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3 Ways To Build Your Brand On The Right Assumptions


3 Ways To Build Your Brand On The Right Assumptions


Teresa Caro, the senior vice president of marketing at Atlanticus, a financial services company marketing under the Fortiva family of brands, has spent her career helping brands connect with their customers, often in new ways. She worked for social media agencies in the early days of those platforms and helped brands like Chick-Fil-A, UPS, Wells Fargo, and Coca-Cola with their marketing strategies. We had a chance to talk recently about the need to unpack assumptions and her insights provide guidance to marketers and business leaders seeking to align marketing and sales and to put the customer in the center of their business.

Assumptions Can Hide Misalignment and Breakthroughs

“My biggest learning throughout my career is to never assume,” said Caro. Even fundamental things like the company’s financial goals might not be obvious. “Every company seeks to be profitable, yet, depending on the company goal, profitability may not need to happen until a later date.” She recommends digging deeper into the business goals to understand how marketing affects future results. “Will the company be sold in five years and so scale is the priority and profitability is less important (at least right now)? Is the company a public company and so profitable growth are the priorities? Are we operating in a highly commoditized space so more focus needs to placed on brand awareness, perception or differentiation?” The answers to these questions lead to very different plans. “I have even worked with brand manager clients who want to be perceived as more ‘innovative’ compared to their other brand managers, so we did less around the ‘tried and true’ and pushed more into sparkly objects,” Caro recalls from her agency days. In any case, understanding the underlying motivations can lead to real breakthroughs and uncover areas of misalignment. “Once that long term goal has been identified and translated into short term plans, next it is important to layer in the target audience.” Caro said it is important to consider all the stakeholders, “not just customer or consumer target audiences, but also internal, external, investor, board-type audiences.” Consider how your business plans, product positioning, or even messaging will resonate with all the stakeholders.

Measurement Requires Management

“Regardless of industry, the biggest assumptions are typically around measurement,” Caro observed. “What needs to be measured, is it being measured, is it being measured the right way, is it being reported on correctly, is it being analyzed appropriately, and is it being tested and optimized” are the questions that she advised asking. “Furthermore, do the right people have access to this data and do they understand how they can make an impact on these numbers.” If data isn’t understood or actionable, it isn’t useful. “In other words, people who are really good at creating reports, may not be good at analyzing them. People who are good at analyzing them, may not have the domain knowledge needed to make recommendations to different departments,” she said. “The most fascinating discovery I have made is the number of marketing organizations that don’t have an analytics person on their team or that they have to share them with finance and accounting,” she noted. This is likely to change in the coming years with a growing emphasis on data and analytics, but it is a gap in many small and mid-size marketing groups today and impacts the ability to make smart, data-driven decisions.

How organizations make decisions and use data to drive marketing plans can vary widely. “Many brands assume TV commercials always work, largely because it is the tradition in the company to always include TV commercials in their brand plans,” she said. “Content marketing has become another ‘you-just-have-to-do-it’ tactic in marketing plans.” Whether or not it is the right choice for the business, product, or sales approach. “For the record, there are ways to prove TV commercials work, as well as content marketing,” Caro summarized. “It goes back to the assumptions around measuring the right way, with the right tools.” And making sure those measurements tie back to the business strategy overall.

She warned against acting on data without first validating. For instance, Caro warned that a company shouldn’t use lookalike modeling, in which new prospects are pursued that match attributes from current customers, without validating that those current customers are the most valuable or profitable. They risk filling the pipeline with prospects that will not drive the business goals. Similarly, “rolling out social media and other forms of communication without validating other departments, such as customer service, can support the ramifications” is a recipe for brand damage. Metrics are exceptional tools, but they are only tools to be used by management to make smart decisions, even if that means rethinking traditional approaches or revisiting what has worked in the past. “Debunking of assumptions requires a business case and a leadership team willing to take a risk,” she added.

Brands Are Themselves Assumptions

It has been said that your brand is what your customers think and say about you without your involvement. In a sense, they are themselves a set of assumptions. Assumptions about how the product might perform, how the price compares to the competition, where the product can be purchased, and what the customer experience will entail. “When someone asks me to ‘brand position’ a company, I have found a lot of work goes into helping them understand all that goes into a brand,” recalled Caro. This includes not only “advertising, but PR to customer experience and everything in between.” It extends beyond marketing functions to sales. It extends beyond customer-facing roles to those who support the experience in factories, development teams, or billing departments. Good marketers “help their executive leadership or clients understand that what he or she decides to do as it relates to brand, impacts all aspects of the organization,” Caro said. “And, with a limited budget, not everything can be done.” Before your customers can make the right assumptions about you as a brand and a company, the organization has an opportunity to decide “what they want to be known for and how they want to reinforce this message.” And to give that priority across their entire business strategy.

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4 Ways Successful Marketers Can Think Big And Start Small


4 Ways Successful Marketers Can Think Big And Start Small


Melissa Craig-Fink is the marketing and operations manager for Panther Residential Management who manages traditional and non-tradition multi-dwelling residences in several eastern US states. Throughout her career in marketing - working for brands like Quizno’s, Sports Clips, and the Ritz Carlton, and now as a department of one in real estate - she knows the challenges of balancing strategic and tactical priorities on long-term and short-term horizons. Here are some lessons she has learned that will help any marketer and business leader be successful.

Take Risks

“When I worked at Quizno’s in franchise marketing, digital advertising was a new concept and the marketing team was nervous to jump into that space,” Fink recalls. “It is funny to say now because I am a raging fan, but at the time we were not all convinced, and the marketing team was reluctant to manage the project.” This was over six years ago when many were still experimenting. “Although I was not very hopeful that digital would drive customers to our doors the way our traditional outreach had, I agreed to do it.” The rest is history, she said. The program was a success and she was forever changed as a marketer. “My mindset now is that everything is moving towards digital. Now, my role is primarily online reputation management and digital advertising. Roles that I wouldn’t have believed would exist just a few years ago.”

Be Prepared to Change

“Your market changes every quarter,” Fink explained. “You need to look regularly at your customer base, talk to your on-site teams and get fresh eyes on the changing demographics, and then shift your strategies.” This is true of any business, but especially in highly dynamic markets like residential real estate. For instance, Fink has had success targeting around universities for changing student populations.

Being responsive is critical to Panther’s business and to Fink’s role as a marketer, as future tenants are likely to be referred by today’s tenants. “People shop for apartments online, but not just on our website or properties, but in their friends’ social feeds, review sites, and places where we can only loosely influence what is said and shown about our properties,” she explained. “We try to be very responsive, answering positive or negative reviews within 2 hours and inviting those with complaints to speak to us directly.” This level of responsiveness requires an openness to change. “Our leasing agents have been nervous about invited angry customers to speak to them personally in the past, but that is how issues are resolved and negative reviewers turn into positive fans.”

Managing through emotional reactions is the key to finding actionable insights. “If you are defensive, ask yourself why,” she suggested. “If you can take the emotion out of it, you can remain empathetic to the complaint and find an opportunity to fix problems.” Alternatively, “you can defend yourself and make the assumption that the thing that people have complained about is not an issue, but if you see the anecdotes piling up, chances are you have a problem.”

