisis as unsexy and uninteresting as possible.” That is accomplished through regular updates of incremental progress and as Trevelino advises “relentlessly pursuing the facts.” You can err by under-communicating and you can error by over communicating, guessing or speculating before facts are understood and action is underway.
A Note About Social Media
“Crisis management is a containment discipline and social media is the opposite,” observes Malecha. “During a crisis, it can be difficult to combat the volume, velocity, and venom – what our firm calls the ‘fiasco vortex,’ – in today’s media landscape.” This phenomenon is explained in Dezenhall's CEO, Eric Dezenhall’s book, Glass Jaw. “Because of the sheer amount of content that can be spread, at warp speeds, with negativity and scandal prioritized over fact, organizations can find themselves in the center of the fiasco vortex in an instant.”
And social media platforms and user behaviors are also changing, especially among employees of affected brands. “No matter what level in the organization you are or no matter how old the Tweet was, people are losing their jobs, their careers, and their reputation,” Trevelino observes. “This heightened level of sensitivity of risk wasn’t there a few years ago.”
4. Align the Message and Equip the Field
A crisis is a distraction to normal operations and nowhere is it more distracting as with customers who want answers from front-line sales and service personnel.
“There is no one great solution to equip salespeople to talk to their customers about the crisis,” notes Malecha. “If they respond to their customers saying, ‘we can’t talk about it,’ that would be troublesome.” If they share too much or incomplete, or worse, inaccurate information, they make the situation worse. Here is what she suggests get prepared to keep everyone on the same page:
"You need an external message for the public.
You also need a message for customers that matter most. Usually, it is the broader public statement with some confidence-inducing talking points. There is no such thing as an internal document that stays internal, especially in a crisis.
We recommend nothing more than a page and to have it distributed through sales leads or their managers, rather than from the CEO’s office. This allows more direct escalation through trusted relationships.
The message should always be that we are providing information as we get it, in this developing situation, and that our customer relationships are important to us."
In an environment where you are giving updates to the market or press every few hours or seeing an unfolding situation that is likely to take months to resolve, it can be tempting to lean on one-way communications, but that can also damage trust and undermine the ongoing effectiveness of the crisis management.
“Customers must feel that there is two-way communication,” Malecha observes. “It can calm their nerves and helps inform the company about what questions are on people’s minds.” This outside perspective is useful. “What you are feeling and seeing internally, will be different than what your customers are seeing and feeling,” she continues.
This listening can take the form of face to face or phone conversations, a message hotline, email, or social media. Malecha offered this example from Southwest Airlines.
“They recently had a flight that needed to make an emergency landing after losing an engine. As pilots were in communication with air traffic control, Southwest’s sophisticated social media team was getting real-time information from passengers through social channels. A lot of corporations consider social listening an afterthought and as something non-critical, but in times of crisis, it is very important.”
No matter what tools you use, your attitude matters. “We have found you can keep the relationships intact, if there are honesty and continuity,” Malecha continues. “Customers can also be your greatest pipeline to gauge how you’re handling the crisis. If a lion’s share of your distributors are asking the same question, that’s something that should be communicated back to the crisis team to ensure the company finds an answer to.”
6. Stop What Isn’t Helping
“Companies should be ready to respond with appropriate action across the organization,” Malecha said. This often means impacting the ongoing marketing initiatives in light of the crisis. She pointedly adds “Do you stop running ads for the company when you are spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico? Yes. Do you change the tone of your social media accounts from irreverent to respectful when your product has allegedly hurt someone? Yes.”
It is often good to shut down marketing in the midst of a crisis to be sensitive and to not waste critical resources, Trevelino observes. Like a hurricane, a "crisis can swallow up everything in its path." This can affect a brand even “when the crisis is not directed at the [client] company,” but is in the industry or market segment. “Everything in its path becomes devastated, regardless of whether they had a role.” Monitoring the situation and brand closely ensures that resources are allocated responsibly. “You can shorten the life of a crisis by not crashing your own plane,” Malecha adds.
7. Maximize Your Learning
“Good companies allow the crisis to be a catalyst for positive operational change. Poor leadership can allow the crisis to drive the company to free fall,” Malecha offers. “Some go through a crisis and try to go straight back to normal. But the best companies recognize that there is a new normal. They intend to learn from their experience and not let it repeat, with worse consequences.”
“What is the objective of the company when crisis strikes?” Malecha asks rhetorically. “To return to business as usual as fast as possible. Sure, they may have to spend money that they didn’t intend to spend with lawyers, communications firms, and investigators.” Those are the expenses that come with the crisis. But if those are treated like tuition, the learnings can be substantial.
