This article is the second in a series of point-counterpoint articles that aim to reconcile an agency's idealistic view of business with the corporate insider's pragmatic point of view. (The first article was "Point/Counterpoint: Two Seconds to Relevance.") Two of the authors of this debate work for Ciena. Bill Koss is vice-president of global alliance partners, and Bill Rozier is vice president of global marketing. Together, they have built a progressive marketing and sales system that seems to have eliminated much of the typical animosity between sales and marketing. In this article, we will discuss how that happened. But, first, Bill Babcock gives a little more background information.
Bill Babcock: Most companies we know of have a serious problem: Sales hates marketing, and marketing despises sales. Marketing is having great success generating leads and uncovering opportunity. But sales has no respect for what marketing accomplishes. They take leads grudgingly and when the leads turn into real opportunities they claim those opportunities were already on their radar.
There seems to be an unbridgeable gulf between these teams—they have separate goals, separate cultures, and different fears and motivations.
Sales folks make quota or they are gone. They spend their day dealing with rejection and sweating their numbers. Marketing people never feel this constant pressure. When they skip in with a fistful of prospects and say, "I've just made your job easy—go sell to all these hot leads," the sales force wants to kill them.
On the other hand, sales has no detectable foresight. They undercut marketing even when they are getting leads that will make their quota next quarter or next year. Marketing initiates marketing conversations that turn to sales conversations, and when they do, sales gives them NO credit—no matter how overwhelming the accountability evidence might be. Sales cares only about what is happening this quarter and what marketing did for sales today. But marketing has to look further into the future.
We see our clients struggle to bring these teams together. I've always believed that it can be done, but it's a painful partnership. It's like the Brits and the Yanks teaming up in World War II. They didn't necessarily like each other and they didn't hang out together and sing Kumbaya, but they knew the competition was deadly and they were doomed if they didn't work together, so they got the job done. That seems like the best you can hope for.
Ciena looks to be an exception. From the outside, it seems that you and your teams have solved some of these problems. Is that true, or am I just seeing the public face?
Bill Koss (Sales): We certainly live in a different world than marketing—but it is a world with a common end game.
I think one of the reasons I get along so well with Rozier and his team is that I love leads. I believe in leads. I want a lead-generating machine.
I got my start in business in a Glengarry world of sales. My first real job was as a literature room, database, lead generation, inside sales guy. My boss was a crotchety old man called Mickey Ligor. Four-foot nothing, pinky rings, double-breasted suits, gold chains... he looked like a mafia don. He was like a very tough grandfather to me. So I was raised in an old school business tradition. If Mickey was around today and thought I was anti-lead, I would get a beating.
Still, the wrong kind of lead is a huge waste of time for our sales team, and it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. That leads sales management to reject leads wholesale—I know many of my peers at other companies don't share my fondness for leads.
Bill Rozier (Marketing): I think we have the top-down aspect of our relationship well resolved. I agree that we have two very separate organizations focused on two very different goal lines, and it's true that both are wired the way they are because of the dynamics of the activities, but we understand the interdependencies—if we don't sell something today, we can't market for tomorrow.
At the same time, I also believe that we still don't get the credit we deserve in bringing product, application, and solution conversations to our customers. In fact, we're doing way better than that... we can get customers to "raise their hand" and to "want" to talk to a salesperson. The days of handing off "T-shirt grabbers" at tradeshows as a lead are over, and I'm not completely sure the sales team understands that change has taken place.
Despite all that, your perception that we have managed to declare a truce is basically correct. There's a cultural chasm between our two teams, but we've found plenty of ways to bridge it.
First and foremost, we take our field direction from sales. I think that's a huge change here. And for their part, sales helps us with some of the heavy lifting of field-marketing programs.
One important thing we've done is to set expectations appropriately. Our senior management understands that conflict is inevitable and expects us to manage it. It's perfectly fine if marketing and sales are not completely on the same page. But they need to bury the hatchet and make each other effective. It's also very important in my opinion that marketing understand what its primary goal is, which is to help sales in every way we can.
Bill Koss (Sales): Now you're talking—marketing needs to understand their role. I understand the need to brand and the value of a prospect already knowing who we are when we make a sales connection to them.
I actually think leads are absolutely critical. We have a defined set of customers but that does not mean we know all the people in an account that influence a decisions. Leads, brand awareness, and solution awareness are critical. Post the tech-bubble crash in 2001, decisions have gone up the leadership ladder. If our brand and values are not visible to top executives, we are at a decided disadvantage. This is where marketing can be of enormous value.