The Answer Might Be Simple

Prior to her joining the company through acquisition, Panther lacked a marketing team. “A lot of things were blamed on the lack of marketing,” she recalled. “If we had just assumed that, we would have made some mistakes. For instance, in one of our properties, they noticed that lease booking and property tours were down and the cause was not obvious but was being attributed to lack of awareness. “Instead of just blaming brand awareness and jumping into a promotional campaign, I visited the properties and shopped the comparable properties close by and in the price range,” she recounted. “Sometimes the problems were so obvious it was comical. I would suggest that we needed to update the colors in the model, provide customer service training to the leasing office, or make simple changes and those began to make a big difference.” Simple changes that made all the difference.

These observations can happen physically on the property or in an analysis of the data. “In the franchise world, everything had tracking codes and I could create reports to show what was working with the IT department,” she said. “In apartments, I had to create the reports, work with vendors to create them, or uncover the data that existed in our current systems that no one had been utilizing.”

“Model homes are key sales tools for apartment leasing and sometimes there isn’t budget for a major refresh of an apartment, but even in those cases there is a lot we can do.” One model in Memphis hadn’t been updated in a while and had a large number of faux plants. “It looks cluttered and dated and it didn’t reflect the brand well,” Fink recalls. “We removed those plants, decluttered other decorations from the space, changed out the bedding and shower curtain and it looked modern and fresh.” Not all changes have to be expensive or extensive. “It can be as simple as swapping out the welcome rug,” she joked. “Ultimately there are judgment calls, but over time your judgment can inform you how prospective customers would be comparing their property to others in their price range and in the area.” This is true of other businesses and industries as well. The change you need might be a simple fix that no one had done before.

Think Big and Start Small

“Sometimes having a shoestring budget can cause you to think small, but if you get creative you can accomplish more,” she offered. “At Quizno’s, we were able to do an unbudgeted sponsorship of the Nashville Sounds baseball stadium. We chose to do this because we had multiple locations within a 5-mile radius of the stadium and were testing a geotargeting digital platform that would drive traffic.” There were short-term and long-term benefits to the campaign. “Once we decided it was worth recommending, we got owner buy-in and found creative ways to fund it. It worked so well, they rolled it out to other regions, even larger marks like Denver."

"If you continue to think big, you can often find ways to afford it. But if you limit your thinking, you will never know what could have been accomplished.”

“Always test small. In the businesses of retail franchising or apartment complexes, I always test in one or two locations or by segments,” she explained. The same held true in her time in franchise marketing. “If you start big doing a portfolio-wide roll-out, you don’t get the work the kinks out and fix things first.” With the growth of digital marketing, there is an assumption that data is more readily available than it might be, so finding things to test that can be measured is key. “Marketers are in the data analytics business,” Fink observed. “You must learn how to slice and dice your data into a format that is legible and actionable.”

“Innovation can happen at companies of all sizes and business models,” she said. “Larger companies might have more resources, but if there is a management buy-in, even small companies can do creative things.”

Fink had her concerns going from larger companies like Ritz Carton or Quizno’s to smaller companies like Panther Residential Management, but she has since concluded that “all businesses need an open mind and strategic thinking,” so she continues to find ways to think big and start small.

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Two Ways to Extend a Business


Two Ways to Extend a Business


“There are two ways to extend a business. Take inventory of what you’re good at and extend out from your skills. Or determine what your customers need and work backward, even if it requires learning new skills.”

Jeff Bezos


Blocking And Tackling: Marketing Lessons From American Football's New Spring League


Blocking And Tackling: Marketing Lessons From American Football's New Spring League


The Alliance of American Football kicks off this spring, building on the traditions that have made American football the largest sports audience in the country, while innovating around player and fan experience.  This balance of innovation and tradition has lessons for every marketer or business leader seeking new growth.

The Product Needs to be Worthy of its Market Share and the Company of its Employees

Any company seeking to be successful must have a high-quality and attractive product that provides a good value for its customers.  This is true in professional sports as well. David Livingston, the president of the new Atlanta Legends team, joined the organization this summer with a background in corporate partnership with Spectra and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as brand management and executive leadership experience at IMG and Procter & Gamble PG -0.09%. Although the league is new, “the Alliance is a professional sports league, coached at a high level,” he explained. “There are over 475 years of professional football experience at the executive and coaching levels.  The teams want to win.  They have established systems to build out their rosters and their offensive and defensive schemes in play.” In the Atlanta market, the team has signed former University of Georgia quarterback and leader of the SEC career touchdown list, Aaron Murray and 13 year veteran NFLquarterback, Michael Vick in his coaching debut as the offensive coordinator.

Any team is only as good as its players and according to Livingston there are plenty of exceptional players to fill rosters for spring football. 1200 professional football players get cut every season around Labor Day when each of the 32 NFL teams trims their roster down from 85 players to 53. “These are accomplished college and professional football players that are no longer allowed to pursue their career,” he continued. “They could go to Canada and play under different rules and face limits of how many Americans are allowed to play.  They could switch to Arena Football and play on a smaller field, with fewer players, and different rules.”

They expect players to move from the National Football League to the Alliance and visa versa. “There is a high level of interactivity between the Alliance and the NFL,” he explained. “This is nothing minor about this league, although there is a development quality and component to it.”

“A person who might be the 3rd or 4th man on an NFL team can get more reps in practice, get more playing time, and even start here.  We are complementary to the NFL. That additional playing time translates to player development and to more game footage.  Not only do fans get to watch more football and broadcasters have more premium content to air, but NFL teams also get more game tape to review of these talented players.”

“One of the hallmarks of the Alliance league will be engagement with the players,” Livingston added. “We expect these players to have a lifelong career arc.  After they retire from the league, we are providing opportunities for them to go back to school, get career training or utilize a fund to ensure that they continue to do big and great things even after football.”

Take-Away: Whether it is a start-up or an established business, the company needs to have a high commitment to delivering an exceptional product and customer experience. That often means entering markets where the right talent can be found to fuel the growth. And knowing that your developing employees might be honing the skills and gaining experience to make them valuable to other companies is a welcome risk you take to pursue excellence.

Embrace Technology as a Game Changer

Fan and community engagement is now a requirement in professional sports and that is being formalized in this league. “All Alliance players are on standard contracts which include incentives to them to get engaged with their communities,” he continued.  “Not only on social media, but through commitments they make to organizations and projects that are important to them.  It is critical that players engage with the communities.”  This player-to-fan engagement extends to new platforms.

“Every fan has a smartphone and they are used to engaging with that device during the game, whether they are in the stadium or at home,” Livingston observed.  “Our proprietary app includes fantasy elements and encourages engagement.”  Wherever legal, there is a sports betting platform associated with the alliance. We expect fans to be engaged with what is happening, watching each and every play.  This new digital-first strategy has attracted venture capital and we are bringing the sports experience into the modern environment where today’s sports fans live.”

“The Alliance was formed to bring together a much more organic relationship between professional football, the players, and the fans,” he offered.  From the start, the Alliance represents a game (professional football) that will have a game (app) that can enable gaming (betting).

Take-Away: Utilizing technology in new ways can create new customer experiences and enable new business models.

Align Strategy with Capitalization

“The Alliance itself is a start-up, but the idea of extending the professional football season has been around for a long time,” said Livingston.  “Football fans are the largest sports audience in the US and during the regular NFL seasons there is high interest in the games themselves and in things like fantasy and big data gamification,” he continued.  “Those tend to drop off, however, after the Super Bowl, as they don’t translate as well to baseball or basketball.”

