“At start-ups, sales and marketing are kind’ve the same thing – you have to find people who want your product and exchange money for that product. Start-ups are geared towards getting sales done, because you need revenue. Somewhere along the line, as companies get bigger, at some point sales and marketing bifurcate: you need to build a funnel, do front-end lead generation. Talking to customers and building interest, versus closing deals.”
This morning I attended “Greasing the friction between sales and marketing”, a mini-panel jointly held by Communitech’s Strategic Marketing Peer-to-Peer group and their Product Management P2P.
Here’s the event teaser:
Let’s face it, when it comes to sales and marketing, things aren’t always harmonious.
When sales are disappointing, marketing can blame the sales team for a poor execution of an otherwise brilliant rollout plan. The sales team, in turn, can believe that marketers are out of touch with what’s really going on with customers. Marketing believes that sales is myopic—too focused on individual customer experiences, insufficiently aware of the larger market, and blind to the future. In short, each group often undervalues the other’s contributions.
I’d say that sums reality up pretty well, and it set the stage for an interesting session.
As usual, I took notes.
Over the hour of the session, lots of topics popped up; however, I’m going to focus on a few that were especially important (in my opinion). So, in no order…and quoting and paraphrasing as best I could…
The Relationship Between Sales and Marketing
The teaser for the event touches on a reality of the relationship between the Sales organization and the Marketing organization: they don’t always get along.
“When things are going well and you’re growing, Sales and Marketing are going out together and partying,”
Of course, this isn’t always the case. As Jeff said, “When things are going well and you’re growing, Sales and Marketing are going out together and partying,”
However, “as soon as things aren’t going as planned, if you don’t have shared goals and communication things can get tough.”
We’ll touch on the point about communication a little later in the post, but one way to improve the relationship between the two groups is to make sure there are opportunities for them to work together.
Jeff’s recommendation is to, “Get marketing in front of customers. The marketers will love it – because they like getting out of the building – and they’ll get better insight. They probably know the message and value proposition better, and they’ll likely have deeper insight into the product pipeline. Plus customers like it! Get sales and marketing collaborating on closing deals, and on creating the messaging.”
To that point, Chris added, “And when the customer sees marketing folks come in, it’s less invasive/aggressive, so the customer is more open.”
In my own experience, this is absolutely the case: the customer is more open, because frankly they like seeing someone other than a salesperson, and nothing builds a rapport between individual salespeople and individual marketing people like some joint customer time.
Nothing builds a rapport between individual salespeople and individual marketing people like some joint customer time.
Ultimately, in Jeff’s words, “There has to be respect for each other’s skills.”
…which brings us to…
The Importance of Culture
The concept of culture – and its enormous importance – came up throughout the session.
The first mention was prompted by Saj, who asked, “In a company, how much does a CEO/CTO/founder make an impact on what part of the organization gets the most attention?”
Jeff provided a lengthy, insightful reply:
I think the impetus on the CEO is to create a culture of not finger-pointing. The thing I’ve seen that’s most successful is when the CEO takes it on himself to own the problem no matter where it is, either marketing or sales. No culture of blame (i.e., who’s messing up my perfect product!). The leadership team must create a culture of collaboration. Whether the problem is close rates, awareness, leads, whatever. Once you get into finger-pointing, a blame spiral, it’s very hard to get out of it. The CEO’s job is to listen to everyone, understand the issues, keep lines of communication open, don’t take sides.
“The impetus on the CEO is to create a culture of not finger-pointing. The CEO’s job is to listen to everyone, understand the issues, keep lines of communication open, don’t take sides.”
Of course, two big characteristics of an effective culture are communication and collaboration.
Increasing Communication and Collaboration
Much like the topic of culture, the somewhat joint topic of communication and collaboration came up in many answers.
Once the audience woke up a bit, Cam Davies asked the panel, “You touched on different personalities…but you get them all in a room and there are fisticuffs, and you need to make them successful: do you have any success stories about information or something else that brings the groups together and galvanizes them?”
First: yes, Cam actually said fisticuffs. Which is fantastic, obviously.
