Aligning marketing and sales for BIGGER growth: Part 1: Episode 16

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Join us on this episode for the first part of our conversation with fractional chief sales officer and former senior HR tech sales leader, Brett Keirstead. We chat about some of the issues and misconceptions that fuel contention between marketing and sales team, how to put old stereo types to rest, and what each team needs to understand about the other.

[00:00] Show intro
[00:23] Introduction to our guest
[01:35] Marketing & sales stereotypes
[03:01] What causes the biggest tension
[07:40] How marketing views their role
[09:57] The frustrations with sales teams
[12:21] Communication issues that get in the way
[15:05] Who really owns the client account
[18:29] Building trust with each other
[21:53] The final word until part 2 of the conversation

The Demand Gen Fix is hosted by GrowthMode Marketing. Visit to learn more about us.


Hey everybody, it’s Jenni from GrowthMode Marketing. You are listening to The Demand Gen Fix the podcast where our team of GrowthModers and our guests discuss the ins and outs of demand generation and why we believe it’s the key to long-term sustainable growth, especially in HR tech industry.


Hello, podcast listeners. Welcome back to The Demand Gen Fix with Erica and Deanna and me. Today we’re super excited because we have our very first guest on the podcast. We have Brett Keirstead with us today. He’s a fractional chief sales officer. He’s been a senior sales leader working in the HR tech space at companies such as Ceridian, Jobs to Web, Avionte Staffing Software and Sense. He’s also an author of the book, ‘We Are All Sales, People’. We are excited because we are getting the sales perspective today about all of our demand gen talk. We’ve actually talked a lot about this in the past about how marketing and sales don’t always seem to get along. It’s kind of a tale as tall as time. Despite everybody’s best intentions, the tension between the two departments sometimes boil over and can be counterproductive to company success. And that’s a shame because together we can drive real growth for a company, but we all have to be rowing in the same direction. Welcome Brett. We’re excited to have you. Why don’t we trust each other? Sales and marketing. What’s going on here?


I think one of the challenges that people have is that they tend to utilize old stereotypes. It’s kind of a paradigm that has been around for a long, long time and each of us get characterized by a certain attribute. People think of marketing in a certain way, they have a perception of salespeople. Sometimes it isn’t always good. When you start to mix those two together in a corporate environment, when things get tough and all of a sudden, you’re behind everybody, there’s a natural opportunity to say, well, we need more from them, and they need more from us.


In many organizations, if you think about a small company, maybe there’s one or two people, sales and marketing is fundamentally delivered by the same person, when there’s only one person, and they think of it as one process, there is no such thing as marketing and sales. I think that it’s a paradigm that obviously the four of us are trying to break out, like a lot of others. And you just talk through it, people understand why.


I think one of the challenges at the end of the day, we all care about the success of the company. It feels like we should naturally be aligned, but it happens at companies where there’s a lot of tension between the two teams. I think that can happen because oftentimes we’re actually measured on different things that conflict with each other. Haven’t been on the marketing side for 20 plus years. I can tell you a lot of times it’s okay, tell me how you’re spending every dollar in marketing and how it ties back to sales. And we feel like we have to prove ourselves in a way that many departments in the company don’t have to. I’m not saying sales doesn’t have to prove themselves. They absolutely do too. It’s two very important teams in making a company’s growth projections.


But from marketing’s perspective, we’re often measured on how many leads do we pass to sales. And so what happens is, as marketers, we get very focused on, okay, I need to pass as many leads as possible to the sales team and the sales team is being measured on revenue and how many leads they close. And I think where that tension starts to come into play is you’ve got the marketing side saying, I’m sending you leads, I don’t know why you’re behind on the numbers. And the sales side saying, your leads are garbage. You’ve got to send me better leads. I could do a better job myself. And it starts to become like pointing fingers at each other instead of working on the problem and understanding, okay, how do we figure out together what we need to do to help the company move forward when things are going poorly?


