"It's complicated" would be the proper way to describe the love/hate relationship between Sales and Marketing. They depend on each other to succeed, but they don't often get along. Each has a preconceived notion of what the other should be. The interesting part is that this rather intense relationship seems to persist from the most junior personnel all the way up to senior executives.
Marketing often considers the disconnect as inevitable and has learned to live with it. It is, however, neither comfortable nor productive.
Having been on both sides of the fence, I have a few tips to offer to my fellow marketers. Hopefully, these tips will help make your Sales stakeholders fall in love with you.
Tip No. 1: Be specific when asking for input
Marketing needs input from Sales throughout the planning cycle. A common mistake that many of us make is that we tend to be too general when we have a conversation with Sales. We ask questions such as "How can I help you"? "What do you need from marketing"? These open-ended questions often invite plenty of creative yet unattainable ideas. They also set false expectations for Marketing from the get-go.
Instead, be very deliberate and specific when speaking with your Sales counterparts. Listen to what they have to say, but define your questions to seek actionable input. For example: "My budget is X and my resources are Y. Given that you have these five priorities to focus on this quarter, where would be the biggest bang for the buck for marketing?"
This approach makes conversations more productive, helps everyone to focus, sets realistic expectations, and turns input into actionable output.
Tip No. 2: Act like an expert in your own domain
Do you ever get the impression that everyone outside of Marketing seems to think that they know more about marketing than you do? Well, you are not alone. It does get a bit frustrating at times when there are so many opinions about what we do and how we should do them.
I see people react in two ways when faced with this situation: play softball by saying "yes" to everyone and everything; or play hardball by being defensive. Sadly, neither approach works well for your productivity or reputation.
You are an expert in your own domain, so start acting like one. Do your research. Be confident. Provide insights that are relevant and meaningful to your stakeholders. Prepare a strong business case by clearly articulating the "why" and "why not." Always include key success factors and anticipated outcomes in your plan. Deliver what you promised.
Don't be afraid to say "no" where it makes sense. The key is to focus on why you say "no" rather than who you say "no" to. You are respected for knowing what you are doing, not for simply being agreeable.
Tip No. 3: Every email communication should be a valuable one
"Death by email" often characterizes how marketing communicates. We want to send timely and detailed content to our sales teams. We even establish a cadence so that our stakeholders can expect to hear from us regularly. After all, isn't that what sales enablement is all about—constant communication of sales-related information? But why is it so difficult to have our messaging heard? Why do people still have no idea where to find information?
Some of us have tried to overcome this hurdle by adding "PLEASE READ" to our subject lines, hoping to get more attention. I laugh every time I see a "PLEASE READ" headline. That email usually goes straight to my trash box without getting opened.
In his book From Good to Great, Jim Collins concluded that "good is the enemy of great." If one is satisfied with being good enough, one can never be great. I often think about that when I communicate to Sales.
How do I put my own stamp on my emails to make them stand out?
- First, I keep my subject line short and I use key words that are most meaningful and sometimes intriguing to my readers.
- Second, I use bullet points and highlight key phrases instead of just meandering text.
- Third, I don't forward anything without including a brief commentary of why this is important (and I rarely keep the same subject line when forwarding).
With practice, you'll gain a good understanding of the material and you'll be able to judge whether the content is of real value to your audience before hitting "send."
Tip No. 4: Align your plan with the sales cycle
A typical technology company has a quarterly marketing plan. We tend to pack every one of our quarterly plans with a basket full of treats, including sales tools, programs, campaigns and events. We overload ourselves with lots of "to-dos" and roll out a ton of things throughout the year.
Unfortunately, we don't always get the warm and welcoming appreciation we were hoping for. "Don't they see the value of marketing? Why wouldn't they jump all over these great tools?" We are often puzzled by the lukewarm reception and frustrated by the lack of responses to our endeavors.
Mapping your deliverables to sales cycles will get you more attention and results. I know that in the technology space sales cycles can be anywhere between 3 and 18 months, so I deliberately pack Q1 and Q2 with more activities than the second half of the year. This way you can harness the surging energy and attention of your sales team from the start (often as a direct result of an inspiring kickoff) and show success for them in the current fiscal.
Any activities that require a follow-up from Sales should be implemented during the first half of a quarter. As a general rule, I stay away from planning any events or making any key announcements at the end of a quarter.
Tip No. 5: Help the ones who want to be helped
No matter how hard we try, we can't make everyone happy. Regardless of how many times we issue friendly reminders, some people will choose to ignore them. This realization brings disappointment for Marketing, and that disappointment often translates into negative energy in our approach to relationship-building.
Work with those who want to work with you and need your help the most. Invest in the stakeholders who understand the value of Marketing. Make them successful and promote their successes widely in the company.
I always identify my champions in Sales for each initiative. They are typically the ones who are most proactive and enthusiastic about taking advantage of all things Marketing. They are eager to involve their customers. They provide timely feedback. They will waste no time to follow up on the leads and close the CRM loop with Marketing. They understand that Marketing's ask of "help me to help you" will result in mutual success.
Once you start taking this targeted approach and focusing on the "good apples," the rest will follow. By nature, Sales is competitive—no one wants to be the only one not benefiting from Marketing.
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I hope that by mastering these five strategies, you will turn Sales enablement into a rewarding experience for Marketing. Soon enough, you will be updating your relationship status from "It's complicated" to "In a relationship."
If you enjoyed my ideas and would like to hear more, please follow me on Twitter: @CsuiteDialogue.
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