In response, Jeff shared this story:
I worked for a company where the product portfolio was way too broad. Sales had too many things to try to sell, marketing had too many things to try to message, PM had too many things to try to manage…when all the facts were out on the table, all the teams agreed that with fewer products they could probably do their jobs better and actually sell more stuff. It happened, and it was quite satisfying to see. With all the information on the table, everyone was thinking from the same playbook. A decision was made that was quite beneficial and that everyone agreed with. Why doesn’t this happen more often? I dunno. Insecurities, territorial attitudes, etc. So again it comes back to culture. Safe environment. Then you don’t have roadblocks. Egos aren’t involved as much, etc.
Chris added, “Put the lens on the customer’s point of view. What are we trying to achieve, and can we do it in a way that makes sense for us? Sometimes sales guys won’t say ‘no’, and that’s a problem…that can be detrimental. Internally, you need to take emotion off the table and have an adult conversation.”
I’ve gotta say, I’ve been in many a conversation in which we consciously pause and have a kind of ‘reset’, by really trying to take an outside-in perspective, to see things from the customer’s (or other party’s) point of view. Doing so is a very effective tactic, because it reminds everyone of the common goal, and can help to cut emotion-sourced tension.
A little later on, Bryan Peters (strong representation from Miovision today, with Cam and Bryan!) asked, “I want to talk about collaboration: you mentioned going out on calls together, and having the execs aligned…but it’s the middle that I’m interested in. How do you start to foster habits, what are the mechanics, what types of forums do you create, who should be in the room, and how frequently should they meet?”
Once again, Jeff had a story at the ready:
At BlackBerry, we used to have a Monday Morning Meeting…8am, everybody from Sales and Marketing, including executives and all the way down. (We all kinda complained about it, because it was so early.) Everyone got a chance to speak: what’s going on, what sales are you working on, what products are coming out. Balsillie would be furiously writing notes. It’s funny, the dislike – you had to kinda pretend you didn’t like it, because it was early – because it was the most important meeting we had. You’d leave that meeting with three or four nuggets. Direct access to the executives and the masses, and it created a culture of openness and equality. It just got so big that the meeting couldn’t happen anymore. Just too big to manage…not possible to have it. But it created a culture of collaboration and inclusion.
Come to think of it, this session wasn’t the first time I’ve heard of that famed BlackBerry Monday Morning Meeting…
Someone from the audience (sorry, I don’t know you) asked, later on, “Can you imagine a way to keep the Monday Morning Meeting going even when the company gets big?”
While Jeff didn’t have an answer on how to keep it going in a very large company, he did warn against what not to do: “Do not start eliminating levels to try to keep it going – this is for directors only now, then VPs, etc. – because then you turn it into an executive meeting. You need to get a relevant cross-section…maybe rotate products, regions, etc.”
Shortly afterward, there was another interesting question from another anonymous audience member: “Have you ever heard of a business case development that involved the sales team? (to secure buy-in, to get their input on pricing, etc.)”
Plugging the Monday morning meeting once again, Jeff replied that, “The Monday Morning Meeting let us do that, at BlackBerry. Direct, early input in a collaborative forum.”
Now, let’s talk a bit about a specific element of collaboration and information sharing…
Sales and Roadmaps
George Tsintzouras asked a very specific question: “How far out of a roadmap do you share with your sales team?”
Bill Scott, from the audience, provided a great response:
“One thing that worked for me over the years is being very open with the sales organization about our development process. I let them know that if we’re in concept, then there’s about a 50% chance that a feature is going to see the light of day. In development: 60%. Getting ready for launch? 95%. Let them know how you do things, and how things are coming along, and then they’ll understand and be on the same page. That’ll help you move from selling what’s not on the truck to selling what is on the truck.”
Jeff built on that with his own excellent response:
The highest thing is trust. If you start holding back information then you’ll break that trust. I used to tell salespeople about things when I was excited about them, and then the salespeople would sell them, and there’d be conflict. The answer is telling them what’s coming, but being very clear about when it’ll be delivered. They have to understand the consequences of jumping the gun. So, if they sell something that’s way out, and we need to divert resources to deliver it, then it means that three other deals in their pipeline might go unfulfilled because of the resource diversion. And that sales guy is gonna lose credibility with the customer.
…which is as good a segue as any into…
Death Growth of a Sales manperson
This section and the final one, below, both deal with changes over time for people and an organization, which were recurring themes.
