Marketing and sales alignment: what's new?
At AZK Media, what we've found when we talk to businesses at C-Suite level is that there’s often a misconception in the B2B space that marketing is secondary to sales, whereas, in reality, the two need to work hand in hand in order to fire up the lead gen engine.
We speak with Josh Wagner, LeadMD’s Enterprise Account Executive about the trends, challenges and opportunities in aligning marketing with sales to drive business growth.
What is firing up the lead gen engine?
At AZK Media, we've found that when it comes to understanding what's going on with sales and marketing alignment, the results were quite startling. Marketing teams are under pressure to 'bring in leads'.
Meanwhile the disconnect between marketing and sales is resulting in Sales being under pressure to convert those 'leads' into sales faster and at scale.
The reality is, many of those 'leads' aren't quite ready for conversion. They need to be nurtured slowly. In many large SaaS/Data companies, these leads can take 6 months to a year to come to fruition.
But in the meantime, the sales teams and marketing teams are becoming more burnt out, more frustrated and churning off into other companies, where, if the model is also broke, the cycle starts all over again.
MQLs, SQLs and vanity metrics
Josh highlights one of the most confusing parts of modern day marketing is defining what a lead actually is. Is it an organic inbound lead? Is it a paid lead? Is it an outbound lead? Is it an 'MQL' or an 'SQL'?
If you take a look at our lead generation information page, we debunk these common terms:
The problem businesses have is loosely defining an 'MQL', which is becoming a huge scapegoat and opening up a pandora's box of 'vanity metric marketing.'
"It's this thing that marketing will hang their hat on half the time. And then they'll say, I've generated 27,000 MQL, but zero have turned into revenue. There's a disconnect in terms of what you think of MQL means and what your sales team thinks an MQL means, that's just one example," Josh adds.
Creating a common framework and budgeting
Creating a common framework or a common language is a starting point for any of this right to create alignment. The second piece really looks at objectives and KPIs together that can come down to even budgeting, how you budget, how you budget against your demand gen plans, your account-based marketing plans, whatever those may be.
Josh highlights the whole idea of alignment is understanding what those key dependencies between marketing and sales are aligning on how we're going to solve for those key dependencies, and then creating roles and responsibilities moving forward so that everybody has a clear-eyed view of what the future state looks like.
"I would suggest to really formulate targets together so that you're all aiming at the same thing. Then once those things are clearly defined, you can create a playbook that clearly outlines roles and responsibilities, who's doing what if this happens, then this happens, and it's a place to hold one another accountable. That three-step model works really well to bring the two sides together, and understand clearly what those dependencies look like so that we can be complementing one another," Josh says.
Mistakes to avoid when aligning marketing and sales
One of the common mistakes we see at AZK Media is when the C-Suite don't understand or value marketing, and confuse outbound lead generation with inbound lead generation.
Josh highlights another issue is that there's a misconception lead gen on its own has value.
"We like to use this quote that 'just fill the top of my funnel with leads, penned CEO'. When the reality is what does that mean? Have you ever decided to find what a lead is in your business? And what happens to it? If you have it? Those are the things that are missing, he says."
"There is this idea, from Aaron Ross in Predictable Revenue, he's a great leader, and he brought a lot of that forward. But there are also some fundamental flaws in that if you put so many inputs, you're going to get so many outputs. That's not really the reality, especially in B2B marketing and sales because there are so many variables and there are so many things that are changing dynamically."
"Think of the current environment and all the inputs that you put into your regular marketing channels. Likely aren't producing the same outputs, your sales team isn't having the same predictable ability to generate conversations and close business with those people. You have to be able to pivot."
"There are microbursts of that happening all the time. Think that you can, you may be able to predictably throw $10,000 at a certain channel, and it may be able to produce some sort of leads. But predicting how many of those are going to turn into revenue, it can be a little bit of a crapshoot, because there are so many variables in that. A little bit of a misconception is, instead of looking at the engine, as an input-output, look at the engine as to how you understand your buyers and the people that buy from you. And you might be able to predict a little bit more accurately."
Josh agrees executive sponsorship is a key problem in this equation, along with the CFO's understanding of how sales and marketing can work together to fire up business growth.
"Because even if the sales leader and the marketing leader are thinking, yes, let's do this, let's walk arm and arm and go if you don't have buy-in across the C suite, and that could be the CEO, the CFO, that can be the board of directors, it doesn't really matter, it's really not going to take off and have the oomph that you want it to have."
"The reason for that, especially if you look at and we're seeing more and more that the CFO is a key person in this equation. Because they're funding these things, they're budgeting these things, they're looking at the business very holistically. If there's a perception in the organisation, that marketing performs one way and sales performance another way and you're responsible for these two things that are siloed."
"The CFO thinks well, how are you supposed to join forces and combine against a common goal, right, and it's a very simplistic view of it, but really, it is by and across the executive suite."
Pandemic signals a seismic shift
It’s been a tough year for marketing, and an even tougher year for marketers. According to a recent survey that polled 7,000 professionals, marketing and communications professionals are now faring the worst among job functions with the highest burnout. The pandemic is now forcing businesses and their respective marketing and sales teams to have a serious rethink about the 'path of least resistance' to revenue generation.
Josh describes how in his business, it's all about getting the priorities right.
"The difference in thinking is most businesses including ours, are leading with focus. We're putting all the other stuff like put it this way, the parking lots getting bigger. Everybody's got this list of things right. Let's put that in the parking lot. We'll save that for later," he explains.
"I think the parking lot for most organisations is probably bigger than it's ever been because everyone is taking a very extreme focus on what's going to help us keep the doors open, keep our people employed, and if possible, make some level of growth within the business right and every business is different, right?"
"If you're a small business and you employ 10 people, it means a lot for you to employ those 10 people so you know you're focused. If you're a Fortune 1000, there's an inherent amount of slush that you have just given the size of the organisation. Most of them are reporting to Wall Street, what kind of available cash you have."
"There's a reason for that, because if a pandemic hits, how secure are you? Right, you know that that's how these businesses think. The level of focus that organisations are taking on the things that matter is the biggest difference I'm saying, and that that doesn't exclude our organisation, we did a lot of those similar efforts."
Unlocking the 'value' of your marketing and sales data
In a data-driven environment, there's no better time than now to start re-evaluating your marketing and sales data and taking it more seriously.
Josh agrees, and stresses that understanding that data is the key ingredient to 'cooking a fully baked customer experience'.
"There's so much data out there, your customers are giving you so much your prospects are giving you so much if you don't have a way to collect it, and interpret it and do something meaningful with it, you're losing out the experience and the expectation that companies like Amazon have set are going to start creeping their way more and more into B2B," he adds.
"As B2B marketers, we need to learn how to orchestrate those experiences that make them feel like they're buying their groceries on Amazon, or their kids Christmas presents on Amazon."
"So focus on the customer, let's focus on what they are telling us. If you don't have the internal resources to wrangle your data, and interpret it, outsource it, there are companies, I happen to work for one of them that will help you do that. You can apply some data science and some human overlay to that, to really pull out some interesting insights that can point you into some really impactful areas of focus, that can drive results fast."
Tune into the full episode here.
Target Market is a podcast series by AZK Media, where the world’s most premium thought leaders across technology, marketing and data come together to share their insights. Hosted by Athina Mallis.
This article was also featured in LBB Online, one of the world’s leading marketing news publications. See the LBB version of the article.