Content Marketing Trainer, 10+ Years of Content & Digital Marketing Strategy
June 26th, 2020
It was on a crisp spring day several years ago that I learned something was broken in the marketing department I was working in.
I was steering demand generation and had been asked by the higher ups to create a series of eBooks that would appeal to our target audience. That, of course, doesn’t sound like a disaster. That sounds like marketing in the mid-teens. But then I asked a simple question:
“How do these eBooks help the sales team?”
I was met with a blank stare. Even over Zoom, things got awkward with my boss.
“You need to check with the new sales enablement team,” she said. “That’s their area, not marketing.” Le sigh.
And so it continued: the tale as old as time. Marketing had been isolated from sales, and sales built their own tools while, with good reason, complaining qualified leads weren’t coming in.
While so much has changed in the past several years, the rift between sales and marketing is still a thing.
But it really doesn’t have to be this way.
As a content trainer, I work with marketers every day, but frequently meet with their salespeople as well. Having an inbound agency meet with the sales team probably isn’t the default for most companies, but it’s made a world of difference for teams that are willing to align their sales and marketing departments. Making sure the two departments are working closely together is key to a solid business relationship—not to mention a solid revenue outcome.
I know what it’s like when there’s good communication between sales and marketing and when there isn’t. But I only know my own perspective as a marketer.
Marc Amigone has experience on both sides of the business aisle, having sat in a content manager role and worked as an inbound consultant for HubSpot. As an account executive here at IMPACT, Marc works with new and existing clients, helping them see the value of partnering with an agency and getting their own departments aligned as well.
The danger of a sales vs marketing mindset
Jen: So sales and marketing are often two separate departments. Does it make sense to have one department working with another’s agency? Don’t these different departments have unique goals?
Marc: Look at it this way, the purpose of marketing is to drive more qualified leads, and on top of that, more leads that will turn into sales. So, if the sales team — and their unique perspective — is not part of the conversation, that's a pretty big missing piece from the equation. If something is “just a marketing initiative,” then it often stays in a silo and is viewed as a marketing project as opposed to a business-wide initiative.
The most successful engagements are ones that everybody contributes to, has a stake in, and is actively contributing to.
I've been part of marketing departments where the marketing teams sat on one side of the office, the sales team sat on the other. Though the marketing team was trying to help the sales team close more deals, we ended up spinning our wheels.
Jen: What do you mean by that? Were you put on hold by the sales team?
Marc: Not at all, we were busy. This was at a student travel company, and we marketed to teachers, primarily. As a content marketing manager, I started an initiative to write lesson plans that were related to travel. The downloads started coming in and we ran paid advertising around it. On the surface it was successful. But while the conversion rate from visitor to lead was really high, the lead-to-customer rate was basically non-existent.
We did all kinds of fluffy content like that: content that might have been fun or interesting to our prospects but didn’t do anything to close deals. Had salespeople been in the room when we planned our strategy, they would have been able to zero in on the type of content we were creating and tell us that it wouldn’t generate the type of leads that would close.
Jen: You’re talking about content that makes money.
Marc: Right. Business owners and decision makers care about revenue. They don't care about traffic. They don't care about leads. They care about sales.
So, if salespeople are in the room, they can help guide the conversation around the type of things they see in their day to day. They know what they need to help bring their prospects along.
Don’t get me wrong, they carry biases too. And there's a lot of things that marketing people think about that salespeople don't. That’s why the two need to work together. They need to balance each other out: you can't be all marketing, you can't be all sales. There needs to be a joint effort in that regard.
Breaking the sales and marketing silos
Jen: Why do you think the joint effort of sales and marketing hasn’t been a business standard? What accounts for these silos?
Marc: Honestly, a lot of it comes down to leadership. I remember when I was at HubSpot, Mike Volpe and Mark Roberge were the respective CMO and VP of sales at the time. They had a really great working relationship and it set the tone for the rest of the company, that sales and marketing need to be united.
They made up a term called “smarketing,” and that was something we talked to our customers about. Sales and marketing alignment became a buzzword. It was something that they put into practice and really tried hard to exemplify.
Jen: That doesn’t sound siloed at all.
Marc: But not everyone thinks that way. Mostly, people just ultimately don't want to have to slow down.
It takes a certain amount of effort to stop and check in with your counterpart in the other department. There's a lot of biases people have. If you're in marketing, there are probably a lot of opinions you hold of people who work in sales. And if you're in sales, there are opinions you hold of people who work in marketing.
It takes effort and time to work through that stuff. In the end, people just want to do their job and not have to worry about this sort of thing. But it's shortsighted not to take other people’s perspectives into account.
