It cannot be overstated: sales and marketing are critically interdependent. Our success as an organization is tied to how we work together, maintaining a seamless rhythm across and between each of our platforms.
For my part as a sales leader, we can have the best sales team in the world, but we won’t be able to move the ball forward without an equally nimble and strategic marketing team. And the same goes for our chief marketing officer, Julia Goebel. Her marketing team could be the most effective in the business, but will make little headway without a hard-hitting sales effort.
From the first touch point with a prospective customer to the last, sales and marketing are crucially aligned. That’s why a significant part of my and Julia’s time is spent making sure our teams understand the shared goals – we all own the number – and recognize where our opportunities are. We have to show where we are successful and why, as well as analyze and learn from where we’re falling short. That way, marketing can tell our story, holding up pitch perfect examples of why our business resonates with customers, while our sales executives bring deals over the finish line.
1) Maintain a culture of clarity
We can’t dictate where the market is going. We can only dictate where we’ll go in the market. While the sales team is on the ground making connections in our existing and potential customer base, marketing takes the effort to a new level, helping to position us, solve problems and reinforce our path. That’s why we have to bring as much visibility to the pipeline as possible, keeping everyone aware of the timing and status of opportunities. Transparency is critical: We’re constantly putting updates out internally for anyone who wants to know.
At the heart of this effort, we bring the entire sales and marketing teams together on a biweekly basis. We sit and listen to the sales team talk about every one of their opportunities. Where are they finding success? Where are the roadblocks or pushback? What’s the strategy to get the deal across the finish line? Anyone can be there. Anyone can chime in. It’s a spotlight kind of moment for sure, but it also puts marketing on point to calibrate their strategy to market perceptions. For both, it’s a way to say, “Here’s where we are and here’s where we’re going.” No one can be successful in a vacuum.
2) Ask questions and welcome feedback
The effectiveness of these cross-functional meetings is all in their tone and collaborative nature. Sales and marketing leaders have to ensure the atmosphere is supportive, not intimidating. Ideas build off of one another and we challenge the status quo, while taking advantage of the group’s collective expertise, experience and curiosity to reach an optimal game plan. Maybe someone from the team says, “Boy, that sounds similar to a situation we’ve dealt with before and this is how we approached it.” Both Julia and I spend a lot of time preparing our teams to come in with a clear orientation to ensure our time is productive.
3) Know when to pursue and when to pass
Another tool we use is a go/no-go assessment. When considering new business opportunities, we bid on roughly two thirds of the deals we are invited to and pass on the remainder. It’s about the proper fit for client excellence.
Another key to successfully maintaining sales and marketing alignment is understanding our successes and failures. What led to our wins and, more importantly, what can we learn from the deals that didn’t fly? How are those answers indicative of where the business is going and how it is positioned in the marketplace? How can marketing and sales, together, build on those answers or pivot to respond?
4) Face-to-face still matters
This year we launched our inaugural “mash-up,” where sales, marketing and operations leaders came together for a two-day summit on the who, what, when, where and why of our business. The inspiration for the mash-up was to take everyone out of the day-to-day fray so we could carefully examine what we’re doing and why. It was a return to the basics, and the first time we’d really done that.
Afterward, we all recognized what a valuable experience it had been – a real eureka moment. Our team members are based across the country and the face-to-face interactions matter. The outcome was a combination of specific tactical updates but, more importantly, built on a foundation of shared goals as stakeholders in the company.
5) Client insight and client intimacy win the day
At benefitexpress, we’re laser-focused every quarter and every year on investing in and innovating our benefits administration solutions. Some are small enhancements and others are real game changers, but the fact is, as a leader, you never know if the return on investment is a negative or a positive until you follow through completely. Continuing the face-to-face theme, we draw on the experience of our unparalleled leadership team to bring new traditions to benefitexpress. One great example is our Client Advisory Council, comprised of selected enterprise clients.
To be clear, this is not a captive forum to merely upsell clients. Rather, this is truly an insights and feedback event, built entirely around thought leadership to validate our product offering in an intimate forum. Senior executives from operations, product, marketing and client delivery participated. There were certain pieces of our product roadmap for which we underestimated receptivity. We were excited that customers were saying yes to some of our ideas, undoubtedly informing how we move forward with the business. Our clients felt energized by the discussions and networking with one another as senior leaders – and their feedback and insight has been invaluable to our strategic plan.
6) Show up, together
Having spent 20 years in sales and marketing, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the quality of your brand is measured by your team. Nine out of 10 times, we incorporate into the sales process an introduction of our client service delivery team. You can have the best technology in the world, but it all falls apart if you don’t have a team that is prepared, confident, engaged and accountable for results. Otherwise, it’s disjointed, at best, or disingenuous, at worst.