You blame the other, right? You want to say, well, it’s not all my fault. We’re doing everything we can, that department’s not doing their job and yet when everything’s going well, then you want to take the credit. It’s like, yeah, yeah. Look at how well we’re doing.


Obviously, that’s not restricted to marketing and sales. I’ve been in business to business for a long time and I’ve been in SAS ever since it was a word and in HR tech for my whole career. I’ve worked with some incredibly good marketing people, I will admit, I’m blessed. You guys probably know a lot of them here, but I’ve been blessed to work with some really good marketing people. One of the things that I’ve always found about it is both of us need to realize that we are a support function for the business. And the business objective is whatever it is, right? It’s either profit growth or revenue growth or whatever at any given point in time in a business life cycle, sometimes it’s just staying afloat, maybe it’s cash flow.


And the challenge that I’ve seen whether you’re sales or marketing, often we are disconnected from the business results that are required. Sales, I will say as a discipline, not the people, but as a discipline is generally more connected to the business results. As you articulated Deanna, when you just think, well, you either bring in revenue or you don’t. Any function within a business that’s directly connected to the business result generally tends to get more focused as what I always call a hard science. I’ve been in the HR tech space and HR a lot is like marketing. Sometimes people think, oh, it’s just this fluffy thing that people do and look, they have cute pictures, or oh, they have diversity or these things. I think it’s totally wrong that they disconnect those from those hard business results.


The challenge to marketing people is that they don’t reach out to meet the middle ground. I think the most excellent marketing people I’ve ever worked with really do understand the correlation between what they do and the actual business financial results. Leads are obvious because they go into a funnel. But the way life is, with a scarcity of assets, you have to correlate those numbers. Correlating your activities to something that generates enterprise value is super critical. I think sometimes marketing people tend to miss that. Salespeople think short term. I’ve seen marketing really evolve into becoming even better at tying themselves to business financial results.


And there are certainly organizations out there where the marketing team doesn’t carry a number. There are a lot of marketers who are like, I’d rather sit in marketing communications where all I have to do is create copy and content all day. I don’t want the pressure of carrying that number. And I feel like as a marketing leader, quite frankly, if you’re not willing to help hold that bag and look at everything you’re doing and how am I helping drive revenue and growth for this organization, you’re not a marketing leader. So there are definitely different types of marketers out there, and there are different ways that companies manage their marketing departments. You come into a company, and they don’t have those expectations. The easy thing to do from a marketer side is to roll with it. Like, I don’t have to worry about the pressures, but what happens is when the company has to make budget cuts, we see this happen all the time. One of the first places they look is marketing. Well, gee, I wonder why, because you didn’t show the value of how you are helping this organization grow. And so it seems really easy marketers to take the path that is, I don’t have to hold the number, but it came back and slap you in the face pretty darn hard when you lose your job because you didn’t demonstrate enough value to the leaders. And they looked at your department as not indispensable to the success and growth of the company.


I’d be curious, from your perspective, kind of turning it back on you as the same question. You have worked in different organizations. You have a great firm. You guys do a lot of really good work. You see multiple different organizations in different industries. What is your stereotype of salespeople? What is your bias towards it? I always laugh because if you think about the two most famous entertainment for marketers, it’s Mad Men and for sales, it’s Glen Gary, Glen Ross. Those are the movies, the iconic movies about our industries and they’re terribly typecast. What we don’t want to be, at least we’re trying not to be. What do you guys see when you interact with all these different sales organizations. I think you have a unique perspective on it.


We can appreciate the challenge that sales teams have and the challenge that marketing teams have because we have the ability to work with both sides when we come in as an agency here at GrowthMode Marketing. But I could tell you over the years working with many marketers and knowing how our marketing people often feel about their sales team and the frustrations they have, what some of the generalities are in the misperceptions from sales and marketing standpoint are. I’ll actually let Erica jump in on that and give some examples.