Bill Babcock: You two agree on the functional purposes of both of your teams and how they engage. That's the critical element of gaining a productive truce. When organizations try to reconcile the chasm between sales and marketing, they often focus on getting the teams to know each other, assuming that they'll be able to work together better if they "like" each other.
The residual tension that Bill Rozier mentioned comes from the timeframe difference of sales and marketing.
It's rational for sales to believe that their existing relationships are far more important than leads. Those relationships enable your salespeople to close business, but they don't enable them to find every opportunity, and certainly not to influence the long-term thinking of prospects or plant seeds that someday develop into opportunity. You'd need an immense and unaffordable sales force to do that. And you'd have to believe that the purchase decision makers with whom your sales force has relationships understand your product line completely, know every opportunity that could suit you at their company, and would always call you and not your competition. I'm sure neither of you believes that.
You don't really need to relieve that tension, but it's instructive to ask your best salesperson how many business locations his largest customer has and what kinds of opportunities exist at each. You can safely bet a fifth of single malt that they won't even be close.
It's not critical that they know that kind of detail, but they'll see the value of someone at your company knowing it. That knowledge wouldn't necessarily translate to sales success today, but used properly it's the key to market share in the future. By the time some of those opportunities show up on the sales radar, the battle may be over and lost. That's what marketing can do that the sales force can't—map the territory, ensure you gain market share, not just meet quotas.
I promise to limit war metaphors, but marketing can serve as intelligence (finding the opportunities) and artillery (contacting influencers and decision drivers) while sales is the infantry that takes the hill.
Bill Koss (Sales): Even though I agree with what you are saying, and I support that mission for marketing, it's almost irrelevant to me. I'm much more focused on what we need to take place today so that we can get something sold.
I think that is the chasm that marketing needs to overcome. Few sales leaders are long-term thinkers. It is the nature of the mission. Sales is the only team that bets a portion of income that it will be successful, and it is the only team that publishes weekly report cards on the progress that each individual is achieving toward that goal.
Bill Rozier (Marketing): From what Babcock is saying, that's just fine. We're already well along the road to understanding the value of each other's roles. When we present to a sales team we thank them sincerely for their efforts.
Great sales people make us better at marketing because they teach us how to carry on a dialog with customers that's more appropriate and actionable. What we need to do is continually get closer to the sales force. Create a strong bond between us. Work together. Focus on objectives we can both succeed at. I see the value in that and so do our senior executives.
What I'd like to get out of this conversation is how to move farther down that road. If you have ideas about how marketing and sales teams can get closer, you've got all of our attention.
Bill Babcock: I do indeed have ideas, but I think their nature makes them difficult for large companies to accept. The first step is going to sound obvious and the second sounds completely insane.
First, create a simple way for salespeople to accept or reject leads; and, second, stop worrying about hot leads.
Bill Rozier (Marketing): You're right. I've always thought you were crazy... But I know where you're going with this. You think cultivating leads solves everything. Cultivation is a key tactic for much of our ongoing work because we have a growing house file of like-minded customers that we can create marketing offers for.
But I don't ever see us eliminating "hot leads" from our executive metric sets.
Bill Babcock: Perhaps not, but I'm convinced it's the only feasible bottom-up approach to making sales and marketing work effectively together. I believe it can eliminate the most contentious point between sales and marketing, and hot leads are fiction anyway for technology products that are "considered purchases."
I think generating leads without a cultivation process sets marketing up for failure and fuels the conflict between sales and marketing.
The sales force wants to talk to the most senior decision makers who are ready to buy in the next quarter and have budget established. They expect you to go find those kinds of opportunities—but they don't exist in useful quantities. If you get every lead that meets those criteria for a complex and expensive product, the sales force will either already know all about the opportunity or it's too late to get on the short list.
You have to grow those opportunities, not just harvest the tiny number that just happen to already be there.
Your focus really needs to be on feeding a cultivation engine, and that means getting in front of ALL the opportunities, and ALL the decision makers, influencers, gurus, sales-prevention team, naysayers and hangers-on. You'll generate a lot of "hot leads" in the process of doing this, and you'll prequalify them before you send them on to the sales force, but don't be surprised if they say, "We were already talking to them," because in many cases they were.
All leads need to go into a cultivation process that stays in front of the opportunity and builds it all out. Marketing finds the other players and assesses where they are in the sales cycle. Spoon-feed them information to position your solutions and ensure you make the short list. And when they establish budget and the lead is real, the sales force gets the whole package.