8. Diagnose Accurately and Take Action
“Crises are often misdiagnosed,” Malecha concludes. “They almost always arise as conflicts, not communication problems.” Since the issue or topics might be playing out in the media, some leaders will identify the crisis as a communication problem and are tempted to treat it as such. But “crises are solved through operational decisions, not just PR bandages. You might have a great statement or press release, but that is not going to build back the factory that blew up or fix the quality issue that led to the product recall," she explains.
"Crisis management is a series of deliberate decisions the company makes to dampen the broader impact of what they are facing. It isn’t just communications." It is about an opportunity make the company better, strengthen relationships with the customers that matter most, improve the operations, and even solidify the alignment and positive dependencies between sales and marketing that will serve the organization well into the future.
Disclosure: I recently volunteered to conduct a workshop for McDonalds restaurant owners, sponsored by Coca-Cola I have flown Southwest Airlines and have fond childhood memories of McDonald's Happy Meals.
This article was originally published on Forbes.
“Give you this to take with you: Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” – Judith Minty
To read more from Jennifer Davis, check out "What Fire Teaches Us About Innovation."
Data breaches and privacy vulnerabilities splash across the headlines each week and cost businesses millions and some of the blame may lie in the misalignment of sales and marketing.
These announcements unseat executives, obliterate market value, shake the confidence of customers, necessitate awkward Senate hearings, and damage the brand for the long term. All of us can think of companies that have been adversely affected by this violation of trust, and the impact is significant across industries.
According to the 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study by Ponemon, sponsored by IBM IBM +0.46%, the average cost of a data breach in the US is $7.91 million in direct and indirect expenses and another $4.2 million was the average loss of business following a breach. But even for smaller incidents, each stolen record costs the business $233, which is up 4.8% since last year. It doesn’t take many compromised records to have that figure add up.
And perhaps more shocking, the average global probability of a material breach in the next 24 months is 27.9%. That means, nearly a third of companies will have a data breach next year, which means that nearly a third of customers could be victims of data vulnerabilities.
As you might imagine, the faster the data breach can be detected, the lower the cost and brand impact. Companies that identified a breach in less than 100 days saved more than $1 million than their peers that took the average of 197 days. But better yet, companies can avoid costly breaches by evaluating their systems and processes and preventing problems from ever occurring.
How does this relate to sales and marketing misalignment? The Data Breach Study attributes 27% of breaches to “human error” and 25% to “system glitches.” These combine to cause most data vulnerabilities. Because the systems used by sales and marketing contain some of the richest customer data and largest user populations with access to data they represent a significant business risk hiding in plain sight.
Here are four areas in which you can assess your risk of a breach and some best practices to address each:
1. Beware of Separate MarTech and SalesTech Stacks
If you hang around a modern marketing organization you will hear terms bantered around frequently: CMS, marketing automation, sales enablement platforms, e-commerce, customer relationship management or sales force automation tools. These are often abbreviated “MarTech” (as in Marketing Technology) or SalesTech (Sales Technology). And it is not uncommon to have these systems in organizational silos without integration, data synchronization, or a common view of the customer. “Multiple applications, in many cases, have duplicate data to accomplish the same objective,” commented Joan Netzel, CPA and professional board member, former group vice president and internal auditor for SunTrust Banks and former CFO of the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. “One key risk is that the data is not accurate from system to system, which poses a problem with reporting and decision making.” This has implications on the customer experience, management effectiveness, compliance with GDPR and other regulations, and the ability of the organization to fully leverage relationships, but it holds another risk: it can make your systems more susceptible to data vulnerabilities. Companies are quick to overlook the data breaches that happen every day when territory salespeople leave the company and take contacts and contract details of clients with them on their personal devices.
Actions you can take: Look closely at the integration or duplication of systems between sales and marketing and the access rights to each. Often misalignments in annual objectives and management styles can manifest in system proliferation, each with a different set of access controls. And don’t forget the hidden sales systems that exist in employee’s email inboxes, contact directories on their phones, shared drives, or on spreadsheets, outside the formal CRM systems.
2. Beware of System Proliferation
It is not uncommon in large companies or companies that have grown through acquisition to have a number of competing systems all in simultaneous operation. One company may have dozens of separate CRM instances or point solutions in the sales and marketing space, across multiple vendors and hosting models. With this disarray in their system ecosystem, vulnerabilities around data usage and access are often hidden in the mix.
Plus, the features of these robust and expensive platforms go under-utilized. As author and consultant David Taber wrote for CIO Magazine “no amount of ‘best in breed’ features will make a difference if their data is an uncoordinated mess.”
Furthermore, systems tend to multiply when governance is not strong. In organizations of all sizes, shadow IT organizations (or “hidden factories”) can build and implement solutions in the organization without explicit organizational approval. This is becoming increasingly easier in a world of cloud computing or when applications are offered in Software as a Service (SaaS) business models, where anyone with budget authority can implement solutions, without the technical expertise previously required for on-premises installations. This ease of database provisioning and application deployment in the cloud has real benefits to the enterprise, of course, but it can exacerbate organizational dysfunction. And the ubiquity of API-style connections between tools makes sharing sensitive data with third-parties easier than ever before.