A lot of times we have the opportunity to work really closely with both teams and sometimes it’s actually more of a case of there isn’t a marketing function within the company. So we are working directly with an organization sales team. And I think a lot of times, there are things there where, from a marketing standpoint, we want to build and drive that strategy and continue to be proactive in the way that we approach marketing. And make sure, to your point Brett, as far as when marketing leaders understand their actual tie to financial goals and the tie to the business performance, we always look at that as an opportunity to have that strategy in place and continue to proactively build upon that to meet those goals. Whereas a lot of times, I think as marketers, where we struggle be back and forth between sales and marketing is what marketing does ends up being such reactive activities because of what, you know, the pressure, the ask that we’re getting from sales. I think a lot of times is something that we struggle with. I’ve had this experience in the past within the client, the corporate side as well. But a lot of times your marketing activities become reactive. The more that sales is pushing back and asking for, we need this tool now, or if you can’t create this kind of content, we’re going to create this kind of content. All of those types of activities don’t necessarily align. I think sometimes that’s the perspective that we get.


I can jump in here as a designer, I feel that we’re creating content, we’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes that we want sales to use. Sometimes they don’t appreciate what we’re doing. And so, we don’t necessarily feel like they’re not on board.


Why don’t they?


I think’s a communication issue. We have to work together as one team and not two teams. We’re all trying to reach the same goal, so we need to explain to them why we’re doing what we’re doing, how these tools work. Give them clear communication and get them on board. We have to be salespeople to the sales team and talk to them about why we’re doing what we’re doing. We do have a strategy, there’s a reason behind all of this. Just give it a shot. We think it’ll work. Let’s work together. At a high level sometimes, we get looked at by the sales team as well.


It’s like we created all these tools to help you be successful in sales and you’re not using a single damn one of them. Why is that? I think the reality is sometimes they forget that it’s there. They don’t realize maybe they started after it was created. To Jenni’s point, as marketers, we’ve got to be selling them. We talk about all the time that it takes 66 touches to get someone to buy it. Well, guess what? It probably takes 66 touches of reminding the sales reps, these tools exist. Here’s how to use them, here’s how it will benefit you. Because when they think those tools don’t exist, what happens is they go rogue, they create their own content. And as marketers we cringe because we’re like, oh my God, it looks terrible. It sounds terrible. And bless their heart, but why the hell didn’t they use the tools that we created for them to do those same things? You know? They’ve got the best of intentions, quite frankly, when they’re going and creating this stuff. If they think it doesn’t exist or marketing didn’t hear them, that’s why they’re going rogue.


You know, this conversation is like Pandora’s box. I mean, this is the point of this conversation. There’s so many threads to take down, but couple of things that I would suggest to your audience too. One of the things I see structurally in an organization that’s a mistake that I think happen often is they’ll say, well, who serves who? Does marketing serve sales? Or does sales serve marketing? Marketing generates this and sales does this. Both of them are wrong. And I think the thing that people seem to forget is everyone in the organization serves the company and the customer. Period. And that’s it. The way I like to explain it to salespeople, is someone will say, well, it’s my territory. I’m a salesperson, it’s my territory. I don’t want marketing touching my accounts. And I’ll say, hang on, it’s not yours.


It’s the companies. The company is allowing you to be a steward. You are the steward of the company’s assets, which is a territory, it’s marketing budget, it doesn’t matter. We are just stewards of the company. And if the company determines through strategy and conversation that the best way to interact with, with X prospect is through a marketing function. That’s the answer. It’s over. Right? It’s not, well, it was my account. No, it isn’t. It’s the company’s account that we’re allowing you to talk to. And I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the reality of it. Because the reality is that businesses have functions, marketing, sales, account management, customer service, and all of us are stewards of the business. You know what I mean? We’re responsible. And so whatever the most appropriate method is to interact with that company is the choice for the business.


