Need a New Year’s resolution? Ask your sales team
If you haven't yet started, it's time to set your 2018 marketing goals. Columnist Joe Hyland explains why it's critical to include your sales team in the process.
Ah, the new year… there’s nothing like having a fresh start to inspire ambitious marketing plans, promises to run big campaigns and intentions of testing some of the fancy new technologies all the cool kids are using these days. But when I reflected on the challenges our team faced in 2017, the major missteps really weren’t marketing-related. In fact, I think our shortcoming was being too focused on our marketing programs and not stopping to get input from our second-most important “customer” — the sales team.
Now, this isn’t a kumbaya session on “sales-marketing alignment” or a lecture on “breaking silos.” It’s a reality check for those of us marketers who have never asked sales what they could do better.
You can run the most impressive marketing campaign with all the latest tactics — interactive content, chatbots, direct mail, predictive analytics — but at the end of the day, the effort only matters if it helps close a prospect or strengthen a customer relationship. Otherwise, you’re just marketing for marketing’s sake, and we all know what happens to those CMOs who view their success by how well they executed their brand relaunch or how much their annual technology budget increased.
So, my New Year’s resolution is pretty simple: Talk to sales. Start a communication channel for ideas from the field. Include sales enablement in every campaign discussion. Take suggestions from SDRs (sales development representatives) on the best way to start a cold call. Monitor your internal content management system for what’s being used by sales and optimize it. Simple stuff that just means communication and asking for input, not adding another layer to your martech stack.
In the spirit of actually following through on this resolution, I decided to take my commitment one step further and ask my colleague and ON24’s chief revenue officer, Jim Blackie, for his suggestions on what marketing needs to improve in the new year. I’ve taken the liberty of condensing his feedback (and editing out the more colorful language) into three takeaways to consider as you’re thinking through ways to make the next 12 months better than the last.
Clean up your data
Being “data-driven” may be the most-repeated and most meaningless goal among marketers because it glosses over the more important objective: to have good data. Whether it’s an email drop or an ABM (Account-Based Marketing) campaign, the effectiveness of any marketing program can be measured by how clean and accurate the data is that’s behind it.
Cleaning a database is, admittedly, a huge task, and it’s not marketing’s job alone. But there are some preliminary steps we can take that will go a long way toward improving data hygiene.
To start, take a look at where contacts originated and when. If it’s a third-party data source from more than two years ago, it’s likely those names can be purged.
Then, segment your leads by the level of their engagement and treat them differently. Someone who clicked on an email is not the same as a prospect who attended an entire webinar series, asked questions and then signed up for a free trial.
This takes discipline and an ongoing process for making sure your database reflects real sales opportunities. But without this foundation in place, it’s very difficult to pinpoint who to target. That’s why getting the right data, not being “data-driven,” should be a priority for marketers this year.
Stop sending bad leads
The ask here is clear: Generate higher-quality, not more quantity, leads. Yes, it goes against our traditional “Demand Waterfall” schooling of filling the pipeline with as many MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) as possible, but fight that instinct and, again, question the data. Often, the information sales has to go on when they accept a lead is not insightful enough to accelerate the conversation with a prospect.
Marketing needs to help with the traditional discovery process by finding out a prospect’s pain points and experiences before the lead is considered ready for sales. Imagine, as a salesperson, receiving a list of leads from your marketing department that shows which content customers have downloaded, what questions they asked at a certain stage, how they answered a poll and so on. That’s far more actionable data than clicks and video views. Finding these highly engaged leads, “Glengarry” leads is what produces a pipeline that results in deals.
Don’t force buying decisions into a funnel
Any presentation that begins with a neat and tidy diagram of the marketing funnel is guaranteed to receive an eye-roll from sales. And, it’s not because that slide usually signals the beginning of a jargon-filled justification of what marketing is doing. It’s because salespeople are out in the real world, and they know that, just like human behavior, buying decisions do not follow a linear process.
It’s old news that digital tools have changed how we reach buyers, and they have made it much easier to do so at scale. But the buyer and the human aspect that goes into making a purchasing decision hasn’t changed. We may automate our communications to the buyer based on our best guess of their stage, but it doesn’t mean the prospect acts accordingly.
This year, blow up your notion of a traditional buying journey. Instead, know that buyers can come in at any stage, have a strategy in place to act on that signal and engage on their self-selected terms. Funnel methodology may work in a boardroom, but don’t use it to dictate how to get a buyer to close a deal.
I hope my sales colleague and I have helped provide some perspective as you determine your own 2018 marketing goals, but don’t take it from us alone. Make this the year you start a conversation with your sales team. I’m glad I did.