Actions you can take: Building on the investigation above, conduct a full inventory of the systems used at your company that store or share customer data of any type. Review the data policies of your vendors. You will likely be shocked by how many systems are in use and can put a plan into place to streamline and consolidate as required.
3. Beware of System of Record and Data Ownership Ambiguity
“Decisions around technology platforms need a holistic approach,” continued Netzel. Never is this truer than when companies are determining their systems of record: the computer system or application which will serve as the company’s authoritative data source for customer data. Not the pet system of one department or the other, but for the enterprise as a whole. “The customer demographic data regarding sales and products, need to be in sync with the system of record and a reconciliation of that data in separate systems needs to be designed and performed periodically,” Netzel advised. It is critical that each system has a “data owner who is responsible for determining who has access to the data and for how long,” explained Donna Gallaher, an IT and cybersecurity advisor who holds active CISSP, C|CISO, and CIPP/E certifications. “That data owner should be tracking exceptions and ensuring that access is removed when no longer needed, even though IT or the security team implements the controls.”
Actions you can take: Go to your ecosystem inventory and ensure that every system has a unique and defined purpose and a data owner that has defined processes for access controls. Once you know how many systems you use and which you intend to serve as the system of record, you can decide which should be phased out of operation, which could not only lead to reduced risk, but reduced costs as well.
4. Beware of Ill-Defined Security Policies
It is not uncommon for companies to have an employee manual or other documents which outline behavior expectations of their employees, but many companies do not have a written security policy that covers topics beyond acceptable use, to include password and encryption standards, data retention standards, access management procedures and other critical elements. “A key element of a security program is the maturity of a company’s employee and contractor onboarding and offboarding process,” Gallaher offered. “Access rights should be defined for each job role, and there should be procedures in place for granting and removing access to all required systems.” This requires another system of record to be defined for employee data. “Typically, either Active Directory [email and network access system] or the HRIS [human resources information system] is the system of record with one system feeding data into the other,” she continued. “It is important for companies to determine which is the system of record and who owns the data, and to design the rest of the processes for granting and removing access rights around that system of record and data owner.”
Actions to take: Gallaher suggests that “everyone should have security responsibilities in their job description” and understand what systems and tools they need for their role and how to secure the data in those systems according to the policy.
In summary, “the most important thing is to decide on your system of record and to assign a data owner,” Gallaher offered. However, data vulnerabilities and risk assessment can not be delegated. The responsibility must be shared across the enterprise. “It is common for businesses to try to shift risk to the IT or security organization,” Gallaher added, “but the business always owns the risk.” No matter who works on the systems or administers policy, the business ultimately owns the impact. Sales and marketing must align, with other groups and interests of the business, to ensure the systems they use every day, to communicate with customers or track the sales pipeline, don’t end up costing the business a breach.
This article originally ran in Forbes on August 20, 2018.
You pray for a sign. Sometimes this is the sign you get.
You are one turn closer to where you need to be.
See this article in Forbes on how one company, Suterra and their leader, Melinda Sych, puts the customer in the center of their marketing and sales efforts.
At the heart of every successful customer-centric company is that they get paid for paying attention: to the needs of their customers and to the things that result in internal efficiency and effectiveness. By learning faster, while staying on strategy and on message, the results and rewards can be substantial.
What can a purpose-driven chemical company in a highly-regulated and competitive market teach you about building a customer-centric culture and driving great results? More than you might suspect.
Suterra offers biorational and healthy pest management alternatives for the agricultural industry and is a division of The Wonderful Company , a $4 billion private corporation comprised of healthy brands across consumer and industrial segments. Melinda Sych has served as the vice president of Commercial Operations for four years and is responsible for marketing and sales for Suterra, building on her engineering and business management experience at Dow Chemical, Asahi, and SEH.
In our recent interview, she shared several key principles that have been deployed at Suterra that are instructive for anyone wanting to foster customer obsession in their organization.
1. Focus for Impact
Suterra makes products that allow growers to reduce crop damage and increase their profits and output with healthy alternative pest management solutions. In her first days at the company, Sych met with customers to better understand the business. “When a customer told me that we were everything to everyone and nothing to anyone, it was telling,” she recalled. It was clear they needed a strategy to improve their chances of success and exceptional customer experience where it mattered most.
“Defining for your business what you are going to do is also defining what you are not going to do or what you are no longer willing to do,” Sych instructed. “And that focus must be for the business and for the functions.” Sych added that “you need to be able to answer the question, ‘Why aren’t we doing that?’” in a consistent way across the whole organization. This is easier said than done. Especially when customers themselves ask you for solutions outside your focus.