Others have tried and failed and many attribute that failure to one of capitalization structure, relying on individual franchise owners to share a commitment to success. “The Alliance is a single entity league. This means that all the teams are owned centrally,” Livingston explained. “I am one of eight presidents each running their own business units in our structure.”

All teams are owned by the league under the name Legendary Field Exhibitions, LLC whose investors are said to include Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund (whose investments include Airbnb, SpaceX, Facebook (FB -1.03%), Lyft, Oculus,and Spotify), The Chernin Group (TCG, which owns Barstool Sports and other media and entertainment properties), Jared Allen (former football defensive end), Slow Ventures (whose investments have included Evernote , Nest, Pinterest, Slack , PillPack, and Nextdoor),  Adrian Fenty (former DC mayor who is special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz), Charles King’s M Ventures (a former agent turned investor, who has represented Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey), and Keith Rabois (whose technology investments and executive roles include PayPal (PYPL -2.1%), LinkedIn (LNKD +0%), Slide, andSquare (SQ -2.24%).  MGM Resorts (MGM -0.84%) International has also made an investment in the platform with an eye to in-game sportsbook betting.

“This is different from the NFL and previously failed spring leagues of professional football where each team is a franchise owned by individual investors who make investments based on their own preferences or personal economic factors.”  The Alliance is made up of the Arizona Hotspots, Birmingham Iron, Atlanta Legends, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders, and San Diego Fleet. Although each of the cities vary, “with different sizes and media structures,” he continued, "this central ownership ensures that all of the team get the appropriate allocation of resources for the various markets.”  And that strategy is attracting a new type of investor.

Take-Away: Investor and management must be aligned to ensure that the strategies of the organization are getting the resources and prioritization necessary for success.  Unified ownership, in this case, could help the entire league execute their digital-first strategy and attract the talent to ensure the quality game play that will be required for the league to grow.

Disclosure: Some of the companies in which investors in the Alliance may also invested, could be customers, competitors,  investments by Amazon or affiliates, may have been acquired by Amazon or its affiliates, or maybe among investments made by competitors.  Amazon has a relationship with many professional sports organizations.

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4 Lessons On Customer-Centricity From CaringBridge


4 Lessons On Customer-Centricity From CaringBridge


Chances are good that you have seen an invitation to CaringBridge from friend or family member who was experiencing what they call a “health journey,” whether that was a difficult pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis, or an accident.  Since it’s founding in 1997, over 740,000 websites have been created across 235 countries and territories globally. From its humble beginnings, it has lived at the intersection of technology, community, and medical incidences, when the founder Sona Mehringwas asked to update people on the status of her friend’s premature baby.  “Instead of making dozens of emotional and time-consuming phone calls, she decided to use her computer science background to create a website,” recalled Brigid Bonner, chief experience officer of CaringBridge responsible for all aspects of product development and marketing.  The child only lives a few short days, but left a legacy known as CaringBridge to help other families and friends in similiar situations.

This non-profit organization has lessons for other marketers, especially those who have customers experiencing trauma or stress.

  1. Everyone is Battling Something, Be Kind

    We have all seen this phrase on bumper stickers or on social media memes, but it is especially true for CaringBridge. “Our customer is anyone, whether it be the patient or their caregiver, who is experiencing a health journey,” said Bonner. This diverse set of constituents can be challenging. “Our service helps anyone, anywhere going through any type of illness or injury - mental or physical, long-term or short term – who needs to connect with their family and friends and receive support.”

    Roughly 90% of the several hundred thousand daily visitors to CaringBridge come to visit a friends’ site. “Users tell us, and research has proven, that the value created for both authors and visitors connected to each other through CaringBridge is therapeutic and immeasurable,” reported Bonner. The site has demonstrated that by connecting us at a human level, caring can go viral.

    Advice you can use: “As families and friends increasingly live in far-flung places, and with our increased reliance on technology to connect us, CaringBridge is a revolutionary leader in filling a need through the power of community,” said Bonner. Everyone can use community and the more than your offering and customer experience replicates this kind of care, the more it will be shared.

  2. Community Can Be Capital

    “Ninety percent of all funding comes from those who have experienced the power of CaringBridge firsthand,” Bonner stated. For people at their most vulnerable time, “a CaringBridge site is literally a sanctuary of communication and helpful support that afford users with privacy controls which determine how, when, and to whom their information is shared, if at all.” Choosing this business model allows them to remain a free platform and to be advertisement-free, which they feel critical for building trust and a great user experience.

    Advice you can use: People will support causes, tools, and approaches that make their lives easier. There are a number of different business models that might apply to your organization and that could have been considered by CaringBridge. Finding the one that best serves the mission, honors the customers, and serves the financial needs of the business is critical.

  3. Customer Experience is Everything

    “Convenience, control, safety, and trust is at the center of how we design our user experience,” continued Bonner. “Health journeys can cause a huge upheaval in the lives of individuals and their loved ones and the last thing they need is a stressful experience. Coming to terms with the life change they are going through, and the often confusing medical and financial jargon that comes with it is challenging.” At a time when people are reeling from bad news and learning new vocabulary, they don’t want to have to learn a new technology. Setting up a new website in less than 3 minutes, without automatic selections or complicated choices, is critical to making the CaringBridge experience work, without sacrificing privacy and control.

    As you might imagine, CaringBridge cares a lot about privacy. Although everything is self-reported, the information that authors are trusting to the organization and the friends they invite to read it is incredibly sensitive. There are multiple privacy features that allow the content to be as private or public as the author wants. They can track visitors, decide the level of interaction they want, and they can change the setting at any time.

    Advice you can use: Life is stressful enough, your user experience shouldn’t be. CaringBridge user survey feedback, usability labs, and user testing to refine their experience. Knowing your customers well is the key to simplifying the experience.

  4. The Experience Extends

    I recently had an experience where a contact of mine was mentioned for work anniversary in an email from a shared social media platform, when in fact he had died a few years ago. It made me sad and caused me to think about the implications of death in our digital world. Bonner agreed that the remembering or celebrating of “milestones can be delicate, especially for those who may have been in an end of life journey.” As a result, they do not auto-trigger messages on key dates, however, they do let the author (who is in many cases the caregiver of a loved one) determine was those “milestone moments” are and it is their journaling activity that triggers notifications to family and friends. “In this way, we know there is always a substantive update, and the CaringBridge community is still there to offer love and support. Some authors will continue to journal for months or even years after a loved one has passed.” In this way, the experience is extended in duration, along an axis of time.

    And the extension of services and care also add breadth to the offering in the midst of the health journey. CaringBridge has a “Ways to Help” area that users can use to coordinate the myriad of other types of help they may need in one convenient place. For example, “users can set up a planner to arrange visit schedules or request meals. They can indicate which medical facility their loved one is in. They can also connect or start a GoFundMe campaign straight through their CaringBridge site for cases where personal financial support is needed to offset medical expenses.” It is this expansion of services that make it

    Advice you can use: The community that arises around an experience can extend both in breadth and duration and is powerful. This has implications for other industries or services who can be challenged to think beyond their immediate product adoption or use cycle to extend to other offerings and services.

