You’ve heard this story hundreds of times.
You’ve probably lived through similar situations at some time in your marketing career. I’m talking about the ages-old argument between marketing and sales. The conversation goes something like this:
- Marketing wants to know “what did you do with those leads we generated from <fill in the blank event or activity>?”
- To which Sales replies, “What leads? Oh, those leads were terrible — send us better ones.”
Despite great advances in demand management and marketing automation – where marketers can use technology to target, engage, educate, and nurture prospects long before sales gets involved – the process of developing leads has yet to change fundamentally the natural tension between those who create market awareness and interest and those who turn that desire into deals.
This week I had the occasion to attend the Marketing Leadership Board Meeting, sponsored by the IDC CMO Advisory service. The first item on the agenda was a “voice of the sales person” session that we could have continued all day. Held jointly with the Sales Advisory service, this panel included front line sellers from top tech firms here in Silicon Valley. We’re talking enterprise sales — folks who manage one or two major accounts that create millions of dollars in revenue each year. This friendly discussion was intended to give marketing counterparts some perspective and feedback on how to best impact sales’ productivity and effectiveness. What resulted was some very pointed commentary that set many of the marketing operations folks in the room back on their heels.
What does marketing do to really annoy those who manage major account relationships? Here’s my paraphrased synopsis of the key points made:
1) Sales builds key relationships and marketing messes them up. Every one of these sales people felt that it was Sales’ job to develop and maintain executive relationships at key accounts. When marketing sends unsolicited communication — that is either off-topic, redundant, or too frequent — this interferes with their ability to keep the executive-level conversations moving forward. As a result, Sales is reluctant or unwilling to share contacts with marketing so they squirrel their most important information away on smartphones and personal databases.
2) Most marketing-generated leads are still poorly qualified. Even though they agreed that it can be helpful — from an awareness and credibility perspective — to communicate with contacts outside those involved in the current deal, these sales execs believe they hold deep insight into what makes buyers tick and that marketing should just butt out of these conversations. Generating net-new leads, and asking for timely follow up, simply takes too much time away from persuading their primary decision makers.
3) Marketing helps most when it makes content look snappy and throws a great party. Executive events, sponsorships, polishing RFPs and oral presentations, and dinners at nice restaurants provide great opportunities for sales to meet with top-level clients and prospects face to face. Marketing can help put that best foot forward (as I did with the recent Xerox TEDMED sponsorship). Beyond that, Sales doesn’t see much value in the advertising, direct mail, online content, or social interaction that Marketing often leads.
So what’s a dedicated marketer to do? Throw you arms up in frustration? Resort to the “oh boys will be boys” attitude of marketing in the face of direct, major account sales?
No, I think if you can’t beat them, it’s time to join them. But in a very specific way. Marketing must work to reinforce its purpose as the revenue generation engine of the company. In building demand ahead of the pipeline. If major account sales doesn’t yet appreciate that Marketing can help to drive the business in this manner, then it’s time to:
1) Find the parts of the business that can benefit from qualified lead generation. OK, major accounts may not (yet) see the benefit of marketing communication directed at the parts of the account that don’t yet know about your company and its products and services. So work with the new logo/business development folks. Channel partners are always hungry for net-new lead opportunities. Look for small teams offering specific solutions or addressing specific markets (like healthcare or higher education.) Showing that marketing can have an impact is the primary goal. And major accounts may not be the first place to start.
2) Put sales in control of the demand generation process — in their accounts. Many refer to this as account-based marketing, but the guiding principle is the same – develop demand generation and customer communication programs that target a specific audience. Whether industry or role focused, programs that progress a buyer through a specific set of educational or business problem resolution steps can help sales people attract the interest of new buyers by delivering interesting, relevant content instead of promotional messages.
3) Double down on marketing/business centric metrics. The best way to demonstrate that marketing can truly help sales develop new opportunities or progress current deals is to measure your impact on the pipeline and the business. Marketing dashboards, reports, and portals that reflect the same business issues that Sales cares about it the way to start.
Will marketing and sales ever see eye-to-eye with sales? I see many smaller to mid-size companies achieve this goal today. But large, enterprise firms — with a long history of sales-centric operations, direct account coverage models, and professional sales processes — will take a longer time to develop this appreciation.