David Cooperstein, who ran the marketing leadership practice at Forrester and now provides strategic advisory services to startups and mid-stage companies with his company Figurr, has seen the same tension in companies across multiple industries. “It takes discipline to be willing to say that they can’t serve a particular vertical right now,” he shared in a recent interview. “Successful companies always pick a tight market to focus on, then expand once they have mastered each category.”
Sych summed up what this kind of discipline has meant to Suterra:
The success of focus is remembering that you can’t do everything and if you try, you are not going to do it well. As a leader, you need to remind your team what you are doing to accomplish your mission and be the best. The reason we aren’t doing other things is that it would dilute our ability to achieve the mission. There are millions of businesses that have tried to do everything and failed at everything. We want only to be the best of the best at our purpose. This helps not only build our brand with our customers, but also our employees, shareholders, and the industry.”
Advice you can use: Decide what your business is going to do and what you won’t do. And have the discipline and courage to stick with your strategy. You have to believe that focus will make you more successful when your resolve is tested.
2. Go Deep With the Customer
Increasingly in competitive markets, businesses are differentiating on experience and that requires a deep understanding of the customer. At Suterra “it’s all about the customer experience,” Sych said. “We want them to love using our products and to see it result in damage reduction. We must understand them.”
In their highly-technical sales they “take market analysis, competitive insights, product details and understanding of the customer problem, and we decide how we are going to position the product and what the typical use looks like in different segment markets,” Sych explained. For instance, in grapes alone there are many segments, Sych described, including various grades of wine grapes, table grapes, and raisins. The channels to market, the price points, likely applications, and the varietals vary widely across those segments. Suterra’s marketers need to have data to show the efficacy of the product in the most likely use cases. “The marketers work with our technical teams to understand agricultural practices in the segments and to gather the data required to properly position our products in our target segments,” Sych explained. They ask themselves “what makes the most sense and will have the most impact?” and they then target the use cases that have the highest impact on the management of a pest in that target segment. “We then price according to our principle of accessible return on investment,” she concluded.
This process is very involved when you need to prove outcomes with science and research as Suterra’s market requires. “In our highly-regulated business, there are lengthy product development cycles and sales processes,” Sych described. “We need to facilitate conversations with many parties and people to get feedback. For instance, we ask sales, customers, business development, and others for feedback on our labels, messaging, and use cases so that we can achieve our objectives.”
Launching product in this context requires highly segmented messaging, ROI data, and efficacy data aimed at the different decision makers for the different markets and extensive sales training to deliver the message. “In order to do this, we need to understand how our product makes our customers’ lives harder and easier,” Sych observed. “What equipment or products they will need to be successful. What support services they need to make it easier to use and more readily adapted across our key target segments." All of that insight comes through deep understanding of the customer.
Yet, even businesses without the regulatory requirements for evidence, need to provide reasons for customers to purpose the products or services that rely on a deep understanding of the customer needs.
Advice you can use: Whether your development cycle is three years or three days, whether you are selling B2B or to consumers, use that time to get feedback from key stakeholders and understand deeply the customer problem at which your solution is aimed.
3. Differentiate with Brand Experience
When Sych visited those first customers she asked why they bought the product. They answered “because it works.” She saw that as something to build upon.
“We are seen as an innovator and are often first to market,” Sych said with pride. “But competitors watch the filings and we only can count on a few year head start, as our compounds can not generally be protected with patents.” Suterra’s products are based on science often discovered and researched in university settings.
“If you can’t patent the inventions, then your messaging and brand is your differentiation,” Sych concluded.
This creates a high-stakes scenario where speed to market matters. “When anyone complains about others copying our work, I just ask ‘how can we do it better?’ It ups the game,” Sych observed. “Being first gives us the chance to learn about weaknesses in the market that we need to address. Competition makes us better by putting us on our toes and making us ready to respond,” she suggested. As a result of the competitive pressures Suterra’s “sales and marketing teams are listening better for information, they are analyzing, they are digging into nit-picky details, and they are paying attention,” Sych commented.
Instead of paying patent attorneys, we are paying attention to our customers.”
And what has been the result of this customer-focus? “Having a strong brand speeds up the time to market even in our highly regulated industry,” Sych remarked. The EPA and state registration and efficacy tests take time, but the market adoption curve can vary widely. “We just launched a new citrus product two years ago,” she recalled. “It went from nothing to 70% market share in two selling seasons after registration.” The credibility and customer confidence they had built in the brand, had earned them customer loyalty and trust and allowed them to over-achieve their sales targets. “We asked for pre-orders for this new product and were pleasantly shocked to book 95% of our annual sales by January of the year,” she added.
Advice you can use: Don’t focus too much on the competition and whether you have defensible protection. It can trap you into looking backward and may not be as secure as you would hope. Rather, focus on being the fastest learners in the marketplace for sustainable advantage.