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Listen Like Your Life Depends On It: Four Lessons for Marketers


Listen Like Your Life Depends On It: Four Lessons for Marketers


A lot has been written and tried with regards to content marketing, account-based marketing (ABM), and advertising in all of its forms. New regulations, like GDPR, are sending marketers back to the drawing board to craft campaigns and mechanisms for communication with their customers and going into a new year, it is a good time to step back and think about the idea of relevance. Drew Neisser, founder and CEO of Renegade, is an author, podcast host and advisor to CMOs and leadership teams on having courageous and courteous strategies. He has some insights that will help business leaders rethink the basics.

  1. Listen Like Your Life Depends On It (because it does)

    Before we can make sure companies are as good at listening to their customers as they are talking at them, we must “start with the reality that just about every product or service is moments away from being disrupted by a competitive offering,” Neisser said provocatively. “That sense of urgency needs to inform how brands approach their listening activities. It needs to be a company-wide priority, not just the responsibility of one department.” There are numerous ways to conduct this research. “Customer satisfaction surveys, brand health tracking, in-product rating, and social listening are table stakes,” he said. They are necessary but insufficient. “These necessities will help identify shortcomings in your product and service offerings that you must address ASAP and let your customers know that you’re at least trying to be responsive,” he added. But defensively listening for problems or risks will not lead you to major breakthroughs. “Here you’ll need to do a different kind of listening,” he continued. “One that requires genuine creativity and foresight, reinterpreting what you hear, discarding the obvious for the courageous.” Insights that lead to focus in your communications and the direction of your product development are the ones that are your long-term lifeline.

  2. Ask Whether Your Content Deserves to Live

    “Sadly, most branded content is not cutting through,” Neisser observed. “With more than eight of 10 marketers embracing content marketing, the increase in blog posts, videos, emails, webinars, social shares, and podcasts, among other formats, has dramatically outpaced the hours in the day for actually consuming this stuff.” Marketing organizations don’t want to be left behind their more verbose competitors often drive towards consistent and predictable communications that keep their brand in the forefront of their customer’s mind; thus the “content calendar” is born. Neisser advises customers in a different direction entirely. “Content calendars typically push brands into a puddle of mediocrity,” he said. “Rather than focusing on creating truly inspired content that is unique, engaging and imminently sharable, marketers become slaves to their self-imposed schedules, rushing out content that is of little interest or value to anyone.” Instead of inspecting and interrogating each post or asset for its value, the brand keeps pouring announcements out assuming they are valuable.

    “These calendars are brand-centric, not customer-centric since no prospect or customer is going to ask on any given Friday, ‘Oh, gee, where’s that email from brand x?’ unless, of course, your content is extraordinary.”

    “Content calendars may mask the absence of a true strategy, one built around an insight that helps prospects reimagine how a particular product or service could change their work lives,” Neisser offered. If you don’t know how your product or service will change a customer’s life, then they may not want to hear from you yet. Not all the content you produce is deserving of the attention you are asking your customers to pay.

  3. Zig When Others Zag

    “What is working in marketing is what’s always worked in marketing – a courageous strategy that sets up an artfully told story,” he offered. “One expression is courage is to zig while others zag. For instance, Airbnb recently sent me a travel magazine.” That’s right a print magazine at a time when many are saying print is dead.” It is an interesting and unexpected choice for a company born digital, but it made an impression. “I spent an hour devouring the fascinating experiences shared from cover to cover,” he recalled. “This magazine is a vivid expression of Airbnb’s unique promise to provide an immersive and indigenous travel experience.”

    This unexpected approach can turn up in more than just your marketing campaigns. It can be a differentiating feature in the product itself that stems from the customer insights. It could be a way of doing with the company that makes it easier or faster. It could be the style and voice of the brand that helps it stand out in the marketplace and be more relevant to its target customers. It’s the “Blue Ocean Strategy” that helps brands create distance between them and their customers and even create new categories.

  4. Decision By Committee is an Invitation to Personalize

    Metrics like email open rates or click-through conversions can be misleading, even when you think things are trending well. “Marketers are shifting how they measure the effectiveness of content campaigns as marketing automation and account-based marketing software make it easier to track engagement,” he said. Whether in B2B or B2C selling environments, “most are able to track a prospect’s journey from awareness to interest, to readiness based on their interactions with content.”

    In the consumer world, individuals are increasingly relying on peer reviews and social recommendations and in the B2B landscape, “we are definitely in the era of the decision by committee and as a result, the customer journey is more complex and convoluted than ever.” Traditional “journey-tracking can lead to false positives.”

    Consider this example:

    A CMO could express interest in an e-commerce platform by watching a demo but her colleagues in IT, finance, security and merchandising may have a completely different solution in mind. Six months into the process, the CEO could suddenly jump in and essentially restarts the investigation. Generating another new lead for sales. In this example, the buying committee is likely to take over a year to make a decision and the CMO is unlikely to able to control the process, even if they are the original sales qualified lead and might sign the agreement in the end. The enlightened B2B marketer is prepared for this situation, creating all sorts of tools and resources that address the proclivities of all the participants. For example, they could create an ROI or TCO calculator for the CFO, a security report by a respected 3rd party for the CISO (chief information security officer), a functionality comparison chart for the merchandiser, a service program overview for the customer experience team, a strong customer reference for the CEO, and a peak under-the-hood with third-party developers.

    Marketing might call it an MQL and then sales talks to the person and might even reclassify it as an SQL, only to have unconverted lead months or years later and the finger pointing begins. This is where ABM can play a role as it “helps resolve this age-old dilemma since it requires both Sales and Marketing to agree on the prospect list. From there, ABM allows for tracking of various engagements.” These can be business specific. “For example, at least one ABM system integrates FedEx shipping data, so a salesperson knows exactly when a package arrives and who signed for it thus allowing them to plan exactly when to make the follow-up call.” Others tie closely to social listening systems and provide multiple points of insights. “Assuming the target list was truly qualified, ABM makes it a lot easier for both Sales and Marketing to track what’s generating what kind of responses and when,” Neisser observed.

    The more you know about your customers and their decision-making process, the more you can tailor your content and create a cadence of storytelling that isn’t by rote but is highly relevant to your customers.

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A Business is a Thing Unto Itself


A Business is a Thing Unto Itself


“Working on the business recognizes that the business is a thing unto itself.  The business is a product that results from our purposeful creative, or alternatively, it is the default result of our subconscious neglect.  Like the engine of a car, the business is a mechanism that exists to solve a problem, provide a service, and do a job.  And like an engine, if it is not serviced, maintained, and improved, it will fail and become obsolete.” – Shane Jackson


3 Step Recipe For Building A Customer-Centric Business


3 Step Recipe For Building A Customer-Centric Business


Junea Rocha is an unconventional culinary entrepreneur whose career has been driven by passion. Eight years ago she was running projects for a construction company. Now, she is the co-founder of Brazi Bites, a frozen bake-at-home cheese bread sold in over 7,000 grocery stores nationwide. The company has experienced 13x revenue growth the past two years, is a Shark Tank alum, and has just closed a round of funding to accelerate growth plans.

Sustained Enthusiasm Comes from Passion

Junea, like her beloved Pao De Queijo was born in Brazil. “Growing up, cultural and family expectations led me to pursue a Civil Engineering degree in college,” she explained. After graduation, she moved to the US and started a career working as a project engineer for a general contractor, “building massive condo towers, parking garages and military bases around Portland, Oregon,” she recalled. But she felt her true calling was elsewhere. “I had a serious passion for my family’s Pao De Queijo recipe and thought there was an opportunity to bring the Brazilian staple to the US,” she explained. But it wasn’t just that passion that encouraged her entrepreneurial leap. “It was clear to me that Americans loved Pao De Queijo,” Rocha said. “Especially when friends and family from the States came to my wedding in Brazil and went crazy for it! I wanted to build something that was fueled by that excitement.”