Jen: It makes sense that the two departments work together, but at the same time, doesn’t sales need to be focused on selling and closing deals? I’d imagine you hear that a lot.
Marc: That’s exactly what I hear from people initially. Sales has goals they have to hit, and being in sales, I’m extremely aware of that. Here’s the deal, though: sales wants qualified leads, right? And leads that are going to convert to sales quickly. They want to talk to people who aren’t going to waste their time. Okay, I get that. Well, this is how we're going to solve that problem. Working together is how we’re going to tackle that.
Jen: And the same thing goes for marketing, right?
Marc: Absolutely. I think that people can be somewhat territorial, thinking, "Well, I have a very tenuous relationship with my sales team. I'm a little scared to do that." That definitely happens. If somebody is saying, "Well, marketing should just work on marketing, and sales should work on sales," then they're missing the point.
This sounds like an obvious question but, what's the goal of marketing? To generate qualified leads that could turn into sales. So, don't you think sales teams should have a voice in the conversation?
When you break it down into the simplest terms, that's what it comes down to.
Jen: Do you think that working with an agency helps to break that mindset? Is it up to that inbound agency to get the two teams to work together?
Marc: It certainly doesn't hurt to have the sales and marketing team talk to each other at any time. What the agency can do for both teams, though, is be a neutral party.
A prime example of this is what we’re doing at IMPACT. We have a digital sales and marketing coaching program here, and, recently, as a team, we started working with our own coach, Chris Marr. By “we,” I mean the entire sales team and key members from our marketing team, principally Liz Moorehead, IMPACT’s editorial director.
In the past, we might have met and then gone back to our separate corners to do our own thing.
But now that Chris is working with us, he acts as a facilitator, speaking in language both of us understand. It’s not uncommon to hear him check in with us throughout our meetings: "So sales, what do you think about this? And Liz, did you hear them?" Having a facilitator, it gives people permission and gets everybody bought in to truly believing, "We're actually going to listen to each other, because we have this arbiter, this facilitator, who’s helping us with this."
In fact, that combined group has “rebranded” itself and is now called the Revenue Team. We’re no longer the sales and marketing teams just meeting at the same time. Instead, we’re unified as a single entity. The united name and a single place to communicate (we use Basecamp) has given us a clear purpose and takes away the us-versus-them mentality.
Why should the sales team work directly with an inbound marketing agency?
Jen: How do you recommend companies get to that point, where sales, marketing, and an inbound agency are working seamlessly together?
Marc: Getting the teams involved with one another has to be structured, and you need to have a plan at how you're going to do it. It can’t be an open-ended meeting.
The worst case scenario is you bring the sales team in and they don't feel like meeting with marketing is a productive use of their time. If you have that initial meeting and they respond with, "We did that. It wasn't productive,” chances are you’re going to run up against some serious pushback the next time you try to bring sales to the party.
So, have a very clear plan and agenda you can present in advance, as to what the outcomes and goals are for that conversation. Also, communicate the cost of inaction. Let them know, "This is a problem we're trying to solve. We don't want to generate fluffy content, that's going to drain unqualified leads. If we do that, then we're wasting money, time, et cetera.”
Jen: You mentioned that IMPACT has their entire sales team meet with members of marketing and the coach. Is that standard?
Marc: That works for us, but every sales team is different. Sometimes sales teams are 200 people, so you probably don't want to get all of them, all at once. The most people you want to have in a conversation like this would be five or so. With a smaller number of people, everyone can weigh in. It should be a conversation and not a lecture.
That clearly works for smaller teams, but for those with bigger sales and marketing teams, you might want to meet in smaller subgroups. Your agency facilitator will be able to get much more interaction with each individual that way.
Jen: What determines a successful engagement with an inbound agency?
Marc: This is business and so it comes down to increased revenue. If not that, then what are the metrics that get you towards that? What are the KPIs? It can’t be just traffic.
Most people who have worked with an agency, have their traffic go way up, but their lead quality was terrible. And, that was just a waste of time and money for everybody. So, the idea is, traffic is not good, unless it brings you qualified leads, and the best way to get qualified leads, is to have input from your sales team at the beginning of the process.
At the end of the day, it's a business philosophy about trust and about transparency. Saying it's just the marketing team's responsibility, or even just the sales team's responsibility, is not accurate.
Everybody has a part to play in this. And that's a big part of the reason why the sales team needs to be involved in these crucial marketing-related conversations.
It’s not just a sales initiative and it’s not just a marketing play, it’s a business philosophy.
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