4. Partner Internally
Cooperstein added that in his experience “the sales teams look to marketing for guidance. They want to know how to tell a better story than others in their space and how to win more business.” In short, “Sales needs to carry the company message, not just the sales numbers.”
Sych agrees on this kind of partnership and noted that at Suterra “Marketing is setting the message and Sales is responsible for delivering.”
The needs and roles of sales and marketing, even when they are part of the same organization as they are at Suterra, are different and require open partnership. “Field salespeople are busy and are dealing with day-to-day issues of their customers,” Sych said. “Marketing people are back in the office thinking it will be simple to follow the approach they have recommended.” In many companies, this can lead to silo thinking, pointing fingers, and breakdowns in relationships. In fact, InsideView’s Report “The State of Sales and Marketing Alignment in 2018” noted that negative perceptions between the groups leave 28% of sellers thinking they would do a better of marketing than their marketing colleagues and 23% of marketers believing they would do a better job of selling. However, the truth is that the groups need each other to be successful.
“There is a connection and dependency throughout the business and between sales and marketing,” Sych noted. “Whether they are on a single team or separated, they should be reminded that they need each other.”
In order for marketing to be successful, we have to hit our revenue targets. In order for sales to be successful, we need to have messaging and tools in the market. They should be incentivized together.”
Beyond having common goals, Suterra has created positions to act as bridges between sales and marketing. “Having people who own the products through the product launch helps facilitate sales success by improving the visibility of how this approach is being received by the market and allowing us to adjust our message or approach to better optimize the results in real time,” she commented.
Speaking to marketers, Sych had some final advice: “Marketing organizations have to be strong to do their job well. Confidence in the marketing organization is earned and learned.” Successful launches in which marketing and sales both see their unique contributions, help reinforce this confidence and mutual respect.
Advice you can use: Make sure the sales and marketing organization (or organizations) know how they win together and align goals and incentives. Celebrate the wins together and build upon that success.
“Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman.” – Maya Angelou
To read more from Jennifer Davis about change, read her blog, "Motion Sickness: 3 Ways to Survive Change (Without Losing Your Head)"
I saw the new Mission: Impossible movie yesterday and was struck by how often Ethan Hunt, the hero played by Tom Cruise, stopped to see, empathize, and protect his team mates and the innocent bystanders of his action shenanigans. Seeing them as people, not as obstacles on his parkour course chasing bad guys.
It was a good reinforcement of some ideas from a book (recommended to me by Jennifer Daniels) called The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. In it, they provocatively call the objectifying of people as an act of violence itself, as thoughts precede behavior.
What does this have to do with sales and marketing alignment? Well, everything.
I have been writing for Forbes on the topic of alignment and customer-centricity, showcasing insights from different marketing, sales, and business leaders across the country, from brands big and small. I still have a lot to share (stay tuned for some great upcoming pieces), but even in these early weeks of my research I am struck with how often the problem that manifests as misalignment is one of perspective.
Harkening back to high school geometry, here is the step-by-step proof:
We can only solve problems we can see.
In frustration or impatience, we see each other as the problem.
When we see each other as the problem, we stop seeing the real problem.
As we don't see the problem as it truly is, we can never really solve it.
In a lesson today, Dr. Mark Brewer, reminded us that in relationships you can’t think “you are the problem” or “I am the problem,” you have to think “it’s you and me against the problem.”
When we see each other through the lens (or should I say the monocle) of the problem, we no longer see the person. They are the problem. They are objectified. They are a caricature without the complexities inherent in humanity. We see them and the issue in 2D. Over-simplified. And as a result, our minds are tuned to seek and find hardship. We are often chasing evidence of how we’ve been wronged. None of which is useful to problem solving.
In contrast, when we see the problem through the lenses of more than one expert (as you can when you are on the same side of the table, instead of opposite sides), the problem can be fully explored in 3D. The people remain people (not obstacles to overcome) and our minds are tuned to solutions and finding common ground.
We see what we seek.
This does not mean that sometimes our colleagues are not very good at their jobs or that some people are difficult to work alongside. There are times when people do have ill intensions or have broken our trust. Sometimes role changes or people moves are required to get to solution and this can be achieved with sensitivity and respect. But in any case, confronting reality, both the good and the bad, together leads to better outcomes in my experience.
I heard of an example recently where a high-performing executive at a prominent company decided to take a side step into a supporting role in recognition that the business needed something beyond what he could give. This highly admirable act demonstrates not only self-awareness and servant leadership, but also the commitment to face the truth and follow that truth to whatever conclusions are best for the business.
This kind of openness and frank communication can re-center the organization on the “why” of your business or project, what success looks like, and what is required to move forward.