Demand is a new term, an evolution of lead gen in some ways. Which basically says we believe as a business in today’s economic climate, the way the business is that marketing has the ability to interact with a prospect or a customer in a more robust way than ever before. And sales has to realize that because of the internet, because of cons, customer behavior, because of all of these things, the customer before they ever get to us is in a different state of mind. And it’s natural that marketing would play a bigger role in that process. This is like paradigm stuff. Paradigm shift stuff, it’s tough. As soon as marketing does something, we call it an MQL and then sales qualifies it and then it’s over and then marketing goes away and sales handles it at the end. That’s an old paradigm. We all need to reset where we start as a fundamental by realizing, look, all we’re trying to do is optimize that result for the business. And each of us have a role in that that changes from time to time. So, I know that’s a big speak in that regard, but I think it’s just fundamentally realizing things are changing and we each have a responsibility to adapt that market change in terms of how we interact with each other and how we interact with the client.


There’s a lot of opportunity there for us as marketers to educate the sales team in ways that they understand that we’re not competing against who’s communicating best with this prospect. It’s marketing has ways of communicating, engaging with and keeping those prospects, keeping your brand top of mind while sales can still be having conversations. I think you said something along the lines of, well, those are my accounts, or I own this account, or I own this customer or whatever. And I’ve had this conversation with sales teams in the past where that’s exactly it. No, that’s mine, that they’re our customer. Marketing can’t touch them. Don’t you dare do anything with those accounts. There’s some distrust in that case.


You have to trust what marketing is doing. That brings up a good point as far as we have an opportunity as marketers to really work and educate the sales teams on how demand gen works alongside your efforts. And then the purpose of once somebody is qualified as an MQL, there’s more to that lead cycle that needs to be established within your teams as far as what does sales do at that point. And then if nothing comes of that and that prospect isn’t ready to buy, let’s market to them. So let’s get them back into the marketing funnel.


This is where sales and marketing get out of sync fundamentally. I talk about this in my book because we’re all selling all the time, right? Everybody’s selling, we’re selling to each other. We’re selling content, we’re selling ideas, we’re selling to our customers. We’re reinforcing why they should be with us. What happens is that we lose track of what is the ultimate outcome that we’re looking for. So what I mean by that is, everything that you guys create as marketing and everything we do as salespeople creates some outcome, right? Either, oh, this was great, or oh, I bought, or oh, I just remember the name, or, oh I went to a trade show. Oh, I joined a webinar. Oh, I bought a product.


Whatever we’re doing, we have a desired outcome in mind. That’s where we get misaligned between marketing and sales. Because marketing, you might do 20 different things, let’s just say is part of a way of interacting with a customer. And maybe only one of them had a real intent of the outcome being that you wanted them to actually buy the product. It may not be that extreme. Sales thinks, this is wrong unless you’re doing something that the outcome is for them to buy. They’re like, this is stupid, it’s a waste of time. And that’s wrong, right? That’s fundamentally wrong. But I think it just comes from a lack of understanding of what is the desired outcome. And I would just say if I was a marketer, I would make sure anytime I created content for a salesperson or anytime I created content for a campaign, I would lead with the desired outcome of it.


Because if you think, well I didn’t get any leads from that podcast, and they’d be like, well that wasn’t the point of it. Right? That really wasn’t the point. Then you miss out no matter how good the content is. So, I think fundamentally at the day-to-day, tactical level, I think that’s where things go awry. Because there’s just some disconnect between what the expectations are for anything that marketing does. Or on the other side, a disconnect on the sales side. Like you might send over an MQL, and it’s not qualified for sales, and they get all pissy about it. I just had this conversation yesterday, don’t get pissy about it. That’s why we have a process. Great. That’s why we have what’s called an SQL it gives you a chance to provide feedback. Don’t complain. So what if it wasn’t a qualified? That’s why we have a process. We didn’t tell you that now you’re fired. You know, we just said, hey, you got an MQL, marketing thought it was appropriate. We have a secondary qualification process, didn’t meet the criteria. Give marketing the feedback, move on. It isn’t that dramatic. Ok. But I think sometimes people put too much into it.

Thanks for listening today, everybody. Be sure to check out our next episode when we continue our conversation about aligning sales and marketing with our special guest, Brett Keirstead. Don’t forget to subscribe from more perspectives on demand generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus give us a, like, tell your friends, we’ll see you next time.

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