Find the Why, While Staying True to the Recipe

It was that group of family and friends that provided the first customer research. The founders then “spent the first two years sampling Brazi Bites at local grocery stores and events,” she recalled. “We kept adjusting the product, branding and messaging as we learned from our consumers how best to communicate,” always staying true to the original family recipe. Although a staple in Brazil, cheese bread is new in the States. “The two biggest questions that we heard at that time were: what is this, and when do I eat this?” she said. “Soon after we got started, it became clear that gluten-free awareness and clean label products were gaining momentum and our recipe was hitting the mark. Early adopters were raving about us and their excitement fueled us to keep pushing forward.”

Customer insight continues to drive innovation at Brazi Bites. “I’m always talking to consumers at grocery stores, food shows, and listening to our social channels,” Rocha said. “Our Brand Ambassadors on the ground meet thousands of consumers every week and come back with a wealth of information for us to digest. We also use surveys when something big is on the way or we enter a new market.” They have plans to bring other better-for-you Latin foods to the US market, beyond the variations of Brazi Bites now available.

Customer-Informed Intuition is the Source of Innovation

Rocha offers advice for any marketer or business leader to keep your passion in the center of your efforts. “As you grow, stay true to what earned your first customers. Never stop listening to them and make sure to remain open to change if you miss the mark,” she said. As an entrepreneur and leader, it is critical to “be laser-focused on execution, to value data and to understand the trends, but to realize that sometimes you must go with your gut to innovate.”

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Junea Rocha is a Forbes contributor. Jennifer Davis is a Brazi Bites customer. The product is sold in thousands of outlets across the country, including Whole Foods which is a subsidiary of Amazon.


6 Ways To Build Trust With Peers To Align Sales And Marketing


6 Ways To Build Trust With Peers To Align Sales And Marketing


In order to build alignment between sales and marketing, the first step is aligning the leaders of these functions. And alignment takes communication and compromise towards a shared vision. This can be a challenge to achieve in the best-run organizations and even more challenging when the culture or norms of the groups have caused friction and fractions.

Jonathan Raymond, author of Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For and founder of the consulting firm, Refound, has a few lessons to share.

“Between managers and their employees, there is an implied agreement that the manager will give feedback. That same agreement does not necessarily exist between peers in an organization,” he began. “Either it is the cultural norm of the company, which is rare, or that trust has to be built.” Here are six ways to build relationships with other managers or executives across your company.

Negotiate Space For Feedback

“You could go to the co-manager and say ‘we work together a lot and as cross-functional teams we share resources. You see me and my team clearly and probably have feedback and I’d like to hear it,’” Raymond suggested. If there is a specific project or initiative on which you could use feedback, you could use this as a starting place, but don’t stop there. Offer to provide your own insights.

You could continue by saying “Similarly, I see things from time to time and could provide you insights. Can we support each other in this?” Raymond offered that “If the answer is ‘yes,’ then when the time comes you can mention the agreement by saying ‘remember when we talked about giving each other feedback?’” This agreement helps you create space for feedback. “Like so much of management,” Raymond continued, “much is accomplished in the set-up, prep, and planning. Establishing ground rules and shared expectations are is the key.”

Reset With Transparency

“If the relationship has been damaged and needs to be repaired before cultural listening and feedback can occur, you need to reset the relationship,” said Raymond. Perhaps there are frayed emotions or hurt feelings. Perhaps there is a history of distrust to overcome. The rest is “accomplished best with vulnerability and transparently apologizing for past bad behavior,” suggested Raymond. “You can’t have a productive conversation until you are two humans in a room together. If either of you is seeing only past scars or an obstacle to be overcome, you won’t be successful.”

“You can’t solve a human relationship with technology. No among of email, chat, texts, or Slack messages will give you context, tone, and body language. You need to speak to the person face to face, if possible. So many people put off these kinds of meetings only to find how powerful they can be. One leader told me he had been putting of a contentious conversation for two years, but he finally made the trip to go see a colleague with whom he didn’t get along. After a 2-hour meeting, which he described as the best of his career, he and the other person got the issue resolved. They realized there were much more a like than they thought. We have airplanes and phones for a reason (other than checking our email). Sometimes the only answer is conversation.”

Start Small

In his book, he describes a metaphor of a ladder through which you can provide feedback with authority. This can be applied in co-management relationships, especially those in need of repair or in early days of being established. “When bringing up a delicate issue or feedback, smaller is better,” he advises. “Start the conversation with a simple mention.” In other words, start on the first rung of the ladder. Maybe it is a comment about how a meeting went or a project deliverable. Mention an observation. Often these small mentions don’t require action, they are just to help set expectations. “Less is more,” he continued. “Leave space after the observation for the other person to respond and take their own actions.” Often little things become big things if they are unmentioned. Handling things when they are small, “is an often-overlooked step,” Raymond observed.

Adapt for Style

Not every person or leader is the same and these differences in preferences and communication can lead to big misunderstandings and tension. “When working with peers who might share your leadership style archetype or have a very different one, self-awareness is critical and it is useful to have a common language that you can use to identify points of conflict or collaboration.” You can use tools like Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinders, Insights Discovery, Kolbe, or the frameworks in Good Authority to give you a common vocabulary or ask those who know you best for their insights. “Your team already knows your archetype and tendencies. You can either get in on the joke or not,” Raymond quipped. “Self-awareness is important to a healthy dialogue and for getting feedback.”

But beware of downsides. “The biggest factor working with someone your own style is projection,” he warned. “You tend to be hypercritical of the things that you yourself do. Beware of that reaction when you observe others’ weaknesses.” Every style has strengths and weaknesses. And the “challenge with each of the archetypes is a flavor of micromanagement. Each style wants to have control and it is demonstrated in different ways.” Watch for this tendency in yourself first. Remember that what you “learned in childhood or developed in our professional careers to manage reality was rewarded,” he explained. And we can tend to keep with it, “even if it doesn’t work in the organization or isn’t serving us.”

Show Appreciation

“If you are with an organization that has more cache or publicity in the company, it is important to proactively reach out to other functions to acknowledge their contributions, ask what would make their jobs easier, to lend expertise in the spirit of generosity, and to elevate others,” Raymond suggested. “Nothing beats going down the hall to talk to people.” In some organizations, this is the sales organization that is seen bringing in new business and in others, it is the marketing organization that is seem building brand and garnering industry attention. You can build a lot of goodwill by simply acknowledging the work and contribution of others in a way that suits their style preferences.

Align Around the Customer

The customer should be the center-point of any alignment conversations as every role in the company should be aimed at creating better customer experiences and engendering loyalty. Create opportunities for shared listening with customers. It is critical to ask questions without knowing the answers. “Sometimes market research can feel like leading the witness,” Raymond observed. “Listening for what you want to hear and generating confirmation bias. You have to remain open to being surprised to be truly curious.” This openness can translate into some surprising insights, not just about the products or services, but about the company itself.