At one point, Chris explained how, “Sales, especially in a smaller company, is about piecework…it’s all about information: directional questioning, finding out about adjacent departments. Sometimes I think sales folks get a little bit too comfortable and overconfident…and it’s really easy to do that when dealing only with folks they already know. So it’s important to reach out to other areas of the organization. And report back!”
Let’s first acknowledge that final little tidbit, “And report back!”, because it supports the previous point about communication and collaboration.
OK, back to Chris’ main point: he’s touching on how salespeople can fall into a trap of only calling the same people, dealing with the same departments…this is an insidious condition that can infect salespeople young and old, and leads to sales paralysis. It’s not good.
On this general topic, George asked, “Speaking of commissions, quotas, etc. If you were going to innovate, is there a better system for incentives than quotas? And I’m not talking a junior sales guy, I mean a senior guy who understands things.”
Chris answered that, “Sales is quota retirement, but it’s also conflict resolution…things aren’t rosy. It’s hard to have a conversation with people who don’t want to talk to you. Maybe there’s no need (for your product) right now, or maybe you inherited an unhappy account. So I think some of the comp structure has to reward effort.”
Jeff jumped in to say that, “I think the most important thing is having a plan, sticking to it, then hiring the right people for the plan that you’ve put in place. Your hire has to fit your strategy. If things don’t work out, it could be that you messed up the hire…you hired a good person and put them in the wrong place. I don’t think there’s a magic bullet plan. Have a plan that fits your business.”
As the topics meandered around, the subject of the growth of a salesperson came up a couple more times.
Chris: “Sales is a flexible career when things are going well…but at the end of the day it’s about dealing with people and helping people solve their problems. Common sense needs to come into play here, and there’s some accountability on the sales folks. As you grow as a salesperson…it shifts more into business development and relationship management: you’ve gotta be good for your company and good for the customer.”
“As you grow as a salesperson…it shifts more into business development and relationship management: you’ve gotta be good for your company and good for the customer.”
Saj jumped in to ask, “What’s the best way to solve problems?”
To which Jeff replied, echoing a theme, “I come back to the culture. It has to be a habit.”
The Evolution of Sales and Marketing: From Start-Up to Established Company
Having been at a tech company for *gasp* 11 years now, from pre-revenue to consistently over $100 million, I’ve seen this part play out firsthand.
Early on, Jeff provided a good explanation:
At start-ups, sales and marketing are kind’ve the same thing – you have to find people who want your product and exchange money for that product. Start-ups are geared towards getting sales done, because you need revenue. Somewhere along the line, as companies get bigger, at some point sales and marketing bifurcate: you need to build a funnel, do front-end lead generation. Talking to customers and building interest, versus closing deals. I don’t know when that happens specifically, but at any start-up it’s really all about sales. Sales guys end up needing to do PowerPoint presentations. And I think that’s right…at a startup, you need to focus on sales more than marketing.
Saj: “So at a startup marketing is more about supporting sales?”
Jeff: “Absolutely. Marketing at the early stages is really more about supporting sales.”
To this exchange, Chris added that in start-ups: “You have to have right messaging, company identity…bridging gaps and delivering value. Relating to the client is imperative for small companies, and being able to deliver time and time again. Really, flawless execution…because that’s how you build your brand.”
As companies grow, though, their needs change. Saj touched on this when he prompted that, “Marketers talk about the four P’s. My view is that early on, start-ups are looking at promotion and placement…then as the company grows marketing starts to get into product and price.”
To this prompt, Jeff replied that, “That’s not to say that smaller companies shouldn’t have marketing people, too, but they need to also be doing sales. So narrowing down to those two P’s and aligning on the objectives of bringing in customers. I’ve seen a lot of people get their heads too wrapped around buying research too early in their life-cycle, when the best thing to focus on at that point is what the customers want.”
Jeff touched on the critical inflection point between start-up and established company:
We’ve all worked with a sales guy who comes back from a meeting and says ‘I can close the deal this quarter if we build this with this feature and sell it this way’…and you might have to do that in the very early stages, but at some point, this is where the other two P’s come into play: you take your company’s insight into the future and where things are going, and weigh that against the input from all the salespeople wanting customization. Anticipate and build for needs the customer doesn’t even know they have, because that’s how you’re going to get a competitive advantage. CEO, CTO, whoever’s running the marketing team needs to maintain balance.