As a young marketing executive, I used to run massive tradeshows for a technology consulting firm. During the show, we’d generate hundreds of leads — all of which required follow-up after the show. So I made a classic mistake. I threw them over the fence to the sales team and said, “Work these leads and make something of them.”
More than that, I enlisted the support of the CEO and VP Sales to ensure that the sales people followed-up. They put the sales team on notice telling them it was part of their job to work the leads the marketing team had produced. Period.
My big mistake
I was young. I was naïve. I was misguided. I had no idea that my exuberance was actually doing the exact opposite of what I intended. I wanted desperately to be an impact player for my company. I wanted to help generate revenue. But by imposing hundreds of unqualified leads on busy sales people, I was actually impeding revenue generation. Let’s call it a rookie mistake.
I only became aware of this mistake after I participated in professional sales training. In that training, I learned about how professional account managers handle a sales cycle and all of the things than can go wrong to prevent a deal. My “valuable leads” were actually a distraction from the real revenue-generating activities that the sales team was focusing on at the time.
Could my leads have converted to customers and revenue? Absolutely. But they didn’t. My throw-it-over-the-fence attitude and the already-too-busy time schedule of the sales staff meant that most leads only received a half-hearted level of follow-up at best. Many of them never received a call back. What lessons can we learn from this? How can my rookie mistakes benefit you?
My top five recommendations for aligning marketing and sales
After a couple of tradeshows, I began to figure out a better way to truly impact revenue by giving the sales team what they really wanted: prospects. A lead is someone who expresses interest in your services. A prospect is someone who expresses interest in your services and:
- Matches your ideal client profile.
- Has adequate budget.
- Has a timeframe in which they must act.
- Has a willingness to engage in serious dialogue.
If you give your sales staff primarily leads, you can expect ho-hum follow up and revenue. If you give your sales staff primarily prospects, you can expect a highly engaged sales team that hits a lot of home-runs. How can you make this happen? Here are my top five recommendations.
- Send marketing people to professional sales training.
- Integrate sales and marketing automation systems and require both teams to work on them.
- Make marketing people responsible for qualifying leads.
- Require sales people to document pipeline and deal progress.
- Comp sales and marketing on revenue performance.
Let’s take a quick look at these individually.
1. Send marketing people to professional sales training
While you may not want your marketing people to become sales people, your marketing staff will benefit from a deep understanding of how sales professionals do their job. Marketing staff should be able to articulate the steps of and follow a sales campaign from start to finish. This is when the lights really turned on for me and when I became a much better marketing executive.
2. Integrate sales and marketing automation systems and require both teams to work on them
If you have walls today between sales and marketing, you need to break them down. The best way to do this is to integrate their job functions into one interface. Even office workers who set next to each other in the same cubicle can remain isolated in their own little silo if they’re work-flow and business processes are not somehow tied together. A common interface creates a common language and common ground.
This is how you get two teams to act like one team. I’ve written a couple of articles now about sales and marketing automation tools. I highly encourage you to read them and understand how these technology advancements will benefit your business.
3. Make marketing people responsible for qualifying leads
I know this sounds outrageous, but true sales professionals don’t have time to qualify leads. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to. Marketing staff can and should qualify leads and cue them up for sales professionals. With just a bit of training, most marketing people can do this with ease.
The sales team’s time is best spent managing a sales campaign. This again is where sales and marketing automation tools and a few basic sales skills will really benefit a marketing team. If marketing people can tell sales people, with just the click of a button, that a “lead” has been qualified and is now a “prospect,” their work-flow will be united. When marketing people are integrated into the early stages of the sales cycle, they are in the greatest position to impact revenue.
4. Require sales people to document pipeline and deal progress
Most professional services deals require a lengthy sales cycle. Sales people have a tendency to share documentation only after a deal closes — in the final contract. This means marketing people are literally blind to sales campaign activity unless they ask. This often makes marketing people feel like they are intruders when all they really want is information — usually to do a better job.
Again, this is where sales and marketing automation tools really help. If a sales professional is documenting conversations, rounds of proposals, sales calls and likelihood of close, marketing people can refine their activity. Marketing people can see which marketing campaigns produced the most leads, the most prospects and the most actual clients. They can see which campaigns produced “ideal prospects” versus just a bunch of leads.
Marketing people can see how much revenue and gross profit on sales came from each deal, which they can then associate to a given marketing campaign. This information helps marketing executives improve their campaigns and generate better leads and prospects for the sales team. A little information sharing, based on simple daily documentation, can build a lot of goodwill and tear down walls between marketing and sales.
5. Comp sales and marketing on revenue performance
Maybe the most important step of all is to create a compensation structure where both sales and marketing have some skin in the game. This can be tricky. For sales staff, most compensation is already performance-based. But traditionally for marketing people, unless they have management by objectives (MBO), most compensation is salary-based. I think this is a mistake.
I recommend that up to half of a marketing group’s compensation be derived from the revenue performance of the overall team, no matter how you’ve structured your teams or divisions at your company. If you’d like some creative ideas about how to structure these compensation systems, just send me an email.
Take these five steps and you’ll be amazed at how walls break down and revenue goes up. When sales and marketing functions finally act like the one team they really are, great things can happen for any business.
About the author
Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.