Raymond often asks his clients to reflect on product feedback in this way: “How is the feedback you are getting about the product exactly what we need to change about the culture?” For instance, are your customers saying you are slow and lost your edge with your product roadmap? “Chances are your decision making is slow and you have gotten more conservative in your bureaucracy,” he offered. “If customers complain that they can’t get answers, your employees probably have the same complaint,” as customer experience often mirrors employee experience. “If you want your customers to think of you like the innovation leader, then how is that demonstrated in your culture? What is innovative about your workplaces or internal culture?” he asked. What does customer feedback about products or services say about the culture and cross-functional alignment of your company? What needs to be changed? Use these conversations as a catalyst for courageous conversation and a foundation for teamwork.

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Designing Customer Space: 3 Way To Reflect Customer-Centricity In Your Business


Designing Customer Space: 3 Way To Reflect Customer-Centricity In Your Business


Work space has been undergoing a transformation as technology, mobility and the nature of work is changing. And these changes are transforming client-facing spaces as well, reflecting customer-centricity.

Visibly Innovating

“Companies are increasingly looking to create innovation centers to showcase their solutions to customers,” observed Kay Sargent, Senior Principal and Head of Workplace at HOK. “Sometimes these spaces are so beautiful that people do not want to touch them, but there is an evolution underway to make these spaces beautiful, accessible and interactive. Companies are creating innovation centers to highlight their ingenuity to attract employees and customers and instill trust and faith from potential investors.” You will see these trends even in retail spaces with the growth of interactive exhibits and engaging brand activations.

Breaking Bread

One technology business completely rethought their client-facing space in a recent move and remodel. “Instead of a traditional lobby design, our team created a hub for the company, including a full kitchen and living room type area where employees, guests, clients, and prospective clients can enter, grab a drink and relax in a community-centric area,” said Jenny O’Donnell, Director at Wildmor Advisors. “If we look at office design 20 years ago, group spaces were shoved to the perimeter. They weren’t supposed to be disruptive to the quiet, focused activity that was the real work,” Roger Heerema with Wright Heerema Architects recalls. “What we have realized in the creative process, that serendipitous interactions are powerful for the work effort. This has changed building design.” This is true not just for employees, but for clients as well. Now instead of a “waiting room" style lobby for the interim seating of guests before they are whisked away to a work area,” the design is more interactive. “Open and common areas are now powerful and contributory spaces to the overall work effort.” This is in recognition that customer meetings do not just happen in conference rooms.

Fostering Interaction

Heerema observed that “wellness has three components: social, food and fitness.” Building strong client relationships can take clues from these characteristics of wellness. Creating compelling social interactions, celebrating innovation and food, is a start, and it can be extended. For instance, “a lot of companies request a grand staircase that can double as an amphitheater,” said Scott Delano, Design Director at Wright Heerema. “There is design magic in stairs. It isn’t just a hole in the ceiling where people change floors or a closed portal like an elevator. There is physical and visual openness to a stairway. And that openness creates collision." Clients who are talking, eating and walking alongside your brand form the core of a customer-centric enterprise.

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7 Ways To Align Sales And Marketing Amidst A Rebrand


7 Ways To Align Sales And Marketing Amidst A Rebrand

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The landscape for merger and acquisitions, and spin-off and divestiture is heating up in virtually every sector and that brings the brand to the forefront of many executives’ minds. Aligning sales and marketing and keep the customer at the center of the enterprise can be a challenge in static environments, but it is even more challenging in the midst of a rebrand when the very moniker to which you refer to the company and who employees work for is changing. Here is some practical advice on how to make sure your rebrand is leveraged for maximum growth and cooperative productivity.

  1. Rebrands are Catalyst for Change

    Margaret Molloy is the chief marketing officer of Siegel + Gale, the global firm headquartered in New York City whose clients include rebranded CVSHealth, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Motorola Solutions, Novartis, DaVita Inc, Radial, and Hightail. They are the strategists and designers behind iconic brands like SAP, 3M, Cummins, United Airlines, AARP, the IRS, Penske, KeyBank, Pfizer, Allstate, Rotary International, the Grammys, the YMCA, and many more. When talking about rebranding she was quick to note that “a rebrand can be a catalyst to reform a business, presenting an opportunity to sharpen a company’s story and signal and direction to the market.” Rebrands don’t happen every day. “It is a watershed moment,” she said. “Rebranding is a great chance to reframe company positioning, product architecture, and product portfolio. It gives companies a chance to revisit and rethink products and go-to markets, allowing companies to articulate a new frame.”

    It also allows companies to reset the dynamic between sales and marketing. “A rebrand is often spurred by mergers, spinoffs, a change in leadership, or updated company ambitions, giving sales and marketing the chance to get a fresh start,” Molloy added. “It’s a new chapter that provides a clean slate to produce a new level of engagement and alignment.”

    Advice You Can Use: Think of a rebrand as a chance think big. What she called a “precious opportunity” that “should not be wasted.” Take advantage of that not only in your corporate strategies, but in your cross-functional partnerships across the organization.

  2. Rebrands are a Team Sport

    “One of the biggest mistakes a brand can make is shortchanging the employee engagement portion of their rebrand roll-out,” Molloy noted. It is easy to become absorbed by the strategy, research and design, and overlook employee activation. “To change a brand requires a commitment from the top to include the organization.” And that extends down and through the organization. Rachelle Kuramoto from Watchword Brand, a boutique agency in Atlanta, said it well when she noted that "every person, whether they be a customer or employee, has both rational and emotional drivers of their work and branding is personal. If they resist the new brand and aren't behind the message, they are not going to do their best work." In order to align early and often, Kuramoto suggests that “everyone should have objectives tied to the successful roll-out and what it looks like for their function. If you have asked for input during the discovery and research phase, employees are more likely to see their feedback in the plans and alignment is easier."

    Advice You Can Use: Before the budget is exhausted on other things, be sure to have a robust plan for employee engagement and communication. Tie metrics across the company to the successful brand roll-out.

  3. Customers Experience Brands through People

    “Employees are at the forefront of a brand,” Molloy continued, “and this is brought into high relief during ‘moments of truth’ for the customer. For example, when a customer walks into a store or calls up a service line, it’s during this interaction when the customer experiences the brand.” Even digital native companies without showrooms or sales, still have customers interacting with the work product of their employees. “This is why dedicating enough time and resources to employee engagement is such a necessity. Keep it open, keep it clear, and keep it simple in order to eliminate any potential barriers of communication,” she said. “Dedicating enough time and resources to employee engagement is a must.”

    Advice You Can Use: Think about the “moments of truth” and customer interactions that are critical for you to establish your new brands and work backward from those into your processes to ensure a great experience every time.

  4. Be Practical and Actionable With Employees (learn from sales)

    “Sales is an important subpopulation of employees. It is vital to understand the psychology of salespeople, their incentives, and the dynamics of the sales organization, as they are a constituency that tends to be practical,” she offered. “At the risk of generalizing, sales professionals are motivated by personal performance and have a good filter for anything that will help them sell more, faster.” Not all functions within the company work on the same horizons. Executives and brand leaders might be looking at long-term views and investments, while others with quotas to fulfill tend to be focused on this month, quarter, or year. “As a result, salespeople can be viewed as skeptical and transactional. This inherent tension is inevitable, but not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when an understanding is found between brand and sales it can lead to a harmonious working relationship that facilitates alignment.”

    Advice You Can Use: Leverage the practical and actionable tendencies of your sales team to help you filter and prioritize what is most critical in the time of transition. And provide turn-key solutions, sales enablement tools, and easy-to-deploy communications to make it easy for everyone to stay on message.

