Having spent the past 12 years speaking to business groups all over the world and writing about marketing, I get contacted daily by people looking for advice.
You’d think that the most frequent call I get is from businesses looking to increase their traffic, leads, and sales. But, no. That’s number two.
Number one, by a landslide, is some version of: “Hey, Marcus. I believe in this stuff that you talk about. I believe in They Ask, You Answer. But the problem is I can’t get sales and leadership on board, and because of that, I’m going to have to leave the company if nothing changes.”
It’s a sort of Hail Mary outreach. I can feel the frustration coming through the text of what I read, and I know how hard these people are working, how committed they are — and I sympathize with them.
Studies show that the average tenure of a CMO today is shorter than it’s ever been. There’s burnout and there’s aggravation, but it doesn’t need to be this way.
The digital marketers who are really, really good have recognized the overlap that exists today between sales and marketing. They recognize that the buying process has changed and that customers educate themselves about purchasing decisions long before they talk to a sales rep.
The problem is, many sales reps don’t recognize this. To them, they have phone calls with leads, just as it’s been done for decades. However, what they’re not seeing is the significant educational journey that lead has taken before having that call. They might not realize that that lead has consumed website content to become a more educated and informed consumer. So, by the time a lead is talking to a sales rep, they’re much more qualified than they might have been before.
In essence, marketing is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the sales team. Website content is educating potential customers about products and services and about company values and culture.
However, because sales has no concept of this, they still see marketing as that other department — not as a peer and certainly not as an equal.
For leadership, it’s very much the same issue. The majority of C-level executives still see sales as revenue and marketing as an expense. Therein lies our core issue. Until we start to see marketing as a driver of revenue, companies will continue to be left behind — and marketers will continue to feel underfunded, under-resourced, and under-appreciated.
Many sales reps still think, “Okay, I got a lead and I closed the lead, so I handled the majority of the sale.” However, much of the effort necessary to get the lead to that point was put in by marketing. Really, that lead might not have existed if a certain piece of content hadn’t brought them to your website in the first place. And, perhaps that lead read through 12 other pieces of your content that offered information and insight — all while establishing your company’s expertise.
In turn, that lead was much farther down the funnel, comparatively, to where they would normally be, which helps explain why our sales cycle might be closer to two weeks instead of six months. It also might help explain why our close rates are so high.
To state it plainly, many sales teams’ impression of their own influence on a closed deal is much too high, while their impression of marketing’s influence on a closed deal is much too low.
This is a pretty universal truth, but I find it most egregious in small businesses. If you’re a business that’s below $2 million in annual revenue, it’s likely you don’t even have a marketing department. Many of these companies want to grow by hiring more salespeople, while their only marketing efforts are what they outsource to agencies: namely, the firm that built their website.
In the unlikely case a small business has a marketing department, it’s likely one person who wears other hats, too.
Thus, we see astoundingly understaffed marketing departments. Often, the ratio of sales to marketing might be ten to one. If that’s the case in your business, you’re drastically underestimating the effect marketing can have on the sales process.
In my experience, one videographer can make as much of an impact on revenue as five salespeople. The problem is, many companies find this difficult to track.
Marketing is part of sales
More and more often, when I’m seeing companies fully catch the They Ask, You Answer vision, I’m seeing them get rid of “Sales” and “Marketing.” Instead, they’re opting for a blended group they call the Revenue Team. With this sort of structure, marketers can take greater responsibility of the revenue — something they’ve long avoided. Sales, for their part, will be forced to update their perspective on buyer behavior and acknowledge the new terrain in the buyer’s journey.
For the company, this is a win-win. You break down the silos that have separated departments for too long and you align sales and marketing so that the content that’s produced is helpful in the sales cycle. In order to do this, the sales manager should help plan the content, and both teams should brainstorm together about topics and publishing schedule.
To fully emerge from the mindset that marketing is solely an expense, I suggest that businesses come to see video as a sales tool. Video is not a marketing tool that happens to benefit sales. As such, video production should be funded by the sales budget, not the marketing budget.
Businesses should think about sales like this: Salespeople are your primary subject matter experts. They know your products or services inside and out. They will be the main talent appearing on camera. Marketing’s job is that of communications. Marketers do not need to be the subject matter experts — they need to make the subject matter experts look their best.
And they need to share that expertise.
Alignment between marketing and leadership
A couple years ago when I spoke at INBOUND, I asked a very large audience, “How many of your companies have sales teams?” Almost everyone in the audience put up their hand. Then I said, “How many of you have members of your sales team here at this event?” A few hundred hands went down. Only two or three people in the room had salespeople with them.
At these major events and conferences that are talking about the future of marketing, approximately 90% of attendees are marketers. Roughly 5% are from leadership. Maybe 2% are from sales.
And let’s be honest — these conferences aren’t just about the future of marketing, they’re about the future of business. But only one component of most companies is in attendance, and that’s a major problem.
When you think about it, marketers who are there are the ones who need it the least. They already know that the customer experience has changed. Leadership and sales are the ones who really need these lessons.
True progress can only be made when leadership gets in the same room as marketing and engages in discussion about the what, the how, and the why of evolving commerce. That way, we can truly eliminate resistance and establish alignment.
A smart leadership team will say to sales, “Okay, as part of your job description, you have to spend 30 minutes a month talking with somebody in marketing as a subject matter expert.”
This way, it happens regularly without fail. Marketing has content, salespeople establish their expertise, and leadership facilitates the connection between the departments.
A culture of alignment
Alignment has become a company buzzword of sorts. It’s the kind of thing that everyone talks about, but few actually do well. Alignment comes from two things. Fundamentally, it comes from culture. Then, secondly, it comes from devoting the necessary time.
At IMPACT Live 2019, Kendall Guinn, the then chief marketing officer from Aquila Real Estate, spoke about getting her entire team to sign an agreement. Now, according to the company’s culture, these sorts of things are a big deal. The agreement might say that the marketing team will send bi-weekly updates to the sales team about what content has been produced, or that sales and marketing will have common planning time each month.
Whatever the priorities are, her team put it in writing to cement its place in the schedule.
For another company, it might take another format, but accountability is crucial.
Furthermore, it’s important that businesses work to articulate the tangible value created by content production. Tracking views, shares, clicks, and other engagement metrics is an important first step. Actually aligning content with signed revenue is even better. HubSpot allows you to track “influenced revenue” for any campaign.
At IMPACT, we're able to report on how much of our business each year can be connected to our pillar content, for example. In other words, we can see businesses who signed with us frequently consumed pillar content before signing. That’s not to say that the sales team didn’t have a big impact on any given deal, but such data strikes down the notion that content is only an expense, not a revenue generator.
When we acknowledge and celebrate the role marketing plays — when we see marketing as an engine driving business, not an expense to be borne — we naturally move towards a healthy alignment between sales and marketing.
However, businesses need leadership to set the course, allotting the necessary time and resources. When leadership, sales, and marketing are all aligned, companies can move forward together, and that growth can be phenomenal. It’s just important to have everyone on the bus.