Ray Padron recently shared a quote from Gail Hyatt which posed that “people lose their way, when they lose their why.” So true.
And ironically, the best way to find your “why” is to start with your “who.” After all, you can’t be obsessed about your customers, if you don’t know who they are. You can’t set priorities or align your time and resources to high-impact projects, if you don’t know who you are serving. You can't own your business, if you are seeking others to blame. And we can’t determine or achieve the “why” of our business without the people “who” are our colleagues, team mates, stakeholders, and co-collaborators.
Our mission, should we accept it, is to see people as people and to find a way together.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.
In my latest Forbes article, I interviewed Martyn Etherington from Teradata. Read the full article here.
Martyn Etherington knows what it takes to drive change from the office of the CMO and has plenty of lessons for new chief marketing officers. In fact, he himself is practicing being new. Six short months ago he joined Teradata, a data analytics company, drawing upon his extensive executive marketing experiences at IBM (Sequent Computer Systems), Danaher (Tektronix), Mitel Networks, and Cisco Systems
Being new on the executive team, the need to align sales and marketing, a perennial priority, is even more sharply in focus. “Sales and marketing can be like the Montagues and Capulets from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet,” Etherington joked. Even at the best run companies, alignment is hard won.
Etherington’s priorities these first few months he believes have set the foundation for the alignment that will be needed for transformation and hold some lessons for any CMO starting with a new company.
Goal Setting – tied to revenue and relationships
“The relationship between sales and marketing can also be, at times, as Winston Churchill described the U.S. and U.K., ‘two nations separated by a common language,’” he continued. “The key is shared language and goals,” not just perceptions. “We have one shared goal and that is ‘Growth’,” he summarized.
Etherington emphasizes that marketing should have intimacy with the business and that compensation should be tied to their sales peers’ goals. “I want them to know where are we regarding revenue, quarter to date, year to date,” he explains. “Are we growing quarter-over-quarter, year-over-year? Are we growing at or above market? Are we taking share? How does our collective sales funnel look?” For this, he looks at the size, shape, velocity, and quality of the overall pipeline and then asks “How can we help improve the funnel?” to keep the focus on action. As he has found “without these KPIs, without this insight and intimacy of our business, we are stumbling in the dark.”
Every organization would like to get better at attribution, but Etherington is “less concerned with perfect attribution, or optics. I would much rather spend time determining our impact on the funnel and top-line growth,” he said. It starts and ends with setting good Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and a desire to “do good, not just look good.”
“Other than my boss, my number one priority was the partnership with my sales peer Eric Tom, our chief revenue officer,” Etherington offers. And those relationships extend through the sales organization and across between leaders in sales and marketing.
Etherington suggests that a good way to begin these conversations in your first few days on the job is to ask sales peers the following question: “If we were to nuke marketing, what would happen to our business?” This can solicit a range of responses, all useful for building a relationship and getting on the same page as to the priorities.
“Sometimes you get the answer ‘nothing would happen.’ Others attribute a portion of their sales results to marketing,” Etherington recalls. He has found that based on his B2B marketing experience, “organizations believe that, ideally, that they should get 20-30 percent of their funnel from marketing.” Some industries vary depending on the complexities of their offerings, sales cycle and whether they have a direct or indirect or blended go-to-market strategy, but no matter how much reliance there is on marketing to build the pipeline, it is important to create positive dependencies between marketing and sales that ties back to those shared goals and the relationships that are being fostered between the functions.
Teradata has an enterprise focus and sells direct. The sales are consultative and high touch. In this model, it may be more simple to track attribution to marketing than other go-to-market models, but it still requires vigilance and a focus on the right things. “Transparency is key,” he adds. “You need operational rigor around your own metrics. They need to be real and they need to be metrics that you can manage versus just monitoring.” As I have also found in my career, marketing has lots of things they can measure, but not all things that are measurable are important or lead to action. “We are interested in conversion and ultimately conversion," he continued. "That is more important to us than vanity metrics like touch points. We want to work with our sales peers to drive growth.”
Culture – a mindset change supported by systems
“You can pontificate all you like about alignment, insight, impact and effectiveness, but you have to have a business perspective, an appetite for operational rigor and a culture of continuous improvement to affect change,” Etherington challenged. You have to operationalize the strategic plan, with the right structures and systems in place, to achieve it. He has worked for companies with exacting business operating systems, like Danahar, with red, yellow, and green dashboard indicators and he has taken the opportunity to apply best practices of lean to his team at Teradata for strategy deployment, KPIs, action plans, and “root cause countermeasure” approaches. “We implemented weekly stand-ups and have begun a standard monthly marketing operations review to make sure we are making progress and attaining our KPI planned metrics,” he explained.