  5. Use Transparency to Socialize Change

    “Some brands make the mistake of waiting until everything is pristine and perfect to announce their intentions to a wider audience,” Molloy observed. Similar to the big reveal at the end of the episode of a home improvement television show, those designing new brands can often keep the stakeholders out of the house until the work is complete. Instead, she advised that “communication should be early and consistent. Otherwise, employees are left in a vacuum where imagination and presumption reign, filling the space with negative assumptions that can impact morale.” This can take the form of listening sessions, updates on the brand work or stakeholder interviews, or opportunities for people to provide input. You can still plan a big brand reveal party, but make sure that you minimize surprises to maximize long-term impact.

    Advice You Can Use: Don’t fear transparency. Use feedback sessions and preview to get feedback and to socialize change.

  6. Leverage Sales Leadership to Keep Competitors at Bay (and to Keep Your Sellers)

    “An important consideration during a rebranding, especially in a B2B business, is competitor response,” she said. Competitors use the opportunity to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (or FUD), possibly going as far as making attempts to lure key customers or high-caliber sales talent away. “The loss of this sales talent can be a great cost to a company both financially and culturally, reinforcing the need for employee engagement programs that could mitigate the risk.” This is where sales leadership matters. Molloy encourages companies to make sure “sales leaders have a voice at the table in strategic conversations around brand and play a key role in every phase of the rebrand rollout.”

    Advice You Can Use: In every good rebranding engagement, there is a discovery process where employees and other stakeholders are interviewed. Molloy has observed that some brands “dismiss the inclusion of sales during the discovery phase of branding engagement. However, the most pragmatic insight is oftentimes articulated the best by sales due to their day-to-day relationship with customers.” Involve them.

  7. Remember that Brands, like Sales and Marketing Alignment, is About Relationships

    "Sales and marketing alignment isn't one thing,” Kuramoto observed. “It has many pieces and each piece is held by a person who has trusted relationships with others in the company and with external stakeholders. To maintain and strengthen alignment during a rebrand is to bring every relationship through the process." Even if the strategic catalyst which prompted the rebrand is positive and exciting to employees and customers, that doesn’t make the change easy. It can be threatening and confusing. And that emotion comes like waves through the planning and implementation of the brand and beyond. “Roll-outs of brands are not complete without a monitoring and optimization process,” Kuramoto suggested. “The work of branding, like sales and marketing alignment, is never done."

    Advice You Can Use: Put success measures in place, across the company, and set up a monitoring process. Remember that change is a process and takes time (and that the brand marketers in the company have had many more months to warm up the idea of change than other employees or customers they serve). Communicate and over communicate (and then communicate again).

This article was originally published on



Listening At Scale: 4 Ways To Build Customer-Centricity

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Chief Marketing Officer Denise Karkos joined what is now TD Ameritrade in 2006 and has seen a lot of changes in her tenure there. The bank is a fixture in the world of investing, with over 360 branches and numerous recognitions over its 40-year history. In 2016, it bought Scottrade, “which doubled the size of our sales force and blended two cultures,” Karkos explained. This created new opportunities and challenges for aligning sales and marketing and refining her own leadership in the process.

Starting with Employee Engagement

Since the acquisition, she has "been working to create the best playbooks knowing that in some cases Scottrade had more experience, branches, and tenure to apply,” Karkos offered. “We want to make the combination the best it can be.” This required a large emphasis on listening and communication to ensure the right practices endure and that everyone is aware of the new direction.

“Never underestimate the importance of internal communications,” Karkos advised. “We have 11,000 associates. It can be overwhelming, but is very important to make sure that they all know the strategy and what we are trying to do.” This applies to what happens in the branches with product offerings for local clients, and in the larger marketplace as she builds the brand.

“One of the things that has been important is for us to preview commercials with our associates, to celebrate successes, and even sharing our digital campaigns,” she continued. “I like to share our world with our internal audiences. The advertising is fun, so we invite associates to the set of our commercials and even invite them to be in the spots.” This has led to business-impacting innovation.

“We were working on a commercial for our customers and decided to do some testing with our front-line employees,” she said. “I flew out to our call center and listened to phone calls and we did focus groups with associates.” They watched the rough-cut ad and a dialogue emerged. “One associate said that when he talks to traders the conversations are like therapy sessions. The investor is nervous.” They want to make the right choice and there are a lot of things to consider, which are often outside the domain or professional experience of the client. “They want to know if their decisions are sound,” she recalled. The associate "went on to say that his approach is to invite the client with an invitation: ‘Buddy, let’s talk it out.’” Light bulbs went off around the room and that line made it into the revised ad. “It was important to use the voice of actual conversations. Taking the time to listen to the words customers use," she offered. "In a world when people are uneasy and there is distrust, straight talk goes a long way,” Karkos concluded.

Listening Deeply to Customers

“We do a ton of qualitative and quantitative research to gain insights from consumers,” Karkos explained. “One of the themes that came up time and time again is that the old-school notion of ‘leaving a legacy’ is a superficial insight. It’s more about the emotional insight underneath that. It is about providing safety and security for their family. They want their kids to be okay.” Digging deeper into this theme created a new opportunity to connect with customers on an emotional level.

“We ran a spot around Father’s Day last year where we wrote new lyrics for the Harry Chapin classic ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ to reflect contemporary fatherhood,” Karkos said. “It was a tear-jerker. We previewed the commercial at a sales meeting to 300 of our retail associates and when I looked over the crowd and saw a bunch of tears.” They knew they had something of impact. “Our associates were sending it to their customers knowing that it would appreciate it and be touched by it as well,” Karkos added. Just the kind of viral behavior you want in an advertising campaign.

Over the subsequent months, we started getting stories back from the field. Memories of their own fathers. Stories about their sons. We received videos that they had shot themselves. It prompted a different conversation. With our associates and with their customers.”

“I am held accountable to revenue and profitability and although that ad campaign wasn’t our most profitable investment, I would do it again because of the impact it had internally.” The ad went on to be recognized as a 2017 Clio Music Shortlisted entry for use of music in a short form film.

Aligning Across Functions

“In order to make our customers successful, we need to make our associates successful,” Karkos continued. To understand "a day in their life” and let that influence investment, policies, and processes.

“Right now, it is cumbersome for them to know what ads and offers are in the market.” Due to the expansion of the business and legacy technologies, associates had to reference multiple systems. “We are in the process of developing and rolling out a customer relationship management system that allows a single sign-on and a complete look at the customer journey. This should be a game changer and make their job easier.” It is important to look at the marketing (and sales) technology stack holistically to see the impact on processes across the organization. “You want to innovate with clients,” Karkos added, “but you can’t put the burden on the back of salespeople. We measure share of wallet, but there are steps in the process before share of wallet that need visibility.”

And alignment doesn’t stop there. “We not only have to align with sales as there are other parts of the organization with whom we need to partner. For instance, finance,” Karkos offered.

“Our industry has a necessary evil called ‘offers.’ These are the promotions you see that offer free trades or cash incentives for opening up accounts,” she explained. “We market into a competitive space and we have to be responsive to what is being seen in the market. We have a budget for promotions and in highly-contested markets would often find ourselves out of budget and at a disadvantage.” This was unacceptable in the growth ambitions of the group.

