Gordon G. Andrew is Founder of Highlander Consulting Inc., a New Jersey-based firm that helps clients to create, grow and keep customers.
In its landmark 2018 Pulse Survey of 220 Chief Marketing Officers, the executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry reported that, although financial results were the most important factor in their performance-based compensation, “52% of CMOs say they cannot make a direct and obvious correlation between marketing efforts and company performance.”
At small and mid-sized businesses, the heads of marketing rarely receive performance-based compensation related to financial results or related to any quantitative metrics directly associated with company performance. Their compensation and tenure are often based on fuzzy or subjective factors, including the ability to generate earned media, maintain an effective website, produce relevant content for social media or score highly in brand awareness or customer satisfaction surveys.
By design or default, most marketers are so far removed from the revenue-generation function that they cannot claim to add value to it. Or they find it impossible to demonstrate any role they play in achieving goals that are important to their CEO. In my experience, the sales team typically forgets to ask prospects how they’ve learned about the company or product. And when asked directly, prospects often claim that they can’t recall. Neither of those endorsements, however, would provide strong validation for marketing’s return on investment.
Regardless of company size, the marketing function will increasingly be at risk during tough economic periods, and will never have a permanent seat at the management table, unless CMOs and marketing VPs redefine their role and establish tangible ways to associate their efforts with revenue generation. To survive and grow in their current position, they need to invest more time on tasks that will affect the company’s top-line revenue and less time on what amounts to window dressing.
The Holy Grail of Sales and Marketing Alignment
Marketing and sales alignment must be the highest strategic goal for every marketer. This is no easy task.
Because sales reps have a more direct line of measuring revenue generation, it falls on the CMO’s shoulders to fix the sales-and-marketing culture clash — that is, where sales reps don’t believe in marketing’s ability to hand them worthy leads, and where marketers don’t believe that sales reps know how to properly manage those leads. In this culture clash, there is far less incentive for the VP of Sales to affect that change.
Here’s how marketing leaders can begin to establish a new way of working together with the sales team, and in the process, improve their company’s performance, as well as their professional stature and job tenure:
• Make yourself part of the sales team. Depending on the amount of rancor that currently exists between sales and marketing, it may require some triage or finesse to tell your sales counterpart that you’d like to better understand their world. Do not explain that you are on a mission to “align sales and marketing,” which might be met with suspicion. Instead, simply ask for guidance on ways you can improve communication and practical assistance. Suggest that combined marketing/sales meetings be held on a monthly or quarterly basis.
• Gain a firsthand understanding of the sales process. This requires shadowing on sales calls, which may not be met with enthusiasm by the head of sales or by individual sales reps. If marketing can gain a sense of what actually occurs on sales calls — ranging from how the product or service is described, to the prospects’ questions and objections — it will be in a much better position to craft tools and tactics that are based on market realities, rather than sales reports. Or it may result in a mutual agreement regarding the definition of a qualified lead.
• Gain a firsthand understanding of customer needs and issues. With or without the help of the sales department, find ways to stay on top of customer sentiment. Go deeper than automated online surveys. For example, spend a half-day every month listening in on calls that come into your customer service center. Better yet, reach out to current and former customers by phone (with the approval of sales) to gain an appreciation of why they are customers or why they’ve left.
• Build trust and partnership in small, meaningful ways. The degree of mutual cooperation between marketing and sales depends largely on the personalities involved, and how well they like and respect each other. That relationship can be strengthened over time if marketing finds ways to be helpful without encroaching too far onto sacred sales territory. This can include everything from their pitch letters and PowerPoint presentations to case studies and demos. The initial task is to discover the “safety zones,” where sales will welcome assistance from marketing.
• Ask for feedback and find ways to compromise. Ed Koch, the legendary mayor of New York City, was known for always asking his constituents, “How am I doing?” What made Koch a great mayor was that he listened to their responses and found ways to address positive and negative feedback. Marketing and sales will always view the world through a different lens, so simply acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers is a necessary starting point for effective teamwork.
There are countless books, articles, research studies, educational seminars and consulting firms devoted to sales and marketing alignment. My guidance is neither unique nor comprehensive. For CMOs and marketers who spend their days creating content that no one reads, and generating campaigns that fail to create customers, I’m simply suggesting they should keep their resumes up to date.
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