Sales Marketing Alignment

Sales and Marketing Alignment to Drive Success with Carlos Vidal

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As part of our ongoing B2B sales and marketing thought leadership interviews, I spoke with Carlos Vidal, Principal at Sales Benchmark Index (SBI). SBI is a strategic advisory firm that helps executives understand how well their sales forces are performing relative to peer group and World-Class levels. SBI is differentiated through the use of empirical data — a repository of over 11,200 companies, across 19 industries, 11 years of history and over 315 sales metrics.

How did you get into sales and what do you like most about it?

I have been in sales and marketing for the past 17 years.  Most people stumble upon a sales career but my path was more deliberate.  I grew up hearing stories of how my entire extended family came to the US with nothing and started over. My parents hard coded me with ambition at an early age.  Three years out of college I was running a sales organization for an engineering company and I never looked back.

What I like most about sales is the competitive aspect. You have to bring your ‘A’ game every time and there are many worthy adversaries out there today.

You have a unique job in that you teach other Marketers how to leverage lead generation and lead nurturing but you also handle that function for a sales focused company.   What have you learned from this?

We call on the C-Suite and they are the least likely to spend time on the Internet and our website. I did not fully realize how challenging they would be from a Marketing perspective.

Our messaging and value proposition have to be crisp and relevant.  We spend a lot of time refining each communication and piece of content to ensure our prospects stay engaged.  Our nurture communications are highly targeted and contain subtle calls to action that confirm whether we are providing value each time.  If they sense that we are casting a wide net, we lose them.  Try this – get a few emails of CEOs at your best accounts and draft your best message.  Now, take it to your own CEO and ask him if it meets the relevance test.

When your company works to improve an organization’s sales process, does this exclude marketing or do the two teams need to improve together?

There are cases where they both need to improve together such as lead generation.  If you want both parties to act, they have to agree on the same root cause and the solution to address it.  How many times have you seen a business issue ignored because the cause was unclear?  It’s not enough to say there are too few sales-ready leads.  It begs the question – how many more are needed and why is that the right number?   You can use industry-benchmarking data to frame the problem, which avoids the debate over the analysis and focuses everyone on the same goal.

What do you think is most challenging about aligning sales and marketing?

Sales [teams] have a much shorter time horizon than Marketing and neither has a binding commitment to the other’s success.  With this ‘loose coupling’, alignment is a challenge.

We see this as a real improvement opportunity. Let’s start by acknowledging that each organization has much to teach each other.  For instance, Sales can leverage Marketing to help improve the quality and persuasiveness of its proposals, which tend to be glorified quotes with cut & paste content from the marketing collateral.

Marketing can help Sales extract high-level messages and conversion objectives relevant to the prospect and sales cycle, and package it up for a compelling proposal.  Conversely, Sales has clear insight into customer thought-processes, dynamics, and perspectives that Marketing can leverage for better communication.

What do you think is harder, finding the right leads to put into a company’s sales funnel or helping them through the funnel to purchase? Why?

That’s an interesting question because I have been hearing from many people that they have a decent amount of leads and they are ok with their overall pipeline, but a disproportionate amount of the opportunities are stuck in the middle of the funnel.

It only takes a small of amount of time and energy to raise your hand and express interest.  There is a much greater commitment involved in continuing the process.  You have to effectively persuade the prospect multiple times to move them through the funnel and you can’t use a one-size-fits-all strategy.  This is more difficult but the companies that do a good job here see the best results and rank best in class.

What should companies do in order to help leads caught in the sales funnel get moving again?

Often, near the end of a purchase cycle the buyer starts thinking about the likelihood of failure.  It’s best to confront this early on.  Case studies and reference calls help at this stage but Marketing can do more.  As an example, Marketers can work with the implementation team and create collateral that displays risk factors across a timeline and how you can mitigate them.  This will help sales keep the funnel moving later in the buying cycle.

Should every organization measure their sales and marketing success with the same metrics, or is this individual to every company?

Your business model will dictate the right metrics.  For example, a distributor has a very different sales model than an original manufacturer.  It isn’t appropriate to compare Marketing Staff per total Marketing Spend, between the two organizations.  That’s one of the reasons why we maintain a database of 11,000 companies across a wide variety of business models and industry segments.

You should consider metrics that tie back to the Sales, General & Administrative (SG&A) expense for your company.  Sales and Marketing can consume 50% or more of SG&A.  In a nutshell, you want to measure how effective you are with your money in terms of results and how quickly you produce those results.

Some Lead Generation efficiency metrics to consider include:

  • Lead Cost per Opportunity
  • Lead to Opportunity conversion rate
  • Lead to Appointment cycle length  (If a Lead Qualification team is in place)

Lead Generation Effectiveness metrics might include:

  • Percentage of Leads that meet the Ideal Customer Profile
  • Lead Generation Pipeline Contribution
  • Opportunity by Lead Source
  • Closed deals by Lead Source
  • Number of returned leads from Sales

What are the key marketing metrics that marketers need to provide to sales?

Sales leaders care about results and time to result.  Don’t bother reporting on the fish that got away or the keywords that worked.  If you focus on the following, it will be much more valuable:

  • Number of opportunities created via the lead generation programs
  • Sales Qualified Leads per key account group  (particularly important)
  • Lead conversion cycle time  (sets expectations)
  • Nurtured lead conversions to opportunities (track it separately)
  • Lead follow-up compliance (maintain accountability)

For any metric you provide to Sales, make sure it is relevant to results, indicate the stretch goal-, and let Sales know how you plan to reach it.  Sales teams are being asked to produce more; Marketing Demand Generation staff should adopt a similar culture of performance.

Do you think most marketing organizations tap into the insight available to them from their sales teams?

It has always been my opinion that Marketing doesn’t spend enough time with customers or the sales force in order to get a real sense for what is happening on the front lines.  Salespeople have been nurturing their contacts since the invention of the Rolodex.  Playing a round of golf is a form of nurturing but it doesn’t scale very well.

Sales people have a “single sales objective” each time they encounter their prospect, which is very similar to the call to action we strive for in each marketing communication.  Spend some time with your sales people to understand how they guide the conversation towards the single sales objective.  Ask them what their key objectives are at different stages of the campaign.  Are your marketing materials supporting those objectives?

In your opinion, what does the future hold for sales and marketing alignment?

The alignment is going to happen.  It’s just a matter of time.  If you had read Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave back in the eighties, you would have seen this coming.  We still operate under a model that dates back to the beginning of the industrial revolution.  The school bell was a proxy for the factory whistle and we were trained to occupy a location and complete a task.  Location is irrelevant now, and today’s knowledge worker is solving a problem or delivering a result.

Prospects have no time for 20th century boundary squabbles. When it comes to directly engaging targeted prospects the fault line between Sales and Marketing should be invisible. What matters is the sophistication of interaction and the ability to add value and solve problems.