Karkos was able to work with the finance team to “revisit the treatment of these offers to allow us more flexibility. This is the kind of alignment you only get when you are focused on the same growth and profitability goals.”

Demonstrating Leadership

Although Karkos has been in the CMO role for five years, she has reported to the CEO for less than two. This reporting structure and expanded scope have changed the role. “This position in the organization has caused me to focus not just on the ROI of the marketing mix and emerging trends in the industry, but also to drive for better investment decision making overall,” she observed. “Sometimes that means investments in marketing when we are confident that would lead to growth. Other times it is investments in sales or technology with analogous metrics.”

Advocating beyond functional boundaries for the good of the business is an important shift in the maturation of marketing leaders. “There is growth we can get in the industry and we need to make smart investments,” Karkos explains. “I have learned to step back and think more strategically about how I show up in those conversations. Not just representing marketing, but representing the business overall.”

This article was originally published on Forbes.


4 Ways to Avoid Data Breaches Through Sales and Marketing Alignment


4 Ways to Avoid Data Breaches Through Sales and Marketing Alignment

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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.



Get Paid for Paying Attention

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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.



Frank Advice For CMOs: 5 Ways To Market Marketing

You can’t talk about sales and marketing alignment without addressing the topic of “marketing marketing.” Some companies devalue marketing, considering it sales support or the group that makes things pretty (the “arts and crafts department” as a friend once quipped). Other companies strongly value the strategic importance of marketing in branding, product roadmap, strategic planning, and industry thought leadership. I have been blessed to work for organizations that model the latter, but I certainly am familiar with the former.

Forgive my tough love, but if you are a marketer and want to do a better job of marketing marketing in your organization (and building your own personal brand in the process), here are five questions to get you on the right path.

  1. Would you having a seat at the decision-making table improve the company results?
    You may be a great third baseman, knowing all the throwing and catching moves that make someone fantastic at executing this role in a baseball game, but if you don’t know how to read the scoreboard, understand sports commentary, or know how your actions impact the outcome of the game, you are not a very strong ball player. Similarly, if you don’t know how the score is kept in your business, you may not yet deserve a seat at the table to influence decision making.

    You must remember you are a business person. No matter your role in the company. When you are pitching a new idea or defending your budget, can you frame the results you hope to achieve in financial terms? Are you prepared to advise senior leadership to make strong economic decisions?

  2. Now, this emphasis on financial results doesn’t prevent being a hands-on, servant leader who knows the technical details of the functional work and gets things done. That is required. It doesn’t prevent a business from having a strong mission, culture, and a balanced scorecard that includes giving back in the community. That is increasingly critical. But if you are tasked with allocating resources, you should be able to describe it in the language and thought process of a business leader.

    Best advice: Lead with the financials. Don’t put them in the back of your deck or neglect to make a business case for the things you are doing. Tell your peers and boss what they can expect in return for the investments you are advocating, whether that be revenue, profit, lifetime customer value, or some other economic driver that your shareholders value. And if you aren’t sure how to do this, learn. Get a mentor. Take a class. Ask your CFO to lunch. Read a book. Be curious about the economic impact of your choices and let that guide your thinking.

  3. What is the perception of you and that of marketing in your organization?
    Before you would embark on a brand-building campaign, you would begin with data to identify the "as is" state and some visioning to determine "to be" state, so that the gap could be identified and closed with careful planning and execution. Often this “as is” state is determined with surveys, voice of the customer, share of voice analysis, or other tools, both formal and informal. Why not do the same thing within your organization to gauge how far away your brand perception within organization is from what you envision as the ideal?

    I also know that many business people have scars from previous wounds in the battle to align sales and marketing. You may be in an organization where the marketing function is mistrusted or undervalued, and that was true long before you were on the scene. Making positive change in this environment requires more individual attention: to understand where detractors are coming from, their concerns, and how to lead the organization forward.

    Best advice: Know your strengths, weaknesses, and how you are perceived, personally and as a function. Asking a few trusted advisors within the company might give you enough to know your starting place. There are organizations - like Gartner ( CEB ), SiriusDecisions, or consultants - who can assess the strength of your team across a variety of frameworks. Determine how you want to be perceived and take action to close the gaps. Build alignment with peers with by delivering results and with open communication.

  4. How are you mentoring and developing your team to be better practitioners and better business people?
    You are responsible for the work output and business acumen of your team. Going back to my first point, one of my best practices is to give my marketing teams a primer in reading financial statements. This includes creatives, new college grads and interns, and experienced functional experts brought in for their expertise. As I said, everyone should know how the game of business is played. This is just one example of the learning objectives you can set for your team that set you apart. Other topics for exploration might include new practices in digital demand generation, insights into changing customer preferences, or developing a point of view of how technologies like AI, bitcoin and blockchain might impact your business.

    Best advice: Have a learning and development plan for each individual on your team and for the team overall. Assess your talent against your goals to make sure you have the right horsepower to get you there. Don’t be afraid to make changes or redefine roles as necessary. Think critically about what you in-source and outsource, through agencies, contractors, or service vendors to ensure you are maintaining the right amount of capability and curiosity in your organization.

  5. What "marketing" does your customer really need?
    This should probably be the first question, because anything that isn't seen and appreciated by customers, probably isn't worth doing (besides that which is required for regulatory, legal, or financial compliance). If the customer can’t see it, then it’s waste. What specific value does the customer perceive in the marketing you do?

    • Are your empowered customers able to make better and faster decisions because of their access to technical information?

    • Are your resellers able to reduce their costs with more accurate quoting resources?

    • Are your clients able to achieve business results because of the value proposition of the products and services you provide?

    • Are they more loyal because of your differentiated customer service approach?

    • Do you make it easy for your customers in ways they value, throughout their customer journey?

    Best advice: If you can’t think of examples of adding value that customers perceive, it is time to rethink your strategies. If customers only see themselves being “sold to,” then it is unlikely that you are providing them the value that will lead to long-term loyalty and maximize lifetime customer value. If you can think of solid examples, use these success stories as a platform to build credibility and to inform your investments of time, money, and energy.

    and finally...

  6. What is working that is worth repeating?
    If you want to answer questions 1-4 and put a plan of action in place, a good place to start is to build upon your successes. Where are some situations that have gone well, that you think are worthy of replication and celebration? Use formal employee communications and informal networks to tell the story of the wins. Remember, you serve a role in building positive momentum throughout the whole organization when you market marketing and let everyone participate in the success.

    Best advice: Go back and analyze a big order, a design win, a record-setting campaign, or a successful product launch and ask everyone involved how it came to be: the touch points with the organization, what sales tools or marketing resources were used, and what made the difference. Listen for examples of cross-functional teamwork. Use that case study as a cause for recognition, a chance to tell employees about how marketing is playing a role in your shared success, and as an example to replicate in future campaigns or plans. Make sure the CEO and the leadership team knows the story and ask for their help in congratulating those involved in the win.

These questions, and the follow-on discussions they have triggered, have helped develop my leadership and have been useful to leaders I have mentored. What has been your experience? What are your best practices around marketing marketing? Connect on Twitter or LinkedIn and let's continue the conversation.

This article was originally posted on


5 Ways to Bridge the Sales and Marketing Gap


5 Ways to Bridge the Sales and Marketing Gap

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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.

Special thanks to Rakhi Voria, Bob Perkins, Shelli Keagle, and Trip Jobe for lending their expertise to this piece.


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.