Cultures are known to change slowly. “We are at the beginning of a journey,” Etherington said. “We have begun our transformation. We have our strategic objectives in place, aligned with our company goals. We have our KPIs defined and populated, we have supporting action plans and forums for us to inspect and improve.” It’s a start, but there is more to do. “We don’t have all the answers,” he continued. “How much can we say that we contribute to our business? With only our first monthly marketing operations review under our belt, I can say not as much as we ought to be. Now we know where we are, our jumping off point, we have only one way to go!”
Any experienced executive will tell you that change - at the scale of a business transformation and a redefinition of what marketing means to an organization overall - can test the patience of the leadership and the organization. It can lead to organizational fatigue, misalignment, or impatience to rush to answers when the problems are not yet fully understood. Etherington finds that the power to achieve results first begins with a willingness to see the problems, in blaring detail, and face them head-on.
“One of the biggest challenges when moving from activity-based marketing to outcome-based marketing is the transparency, accountability, and responsibilities that come with that approach,” he explains. “We are in the infancy of our marketing effectiveness journey and most of our KPIs are currently in red.” The ambitions of the organizations and the standards set by the team are not yet reflected in the reality of the business. “That is not a comfortable feeling for many people,” he observed. “We are all raised to covet the gold star or turn a red metric into the green.” Everyone wants to do well and wants to do well as quickly as possible.
“One philosophy ingrained in me from my time at Danaher was the notion of ‘living in the red.’ In monthly operations reviews, if your KPI was green, we did not talk about it. It’s good. It’s at plan. What we wanted to discuss was the red KPIs - the variances from plan.” Living in the red means to ask questions like:
The focus needs to be constantly brought back into focus on the things that need attention, action, or course correction. “It could be many months before that KPI would go to green, but it forces you to think differently, adopt a growth mindset and be ok, although not comfortable, being in the red,” Etherington instructed. “The confidence comes as you use the tools and know that with applied discipline eventually, you will achieve sustainable results.” Etherington knows this from experience. “It works," he advocates. "It is proven and has been to a large part a major contributor to my success and some of the companies for which I have worked.” Leaders have to be comfortable being uncomfortable and help their organizations do the same.
Of course, there are a host of strategies and tactics within these organizing principles that the CMO and teams need to implement from the start to be successful in the new role and for years to come. Seeking out data to inform decisions, building a great team and structuring them for success, influencing and being influenced by customers, and building a culture of continuous improvement take judgment and time. Focusing on the shared goals, and the systems and mindsets required to achieve them, even if they are uncomfortable at first, is a great place to start for any new CMO leading an organization to green.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large – I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman
In this latest post on Forbes, I talk about 5 ways to bridge the sales and marketing gap referencing experts from the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, Microsoft, and other leading companies.
Pointing fingers is a familiar and repetitive motion between the sales and marketing groups of many companies. “It is very common to have marketing people complain that sales isn’t following up on leads and salespeople complain about the lead quality and quantity,” explains Bob Perkins, the founder and chairman of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP). According to the organization’s 2017 report “Top Challenges of the Inside Sales Industry,” as a category "Leads" was the number one challenge for both leaders and sales reps alike. It was listed as a larger concern than quota expectations by a factor of 2.5 to 1. “This challenge moved up from previous years and indicates lots of work and change needs to happen to solve this issue,” Perkins observed. “When sales reps are not meeting their quotas consistently, the pressure is high and there are even more visibility and attention on lead quality and quantity.” The same is true across the organization as expectations continue to rise on corporate performance and the importance of sales and marketing is emphasized.
Does this sound familiar? If so, here are five best practices and approaches to bridging the gap between sales and marketing that have worked successfully.
1. Take a Walk
“On the top of my list of best practices is to have marketing listen to live sales calls,” Perkins proposes. “In and of itself, this can cure some of the ills of misalignment and the complaints that sales and marketing have about each other.” How this happens will be different for each company. “You don’t want marketing listening into more calls than the inside sales manager,” Perkins counsels. “But they should listen regularly.” It could be a standing “call week” event set each quarter or it could be tied to a specific marketing campaign that needs monitoring and optimization. In any case, best practice is to sit together and use that time not only as an opportunity not only to hear the prospect call, but to debrief on what went well and what didn’t. “By having a marketing person walk into a sales group, you send a message. That you are open to feedback and want to learn how to make sales successful,” Perkins observed. That short walk across the building can go a long way. If a walk isn’t possible, use video conferencing. Perkins said that among his members, sharing in calls provided a powerful way to get early feedback on campaign effectiveness, rather than waiting for the lagging indicator of pipeline growth.
2. Open Your Meetings
Invite sales to participate in regular marketing staff meetings. Trip Jobe, whose experience in sales and marketing leadership spans senior roles at Oldcastle, Neehah Paper, Kimberly-Clark, and International Paper, had this advice. “When you can have sales or sales leadership involved in a marketing meeting, they typically gain a perspective on the many levels of execution needed to tackle a program.” Better to do this regularly and ahead of the action to get insights that are usable by both teams. “By getting the opportunity to hear the 'sausage making' process, they gain a perspective on many of the details involved in certain marketing programs,” Jobe continued. “Sales can also shed light on what it views as priorities or not.”