With this approach marketing does what it does well—intelligence and artillery. Hot leads for complex or expensive products are mythical, they're the manifestation of marketing's believing it can do the sales force's job and the sales force's wanting some magic bullet that doesn't exist.
Bill Rozier (Marketing): We've talked about this before, and I believe cultivation will solve a lot of problems. But some part of me still thinks that unless we can consistently deliver "whales" to the sales force, we're not going to solve our "value" issue with them.
Bill Babcock: Look at it this way. Historically, sales hates marketing for two reasons. First, you give them leads that have high expectations attached to them that are just not that valuable, and, second, you're claiming involvement with deals that they consider were already in flight.
Focusing on lead generation in support of cultivation means you're making contact in places the sales force doesn't have the bandwidth to go, contacts with an action timeframe that good salespeople can't tolerate. The leads that mature out of this process have a clear history and an information richness that make it clear that you are doing your job—and not poaching on their territory.
They'll never love you, but they'll see that you're doing something of value for them, and they won't undercut a program that's supporting their efforts on a daily basis.
Bill Koss (Sales): I want leads. The more, the better. Find them, qualify them, and send them to sales. Then we measure progress against leads in the same way we measure progress toward quota achievement.
This approach sounds like you're going to take credit for gathering information the sales force can't use. And it sounds like it will take a long time to pay off. It feels risky to not be focusing on the hot leads.
Bill Babcock: Not really. What we are really talking about is broadening the current target, changing target emphasis, and adding a very active cultivation process. Cultivation is worthwhile no matter what; in fact, it's the highest ROI process we know of—it always works and it's always profitable. And now your hot leads actually want to engage the sales force with a meaningful conversation.
The time frame to purchase is always in the hands of the customers. They move through the decision process by gathering information, not by being shoved along by a salesperson. Done right, cultivation shortens the timeframe by delivering the information prospects need to make their decision.
It might sound trite, but it's a lot riskier to keep doing something you already know doesn't work well. Within the sales force you don't have any mechanism to expand your reach and see more opportunities other than hiring a lot more people.
And we all know that people who are not ready to make a purchase don't want to talk to a salesperson. They need to be on level ground before they are ready to engage. Just because you have more salespeople doesn't mean you'll have more prospective customers who have reached that point. Marketing can perpetuate a conversation where a sales force can't even establish one.
Bill Rozier (Marketing): We haven't talked much about your idea of a simple way to accept or reject leads. I understand why that is important, but doesn't that work against cultivation? If you've spent all this time cultivating a lead, isn't it imperative that the sales force follow up on it?
Bill Babcock: It's imperative that somebody close the business, but it doesn't have to be a specific salesperson. Even in companies with very rigid territories you can negotiate a rule that if a sales rep rejects a lead then it's fair game. Believe me, the first time another rep converts a lead that was rejected will be the last time you have an issue.
You need to keep the rule in place to keep everyone honest, but it won't get overused—you'll find that rejections quickly become honest and are mostly related to leads that were incompletely cultivated. You can send the same lead back to the rep once it's been properly re-baked, and it will close just fine.
Bill Koss (Sales): If marketing gets a reputation for passing us cash in the form of leads, believe me there will be enough love to go around. I can see how this approach could build our lead volume. With a larger lead volume, the ability to reject a lead would become much more important.
Bill Babcock: The key to effective cultivation is a very simple and easy way to move leads around and see what's happening to them. Otherwise, any lead that is not quite ready falls to the bottom of your sales force automation system and dies, when all it really needed was to go back into active cultivation.
If you have a CRM system in place, you can generally accomplish this with some minor effort. If not, or if your sales force consists mostly of resellers or partners, then a Lead Management System like the one we built for Ciena is necessary. You need an easy way to get leads into the right hands automatically, a way for them to report on whether they have accepted or rejected the lead, and, if they accepted the lead, what the disposition eventually was—won, lost, or not really a lead.
And there needs to be a way to evaluate rejected leads and perhaps turn them over to a different rep.
It takes some time to get the process really cooking, and you need to make sure that the sales force understands what you're doing and why. They have to see some great leads come out of the process. But, yes, it will end the war, or at least they'll stop biting the hand that feeds them.
You folks already have the top-down cooperation—your truce is real. This approach will give you bottom-up cooperation as well, and should make for a world-class operation.