And that openness goes both ways. Perkins suggests that in his experience consulting with leading sales organizations “the best companies invite a marketing representative to sit on the weekly inside sales team meetings to share updates on campaigns and feedback from the field. Both learn about the campaigns from the first-hand experience."
However, how you conduct those meetings matter. “My experience is when you can create this two-way dialogue you will more quickly gain alignment,” Jobe advises. “When either sales or marketing is preaching one way, the other side will tend to start tuning out.” Keep it a conversation with opportunities for feedback and you can watch partnership building.
3. Build a Council
Sometimes, physical proximity, the scale, or the leanness of the team prevent regular cross-functional communications. In those cases, you can build representative councils to provide input. Jobe used this approach in several previous companies to create sales councils of several sales reps (3-6 at the most) involving them in 4-6 meetings a year (mostly over the phone, but maybe in person at a national sales meeting or industry convention) and matching them with key marketing leaders. He has used the council to get feedback on product development, but it can extend to other topics like lead generation campaigns, sales effectiveness, or new marketing initiatives. “This does a few things," Jobe observes. "First, it gets sales more involved in the business and their peers know they have an advocate working with marketing. Second, it gives those marketers a few sales reps they really get to know and can use them to set up a market visit.”
4. Visit a Customer
Shelli Keagle, managing director at Canvas Research, a boutique marketing research and strategy firm, says that “the customer is the great equalizer.” Without a deep understanding and empathy with the customer or consumer (or even the channel), both sales and marketing can lose. Jobe added that he is “a big believer in gaining an understanding of your environment, your customers' problems, what do they face every day. Within your company, the more that sales and marketing can understand each other and communicate effectively, the better the combined output will be.” So, send marketers out with field sales reps to visit customers, work trade show events together, and create opportunities for the team to connect with customers together both formally and informally. Facilitate listening sessions at customer gatherings. If face-to-face meetings are impractical or incomplete, conduct and share customer research and verbatims. Videotape customers using the product or talking of their experience with products or with the sales process. Encourage marketing people to build relationships with key accounts. All of these can be important sources of common truth for groups trying to work more effectively together.
5. Scale Your Approach
Rakhi Voria is a senior business manager at Microsoft who has helped to build out a world-class inside sales organization with eight different sales center locations around the world for this leading technology company. “We now have around 1,800 sellers in our organization,” Voria explains. “One thousand of those individuals were hired in the past year alone. Seventy percent of our team was hired externally from over 70 different companies.” This represents a huge scale and velocity for the organization and a great opportunity for shared listening, but at this magnitude, it is prohibitive to rely on informal structures around customer visits or call observation. While sales and marketing leaders in other organizations “have gotten creative about bridging the gap between marketing and sales by having the teams sit under the same umbrella organization or by physically putting marketing managers and salespeople side by side, however at Microsoft, marketing and sales report up through different organizations and marketing managers often aren’t based in inside sales center locations.”
They solved the problem in a different way on a scale that matched the enterprise. “As part of our organizational design planning, we invested in creating resources called Sales Program Leaders who are based in our sales centers and aligned by the solution areas that we sell,” Voria described. These roles are hybrid roles with elements of both marketing and sales. “These individuals meet with sellers daily to gather insights and are able to use these insights to drive improvements across our products and offerings, to remove blockers, and to take corrective actions to ensure achieving business goals.” They also provide feedback on demand response campaigns, corporate account or channel programs, and real-time from conversations with customers and partners.
And the results are reflecting the intention. Here is how Voria describes one success story.
We were recently engaged in a deal with a healthcare customer in Latin America who was struggling with one of our cloud product offerings. This feedback was shared with our marketing and operations team, and within a few months, we were able to offer a new SKU in the market that addressed the concerns directly and packaged the offering in a way that was well-suited for customers in similar situations. It is this kind of feedback loop that makes us better, not only aligning sales and marketing, but also aligning the company to our customers."
These five approaches are some of the best practices used by sales and marketing teams seeing better alignment and better-shared results. These steps are, in themselves, quite simple. Easy, in fact. Maybe not as easy as finger pointing, but a lot more effective. When done with purpose, they can build and maintain the bridge between sales and marketing and perhaps even create onramps for new ideas and approaches.
Rakhi Voria is a contributor to Forbes in her advisory capacity on the Business Development Council. Also, I collaborated with Canvas Research on some original investigation into the use of IoT and high-end entertainment products in specialty consumer segments which I presented in the “Integrated Life” seminar at the InfoComm conference produced by Avixa in June 2018.